Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Next time you survive a heart attack, try to fine-tune the description

What action verb best describes a heart attack?

Most times, the past tense of have serves the purpose. Dad had a heart attack. That's so bland. You can "have" a heart attack, just as you can have a cup of coffee or a bad day. But it doesn't really get to the heart of the matter.  Something happens when you have a heart attack, something profound. The muscle that keeps you human stops working. It is an experience of a lifetime and, often, the last experience, your deathtime. It deserves a better description.

The heart attack should be the subject of the sentence. A heart attack killed father. A heart attack claimed his life. You can add an adverb: A heart attack almost killed father. Most of us survivors are fond of adverbs such as almost or nearly, Our lives depended on those adverbs. You could also stay with the action verbs and say something like this: Dad beat the reaper. Or, if you prefer, "Don't Fear the Reaper" with jangly guitars and cowbell, always more cowbell.

Heart attacks deserve better treatment, language-wise. They define what comes after, whether that be finality or life's new chapter. I was lucky and got the latter. I paid a price for neglecting the telltale signs. I wear an ICD in my chest wall that sends signals to a hospital monitoring station. I remain confident that Russian hackers will never find the frequency. But please alert me if I ever start saying nice things about Donald Trump.

My widowmaker heart attack on Jan. 2, 2013, nearly killed me. I lived. During my year of recovery, I went through rehab and ate right and exercised and continued not smoking (I quit in 1985). Some things I did not do. I did not read and entire novel. I wrote very little, although I blogged a bit about the widowmaker (links here and here). The experience took a piece of my heart, my soul. I never thought I would write fiction again. I told my wife Chris that I would never write another book, not even in retirement. She was having none of that. I started a novel the day after I retired in January 2016. I'm 30,000-some words into it. Hard work, this novel-writing biz. Better suited for a young man. Now I have experience but not the stamina. Life plays mean tricks. It entertains us with surprises.

How did the term "heart attack" get started? The heart does not attack. It protests. Dad ate too many Big Macs and his heart is mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore. Bam -- your heart seizes up like an engine low on life-giving 10W-40. My original diagnosis was Acute Myocardial Infarction accompanied by Congestive Heart Failure. I could also call it a Coronary Thrombosis. These terms aren't nearly as colorful as Heart Attack. That's what I will continue to say. And will continue to find better ways to describe that thing that disrupted but didn't end my life.

No comments: