Talk of the Town - Serious as a heart attack May 06 2004

Prognosis: acute crankiness

Father's Day arrived a bit early this year.

It began with a maternal Monday morning jingle from Florida. Right away, I knew it was trouble. Because I talk to my parents on Sunday. A phone call outside that coordinate is bound to involve some anxiety-including scenario, such as: "Your dad's had a heart attack."

Yeah, that would do it.

After almost having one myself, whether out of filial devotion or sheer astonishment I'm not sure, the details came in. Middle of the night — chest pains — 911.

An EMT crew reached the parental condo in five minutes. They rushed Pop to the ER, where an examining physician asked questions about his health. By way of illustration, Dad went into cardiac arrest.

Give the guy credit for superb timing. If your heart is going to stop, it might as well happen when you're talking to a doctor, in an emergency room, with a trauma team standing by. These people knew their stuff. They did the "Clear!" — zap-with-paddles — "Clear!" — zap-again thing you see on all those hospital shows, and it worked.

Talk about a high-pressure job. If I screw up professionally, there's a run-on sentence. If ER people have an off night, call the morgue.

So here's where we stand. Thanks to split-second timing, the latest angioplasty technique and the collective expertise of doctors, nurses, medical technicians and pharmaceutical companies, my father has survived.

Now comes the hard part.

The word "patient" doesn't describe Pop very well. In the hospital for testing, resting and recuperation, he regarded all three as an utter waste of time.

"That doctor is too cautious," he muttered, 48 hours after returning from a long tunnel with a bright white light at the end.

"Because he kept you alive?"

"He wants me to stay here," said Dad, with the furtive surety of someone who has been targeted by a white slavery ring specializing in the merciless exploitation of 75-year-old men with heart conditions.

As he spoke, a wall of cardiac monitors bleeped, beeped and flashed sundry shades of yellow and red, primary colors that mean the same thing in a hospital ward as they do on traffic lights. Under 100 beats per minute is acceptable. Pop was breaking 160.

A male nurse examined the apparatus, looked down at the patient, and with an astonished look I hope never to receive from a member of the medical profession, asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," grumped Pater.

"Because your heart rate doubled in the last two minutes."

This physiological fact reflects a restless man. My father has always been on the move, although we still can't figure out where he's trying to go.

Visit the grocery store with him and it's like following a human pinball. Mom and I went to the supermarket while he was ill; we didn't know what to do with all the free time available to ramble up and down each aisle. When my father is around, a checkout line turns into the Daytona 500.

Back at the cardiac unit, he was sound asleep. It's strange to see him in this uncharacteristic condition. Even stranger to look down and realize, hey, these are my genes, too. Arteries more clogged than the I-75/85 Downtown Connector rounding Grady curve on a Friday afternoon.

I go into a room filled with people waiting to hear how their near/dear ones are progressing. Deprived of cell phone use in the hospital, desperate to pass the time, they actually — gasp! — read periodicals. The only one left is a tired copy of Going Places, "The magazine for today's traveler." Hold that cover story about crossing the River Jordan.

A few minutes later, Dad is awake and clamoring to be released. This is an area where the apple has fallen many miles from the tree. If I had a coronary, you wouldn't get me out of intensive care if an evening gown-clad Miss Texas was downstairs with keys to a free Maserati that had 100 pounds of gold bullion in the trunk.

The cardiologist smiled when we told him that cher papa crankered (a new word, meaning "to hanker in a cranky fashion") for freedom.

"That's a good sign," said the doc. "It means he's on the mend." If irascibility is an indicator of good health, my father is Superman.

Home after a week's confinement, he'll have to undergo some serious lifestyle changes in the wake of this episode. Goodbye to salty cold cuts, fat-city cashew nuts and martinis (up, with a twist) that barely acknowledge the existence of vermouth. Hello to a days-of-the-week pillbox and Titleist-sized medicaments. Just be (dare I use the antonym?) patient.

So Happy Father's Day, Dad. I know it's a little rushed, but that's how you do everything. Cheers.


i>Glen Slattery lives in the heart of Alpharetta.