Authors: Brian Gari
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Stress Test
© 2012 Brian Gari. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, digital, photocopying or recording, except for the inclusion in a review, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in the USA by:
PO Box 1129
Duncan, Oklahoma 73534-1129
Photos by Jeanne Gari.
Cover Design by Allan T. Duffin.
Table of Contents
Dedicated to Jeanne…who probably saved my life.
Special thanks to my special editor…my mom.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the real life cardiologist (Olivier Frankenberger), surgeons (especially Daniel Swistel), doctors (especially Stewart Greisman) and nurses who got me through this ordeal…you are the real heroes.
To all my friends & Facebook followers who showed so much concern during this crazy time.
And to my publisher, Ben Ohmart, whose belief in my writing continues to warm my heart (even the ‘fixed up’ one).
I turned 60 years old in February; I hardly expected any serious heart problems. I was about 167 pounds at a little over five foot 10. My diet wasn’t bad (very little red meat). I did, however, get diagnosed as diabetic a little more than a year before (but on the low end, requiring two pills a day). Yes, there was certainly heart disease in my family. Both my parents had bypass operations in their seventies. My mother had an actual heart attack and a triple bypass; on that day, I was called by the hospital and told to get right over. I will never forget my mother’s words to me as she was wheeled to the operating room on a gurney. In true show biz lingo she said “If I don’t make it through this, it’s been nice being on the bill with you.” How’s that to bring tears to your eyes? She made it through. In the recovery room, she displayed strange symptoms. She swore I had flown people in from California to her New York City hospital and was keeping them in another room down the hall. (The drugs had made her hallucinate. She came out of it a short time later.) Her recuperation was fairly easy, given that she had had a mastectomy decades earlier that numbed her chest in the area of the open heart surgery.
My father, on the other hand, was a different story. He had had quadruple bypass and aorta valve replacement…one of the more complicated open heart surgeries. I can recall visiting him when he was right out of surgery and it was almost more frightening for me than for him. You see, when they bring you out of this operation, they have a tube shoved down your throat until they feel you can breathe successfully on your own. For him, it was a tube surrounded by cold air (oxygen?) and no way to communicate except with your eyes. I will never forget the absolute look of terror in his eyes wanting me or someone to remove this horrible thing in his throat that makes you feel as if you’re going to choke every second that it’s in. Eventually, it was removed. I knew it was horrible, but I hadn’t a real clue how truly frightening it was at the time.
Both my grandfathers also had heart disease. My mother’s father had two heart attacks and my father’s father had had at least two. Medical advancements had not quite made the leap to help them in time.
So I was just sitting on a time bomb.
The Clues Are Mounting
For at least six months prior to my ordeal, I had had some pressure in the chest area, a little pain and a little bit of shortness of breath. It was all very minor and seemed as though it could be stress related. I was always having trouble with my cable company or landlord or both so I was walking around with a lot of anxiety and anger. Now don’t get me wrong — I am not against those feelings. You would not be normal if you didn’t have something that pissed you off in this life. So when I was walking somewhere, I felt this sort of anxious feeling in my chest…and it was happening more often than not. I am not one to dodge the doctor. I called for an appointment. I told him my symptoms and he did an EKG and listened to my heart. No problems. So I went about my life thinking what I thought before — stress.
My life was going in a more positive direction than it had in years. I got married again after being divorced for 24 years. I had met Jeanne quite by accident through our conversations on Facebook. It was October 15, 2010 that we finally got together. We hit it off right away; she was a nurse who was also hip to the music business having already been married to a musician. We really got along well and it was the first time in all those years that I felt comfortable enough again to ask someone to marry me. They say you just know and I think that’s true. So we had a small wedding in our apartment and settled into married life with Jeanne working as a nurse and me continuing to write songs and all the other things I do in the business.
During this time I had gotten a call from a director in Maryland by the name of David Norman who wanted to revive my deceased Broadway musical “Late Nite Comic.” I was shocked and thrilled. There had been no productions since it died on Broadway in 1987 — the same year I got divorced! He said it would premiere on April 5, 2012 at Frederick Community College. Jeanne and I went there for the opening (and full run) and it took our breath away (perhaps a bad choice of words for me). We had a great time at the show and in Frederick. It couldn’t have been better…except for a little bit of those symptoms again. Why Maryland? Stress? Not really. We ate well and I even enjoyed utilizing the whirlpool in the hotel pool.
When we arrived back in Manhattan a few days later, I was dragging the suitcases up the subway steps (dragging is a good word) and was huffing and puffing. I had to stop. Seemed logical. Jeanne didn’t think so. She thought I should call the doctor back the next day. So on Monday morning I did just that. My physician suggested that I call a cardiologist this time. I made the call right away and was set up for an appointment the following day. It was a simple interview but the cardiologist believed a stress test was in order. I booked it following my acupuncture appointment the next day. I had been going for acupuncture to try to get rid of the numbness in my foot caused by a recent bout of sciatica. The juxtaposition seemed ludicrous — a peaceful acupuncture and massage followed ten minutes later (I drove my motor scooter to make it on time) by a stress test. I arrived at the stress test smelling a little weird; my acupuncturist likes to use a eucalyptus massage oil that literally opens up your sinuses. The interns at the stress test said it got rid of the lunch room smell that had been permeating the office for an hour. They weren’t quite sure which was worse. I got on the treadmill and began my stress test adventure. No big deal. I was told to tell the doctors when I felt those pressure feelings in my chest. At about five minutes in, I did feel a little of those feelings. They stopped the treadmill and used a sonogram (exactly like those that detect the sex of a baby for mothers). The consensus was that I was to go to the hospital the next day for an angiogram. Meanwhile, I thought I could have gone further on that treadmill. Guess not. I asked what an angiogram involves. The cardiologist said they stick some dye through your groin up to your heart and if there’s no blockage, you go home. If there is, they insert a stent and you stay overnight. I asked about how they go up through the groin and was told there would be some anesthesia and I wouldn’t feel it. This was now getting a little scarier and more serious.
The angiogram was set for Thursday at 10
in the hospital. Jeanne took off from work to support me even though I was insisting I could do it by myself. She wouldn’t hear of it. I had some things I needed to send through the post office so we walked uptown and made that our first stop. Wouldn’t you know I would be given a hard time on the way to this serious procedure? I had used staples to seal up one envelope and this bitch at the post office refused to mail it if I didn’t buy postal tape and reseal the damn envelope. Fortunately, a supervisor witnessed the confrontation and scooted me over to a nice clerk who was happy to do business with me. (And the post office wonders why they are going bankrupt!)
We left there and continued our delightful walk up Amsterdam Avenue past the beautiful Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Jeanne had to take some photos, but I was growing more anxious and wanted to get to the hospital. She recalled that her ex-husband had some heart issues so she called him on her cell phone. He said he’d be glad to talk to me about the angiogram and stents. He told me it was no big deal. He had had several stents and was doing fine. “Don’t worry…it’s easy!” he reiterated.
We arrived exactly at 10
and went to check in. We waited a bit and were ushered into an office where a nice, immaculately dressed gentleman welcomed us and went over a bit of paperwork. We were then directed to a room where my clothes would be put into a locker and I was to change into that famous hospital gown that never ties right. Already I was feeling like my life was being put into other people’s hands. Keep in mind, it’s not even noon and I’m getting very hungry since I was not allowed to eat anything since the night before.
Finally, sometime in the early afternoon I was led to the prep area where they have to shave you slightly (no, not your face — I still had my beard) so they can get the area sterile for the insertion of the tube through your groin. They tried to put an IV in my arm, but they had trouble. The nurse blew the vein so she asked if she could try my hand. Fine with me. Just do it already. I am very squeamish when it comes to taking blood and inserting IVs. (Little did I know how many times this would happen during my lovely stay.) I recall being wheeled into the OR and it being very cold. They gave me more blankets (despite hearing that I would have to tolerate the cold germ free surroundings). I looked up at the nurse and doctor and all the equipment and started to fade. My wife went downstairs for some tea, but something told her to go back up rather quickly. The procedure had been accomplished. She sneaked into the room where I was but was told by a nurse to stay out of there and wait for the doctors. The surgeon had to confer with my cardiologist. Everything was very suspicious. My wife was told the outcome and was crying. I came to and saw my cardiologist hanging over me and I asked him how it went. He said things are going to be a bit different from where we thought it was going. Oh? Yes…you will be having quadruple bypass open heart surgery in the morning. I was 95% blocked. I asked if I was going home that day. I didn’t quite get it.