Just a Reminder: Life Is Good

(Bill O'leary - Bill O'leary/twp)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I guess I'm the bad boy of heart attack survivors. Mine played like low comedy from the start. It felt not like shearing pain; I had no revelations of mortality and sense of endtimes and lost opportunities. Actually, it seemed Bill Clinton was sitting on my chest playing the saxophone.

My initial diagnosis was hunger, so I left my apartment, bought a hamburger and returned to see the end of the game. When the game was over and the burger gone, Bill hadn't left, so I drove to a famous hospital's emergency room and promptly got into a fight with a line-butter who said he had asthma. I thought a heart attack trumped that, but there was no order, no authority in that place. Just pure Hobbesian angst. Not for me, thank you very much.

So I drove across town to a smaller hospital, where I was well treated from the start and even -- I love this part! -- recognized. (The head of medicine was a fan of my books.) I got my stent in 45 minutes, which I remember mostly for the one-liners, the best of which belonged to the young doctor who put the thing in. She said, "If you write about this, make me taller and cuter."

I never cried, I kind of enjoyed the attention, I never felt particularly mortal, and my sworn changes lasted about a week. The no-caffeine went first, and if you've ever tried to go no-caffeine after a seven-cup-a-day habit, you know why.

I suppose I'm better off now, due mostly to my wife's heroism, not my own. That woman just won't let me die. Supposedly I'm down to two drinks a day, I almost never eat fast food, I try to exercise at least a couple of times a week, though mildly, and I'm on the Lipitor/Toporol express to my late 90s.

I will say that, psychologically, the attack had almost no weight at all. When I see the leaves on the trees in the summer and I realize that at 61 I'll see them for fewer years than I've already seen them, that depresses me. The same is true of women's legs in the summer, or good movies or nice guns. All those emblems of diminishment to the inescapable vanishing point are enough to make me tragically rue the two-drink rule.

But I hardly ever think about the attack or the three days in intensive care or the sense of being wired to a billion dollars worth of gizmos. I don't think of the fatigue, the hunger I felt for real food, fresh air, a good pair of new New Balance hikers, maybe a little hoochie-coo, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. I've banished all of that, like a lot of other unpleasantness in my life.

But I will say this, now that via these paragraphs I've revisited all: Life is good, death is bad. Maybe I'll start walking FOUR times a week.

Stephen Hunter, who had a heart attack in 2004, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for The Post. He is currently on book leave.

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