A Helpful Pamphlet About Heart Disease? There's Just One Problem.

A few days ago, I received the following letter in the mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield, addressed to my father:

Dear Paul,

Managing a chronic condition can feel overwhelming. I am here to help!

We just learned that you recently saw your physician about a new or existing health condition. I’ve enclosed some information to help you learn more about the condition and ways to manage it.

Enclosed was a handy booklet on heart disease, complete with cartoonish diagrams of the human heart and stock photos of sweatsuit-clad seniors doing yoga at the park.

The letter continued:

Together we can find ways to improve your health and your overall sense of well-being…I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Susan Stevens, RN, BSN

Back to the booklet now. On page five, a drawing of a “normal artery”, which looks something like an enclosed waterslide, and a drawing of an “artery narrowed by plaque”, which, based on the artwork alone, convinces me that “plaque” must be housefly larvae.

A Helpful Pamphlet About Heart Disease? There's Just One Problem.Page 14? A photo of legumes, grapes, walnuts, and bell peppers. Not pictured: my father’s favorite foods. Think peanuts, steak, and salty pretzels.

And then, the kicker on page 24: aspirin. He took aspirin every day.

“Honey,” he’d tell me, “see this? See how I carry all of these baby aspirins in my pocket? You just never know.”

True, dad. You don’t. You just never know.

WELL THIS IS JUST HILARIOUS NOW

This “helpful” letter and brochure, while obviously well-intentioned, transmogrified any shrapnel of shock left in my body into pure irritation.

Did his insurance company not get the memo that his heart disease was discovered via autopsy?

Did they erroneously think that the $1200 charge submitted to them for “Heart/Lung Resuscitation”, followed by a cancellation of his insurance the day after, meant my dad had intentionally cancelled his insurance after a minor wake-up call heart attack and boarded a plane south to the Caribbean so he could spend his golden years throwing back Coronas on the beach?

I want to live in this fairy-tale world that Blue Cross Blue Shield has created for my father. I want to buy into the fantasy that he’s alive and (mostly) well.

I want to assume his wake and his burial were just some realistically vivid nightmares, the kind I’m used to having anyway because anxiety disorders do that sort of thing to you.

I want to whip out the Heart Disease brochure, meet up with my dad for coffee (decaf, of course), and help him fill out the Daily Blood Pressure Tracker (page 36) or laugh with him about how the silver-haired lady (page 17) is eating a plate of salad larger than her head. I would then wait for him to launch into the story about the best salad dressing he’d ever had (at a restaurant in Endicott, NY, circa 2003).

“To die for!” he’d say as I grimaced slightly, having heard this goddamn salad dressing story a million times over. “Oh honey, that salad dressing. Trust your father. It was to die for!”

But I can’t do any of this. I can’t pass this helpful information about heart disease from BCBS along to my father.

Because he’s dead.

A FOOTPATH THAT WON’T FAIL ME

It’s been almost three months, and I still feel blank — wait, no. I think that last clause of my last sentence was a complete lie, because after I typed it, I decided that my next sentence ought to be “I feel every emotion ever” and suddenly we’re all tangled up in contradictions here, aren’t we?

Such is the life of the daughter, freshly kicked into her third decade, whose father sat up in bed shortly before midnight on April 6th.

“Something’s wrong,” he said. Or so I’ve been told. I wasn’t there.

“My chest hurts, and my arm hurts.”

And that was it. No warning, no time, no gather-the-family-at-the-bedside thing. He had a massive heart attack with no prior (known) history of heart trouble, and his life-long story came to an abrupt end.

And here I am, stumbling forward.

Between finding baby aspirin pills in his car, and in his truck, and in every not-yet-laundered pants pocket, and in his nightstand, I’ve been lost in grief, call center queues, paperwork, the winding halls of doctor’s offices, estate stuff, and stress.

And language — I haven’t been lost in language; instead, it’s exactly the opposite. Language has been lost within me. (I’m convinced that grief and all of its downstream effects just pound the living crap out of the language center of my brain. The other day, I couldn’t think of the world “spatula”. I called it the “flat scrape-y thing with a handle”.)

With this blog post, I would like to invite vocabulary and clear-headedness back into my life. And you — yes, you, readers. I would like to invite you back into my life and to my blog.

Here I am — both stronger and weaker, somehow, yet ready to continue doing something that made my father quite proud.

It’s time to start writing again. I am back.