Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 25, 2013

Life after close call is one of smiles, joy and renewed appreciation

— Every time I bump into Travis Johnson, he smiles and asks me if I’ve had a heart attack. Travis was the first person I saw on March 2, 2006, when I was running to a truck crash scene on the old Bluefield-Tazewell Road and was doubled over with a heart attack that killed 54 percent of my heart. I’m getting some of my heart capacity back now thanks to great medical care, Zumba, walking and my wife’s tender loving care, but with each new day, I become increasingly more aware that God could have taken me home that day as I crossed the parking lot of the old Lowe’s at St. Clair’s Crossing.

I think Travis gets a kick out of the fact that he saw me at a moment in my life when I was so close to death. He didn’t know what was wrong with me, and all I could say was that I was doubled over with what, to me, felt like a sudden-onset severe chest cold and couldn’t walk for a few minutes. I think he offered to check me out, but I declined, saying that I had to get back to work and besides, I had an appointment in two days with my family doctor.

I was still able to walk 10 minutes on a treadmill, so it took a doctor and hospital visit along with three trips to my cardiologist before a nuclear scan revealed the extent of the damage. After that, everything started happening quickly. I knew something was up. I was pedaling hard but losing steam. Over the weekend before I had my heart surgery, I was sweating bullets just to do the simple task of dragging a couple of discarded tires up a hill. Unfortunately, that strength thing still hasn’t returned. In my prime, I once lifted a 600-pound spool of wire because I was mad at a tow motor operator. I don’t think I could budge an 80-pound spool now.

But Travis Johnson keeps smiling when he sees me. I told him then, and I tease him now, that I still don’t want him to give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but I was probably as close to needing extraordinary life-saving measures that morning than I ever have before or since. I have always felt real close to paramedics and firefighters, but since that time, my respect and admiration for them has only grown. I still try to run to get to crash scenes, but I take exercise, diet and rest a lot more seriously now.

When I was doubled over that morning, I thought it was odd that my torso was parallel with the ground. I couldn’t straighten up even though I tried. I did try to walk, but I couldn’t bend my knees very well, so I thought I must have looked like one of those Imperial Walkers from the first trilogy of Star Wars movies to anyone who cared to glance in my direction. I thought that moving would limber me up a little bit, so I kept moving. I think the first thing I said to Travis was that it took me 20 minutes to walk 50 yards.

I’m glad God gave me the strength to walk that day. With all of the traffic that was backed up for the wreck, someone would probably have seen me fall, but maybe not. It was cold enough that I would have been chilled quickly. I think I thought of that, but it’s really hard to think of everything. I have since read several reports of how heart attacks present, but none mentioned rapid onset severe chest cold with Imperial Walker-like motion.

Since then, I’ve learned to take more things in stride and try to smile a lot more. I cherished every day I saw my mom and my mother-in-law before they passed, and was always glad to help lift their spirits in some small way. I smile a lot on the days I get to spend with my wife, and count the minutes at work sometimes until I can be home again. I’m not really mad when she beats me to the coffee table to play a game of solitaire before my turn rolls around again. I take joy in little things I thought didn’t matter before my heart attack. I have always loved washing dishes, but I enjoy it even more now even though I tease my wife by saying “Happy Thanksgiving” when she leaves several pots and pans in the sink.

And I’ve loved seeing grandchildren grow. I think they’re beautiful. If you have words to describe that feeling, fill them in here. I’m too busy smiling to think of words. I’m sure there are some floating around.

One of these days, I’ll get Jay and Jack Sarver’s former Corvair back on the road, but for now, I’m enjoying the mental adventure of automobile restoration. I can’t do some of the things I used to do, but God continues to guide me on a path of service. I find joy in many things that I didn’t even notice a few years ago and I don’t sweat the small stuff like I used to.

Oh yeah, and I smile each time that I see Travis Johnson again. I smile because God has blessed me with another day to open my eyes and enjoy all the wonders of this world.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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