Sunday to Saturday

Of all the things that were difficult about Bill’s heart attack the one that, oddly, seemed hardest  was buying the weekly pill box for him.

The logic was inescapable. There I was in the hospital pharmacy, picking up the five medicines his cardiologists said he needed to stay alive, plus one more for stomach acid that turned out to be superfluous. He was supposed to take some of them once a day, others twice. We needed that plastic box with the fourteen chambers and the little doors. They were pink for morning (when the sky is blue) and blue for evening (when it sometimes turns pink). They had the days of the week written on them, AM and PM, Sunday to Saturday. But they might as well have said this: “Old age,” “weakness,” “illness,” “mortality.”

They were something my mother had, during her years of Alzheimer’s and expanding crowd of medications. Something Bill’s mother had to hold medications for diabetes, transplant anti-rejection, and then liver disease that finally overcame her. You have these boxes when you’re really old, on your way to death, that’s how it seemed to me. That wasn’t us, was it?

Well no, it isn’t us, at least not necessarily. Lots of people have heart attacks and go on to lead long lives. A friend told me the other day that her 98-year-old father had one many years ago.  The fact that Bill seems to feel fine and in many ways seems more alert and more active than he has been in a long time gives me hope. So does the fact that he’s now walking on a regular basis. The only symptoms he has appear to be side effects of the medication he’s taking. They’re creating a lot of motivation for him to make the lifestyle changes that will get him off those meds more quickly. That gives me hope as well.

Bill did something that often makes heart damage much worse–he didn’t call 911 right away when the symptoms first appeared. Even so, he seems to have been very lucky. The quick care he received minimized damage to his heart muscle. So even though, according to a recent study, a heart attack lowers life expectancy by an average of just over five years for white men (and a good bit more for African-Americans and women), there’s every chance that statistic does not apply to him. At least that’s what I think, or what I’ve decided to think.

Seems it’s what he thinks, too. He’s completely focused on improving his own health as quickly as he can so as to get off the medications which are making him itch and bleed a little more easily, and also giving him leg cramps when he walks. And everything about him these days seems lighter, more optimistic, more alert, more awake.

Without ever thinking about, I realize I had a certainty and confidence in the future before the heart attack and I’m missing that now. But there’s every reason to work hard and hope. And, really, that’s all anybody can ever do.

Image: Kate Russel via Creative Commons

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