Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Suddenly SeniorSuddenly Senior

Borrowed time presses out a sweet vintage

I'm a stubborn old coot. So when I had a heart attack a few Saturdays ago, I wasn't about to go to the hospital.

With my wife, Carolyn, home for the weekend after months of chemo and an entire week tethered to a machine harvesting her blood stem cells, I'd tough it out until Monday.

That's when I had to drive Carolyn "home" to Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center for two days of high-dose melphalan injections — a powerful chemical that kills her cancerous myeloma cells (as well as her normal blood cells).

That leaves her without an immune system to fight infection for months, until her harvested stem cells, transplanted back into her system, begin producing new blood.

So much for the biology lesson.

I'd had similar cardiac events before — sweats, chest and left-arm pain, shortness of breath — but I stubbornly practiced medicine on myself without a license, taking aspirin and beta blockers until the symptoms disappeared.

I take my role as Carolyn's caregiver passionately. She's the love of my life. My miracle. Besides, we can't both be sick. It's unacceptable.

So I lied to her when she asked what was wrong.

Honest to God, it's the first time I've ever lied to Carolyn. Ever! (And that's a wonder by itself.)

The best laid plans . . .

I told myself I'd straighten it out Monday after I got her to the hospital and then got me to my doctor.

Then, Sunday morning, I found myself bouncing along in an ambulance for the first time ever as a paying customer. (Boy, those trucks have hard rides!)

Its siren screaming, we were running red lights. I looked up from the gurney through the window and saw Carolyn in our '94 Oldsmobile right behind us. Grim faced in her new role as caregiver, I think she now wanted to kill me for lying to her.

"BP 220 over 160!" the paramedic yelled over the radio. He was having a devil of a time getting an IV into my wrist, with the ambulance ricocheting from pothole to pothole.

Nitroglycerin had dulled my pain to the point that I was actually enjoying the entire drama.

At the hospital the cardiologist on duty had already been alerted. The catheter lab was ready. Three genial young men attached electrodes, installed yet another IV.

As one of them gave me a bikini shave in preparation for threading a catheter through my groin to detect heart blockages, he looked up and asked, "You had a heart attack yesterday and you didn't call 911?"

Oh God, I hate being foolish. (And it happens all the time.)

I tried to explain that I had to take care of Carolyn, that I didn't want to worry her . . . The kid rolled his eyes, acutely aware that I was just another delusional old fool trying to be heroic in his dotage.

Balloons and stents

The cardiologist cleared a large blockage in my right coronary artery, tiny balloons and stents shoving the plaque aside, allowing blood to once again feed my heart.

Monday the doctors returned, this time to clear my left coronary artery of three more occlusions. I use fancy words like "occlusion" because, you see, through the mid '90s I was in Miami writing and producing all of Cordis Corp.'s angioplasty and stent print advertising. Turns out Cordis made the stents that most likely saved my life.

That night, my sorry butt hanging out of the gown and black and blue from crotch halfway to both knees, I called a still-angry Carolyn, who told me that if the heart attack didn't kill me, she would.

I considered. Life without salt, eggs, bacon and McDonald's double cheeseburgers might not be worth living anyway.

As I wrote this column earlier this month, Carolyn got her healthy stem cells back.

The medics call it "Day Zero." But for us, from now on, every day has a plus sign attached to it.

By Day Plus 15 or so, a bald Carolyn will have moved from Moffitt, next door to Hope Lodge, a safe and antiseptic place where I'll be taking care of her 24/7 until she's well enough to come home.

By July, God willing, we'll have our life back again, at least for a while.

We know this is considered an incurable cancer. We also believe in miracles.

There is a lesson here — when do they ever end? Life is a great and precious gift. Enjoy it; luxuriate in it every single day.

And thanks to you readers, who have sent your kind thoughts and prayers. They mean so much to us.

Frank Kaiser is a nationally syndicated columnist who lives in Clearwater. His Web site,, includes nostalgia and links to senior-focused sites. Contact him at or by writing to 2431 Canadian Way, Suite 21, Clearwater, FL 33763.

Borrowed time presses out a sweet vintage 04/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:54am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Chris Archer, 25,000 Cubs fans and Tampa Bay's painful truth

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest ovation inside Tropicana Field on Tuesday night was not for Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who was returning for the first time since managing the Rays.

    "W" flags fly in the stands after the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Rays Tuesday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  2. Poorly assembled 'Lego Ninjago Movie' waters down Lego movie franchise


    Well, that didn't take long.

    After only three movies, the Lego franchise is already a shadow of its original self, less irreverent and go-for-broke bricky. The watering down of an ingenious formula comes with The Lego Ninjago Movie, the sort we expected all along from plastic construction toys.

    A scene from "The Lego Ninjago Movie." (Warner Bros.)
  3. Irma slows curbside trash service in Pasco


    Hurricane Irma brought a hiccup to twice-weekly curbside trash service in Pasco County.

Pasco officials are asking for patience about the slow pace of residential trash service from private haulers. In some areas, trash hasn't been collected since Friday, Sept. 8, because of the volume of waste left after Hurricane Irma.
  4. Clemson reunion for Bucs' Adam Humphries, Vikings' Mackensie Alexander


    Bucs receiver Adam Humphries will have a familiar face lining up against him Sunday when he's in the slot and the Vikings have Mackensie Alexander guarding him as their nickel defensive back.

    Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries (10) makes a reception before being tackled by Chicago Bears defensive back Marcus Cooper (31) Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Tampa ranks behind Miami and Orlando in Most Fun Cities in America list


    Is Tampa really among the "most fun cities in America?"

    Tampa's large number of festivals was among the factors that earned it a high ranking.