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The Decision of a Lifetime

That I did, still do, even in the hospital. In fact, I'm now on my second pad. I call it my cummerbund, the pad men wear around the middle when they're wearing a tuxedo. You also see many such pads on men in the Giant who do the checkout jobs, whose backs take a pounding from standing and stuffing your groceries in bags.

Dr. Oskoui thought that my back, while a problem, was strictly secondary to my heart valve problem. Doubtless true, but still something significant to consider in my deciding about a heart operation.


Roberts, at his backyard pool earlier this week. Despite physical ailments, the 93-year-old built up his strength over the summer by swimming laps. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

About the Author

Chalmers M. Roberts was once described as a "one-man band who could and did cover any story in the paper." Besides serving as chief diplomatic correspondent of The Post, he wrote about the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, the White House, the redevelopment of Southwest Washington in the early 1950s and the Watts riots in 1965. He is the author of books on such topics as nuclear arms control and the joys of being a grandfather. He lives in Bethesda.

_____The Heart_____
Hearts in the Right Place (The Washington Post, Apr 5, 2005)
QUICK STUDY : A weekly digest of new research on major health topics (The Washington Post, Apr 5, 2005)
A Weekly Shot of News and Notes (The Washington Post, Apr 5, 2005)
How Can You Rehab a Broken Heart? Exercise, Diet, Stress Reduction (The Washington Post, Apr 5, 2005)
Hold the Nitro? (The Washington Post, Mar 29, 2005)
More Heart News

The next day, Sunday afternoon, all three of my children -- David, Christopher, who was just back from the beach with his wife and four kids, and my faithful daughter, Patricia, who'd rushed out to Sibley to see me the first day -- all gathered in my spacious single hospital room. Pat's husband also sat in.

We had a great three-hour gabfest. I told stories on each of them as kids growing up in our house. We reminisced about all those years so long ago, about their mom, and then we got down to the serious business of the proposed heart operation.

Over about half a century I naturally had formed a view of each child's personality and, I was glad to see that during this conversation, they ran true to my opinions of each one. Some stressed this point, others that one. Their opinions did not differ from what I had expected. They didn't fully agree, but there was no violent opposition to one another. And they all agreed that I should make the final decision.

So I started to talk about where my mind had led me at this point. I said I had no problem with the operation itself -- either it would succeed, which I assumed, or I'd die on the operating table. My problem was with post-op, the recovery, the rehab.

Dr. Oskoui had said I'd be in the hospital for about 10 days, then perhaps three weeks of rehab as an inpatient.

I began to recall what had happened to me during my few days already in Sibley: this test and then that one, the prodding and poking involved, lying flat on my back on a bed cart (a gurney) waiting to be moved from one place to another, then back to my bed. What would four or five more weeks of that be like after an operation? Plenty of tests, no doubt -- and plenty of poking and prodding, no matter how excellent the nurses and technicians.

At 93, too, there's a sort of indignity to men in all that. I'm not being a snob about it, just telling you about the rather human reaction. When one is younger, a lot younger than 93, one takes it more in stride. But at 93 . . . not so easy.

And then the big question: If everything were to go successfully, operation and rehab, what would I come home to?


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