Frank used to be an engineer, like me. Mechanical. He worked at the Arsenal years ago, where they built that “bunker buster” bomb that helped win the first Gulf War. The one where we were the good guys, defending Kuwait from aggression. He told me his story as we walked the treadmills at cardiac rehab.
It’s what we do at rehab, swap stories. There are a lot of stories in that room, earned during the active lives of men decades older than I. Those who aren’t talkers usually have their wives in the waiting room, and I hear stories from them. I learn how this one had a double bypass; that one, congestive heart failure. We talk about treatments, and medications, and side effects. I talk about my stent, and they marvel at how quickly a man can return to full activity after a heart attack these days. “You look so good,” they say, and I thank them. What else can I do?
Because I don’t feel so good, some days, and it never feels like full activity. The nurse said I could push it this week, and I made it up to 4.3 miles per hour for half of my twenty minutes on the treadmill. 4.3 used to be my resting pace, for times when I couldn’t run any farther. These days, I don’t run at all, and I haven’t even mowed the lawn myself in a month and a half.. I used to get up early on my days off to write; today, I get up early to take my meds, and stay up because I refuse to let my body stop me, even if my efforts lead to no more than a dozen words.
The restrictions placed upon me by the world seem worse by far than those imposed by my body. I needed a doctor’s note just to return to my desk job, and now I find I will need a second note before they will let me travel by air for a customer meeting. I monitor my eating of salt, of fats, of cholesterol, not because my blood pressure or cholesterol levels were high before my heart attack, but because people I love will worry if I don’t. And I take my meds twice a day, every day, without fail, knowing my body will warn me if I forget, because I feel pretty good if I forget. My heart rate is suppressed, my blood pressure low, and I feel best when they let me drive them back up through exercise.
I am pounding away on the exercise bike when Frank walks up to tell me about his loss. He used to be a private pilot, he said. The Arsenal had a fleet of planes at its disposal, and they let their Aviation club borrow them for the cost of fuel and maintenance. Frank describes them for me: Cessna’s and a Piper Super Cub, and other planes whose names I don’t recognize. Frank loved to fly, but they won’t let him do it any more. After his heart attack, they wouldn’t let him renew his license. That seems deeply sad to me, but Frank seems happy just to share his story with me. And I’m glad he can be happy.
At the same time, I’m not Frank. He is retired, and if he wants to sit and talk, or read, or watch TV, he can do so at his leisure. I have a job, and a mortgage to pay, and two kids to put through college. I have twenty years before I get to where he stands today, and stories to write before I get there. So I’ll write my dozen words, and a dozen more after that. I’ll go to rehab and work until I can run again. I’ll work until I can mow the lawn, and shovel snow in the winter, and hike the Adirondacks with my wife. And I’ll get that second doctor’s note.
I’m going to fly.