Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Pool

“Right here in River City” is a lyric from The Music Man and it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pool. The billiard kind, on a table, with balls rolling on a quality felt. My grandfather, a grand champion in his country, taught me the basics of banked shots and finesse with a chalk tipped cue. He snookered me many a time before I got the hang of the game. My mom however, agreed with the flim flammer character Harold Wilson, who felt that pool halls were places of sin. Here Mr.W. is played by Hugh Jackman singing a clip from ‘We’ve Got Trouble’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UOL5CzvxnI

Both my parents encouraged me to swim. I was enrolled in the Red Cross program and got badges up to Bronze level. I competed in local level swim meets, once getting a third place in Breast Stroke. I took SCUBA lessons in two different pools, then completed my open water certification near Tobermory, Ontario. Now in my seventh decade I tend to splash around when I enter a pool, yet I still feel confident that I won’t drown.

Bodies of water encourage me to enter. I love the feeling of buoyancy. I love holding my breath and sliding porpoise-like under the surface, frolicking in the two worlds of air and liquid. I prefer a hotel stay that gives me access to a pool. Even a half hour in the chlorine infused water gives me an emotional lift that is a combination of youthful exuberance and entitled bliss. The building where I’m staying in Mississauga has just opened its outdoor pool. I was there on the first day, waiting by the gate. Children were gathered, freshly freed from school, looking as excited as I was to have a swim. They hung back while I tested the waters and took the first dive. Sublime.

When I lived in Schumacher, I swam in the oldest indoor pool in Northern Ontario. The atmosphere in the vaulted room felt as confining as underground shafts built by the mining company that had made this recreational space for its employees and their families. I have found natural pools of water whenever I have travelled. Hot springs in New Zealand, frosty kettle lakes near Timmins, the ocean-like fresh water expanses of Lake Superior and the salty delight of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

When I first visited Victoria in British Columbia, my eldest son took me for a midnight New Year’s Eve swim held at a community pool. It was a tonic to celebrate time passages in that way. I remember the walk along the dark streets and a gin&tonic to cap the evening when we got back to his apartment. A friend of my wife asked her to cat sit her pets once and I went along because of the beautiful private pool located in her condo complex.

Where ever I go I pack a bathing suit. A chance to immerse myself in healing waters is not to be missed.

Re: Heel

I like to keep one step ahead of things. This makes it hard on me when situations require that I heel, while others take the lead. I’m not saying I need a leash, but recent events surrounding Covid19 restrictions mean I have to hold back my urge to take charge. I like to be ahead of the pack, or at least off to the side minding my own business. These days I’m feeling I have to wait for my dinner, whine for a walk or watch expectantly by the front door. When I die, I’m not coming back as a dog.

Perhaps coincidentally, cracked heels run in my family. My nan’s chiropodist used to remove the callused skin on her heels with a device like a potato peeler. My mom would forecast, “So if you don’t wear socks more often, you’re going to end up just like her.” I was given many cautionary tales as a kid and sometimes I’d have to decipher the meanings. My mom would frequently bring me to heel. “Robert, come sit and talk with me.” She’d pronounce like a summons, while tempting me with a loaf of fresh baked bread. Our kitchen table was one of those chromed things with a stained formica top. Mom smoked while she talked, her monologues might last only one cigarette but sometimes she’d chain smoke, punctuating sentences by butting out into a perpetually dirty glass ashtray. I remember a story of a guy she used to work with being described as, ‘such a heel’. That’s the only part I remember; that he was a heel. The fun visual stuck, sort of like the image of a dickhead, with roughly the same connotation.

I’ve learned that heels can come in all shapes and sizes. Evangelical tent preachers can sometimes be heels, taking advantage of trusting people, as depicted in the great Burt Lancaster film Elmer Gantry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z73HAUbQNp4

My dad liked imitating a crazed religious healer we occasionally saw on Sunday morning television. He would playfully slap the heels of his hands on my forehead or both sides of my head while crying out, “Now! Rise and be Healed!”

I’m married to a legitimate healer. She practised nursing and complementary medicine in her working years. Now she brings this experience to our friends and family. Besides reminding me to put cream on my rough heels, my wife has provided her healing arts to all manner of damage I have done to myself; from falling out of trees, to stubbing toes, to traffic accidents, to convalescence after minor surgery.

Once, a friend of mine tried to show me the healing art of bread making. He demonstrated the correct way to knead the dough using the heels of his hands. Later, kitchen filled with intoxicating aroma, bread warm from the oven, I would ask for the heel of the loaf, just as I had enjoyed as a boy. I’d slice hard butter on it, then add a daub of peanut butter. Comfort food for a weary pilgrim.