This is not a funny column


By Neil Offen

On New Year’s weekend, I died.

It had to have been a mistake. Yes, I’m 77, but I am the guy who completed the Great Saunter, the 32-mile walk around Manhattan island, three times. I’m the guy who works out regularly at the gym. I’m the guy who wasn’t fat and hadn’t smoked since 1974 and ate healthily, lots of fruits and vegetables, regularly checked my blood pressure, and ran every other day and drank only moderately, didn’t take many medications and finished first in my age group in a recent 5K race.

But as the cardiologist said later, you can’t outrun genetics.

There were no indications. Well, maybe one small one. A couple of days before, I had gone for a run and felt a very minor tightness in my chest. I figured I was just tired, and only ran a mile and a half instead of my customary two.

The next day, absolutely fine, a perfectly normal day. Had dinner with my wife and newly arrived visiting daughter. We ate, we talked, we drank some wine, I went to bed at the normal hour. A half hour later, I had severe chest pains. I figured it would pass – I didn’t want to wake up my wife – and after a half hour or so, it did.

Heartburn, I thought.

I laid back down in bed and went to sleep. I felt ok.

Got up at about the usual time, had breakfast and then decided to take a nap because I was pretty tired from my truncated sleep. Half an hour or so in, the extreme chest pains returned. Maybe even stronger than before. This time they brought with them profuse sweating and nausea.

I took some Tums because, obviously, this had to be bad heartburn, because what else could it be?

But the Tums didn’t work and the excruciating pain continued. My wife wanted to call 911 and get an ambulance. I didn’t want an ambulance, because … well, I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m stubborn. Maybe because I was embarrassed. Maybe because I’m an idiot.

But not a complete idiot. I reluctantly agreed to let my wife drive me to the emergency room. She roused our daughter and we left — but not before I could change my pants into something I thought might be more appropriate for an ER. Idiocy knows no bounds.

We’re lucky we live only 12 minutes or so from a major hospital and lucky that it was New Year’s weekend and lucky there was little traffic and I got to the emergency room just in time.

Ten minutes more, ten minutes later, the cardiologist said, and I don’t make it. If my wife was less persistent, less determined, wasn’t just as stubborn as I am, I don’t make it.

And I almost didn’t.

I walked into the ER, refusing a wheelchair, because of that stubbornness. Moments later, lying on a gurney, I was whisked down corridors, around sharp corners, through whooshing doors, up an elevator, into a hyper-bright room with what seemed to be cellophane-wrapped pillow-like machines hovering over me.

The rest is pretty hazy. I have vague memories of someone telling me “you’re doing great, buddy,” and people I couldn’t fully see shouting at each other.

I thought I was on that bed in that room for maybe 20, 25 minutes. I figured ok, it probably wasn’t heartburn and I must have had a heart attack. It wasn’t good, sure, but I figured it wasn’t that big a deal.

Afterward, in the cardiac intensive care unit, my wife and daughter told me I had been in that room, the cath lab, for around two hours. My heart had stopped. I was, essentially, dead on the table. They had to shock my heart five times to get it going again. They had to do CPR for two full minutes to get it working again.

The main artery to my heart had been 100-percent blocked. During those two hours, the doctors put in a temporary cardiac balloon to help my heart pump more blood. They put in a permanent stent to open up the artery.

Afterward, one of the doctors called what had happened “the big one.” Another said it was “the widowmaker.” And a third termed what had happened “a massive, massive, massive” heart attack.

Yet when the new year came, a day later, I was still alive. I was still eating and talking and joking and now writing and, most of all, immensely grateful. Happy new year, indeed.

Carrboro resident Neil Offen has been a humor columnist for four decades and on two continents. He is the author of “Building a Better Boomer,”available wherever books are sold.

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7 Comments on "This is not a funny column"

  1. A Yvonne Mendenhall | January 12, 2024 at 8:24 am | Reply

    YAY!! So happy to hear the happy ending. Take care of yourself and get over that stubbornness so you can celebrate more New Years weekends. Not a funny column but a happy one.

  2. I’m so happy to hear you are doing much better after your recent health scare.

    I have laughed at your funny columns for years…and years…decades. This one is serious. Please take care Neil and listen to your wife.

  3. Welcome back, old pal !
    I still think the headline on last week’s book-launch should be:
    Author Comes Back From the Dead to Launch Book.

  4. Dr. Neil Pedersen | January 12, 2024 at 4:14 pm | Reply

    So glad you’re ok, Neil. Lots of lessons for all of us to learn in this article.

  5. Sure glad you made it, Neil!!

  6. Julie McClintock | January 13, 2024 at 7:03 am | Reply

    What a story! What a traumatic experience! I’m so glad to hear the author has recovered!
    Julie McClintock

  7. Thank you for writing this article as it contains important information, such as failing to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack.
    Thankfully, there was a happy ending. We all look forward to your column.

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