The first seemingly ho-hum sign that my train was about to derail occurred when Charlie, my s-pie (aka sweetie pie) for more than forty years, went for a stress test. He’d had no pain, breathlessness or any of the usual unpleasant symptoms of heart disease, but his cholesterol and triglyceride numbers had been high since the 1980s, so his primary physician wanted the test anyway.
Afterwards, my sweetie said it had gone “just fine—no problem at all.” We agreed that in his case the high numbers were apparently just an odd anomaly. I went back to feverishly working on my cookbook (due Sept. 1–yikes!).
Two days later, our doctor called to say the test had revealed an “anomaly” (that word again) at the highest exertion level. He referred Charlie to a cardiologist, who ordered a CAT scan. The results astonished us both: a major artery was partially blocked! This had (fortunately) happened gradually, allowing smaller vessels to grow up around the main one and compensate somewhat for the “occlusion.” (I was picking up medical lingo I’d never expected to learn.)
Less than a week later, I was at Johns Hopkins, waiting for an “interventionist” surgeon to come discuss the results of Charlie’s three-hour catheterization. (Dye is injected so blood flow can be tracked through the circulatory system.) We’d been told that “depending,” a stent might be inserted and I’d have to leave him there overnight. But we were optimistic about avoiding that annoying inconvenience.
I was buoyed when Dr. Herzog appeared and matter-of-factly said, “No stent.” But at his next words I suddenly seemed to be free-falling from a very high cliff. “No point—he’s got one totally occluded artery, and two with a 60 to 70 percent blockage. He needs by-pass surgery.” I just stared, thinking (hoping) I’d misunderstood or that this was one of those weird, twisted dreams I sometimes have.
Once Charlie came to, we were briefed on the horrific-sounding details of the open-heart procedure to come: The breast bone would be sawed apart. The heart would be stopped. A pump would circulate the blood. Veins from his body would be harvested for the by-passes. Blah, blah, blah…. My head swam, and I’m sure Charlie’s did too. This wasn’t happening….
We spent the rest of the afternoon numbly following through with cardiac surgery pre-admission paperwork and exams. He was still a little woozy and I was still in shock as we headed toward the recovery room door. “Now you take care and don’t overdo it, Mr. Baggett,” the discharging nurse admonished. From her tone it was clear she viewed him as gravely ill.
In the blink of an eye, our comfortable, decades-old image of him as a man healthy, vigorous, and fit enough to walk up the five flights of stairs to his office each day was shattered. The shards of a reality we’d always taken for granted lay strewn around our previously orderly lives.
To continue to part 2, click here.
Italian Garden Pasta Salad
Colorful, fresh-tasting and quite hearty-healthy, this pasta salad makes a nice addition to a warm weather meal. The vegetables add a pleasing crunchy-crisp texture and the lemon vinaigrette dressing adds a light, zesty flavor. The recipe can be prepared up to several days ahead, if desired.
Tip: If you don’t have orzo (a small rice-shaped pasta), substitute whatever small pasta shape you have on hand.
1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo (about 8 ounces) or other small pasta shape
1 cup each diced carrot and celery
1 cup each diced red and yellow sweet peppers
1/3 cup chopped green onions or finely chopped fresh chives
1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra virgin
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (yellow part of peel)
Black pepper and salt to taste
Cook orzo according to package directions until just al dente. Turn out into a colander. Rinse until cold water; drain well.
In a large serving bowl, stir together carrots, celery, sweet pepper, and green onions. In a small non-reactive bowl, mix 1/4 cup lemon juice, parsley, 3 tablespoons oil, marjoram, lemon zest, pepper and salt until well blended. Pour dressing over diced vegetables. Add orzo to vegetables, tossing until thoroughly blended. Add more lemon juice, oil, and salt and pepper, to taste. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to several days, if desired.
Makes 5 to 7 servings.