There is probably never a good time to have a heart attack, but sitting on a dais waiting to be introduced to deliver a speech seems to qualify as not a particularly opportune moment.
On one side of me sat state Sen. Dan Gelber. Nearby was state Sen. Dave Aronberg, Gelber's opponent for the Democratic Party's nomination for attorney general.
We were in Inverness on a Saturday night, and my arms were beginning to feel as if I had two dead weights hanging from them. An irrational thought crept into my mind.
The late comedic actor Dick Shawn actually did die on stage, his crumpled body unattended to for several minutes since the audience had presumed the clutching of the chest and dramatic collapse was part of the act.
A couple hundred folks were attending the Inverness event to hear from local politicians. I was billed as the "featured speaker." Little did some of these people realize the feature held out the potential to be something akin to "Dead Columnist Walking."
For a moment there, I had images of me slumped over the lectern as the waiters continued to serve dessert and Gelber and Aronberg worked the room pressing the flesh.
Still, I had a secret weapon working in my favor — denial, blessedly convenient, iceberg denial. Somehow I convinced myself that while, sure, it felt like a vise grip had attached itself to my chest, all I was really experiencing here was … well, give me a moment and I'll get back to you on that point.
In time, I was introduced and I went ahead with a few comments. The Bombshell of the Balkans and I spent the night in Inverness, then drove back to Tampa early Sunday morning. I had made the executive decision not to tell her I was probably having a heart attack since I had pretty well convinced myself all that was going on here was … a case of the sniffles gone horribly awry.
Besides, this was all part of the master plan. I would rest Sunday in the hope that the python gnawing at my chest would simply go away and if that didn't happen by Monday then … well, there's always Tuesday.
Alas, I had fessed up to the Sunflower of Sparta, who made it pretty obvious I was in more denial than Sarah Palin believing she has a shot at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
By 6 a.m. Monday, I was at the front desk of Tampa General Hospital's emergency room. By 6:10, an EKG had been performed on me. By 6:15, I was being wheeled into another examination room.
"You're having a heart attack," someone mentioned. Well, duh! I could have told you that!
By all accounts Dr. Debbie Rinde-Hoffman is a superb cardiologist, much beloved by those who work with her and greatly respected among her peers. I needed a cardiac catheter procedure. This was like being treated by my mother when I refused to eat a plate of cold peas meets Sister Mary Death March meets Madame Defarge.
After all, Dr. Rinde-Hoffman was about to treat a man who had been undergoing a heart attack for more than 36 hours before seeking treatment. If looks could reduce a human being to feeling like the village idiot, she had mastered a stare that would have turned Jon Gruden into a whimpering pile of goo.
I had it coming. There's probably a highly technical medical term for my affliction, but "dolt" will probably work just as well.
The good news is there's a cure of sorts for being dumber than a sack of Glenn Becks. It's called a "mild" heart attack. We often hear that so-and-so had a mild attack, a term suggesting the whole experience was little more than a slight fluttering of the chest area, a mere bagatelle of myocardial inconvenience/discomfort.
If this is what constitutes a "mild" heart attack, then I would hate — and have no plans — to experience what a medium heart attack feels like. It is nasty. It is extremely painful. It is your body saying to you: "You liked that pizza, did you? Here, take that. Let's put a sandbag on your chest. You just had to have that extra slice of bacon, which you shouldn't have had the first place? Fine. Let's run some razors down your arms."
I've seen the light, brothers and sisters. Even worse, I've seen Dr. Rinde-Hoffman look as if she was about to perform a cardiac catheter procedure on a bowl of butter.
It's not pretty. No denying that.