At 0400 hours I was in bed 2312-1 at Good Samaritan Hospital on the morning of November 11, 2012.
I should have been in my SuperPram on the River, I suppose, or in the den working the comuter with a cup of coffee and two cats close at hand, or at the fly bench tying a few more Chinook tubes. But no. I was strapped-in and tubed-up, layng flat on my back with orders to remain in the prone position, at risk of springing a leak at the catheter insertion poke-hole in my right thigh.
It hit me sometime between 6 and 7 PM on the 10th, Saturday evening, with the Nestucca dropping barely into fly fishing range. My young son Jackson called 911 and Lisa kept the ER crew posted as I hung on trying to outlive the proverbial elephant sitting on a knife in my chest. Lisa and Jackson pushed 4 aspirin into my mouth, the ER techs 4 more, and then 3 nitro tabs. No relief. It hurt a lot: 15 on a scale of 1 to 10. T-Shirt cut off, electrodes slapped on, wires hooked up. How long ago did it start? How fast did the pain progress? No more than 120 seconds from – I wonder if I’m having a heart attack – to – dang, this is the big one.
We are blessed with wonderful emergency responders. Thankfully for everyone, I had just showered and put on clean clothes after a hard workout on the Concept 2 Rower. I was probably on the dehydrated side and that proved challenging to EMTs and ER staff who struggled to jam needles in my collapsed veins. It’s funny what you hear when you are immobilized, laid flat and barely responsive. More than once came the question: can you tell me your name and birthdate. More than once came the question: what meds are you taking? Pain aside, I faithfully tried to gasp out the answers. “Why are we in this little room?” (Overheard from one of the ER staff) Because it’s Beaver football tonight, and this is the only room available. (the overheard answer) I felt compelled to tell everyone that was dehydrated but that was probably pretty obvious because everyone was having one heck of a time finding a wet vein to anchor an IV. I felt the gurney rumble now and then, felt myself being sheet-lifted from one place to another, and all the while people asking if whatever they had just done had helped the pain. Nope.
As I write this, a country western song is in the background [... if I could have a beer with Jesus...] and it reminds me how grateful I am to be here to be with my family and friends.
It’s a small world. One of the fellows who worked on me in the Cath Lab is friends with the guy who owns the hut where they filmed Running Down the Man. He is saying something about a triple Rooster hookup. Cool, I gasp. I’m tying to will my blood vessels to relax, will my heart to keep blood flowing, trying to hang on. I’m not afraid, not the slightest. Just want my family to be OK if I’m not here.
I can hear that there is some technical difficulty getting access to the clot in my heart artery. Turns out that there is a complete blockage in the artery between two stents that were placed two years ago. Balloons are inflated and new stents inserted, plaque and clots are noted and there are words being uttered that are barely distant whispers muffled by the howling wind of the pain in my chest.
Somewhere between the operating room and #2312-1 I loose it. Here and there in a haze, I know Lisa and Jackson are there with me. My son David and his wife Heather are on their way and will be here in the morning. The pain has eased. There is still some difficulty with the IV in my right arm, but the left-arm IV seems to be working.
“Now don’t you move a muscle” an etherial voice admonishes me. No worries there. I can only now and then crack open an eyelid. The morphine and pain have done me in. I am just fine laying flat on my back with people pumping and poking and prodding and still asking what meds I’ve been taking. Voices fade in and out of focus, but the pain is gone, and I think I’m going to make it. Going fishing doesn’t seem very important now. Just seeing my family is all I can think about. I’m already thinking about how to get rid of more tackle and fly tying junk so Lisa doesn’t have to deal with it when I’m done living here in this visible world.
Two days later, a med tech is giving me an echo cardiogram. Or some such thing. He isn’t allowed to interpret the picture on his screen, but I have a pretty strong hunch that the look on face is one he uses to conceal bad news. The Cardiac Doc later says, “at least — moderate to extensive — damage — may be stunned temporarily – may be permanent muscle function loss — and I was remembering the serious look on the sonar-man’s face and the way he avoided eye-contact.
Meanwhile, Lisa’s dad is dying. Family is gathered around for a several day goodbye and long sessons of “remember that time when ….” this is all harder on her than me, but she rallies and cares for us all.
November 16th, we all go up to Cardiac Rahab to do my intake interview. I see my written surgical report for the first time. I have extensive and widely distributed areas of arterial damage, noting three distinct areas with 70% reduction in flow. I am stunned at how crappy the report sounds. I wonder why those other constrictions didn’t get stented, figure there was a reason, and just feel a little mopey that my plumbing system is in such wormy condition. My cardiac rehab counsellor listens to my cranky lecture about how I’m going to kick-ass and not settle for a gentle stroll around the grocery store. Lisa and Jackson are keeping me company as my lecture continues.
After the umpteenth time reviewing my meds list, taking my blood pressure, I am offered the opportunity to ride a stationary bike. Electrodes attached, I get on and get riding. Ursula (not her real name) seems concerned at the KWs I’m cranking out. My pulse goes up and she’s at my side. Is that normal for you? Yeah, I reply. How do you feel, Jay? Great, I say between hard breathing. Does this feel normal for your workouts? Yep, I blurt. Let me take your blood pressure again.
And so it goes. Exercise bike, recumbent something-or-other, and treadmill. Ursula checks my blood oxygen saturation, pulse, blood pressure, perceived exertion level and keeps close tabs on me. “I have never, ever, in my 8 years here in rehab, ever seen anyone go at it like you are, their first time back after a heart attack.” I’m a little concerned, but all your vitals look good, and you feel fine, but would you please ease-off a little for me?”
OK. I’ll ease back a little today. For you, and for my family. The easing-off is going to be dicey. I’m a fierce competitor. Mostly, I compete with myself. Work, fly tying, exercise, fishing, it don’t matter much; I have two speeds for my engine order telegraph : all stop or full ahead. Moderation doesn’t resonate well with me. That is, I know, a weakness. This heart attack may require a re-thinking. But right now, I’m feeling argumentative, feisty, smart-alecky, and ya ain’t gonna slow me down, take-a-hike, and the like. Then I see the words on the Cardiologist’s report and pause, and wonder, and … hell, I don’t know.
Meanwhile, friends are dying, Lisa’s dad is saying “so long” (not goodbye), our Barista at the coffee shop smiles and stifles a sneeze because not working means no money for school, my buddy calls from ______ to tell me he had two in the boat by 8 yesterday, the rain is sheeting in sideways, rivers are on the rise, one of my boats is on the dock with the plugs pulled, and the other boat is at Joe’s for a tune-up. Best of all, my family is upstairs sleeping-in this morning. My big boy is with his wife and doggies in Portland and they are all tucked in and preparing for a family Thanksgiving gathering.
I have work to do, Jackson’s Karate lessons to watch, neglected friends to call, bills to pay, flies to tie, tackle and materials I can’t possibly use to get rid of, cats to brush, family time to cherish, and stories I want to write, before they are gone forever. Maybe I’ll take time for a Starbucks tall, quad shot (3/4 decaf), no room, Americano with 2 pumps of Classic Sweetener today. Maybe – maybe – maybe.
Thank you, my dear friends, for your good wishes, for the love you give my family, and the patience with which you tolerate my extremes and neglect. I am what I am, not an excuse, just sayin’. Enough of this heart attack nonsense. No desire to go over it again and again, just want to heal up a little, reflect a little less, and go fishing more. Ha ha ha.
Ten Revelations from Salmon Season 2012
Dark days and long nights. Opportunity to reflect on the year winding down. A wonderful, painful, exciting, mind numbing, exhilarating, depressing, learn-new-stuff, remember-old-stuff, meet wonderful people, observe inappropriate fishing behavior, know exactly why I do this, and wonder why the hell I do this: fly fish for salmon, that is.
Here goes – the absolute truth, as I see it, 4:14 AM.
1: Yes, there is a point when blogging about something you love will come back to haunt you, when you swear to never again write anything that is uplifting or enticing or instructive or may in the slightest way seem anything but repulsive about whatever the topic.
2: There are some really nice fellow anglers out there. Folks who may not fly fish themselves, but who are open to learning and who respect their fellow anglers, regardless of how they angle for salmon.
3: There are some folks who genuinely believe that anyone who fly fishes for Chinook is, at the core, a snagger, both by technical intent and moral character.
4: There are no secrets. Perhaps there have been secret places, techniques, flies, lines and such. However, these secrets have had a shelf-life of somewhere between a hour to a week.
5: Albacore on the fly are hotness squared. Beautiful fish. Beautiful ocean. Want more. Please.
6: No matter how much you think you may know about how to catch Black Rockfish on flies, they are capable of teaching you how little you really know.
7: Number 6 above is true for every fish that swims, including Pogies.
8: We really are blessed to have strong runs of wild Chinook in virtually every river of moderate size here on the Oregon coast.
9: I’m annoyed when asked the how big question. Seven straight hours into a tide, having made hundreds of casts, maintaining focus and intensity while fighting wind and rain, slapping flies into the back of my head, falling down in the boat, and upping and downing the anchor a fifty or so times, I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled to get grabbed by a 22-inch salmon. This fish, in spite of its small size, brings vindication, reward for the hours and the obsessive dedication and pure stubbornness of this thing we call salmon fishing.
Then – how big?
If I say – a Jack – there is a moment of dismissal. Not a thirty pounder, I can imagine the thought. They never say it, but I can read it on their faces. Now, after lecturing my friends, they tolerate my sensitivity and try to avoid the how big question. They even try to avoid the how-many question. They may measure their own day by numbers hooked, landed, size, and brightness; but they try to not box me into that corner.
Honestly, I have had long dark days saved, turned from perceived defeat to imagined victory, by small dark kings, because they graced me with a pull, the tug, the head-shake and the run. Size and relation to spawning time aside, these fish provided a sense of vindication for all the dedication and hard work – all the time devoted to this ridiculous pursuit.
So if you see a smile on my face across the table at the coffee shop, don’t for a minute think that my glow is necessarily the result of an epic, multi-chromer day; forty pounders; or long-tailed sea lice. A golden hued 8-pound male, might as easily generate my smile.
9.1: The first question I ask my friends is: how-many; then I ask how-big; then I ask what line; then I ask what fly; then I ask what retrieve speed; then I ask what tide stage.
Sorry, dear friends, I’m a mess on this topic.
10: I’m feeling impatient, waiting for the 2013 salmon season to start.
Now if that isn’t crazy, I don’t know crazy, and believe me, I do.
JN – November 2012