Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – May 7, 2004
Charlie Heart Attack
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – May 7, 2004 – Robert Clifford Wright – aka “Charlie”. My father was a big man. When I was a child, I thought he was the best Dad in the world. He was safe, strong, kind, gentle, unassuming, hard working, brave, caring, smart, fair and loving. He adored my mother and he was proud of his children.
He wasn’t a man with large dreams. He didn’t “want” beyond what he had in life, and he worked hard to ensure that his family was well looked after. He wanted to be a good husband and father, and he was both. He served his country during the war, and when he came back to Canada he settled down to build a life with my mother. He enjoyed simple pleasures, and food was one of them. He loved to eat and over the years he put on an extra twenty-five pounds of solid weight.
Because he was 6’2″ tall, he carried it well. Charlie loved potatoes, bread, desserts of any stripe, bedtime snacks, extra toast with jam, meat with gravy, fired eggs and bacon and second helpings. His weight never seemed like a big issue to him. At 210 pounds he was a big, solid, hard-working man who was hardly ever sick. He was a light smoker but he gave up the devil-weed when I was about ten years old. He drank alcohol, always in moderation and usually to acknowledge an occasion. I thought he was immortal.
His health was never an issue during my childhood or well into my adult years. During the early onset of my mother’s illness, I saw him falter a bit, not a lot. His energy level dropped a little, but at sixty years of age, one would expect to slow down a little, as retirement drew closer.
My grandfather died of a heart attack when he was seventy-two year old. He was a portly man, not prone to over exerting himself, and after he retired he wasn’t particularly active. My father had a heart murmur, but in general, his health seemed fine. That changed in 1985.
My phone rang about three o’clock in the morning – a shrill, nerve jangling ring that jarred me into a state of groggy consciousness. I grabbed it and mumbled a sleepy hello. It was Charlie. He told me he was sweating profusely, had a bad pain in his left arm and was feeling incredibly nauseous. I told him to hang up, call 911 and ask for an ambulance, and to go to Emergency immediately. He promised to call me from the hospital and told me not to worry.
Now, I don’t know what it is about people who are incredibly self-sufficient, but they have a tendency to prefer to do things on their own terms. Charlie had a bath, got dressed, drove himself to the hospital, parked his truck and walked into the reception area at the Emergency Department. He told the nurse on duty that he was having severe chest pain, then he had a serious heart attack and collapsed on the floor.
The hospital called me at work in the morning and asked me to come as soon as possible. My dear friend Miggs came with me. By this point I was getting used to these mad drives up to Owen Sound. How convenient – my mother was in one wing of the hospital and my father in another. When we arrived in the critical care unit of the hospital, we were told that only family could visit and for just a few minutes. Miggs immediately introduced us a Charlie’s daughters. The nurse looked at his chart and said, “I only have a son and daughter listed here”, to which Miggs replied, “Well, I’m the other daughter – there are three of us”.
We walked into the single room. Charlie was unconscious. Everything in the room was white. The lights were dim. The bed was surrounded by banks of medical equipment. Lights blinked and machines hissed and beeped. Charlie was covered in a white sheet. His once strong body seemed to have melted into the bed and his skin was a lifeless, grey-tone. His cheeks were hollow and his lips a cool, bluish colour.
He was attached to a dizzying number of machines and tubes, cords and wires ran all around his bed. My legs were trembling as I walked up to the bed and stroked Charlie’s face. It was cool to the touch. His hair was soft and tousled and suddenly gray. When had that happened? I couldn’t stop crying. The nurse came in about ten minutes after our arrival and asked us to leave. Miggs took my hand and said, “We have to leave “Charlie Heart Attack” for now, but we’ll come back later”. The name stuck and Miggs called him that until he died in 1997.
Miggs suggested we go and visit my mother. We found her sitting on a chair in the hallway, hanging onto the hand railing for dear life. She looked up at us and said, “Grab a hold here girls, it’s a really rough crossing today”. We helped her out of her chair and walked back to her bedroom. She looked over at Miggs and then turned to me and hissed, “How can we get rid of this one. I don’t like her and I’m not sharing my apple juice with her”. It was the first time I’d laughed all day. My mother was slowly losing her mind and my father was fighting to stay alive. Not the best of times.
Charlie made a slow, but steady recovery. Over the next six months he changed his eating habits, lost twenty pounds and walked every day. He was careful to get more rest and look after himself. He had another, far less severe heart attack in 1986, but it was due to an imbalance in his medication. He was wandering around at an outdoor flea market when he got sick, and this time he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I considered that “progress”.
He was back home a couple of weeks later and was feeling fine again within a month. He kept his business going and resumed his social outings with friends. I asked him one time if he was afraid on a day-to-day basis of having another heart attack. He said, “God doesn’t appear to be finished with me yet, so I just make the most of every day and try not to worry”. Charlie was right. God wasn’t ready to call him home yet.
His heart grew strong again and served him well for another eleven years. In the end it was prostate cancer that proved to be a tougher enemy than his two heart attacks. He fought the good fight, bravely and always without complaint. He left this world when he was only seventy-six years old.
Charlie was a good man and it was a privilege to have been his daughter. I miss him. If your parents are still alive, spend time with them. If there are fences to be mended, make the first move, no matter how difficult, and extend a hand. Life is short, and all your best intentions won’t matter a bit if things are left unsaid, and all of a sudden tomorrow is too late!