It happens way too often. In most cases, a spouse (usually a wife) encourages, admonishes, nudges, even nags her significant other to seek medical attention when he complains of “not feeling right.” Perhaps he doesn’t even complain, but women have a mysterious gift called intuition, and she knows he’s not himself. Most recently, it happened like this: The under-50 husband had lived for months, maybe years, in failing health. And, for years, his persistent wife had encouraged him to seek medical attention. He refused. Eventually, perhaps because of her admonishment, perhaps because he knew it was time — who knows — but he agreed to go see a doctor — tomorrow. Tomorrow came and his wife strategically planned to have him walk to the car taking the route that was the least physically demanding due to his worsening condition. Good idea, or so she thought. She positioned the car so he could get to it easily, and she could assist. In an instant, he dropped out of sight, and then she saw him, lying on the ground, unresponsive. She ran to his side. He was pulseless and breathless. She began CPR. Firefighters arrived and took over care. Shortly thereafter, paramedics arrived and tried valiantly to save him. It didn’t work. She begged them to keep trying, thinking if they somehow tried a bit longer he might survive. But, it was too little, too late.
Why am I writing about this tragedy? Well, as I said, it happens too often. It’s not an anomaly. Another similar story hit home — painfully hard. His name was Brad, a Vail cop, and a damn good one; highly respected, passionate about serving, 30 years on the job — too young to go. Ironically, or better stated, heroically, he had performed CPR on a citizen two days prior to “not feeling right.” The citizen didn’t make it, but in attempting to revive him, Brad exerted himself until, well, until total exhaustion. The next day, he complained to his wife, thinking maybe it was the flu or maybe it was the life-saving effort the day before — he just didn’t feel right. He gave in and agreed with his wife to go see a doctor — tomorrow. Tomorrow came and he went downstairs to shower and get ready to go, except he never made it. He collapsed, unresponsive. Attempts to resuscitate were unsuccessful — too little, too late. To say he is missed is an understatement. Yet, I somehow think he would find some gratification in that he gave us perspective, a forced reality check — life is fragile. Whether it is denial, arrogance, or just a refusal to hear the truth about our health, men (more than women) seem to be great at turning our heads in the face of our own mortality. It’s not a fear of dying, it’s just, well, maybe a refusal to accept something we can’t fix or control. Every man wants a battle to fight, but to walk into a hospital to be told something is really wrong — no way. We would rather fight for our country, freedom, love, our families, take a bullet or do CPR on a dying man. It’s not the common cold we are talking about. There’s a difference between not feeling well and not feeling right. Think about it. It’s when you know there is something really wrong, but denying seems easier or safer — deferrable, until ... tomorrow. So, what’s the point? These stories trouble me. Maybe it didn’t have to happen. Men, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror; take a deep breath of self-awareness. How are you feeling? Look yourself in the eye when you answer. Get real, swallow hard and make a phone call — today. Brad would smile.
February 14, 2007, Valentine’s Day. Ironically, a day that is all about our hearts. Lynn was 27, beautiful, active and enthusiastic, with a smile that lights up the room. She died on that day; and then ... she was brought back, miraculously, incredibly, thankfully. You see, Lynn went into sudden cardiac arrest at her place of work. No history, no heart problems, nothing. One of her co-workers started CPR. Firefighters arrived shortly and took over care. Paramedics arrived and shocked her heart. She lived, yeah, amazingly, but the story didn’t end there. Every year, she walks through the fire station door on Feb. 14, with a card, a grateful heart and a huge hug. She’ll never forget — neither will we. Better yet, she started her life’s work of educating people about sudden cardiac arrest. She has touched hundreds — probably saved a few lives along the way. In one of her cards recently, she spoke of the blessings she’s experienced by getting a second chance. The simple things — time with family, walks with the dog, a new namesake niece, two goddaughters, closer to her sister, her husband, friends and, of course, perspective. And most of all, the great story of a quest — the journey of her heart. Go girl.
Mark Miller is Vail’s fire chief.