Thoughts with Richard Bleil
Assuming this posts as planned, today is a holiday of dubious note. This is the tenth anniversary of my heart attack and triple bypass. Ten years ago today I was dead on an operating table for a heart too badly damaged for a traditional stent (the typical treatment for heart attacks). But, the doctor told me, it’s probably better for me because bypasses tend to have a longer life-span than stents. Apparently, heart attacks are not one-and-done, but if you’ve had one heart attack, you’ll likely have more. He said that the typical bypass lasts maybe ten years. That’s today.
In a sense, I was given an extra ten-year extension on my life. Well, assuming the heart attack would have actually done me in, and it did damage my heart. I’m going to be reflective, I guess, on what I did in that decade. Was it worth their effort to save me?
I’m not so sure.
When my first heart attack happened, my wife had told me that she wanted a divorce. We had been married for less than two years and she was ready to throw in the towel. I knew I was having a major heart attack, but she thought I was faking it. I didn’t even go to the hospital because, frankly, I didn’t care if I died. My friends were very angry with me and made me promise to tell someone if it happened again, and I begrudgingly acquiesced, unsure then as I am today as to why anybody cares about me at all, but appreciative of the love I do have in my life.
And it happened again, less than a year later. Working as a poop chemist (wastewater treatment) in Sioux Falls, as I lifted a large bucket of human excrement sample, I felt the same symptoms albeit not nearly as bad as previously. As promised, I told my friend who took me to urgent care, and urgent care immediately shipped me off to the local major heart hospital where the doctor told me that they usually take care of heart attacks immediately, but it was Friday, and nobody really wanted to work, so they’ll handle it Monday. Gee whiz, thanks, doc.
I was restricted from travel for two weeks, and exactly two weeks later I had an interview for the position of director of the forensic lab. The drive was five hours one way. I pushed my newly restricted travel restrictions to the limit and made the drive, out and back with a one-night stay in a haunted hotel, alone. I hadn’t told them about my recent surgery, and “toughed it out” as I followed my police officer guides up and down stairwells despite perfectly good elevators in the building.
I guess I spent about three years there until a new police chief decided he didn’t like me as much as the one who had hired me. In that time, I had some major accomplishments, but also made a lot of great and lasting friends (many of whom were also terminated, so it wasn’t just me). When I think of my accomplishments, I think my friends from the area must be my greatest.
From there, I became a dean in Iowa. They were struggling, and I would like to think I made some headway in helping them out, until the provost who hired me was fired, and the new provost decided she didn’t like me nearly as much as he did. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Once I was dismissed from that position, they basically undid all of the progress I had made. One of the biggest problems was that their satellite campuses were too independent to the point of causing problems with their accreditation agency. I managed to get everybody talking and at least cooperating when I was released. Today I’m told they’re again acting as independent colleges and the communications have failed. But, again, I made some great friends, so it wasn’t a complete waste.
And I spent far too much time homeless in those years. I spent several of them living with friends who put me up just so I had a place out of the elements to sleep. For someone raised not to ask for help, these were difficult times indeed, but my friends showed their true character and love by opening their hearts and homes to me without asking for anything in return. These were important lessons for me, especially since some of them were more acquaintances than friends when they invited me to stay with them. They showed me the true nature of charity, and I’m proud to have been able to develop much stronger and deeper friendships with them, which, as odd as it sounds, must be the most important things to have happened to me in the past decade.
Although I usually try to avoid giving names of businesses and movies, towards the end of the movie Joe Dirt, he was asked if the last decade had been a waste. I have to paraphrase here, but his response was no, he met some cool people and heard some cool tunes so it’s okay. I guess I’m the new Joe.