The Heart Of The Matter

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By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — The year was 1969. The place was Northeast Philadelphia, in a small twin home right off of Roosevelt Boulevard.

A man, age 73, was having chest pains but was in denial that it was anything serious and went to take a nap on the couch with a vow to feel better when he woke up. His wife, though worried, went along with the plan.

At some point, a few hours later, he fell of the couch and couldn’t get up. His wife called her children, asking what to do.

They said to call an ambulance.

By the time it arrived and took him to the hospital, it was too late.

The man was Morris Glantz, my grandfather.

I know I knew him as Pop-Pop and have only faint recollections of him playing with me for hours on the floor when my father, recently divorced from my mother, would pick me up on Friday evenings and take me on the other side of the boulevard for dinner and playtime.

I missed a Friday, I remember that, and then went back the following week.

“Where’s Pop-Pop?” I asked, innocently.

“Pop-Pop died,” my father responded.

I didn’t know quite what that meant. I got a vision of him diving into a bottomless pit. I knew he wasn’t coming back.

The look on my face surely broke my father’s heart.

I was 4, and down a grandfather.

My grandmother, Mom-Mom, looked worn-out and not overly cheerful as she placed a plate of chicken in front of me.

It’s all a vague memory now, but it stuck with me enough that I know that it is better to be cautious than sorry.

I recently experienced sudden and severe chest pains. They felt more muscular and were emanating in the center of my chest and, when I tried to move or lay down, hurt more on the right side.

I knew the odds of a heart attack were slim, but slim and none live in two different universes.

Heart issues run rampant on my father’s side of the family, and I generally tend to inherit those genes, with my father needing a six-way bypass when he was just a year or two older than I am now.

I know he dawdled about going, even after a minor heart attack when he was a few years younger than I am now, but he made the decision to go for it.

Back then, in 1988, bypasses were not sure things. He was laid up for weeks (they didn’t throw patients out of hospitals 16 minutes later, either). While it was not his heart that took him two decades later, he paid the price by losing a lot of business as a self-employed lawyer.

Still, as he withstood the humiliation of credit cards being declined and bill collectors calling, he was able to see his kids married and grandchildren born (although Sofia was barely a year old went he left us).

His maternal grandfather died of a heart attack in his mid-fifties. His older brother, Uncle Oscar, who I am most similar to in appearance (he was the best looking) also died instantly of a heart attack in his late seventies.

Knowing all this, and aware that I don’t want Sofia to grow up without a father because of some “I’ll be OK” macho act, I woke up my wife at 3 a.m. in a bit of a panic.

After some fierce Googling, and the realization that the pain was coming from a raised area in the center of my chest, fears shifted to a blood clot or lung cancer (although I knew lung cancer doesn’t just show up out of nowhere).

After we tussled over what hospital to go to, we settled on Abington-Lansdale, and we had the ER to ourselves in the pre-dawn hours.

I’m not sure who all the people were fussing all over me – I’m guessing a RN, NP, PA and an orderly – but I was well on my way to readiness when the world’s friendliest ER doctor greeted us and seemed semi-confident it was nothing more than something external.

The news, as it turned out, was all good.

It was some sort of muscle strain (even though I still can’t put my finger on the time and place the injury occurred).

The raised area? Not a tumor or a blood clot. It was my breast bone. And everyone has one.

They gave me a shot of something, and I was feeling better within 30 minutes.

In the interim, I got the best news of all. My heart, they said, not only looked normal but “beyond normal.”

The EEG, EKG – whatever they call it – showed that it “couldn’t be better.”

Relieved, we hit one of our favorite haunts – Tiger’s Restaurant in Lansdale – right as it opened at 6 a.m.

As I ate with a new lease on life, I couldn’t help but think of the people who have something more serious going on and don’t go the ER.

I’m not sure why Pop-Pop didn’t go that night in 1969, but a lot of people these days don’t want to deal with the onerous co-pay just to find out it was a false alarm.

There is no way to get an actual number of those who decide against it, because many are not alive to tell the tale.

But I am.

The current healthcare system stinks. We know that. But the actual medical care in this country does not.

All I can say is to weigh the two when faced with the same situation.

And I’ll add this: While I don’t believe in angels smiling down on me and all that stuff, I feel like I honored the memory of the grandfather I never really got to know.

This column ran in The Times Herald on Sept. 8, 2019.

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