Published in Country Folks 1/18/2014
You’ve all heard the lisp-infused, 1944 classic song: All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. According to my family, I sang a much different tune coming out of anesthesia in the recovery room of St. Elizabeth’s Cardiac Care Unit in Utica on December 3rd. Apparently I was singing: “All I want for Christmas is my 3 big stents, my 3 big stents,” much to the laughter of the nursing staff and my wife and daughters.
Laughter aside, the quick reaction of my Conservation District co-worker, Carl Bartlett, all the doctors, nurses and staff of Oneida Healthcare, Vineall Ambulance Service, CNY Cardiology, St. Elizabeth Medical Center and those 3 stents combined with the lord’s confidence and a little bit of luck, allowed me the chance to see my family again.
The word on the street from folks hearing about my new affliction is “he would be the last one I would think of to have heart troubles”. Some even said, “I didn’t know he had one.” Ouch!! And still others may be ruminating that this was inevitable given my taste for ice-cream, meat and New York State wine. As I sit here with normal blood pressure looking over my cholesterol scores that appear to be within acceptable ranges, I wonder how this happened to me.
My cardiologist indicated some rogue plaque broke off and completely blocked some artery (don’t remember the medical name) within the heart. Comprehending this in farming terms, it’s like when you have a gravity water system in a stream and the screen suddenly gets plugged with falling leaves and apples. The water or in this case, the blood, stops flowing causing a chain reaction of events within the body or cows to become really agitated.
Friends questions abound: So what happened? What were the symptoms? How did you survive to graze another day?
The morning of December 3rd was like any other. I grabbed a cup of coffee and hoofed it up on the hill and moved the portable fence so the dairy heifers could have another fresh break of stockpiled grass. I took pictures and remember it was warmer than normal allowing the animals to push the snow around easier to unearth the pasture plants. Upon getting back to the house, I loaded my pick-up with fencing tools, Carharts, lunch and kissed my wife goodbye on my way to the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District where I work, never expecting anything out of the ordinary.
The sun was up and warming when my co-worker and future savior, Carl Bartlett and I arrived at a farm in Wampsville to build a security fence around a new manure storage project. The woven high tensile went up in good time. I was stretching the last section as the concrete pumper truck set up to make the final pour. I was happy for the good timing as I started stapling the wire to the end-post.
About the 5th staple, the truck became blurry and I became immensely dizzy while my vision became Kaleidoscope-like. This caused me to slump down in my muddy surroundings next to the fence while trying to regain my composure. Carl saw me collapse and summoned the farmer and concrete crew to help. In my daze, I thought I was just weak because it happened to be lunchtime so they got me a snack and some water. This approach proved futile, like it would miraculously bring me back to my old form.
Still conscious, my chest felt like there was a blow-torch on it and I (we) knew I was in trouble. The guys got me in the company pick-up and Carl drove like the wind to the Oneida Healthcare ER which was luckily, a 5 minute jaunt. Being awake, the whole realization of the situation was front and center. Was this going to end well?
The ER staff rushed with controlled chaos and used terms like I’ve heard on television dramas. I apologized for my muddy Carharts amidst crunching on aspirin and having all kinds of things inserted into my veins. I heard the word stroke, heart attack and the term, stage three as they kept looking at some beeping monitor out of my periphery; no doubt trying not to scare the shit (sorry) out of me.
Amongst the fearfulness, confusion, hospital smell and needles, I had three distinct thoughts: I felt sorry for the stress this would cause my wife who had already endured her father’s funeral the previous week; that I would miss meeting author, Wendell Berry, at the Young Farmers Conference at the Stone Barns Center where I was scheduled to teach grazing planning and how hard I prayed to the Lord to save my life and not be scared while clutching my green and white, “What would Daniel Do?” bracelet.
Faith is a powerful tool as the staff’s hard work and experience stabilized me and my vision just in time to see my beautiful, scared wife and my equally emotional parents. After some tears and a quick kiss, the guys from Vineall Ambulance whisked me away to St. Elizabeths for surgery. When I arrived, the masked cardio team was game on. Dr. Michael Sassower said something like, “so I hear you’re a farmer and you were building some fence” while l felt a small pinch and noticed some cool vein graphics on a monitor. The doc mentioned to my wife that most of his farmer patients are pretty quiet on the operating table but I wasn’t one of them, chatting incessantly about a range of farming topics.
The drugs must have been really good because I don’t remember a thing until I woke up in the ICU with a sandbag on my groin area and all symptoms of a heart attack gone. In simple terms, I had a cardiac-catheterization which sucked out the blood clot and propped open my arteries with 3 fine metal stents. The bag was for putting pressure on the incision in my leg while the blood got back to clotting after being thinned out by drugs.
They say all modesty goes out the window when you’re in the hospital and I was no exception. I was hell-bent on being the most congenial patient ever and not be one of those complainers that nurses talk about well after you’re gone. Living has a funny way of perking up your attitude! The battery of nurses that took care of me had the same attitude which made for a great time (yes, even in a hospital).
I came to understand and appreciate their work in the wee hours as they took care of folks far worse off than I with caring, vitality and passion. I now fully comprehend Donna Cardillo’s quote: “Nurses are the heart of healthcare.” They laughed at my corny jokes, taught me how to play spades and shared stories with my wife and daughters during this scary time. In a word, they heal.
With my body recuperating, the real miracle from Christ is how I’ve been blessed with a best friend and terrific wife of 27 years. This gal lost her dad unexpectedly a week before my “incident” and found the resilience to get through a military funeral and still support all the families. She perused my grazing chart and moved the cows daily before work and was by my side every night with comfort and love. She frankly inspires me and I can only hope to aspire to such a level of strength and passion.
They say timing is everything. The holiday season and this ordeal have heightened the awareness to get back to what is really important in life —— family. I’m thankful for a family dynamic that includes my immediate and extended family, friends, co-workers, new farmers, a new team of medical professionals and a soul-enriching grass farm. And also the 3 stents that allow me to type these words of praise. May God bless all of you for your prayers.