Yesterday SDXB went into the hospital for an angiogram. He’d been having some mild shortness of breath, which he put down to a hangover from a severe respiratory infection he’d had a couple of months ago. The doctor, however, thought otherwise: he diagnosed it as angina, but given SDXB’s vigor and overall physical condition, he thought probably treatable with an angioplasty or a stent. He even said it was possible the examination would find nothing.
In the afternoon, New Girlfriend called to report the amazingly bad news: the arteries on the right side of his heart are 70 percent blocked; on the left, 100 percent. The doctors were astonished that he hadn’t already had a heart attack and immediately put him on support to stave one off. They want to do a multiple bypass—and by “multiple,” we mean “quadruple” may be an understatement—and they plan to do it today or, at latest, tomorrow.
It’s hard to believe. The man is not just active; he’s athletic. This guy hikes up and down mountains several times a week. When he’s not climbing, he’s swimming laps in an Olympic-sized pool, bicycling twenty or thirty miles from Sun City into Phoenix and then bicycling back, hunting, fishing, camping, or taking long walks around town. He hasn’t smoked in thirty or forty years, he doesn’t eat junk food, he drinks moderately (of late…most of the time), he keeps his blood pressure under control.
New Girlfriend, present when this news was delivered, was unnerved. A recent widow, she’s already seen one husband and a son into the grave, and she doesn’t relish going through that again.
Everyone else is unnerved, too. Sister-in-Sin is on her way to Phoenix at this moment, as is Sane Daughter. Both are extremely competent women; the daughter is a nurse, and the sister, the wife of the pre-eminent cardiac anaesthesiologist in the Northwest. I don’t know how long his daughter will be able to stay here, since she has a full-time job and a family. But his sister probably can hang in for the duration.
Given that he is pretty fit—except for the fact that he’s about to keel over dead—maybe he’ll recover fully, and maybe he’ll spring back in three months or so. It’s extreme surgery, and IMHO dubious in some cases. Circulatory disease is not limited to the arteries around the heart. My father told me, after his triple bypass, that if he had known how much he was going to suffer for the rest of his life, he wouldn’t have called for help when he had his heart attack. But he was 80 when he went under the knife; SDXB is only 70. And at 80, my father was no athlete.
So, we shall see. I hope SDXB’s health and active lifestyle aren’t ruined.
In an unguarded moment, NG remarked that they had discussed marriage and she had told him that after what she’d been through with her husband, she didn’t want ever to marry again, because she didn’t want to care for and watch another man die. But now, she said to me, she was pulled into it.
Exactly so. Few women will admit it publicly, but that’s a large reason many active, lively older women don’t take on new spouses late in life. It certainly is the main factor in my lackluster interest in men. I watched what happened to my stepmother after she married my father.
My mother died in April, when my father was 70 years old. By December, Helen had him at the altar. She was a very active, social woman who loved to travel, loved concerts, loved church-going. My father had seen the world, thank you, and couldn’t see any sense in leaving a perfectly good home to go gadding around expensively. A committed atheist, he wouldn’t go near a church and thought anyone who did was a superstitious fool. He called classical music “piddly-piddly music” and loathed sitting through a concert.
Helen’s first husband, a coronary invalid, had died of a massive heart attack while she was off leading a bus tour. She never got over the feeling of guilt for not having been at his side when he died. So, as my father grew weaker and sicker—he also became a coronary invalid—her life grew more and more constrained. They lived in a three-room apartment in a life care community. I can’t imagine—make that “don’t want to imagine”—being trapped with my father in three tiny rooms, month after month after month.
She spent the last few good years of her life dutifully taking care of a sick, unhappy, cranky old man. By the time he passed, there was nothing left for her. She was a mental wreck, and her physical health was pretty well wrecked, too.
They were married for about 14 years. Eight or nine of those were years in which Helen was still vigorous enough to continue her active, outgoing lifestyle. But that came to an end within two or three years after they married. Long before he was hit with a heart attack, my father was unable to do much. By marrying him, she traded her vigorous, if sometimes lonely, life for one as an unpaid nurse and maid. She sacrificed the last good years of her life to take care of a man who secretly wanted to divorce her.
I hope she never realized that last bit.
That sacrifice is necessary and maybe even fine if you’ve been married to a man for thirty, forty, fifty years and you have a lifetime commitment. But not so much when it’s someone you’ve met late in life, when really what you’re looking for is not to build a family but to have someone to go out to dinner and a movie with. There are worse things than loneliness. Way worse.
Old age is not for the faint of heart. That’s for sure.
Update: SDXB himself just called on the phone, sounding as bushy-tailed as usual. He said the docs have moved the surgery up to 9:00 this morning. He didn’t sound too depressed; thankful, maybe, that this discovery was made before he had a heart attack. It’s possible the heart itself is not damaged, which would mean he may make a good recovery. Brother-in-Sin is also headed into town, an excellent development: Arizona’s hospitals leave a lot to be desired, and this guy, an eminent member of the doctors’ club, will ride herd on what’s going on there.