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Monday, August 30, 2004

Close to his heart

Charlie had a heart attack tonight. My dad is only 62 and has always been a pretty healthy guy. My sister and I always loved the old photo of him doing a back bend while my petite mom stood on his stomach. I can still see his graceful swan dive off the high dive at Berea municipal pool while we stood by the side of the pool cheering him on. And the way he give us whale rides in the ocean, gliding smooth as silk through the water. He still takes meticulous care of his yard and golfs at least once a week. So it was quite a shock to hear my mom's shaky voice on my cell phone telling me that he had been admitted to MetroHealth and was undergoing heart catheterization.

In times of family trouble, I take on the role of sibling-in-charge. My first order of business was to get home, pick up my rosary (because I knew my mom would need it) and head down to the hospital to be by her side.

As I headed downtown I called my Gram for any news. I complained about being stopped by a train and she nearly shouted at me, "Wendy Ann, that's God's way of telling you to slow down!" And so I did, sort of, and then called my brother and sister in Columbus to let them know I would share any news.

After many twists and turns, I found my mom in the waiting room in the cardiac care unit. She had her head against the wall and USA Today in front of her, but she wasn't reading. Her eyes were closed and I'm sure she was praying.

"Mom," I said gently. She jumped up to hug me and told me she felt so bad. Apparently he was feeling ill yesterday, too. Mom works at Metro and today was her first day back from vacation so she wasn't home with my dad when he went to the doctor.

"Did you blow it off, mom?"

"Yes!" she exhaled. "We thought it was heartburn," not an uncommon occurrence with heart attack symptoms.

We sat together, holding hands and comforting each other. I gave her my rosary and she said, "You knew." I did. My mom's faith is awe-inspiring and I knew she would need its comfort. Before long, my younger brother, Scott, arrived—all six feet two inches and 220 pounds of him visibly shaken.

We didn't have to wait long before the cardiologist came to tell us that dad had 80 percent blockage in the main artery on the right side of his heart. They were able to clear the blockage and insert mesh stents to support his weakened arteries. He has 100 percent blockage in a branch artery on the left side of his heart, and the doctor said it would cause more damage to try to remove the blockage. Since it's a branch artery, they weren't as concerned. The good news is that we seem to have dodged open heart surgery.

What is concerning, however, is how my dad, who had a clean bill of health 16 months ago, could suddenly develop coronary artery disease. According to the doctor, it doesn't take much time for blockages to develop (weeks, sometimes days).

I went in to see Charlie once he was in his room. He had to lie flat and had his glasses folded on his chest. Tubes, probes and monitors were attached all over him. But as I walked to the bed he grabbed my hand, squeezed it tightly and said, "Hey, sugar." I kissed his balding head as I've done since I was a little girl. "Dad, what happened?" I teased.

Although I'm sure there are some who think me a Daddy's Girl, I've never been the type to fall into "little girl" mode when I'm with him. He's always appreciated, respected and encouraged the grown woman in me. We have a relationship that is both loving and teasing. He and I are simpatico intellectually, politically and culturally. He taught me early on that I should never let anyone hold me down because I'm a woman. He was my earliest and biggest fan, still is. He laughs louder at the antics of my sister and I than anyone. And he shares our love of reading, history and period films. He introduced us kids to the wit of Benny Hill and the grace and beauty in a perfect drive down the fairway.

He has a passion for Civil War history, never able to pass up a Civil War site or old cemetery. He filled our car rides with what we believed was useless trivia, but which I have found myself repeating to my own children ("What's the geographic center of the state of Ohio? Centerburg!"). And he turned the Sunday Drive into an art form. "Circleville is just over the next hill, kids," he'd say after what seemed like hours of driving "just over the next hill."

He taught me to dream big and that it is okay to be serious about what you love.

During our one tumultuous family fight, my mom proclaimed that she wondered if any of us would miss dad if he died. Well, tonight, my younger brother and I were at his beside. And as I gave the report to my brother and sister in Columbus on my drive home, they both said—without hesitation—"I'm coming up in the morning. I need to see dad."

So I guess you could say we're all holding him close in our heart but, more importantly, we long to be close to his.

Love ya, Charlie. We're praying for ya.

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