In heavily accented English, Dr. Suresh confirmed what the nurse told Skip. He’d suffered a minor heart attack, which he added, was no minor thing.
“You were incredibly lucky,” he said and then amended the statement because of the obvious lucklessness of the situation.
Skip had flipped a car down a hill, had wrenched his shoulder and neck and was essentially one, giant bruise. Everything hurt.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” the doctor said.
Skip wasn’t so sure. The diagnosis was one thing, but the treatment was everything Skip feared and more.
“We can treat this with medication and lifestyle changes,” he said. “You will want to confirm and go over all of this with your doctor when you get home, but my recommendation is that you drop about 60 pounds, quit red meat and fatty foods, stop smoking and get some exercise.”
The brown-skinned dark eyed doctor somehow found a chair in this tiny cubicle of a hospital room. He sat next to Skip’s bed.
“None of these are things you’re going to like,” he said, sympathetically. “There’s another lifestyle change you need to make –stress. Patients will often do all the physical things they need to do to get better, but they will neglect the mental, the spiritual, if you will.” Dr. Suresh put his hand on the rail of the bed. “Are you a religious man, Mr. McAllister?”
It was a complicated answer. On the one hand, he and Betty went to church almost every Sunday he was home. He gave generously to the do-gooder, Methodist church they attended, volunteered for the occasional pancake breakfast or coat drive to raise money for one cause or another.
They’d had the pastor over to their house half a dozen times over the last couple of years.
Skip liked the holy holidays. Betty planted lilies for Easter and they had the neighborhood kids over for an egg hunt every Spring. At Christmas, the house was awash an red, green and gold. They always got a live Christmas tree because it felt authentic.
Yet, Skip sometimes killed people for a living. More often he bullied and blackmailed them. He ruined reputations, rigged votes and did the bidding of moneyed interests.
None of that sounded very Christian. It didn’t sound particularly Buddhist or Muslim, either. He wasn’t sure about the Zoroastrians, but he doubted they’d approve.
Still, he believed in God. It’s just that his God didn’t think much of universal healthcare or free school lunch. He was more in favor of smiting enemies and loosening plagues on the recalcitrant.
“No,” Skip said. “I’d say I’m not.”
Dr. Suresh nodded. He’d expected as much.
“Often, I will tell patients that a scare like this is a good time to reevaluate where you are in your life. If you were a religious man, I’d tell you to get to church, talk to your pastor and work out what it is you can do to get your life in order.” The doctor said, “It should be very clear that something is out of balance.”
“And if the patient is not a religious man?”
Dr. Suresh nodded and smiled. “Usually, this means they are a man of business. You are a man of business, I think?”
Skip nodded. That sounded about right.
“I am very fond of my job,” he said. “I find it fulfilling.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely true, Skip thought. At least, it hadn’t been very fulfilling of late. He regretted taking that job for Benjamin Gardner. He’d been worried about that for days, for weeks since he’d agreed to meet with the well-heeled hippie.
“Finding pleasure in your work is good,” Dr. Suresh said. “But it’s like the red meat, the wine and the cigars. Too much of a good thing will invariably become bad.
“When was the last time you took a vacation?”
Skip didn’t remember. He’d traveled quite a bit. Betty and the boys went skiing every winter, but he’d missed the trip the past few years –work. He couldn’t remember the last time he and his wife had taken a good week or two and gone someplace sandy and sunny.
“I’m probably overdue,” Skip acknowledged.
The doctor sighed. “Let’s review. So, again, what you need to do is to lose the weight, cut out the red meat. If you want to treat yourself to a cheeseburger on your birthday or the fourth of July, that’s fine, but stick with the chicken and fish, OK?”
“No more smoking. Throw away your cigars,” Dr. Suresh said. “And do something about your work. Do less. Do it better. Hire some help –and take a vacation.”
Beyond that, Skip was ordered to take a couple of pills every day.
“How long until I’m released?” He asked.
Dr. Suresh clapped the rail, like Skip had just said exactly what he’d expected him to say when he expected him to say it.
“We will need to keep you for a few days, at least, just to monitor your heart,” the doctor said. “You will need to call someone about getting you home. California is a long way. I would prefer if you did not fly. Air travel is very stressful. Perhaps, a nice train trip?”
“What if I flew a private plane?” Skip asked.
“That would be fine, as long as you’re comfortable with that,” the doctor said.
Skip was. Trains had a smell to them.
“Is there anything else I can answer for you?” Dr. Suresh asked him.
“There is one thing,” he said. “I’d like to get the name of the officer who was on scene and call him. The people at that gas station saved my life. I’d like to see about thanking them.”
That pleased the foreign-born doctor.
“This sounds to me like a good start,” he said. “I will check with admissions for you.”
The door to the hall opened. A chubby nurse in lavender scrubs brought in a gaudy, oversized flower arrangement.
“Already you have well-wishers,” Dr. Suresh said.
The nurse looked around the room and then decided to put the flowers on the table on the other side of Skip.
“There’s a card,” she said.
“Let me see it,” Skip replied.
The nurse handed the tiny, yellow envelope to Skip as the doctor excused himself.
“I will be back,” he said.
“Thank-you,” Skip answered distantly and opened the note.
“Get well soon,” the card read. “And don’t break my heart.”
It was signed Benjamin Gardner.