A book review shouldn’t be personal; however, this one is. Last October, the phone call I received was not the one I had expected. With a 96 year old grandmother on hospice care, I was braced for the inevitable urgent call from my mother. When my husband rang my cell and said, “You have to call your mom. Now.” I was sad, but prepared. I thought. Mom’s words came out in English, but they made no sense. “Your dad was on the elliptical, and he started having chest pains. The ambulance is taking him to the hospital now; they think it’s a heart attack. I need you.” My hand drew a wavering line through my schedule as I told Mom, “I’m walking out the door now.” I remember looking over my shoulder at our poor receptionist. “Refer out the rest of the weekend; my dad’s had a heart attack.”
The experience was terrifying and surreal for the entire family. The warning signs were present: stress eating runs in our family, my physician sister had been bullying my parents with dark mutterings about “abdominal obesity” and “heart disease” for several months, and Dad had a long forgotten stent placed in one of his coronary arteries over ten years before. Still, denial runs deep, and Dad didn’t seem to fit the profile. Sure, a few pounds had crept on with middle age, but he still looks like Harrison Ford. My sister’s warnings were heeded mainly in an effort to get her off of everyone’s back — Stephanie makes her pit bull look passive. Dad doesn’t smoke; doesn’t drink excessively; olive oil, vegetables, and fish already played major roles in my parents’ house; and he was working out. He had just completed his personal best on the elliptical trainer when the chest pain struck.
I wish that I had found Back to Life after a Heart Crisis by Marc Wallack, M.D. and his wife Jamie Colby during that dark October. As a medically literate family, we managed to ask most of the right questions of the physicians and nurses, but we had no clue how to deal with the emotional fallout. Ours is an educated, WASP family — we don’t do emotions or weakness; we do ideas, quips, and stoicism. Of the four of us, my father is the most intellectual, most stoic, and most quippy. I wish I had known at the time what he was experiencing.