I turned 61 last week. I’m still alive.
That statement may seem weird to younger folks, but as a male over the age of 60, I have to get used to the fact that I could keel over dead of a heart attack any minute.
When I was young, I used to wonder what that must be like. Now that I’m here, it’s just like anything else in life: You adapt. You get used to it. You keep on going.
Now when my eyes pop open in the morning the first thing I do is thank God for another day. Then I say the Lord’s Prayer.
Last year was 60 and I had a big party. It was fun but a hassle. This year, I’m back to my 25-year tradition of having some good friends meet me at Thai Time (formerly the Thai House). It’s easy. I can send out the texts in a few minutes. I shoot for 12, which is the optimum number. This year I nailed it. We ordered Chinese style and shared all the dishes. Lots of food, wine and laughter with dear friends and family. That’s about all you can ask for in life.
This year I had a health scare. I got a CT scan of my heart and my calcium score was off the charts. My cardiologist said it was the second highest he had ever seen, 1400.
This led me to frantically reading online medical studies while simultaneously picking my pall bearers.
So often you hear about others receiving devastating health news and you wonder how it must feel. Kind of makes your head spin. The good news is I lost eight pounds in a week!
My father died of a sudden heart attack at age 65. When statins came out, I decided to take a chance on these new drugs. I’ve been taking them for over 30 years. I’m a guinea pig.
As it turns out, statins turn dangerous gooey unstable plaque into much smaller inert, stable, mineralized calcium. So my high calcium score could be evidence that the statins have saved my life. Maybe.
It was an interesting God moment. I was praying to God that I accept the task at hand in my life. I didn’t want to call it quits, even though I am over-insured. No sooner had the prayer ended, then I started finding medical studies that indicated high calcium scores may not in fact be so bad. How does He do that? I guess if you can create the universe, you can pretty much do whatever you want.
Anyway, my cardiologist, Steve Hindman, the same one my father had, was not too optimistic about my upcoming nuclear stress test (a myocardial perfusion scan, to be technical about it.) “I play 18 holes of golf, then three sets of singles tennis, then work in my yard for two hours, shower and ask my wife where we’re going to dinner. How can I have a bad heart?” I asked him, but my words didn’t change his prognosis of 50 percent chance of blockage. I spent a week anticipating stents or open heart surgery.
It was a strange feeling to watch the caller ID and know you’re about to have a conversation that can change your life. You push answer and brace yourself.
“The results could not have been more perfect,” Hindman said. Instant relief. Turns out my heart is a pumping machine, 70 percent ejection fraction. Top of the class. Zero blockage anywhere. Zero abnormalities. No wall thickening.
I texted my close friends and family: “From dead man walking to Superman in just a few days.” I give credit to my Sunday School classmates. Their prayers worked.
Bill Jordan, a fellow Covenant classmate, came up to me after class. He told me his father died of a heart attack at age 45. Like me, he went with statins decades ago. He got a calcium score of 1200 in just one artery, the LDA widowmaker. His cardiologist rushed him to the cath lab only to find 20-30 percent blockage, which is nothing for his age.
As I tell my wife, I now like to think of my heart arteries as Roman aqueducts lined with gleaming polished protective calcium.
A new study looks at calcium density versus volume. Turns out high calcium density is actually protective, counteracting the risky volume. The current Agatston scoring calculation is volume times density which can be deceptive. This is similar to how we gradually learned there is a good cholesterol as well as a bad cholesterol.
I was explaining all this to my doctor and friend Scott Carlton who responded, “Okay, so now what are you going to die from?” Good point, a sudden heart attack isn’t a bad way to go.
There were other big changes in my life this year. After 25 years of flying, I sold my airplane. There were many reasons. For one, I just wasn’t flying enough. The thrill was gone. Been there, done that. And the tax depreciation had run out.
I thought by now I would need an airplane to fly to my far flung media empire, but Google, Facebook and Big Data nixed that dream. My newspapers are nearby and it’s really as easy to drive as fly. Plus advances in communication have made it much easier to monitor a business with online reports and data. It’s hard to think all my accumulated flying knowledge is to go to waste. But in the end, all your knowledge goes to waste.
N210BA is now half way to Thailand, where it was purchased by an Australian real estate entrepreneur. Amazingly, I sold it for more than I paid for it 15 years ago. Brewer Pearson was a great broker. My partner Judson Colley is a prince of a guy. We never once had a harsh word over 10 years.
So far, I don’t miss it, except for moments of longing every now and then when I hear an airplane engine and look up into the sky.
In truth, golf killed my flying. As a child, I loved golf, but gave it up when my own children were born. Now as my children are grown, golf is back in my life. I had no extra time so something had to give. Golf is far less expensive than flying.
I don’t think I would have taken up golf if I had not realized I could hit plastic golf balls off my brick patio into an open area behind my backyard. These balls are called Almost Golf balls and they go about a third as far as a real golf ball yet the flight path is true allowing you to see the result of your swing. I video record myself with my camera on a tripod and then compare to pro swings online.
It took me about a year and a half, but I am now breaking 80, better golf than when I was a teenager on the Greenwood High School golf team. You have to study the proper swing and then force yourself to swing the way the pros do, even if it feels awkward. There are many ways to swing a golf club, but if you follow conventional wisdom you increase the probability of scoring well.
I am still playing tons of tennis, which according to a recent massive study, prolongs your life by 9.3 years, three times longer than any other physical activity. I am totally mainstream now: golf, tennis, yard work and guitar. I love the beauty of a golf course. If you can really practice and master the swing, it’s actually pleasant and fun. I have a whole new set of golfing buddies and the comradery is great. Jackson is a great golf town with tons of affordable courses.
When people ask me how things are going, I say, “Nobody’s in the hospital or jail, so things are great.” I’ve had an interesting ride so far, but when your 21-year-old hellion calls you on your birthday and tells you how much he loves and respects you and apologizes for the rough patches, it puts it all in perspective. My daughter is a dream. Son John means my life will never be boring. And Ginny still pulls my heart strings.
I was hoping to be rich by now, but it didn’t turn out that way. I’ve got some big challenges ahead, but I always have thrived on challenges so it’s time to strap in and jump back into the fray.
And when I lay my head down at night, I will repeat the same words from the night before. “Thank you God for the experiences of this day.”