Charles Merwarth, 1/28/2013

Current Occupation: Retired

Prior Occupation: Physician (Internist)

Contact Information: After retiring from the practice of Internal Medicine, Charles Merwarth and his wife spent six months of each of the next seven years cruising their thirty-foot sailboat along the Intercoastal Waterway and  both coasts of Florida, and through the Out Islands of the Bahamas.  Merwarth wrote about their experiences afloat so he would not forget and about  his experiences in Medicine because he could not forget. Merwarth’s writings have appeared in medical publications and in major sailing magazines.

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Widow Maker

After a few hours of fitful sleep, I arose before the alarm sounded.  Sitting on the side of the bed, I dragged on my first cigarette of the day as if I was suffocating, and it was my one source of oxygen.  I needed the nicotine rush to jolt me awake.  Last night’s power dinner with too much food, one drink too many, and more business talk than I had expected, left me feeling hung over.  I got home late, and, so as not to disturb Meg, slept in the spare bedroom.

Downstairs, I turned on the coffee maker and chain-lit a second cigarette.  I needed coffee- strong and hot and in a big cup- as much as I needed the smokes.  I had to be in top form for the business meeting that would start in just about three hours.  I thought the first quarter figures would be O.K, but I wasn’t sure, and, if they weren’t, my ass would be on the line.

I took a second cup upstairs and shaved, showered, and dressed as quietly as possible.  Before I left I wrote a note to Meg.  “Sorry I was so late getting home last night.  The meeting lasted too long.  I promise to be home for dinner tonight.  Give kisses to the kids and a big one for you.”  I put it on the table next to Meg’s bed and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

The sky was just turning pink as I turned onto the freeway. The traffic was already heavy.  Everyone was starting earlier and earlier hoping to beat the morning rush.  I lit my third cigarette and sipped at the third coffee that rode in an insulated cup stuck in the console holder.  There was nothing on the radio but news of a deteriorating economy here and continued turmoil abroad.  I fiddled with the dial but snapped it off when all I could find was ear-wrenching rock and some evangelical type promising me salvation if I’d only believe.

Jeez, not the way to start an important day.

Some yahoo swerved in front of me trying to make the off ramp.  I laid on the horn and showed him the finger.  What a dumb-ass.

Why does it seem I spend half my life commuting?   The money’s worth it I suppose.  Meg and I enjoy the lifestyle a six-figure income supports.  Still–.

Off the freeway, the traffic was backed up at every damn light.  I kept looking at my watch.  I demanded punctuality of the staff, so I couldn’t be late.

I rushed through the lobby with minutes to spare.  Mike saw me coming.  He knew the drill if I was running late.

“Gotcha a cream cheese on a bagel, and black with double sugar.”

“Good work. Thanks”

For most of the regulars who relied on his concession stand for breakfast, Mike ran a tab.  I paid him at the end of the month. I saved time that way.

In the conference room I wolfed down half the bagel and gulped a couple of swallows of coffee. The rest went into the wastepaper basket.

My secretary had placed a folder with all the stats–sales reports, summaries, and comparisons– at my place at the head of the table.  I was leafing through them as the first of my people came in.

“How are you this morning?” one asked.

I was about to reply when I felt the pain- a deep unsettling sensation in the middle of my chest.  Indigestion I wanted to believe, but couldn’t because the pain was steadily increasing, and my father had died of a heart attack at age forty seven.   I was frightened.

“Are you all right?” someone asked.

By now the pain had spread upward to my neck and was much worse as if some morbidly obese demon was maliciously sitting on my chest.   My breath was short, and the beads of sweat that I felt forming on my forehead began to trickle down my cheeks.  I yanked at my tie.   Weakness overwhelmed me.

I heard, “Call 911. Quickly!”
All of what happen next I would only learn later from my secretary’s recounting.  I remember slumping to the floor, being lifted up, having something hard held against my face, being told, “This won’t hurt,” which was mostly a lie, and then oblivion.

When some semblance of consciousness returned, I did not know where I was and less of what had happened to me.  I was aware of a different pain in my chest, a pain which became searing when I tried to move.  Pain sharpens perception.   I realized that, like some spider’s prey, I was entrapped in a web of tubes and wires.  Worse, something was stuck in my throat.  I tried to call out but could make no sound.  My wrists were pinned to the bed rails by something that made it impossible for me to help myself.

Soon, through my hazed vision I saw figures in white clustered by my bedside.

Someone put a hand on my shoulder.  “I’m Dr. Whitley, your cardiac surgeon.  You had a close call.”

In reply all I could do was stare at him.

“The pre-op coronary study showed a 90% obstruction of the left main coronary artery.  It supplies most of the blood to the muscle of the left ventricle.  A few millimeters more and the occlusion would have been complete.  We call it ‘the widow-maker’ since it’s often fatal.  I can tell you that now because we performed an emergency coronary bypass procedure.  You are doing surprisingly well considering how close you came.  Follow instructions, and you’ll be back to normal in three or four months.  See you in the morning.  Your family can come in now.”

When, shortly afterward, Meg and the children arrived, I could not keep from crying.

The next day the tube in my throat was gone, and the wires and tubes significantly reduced in number.   We could touch and kiss when they next visited.   Able to talk, I said, “I love you.”  Then, I cried again.

The convalescence was long.  During the time my wounds were healing and my strength gradually returning, Meg and I spent more time together than we ever had before.  With the arrival of the warm spring days, we’d lunch on the porch, have long discussions, and, when my strength allowed, stroll hand-in-hand; first up and down the driveway, then for longer and longer distances.

When the children were home from school, I’d talk with them about many things- some serious, most not.  Often, we’d reminisce about what they remembered about their growing up.  Somehow, I was surprised that we remembered the same things.

*

Another spring.

In the shade of an ancient oak whose fresh-sprung leaves dappled the sunlight, I sat waiting for Meg.  With the warm weather we’d taken to picnic lunches.  She’d make sandwiches, walk the half mile from our townhouse, and meet me here on a bench in a shady spot.  Waiting, I was lost in a faraway thought when I was aware of someone standing close by.

“Dr. Sullivan, I’m sorry to bother you, but I had a question to ask in class when time ran out.  May I bother you now?”

“Please do, but for the time being I’m Mr. not Doctor.  Hopefully, a year from now that will have changed.   Now, your question.”

“What are the alternatives to commercial advertising particularly for a niche start-up?”

“I suppose by ‘niche’ you mean some small, specialized business.  In that case, it’s possible to avoid the expense of paid advertising.  The essentials are a good product and service to match.  Then, word-of-mouth recommendations are your best advertising.  Should the business be successful and market penetration grows, traditional advertising might be worth the cost.  Do you have something definite in mind?”

“Not yet.   Can I ask something more personal?”

“Sure, but I won’t guarantee an answer.”

“You’re such a good teacher we wondered about your background.  Some of the class googled you.  The surprise was that you don’t have one in teaching.”

“Ah, a puzzlement.”

“Yes.”

“You want the short version, I’m sure.  A little over two years ago I had a near fatal heart attack.  As you can see, I survived, but the experience was a game changer.  During my recovery, a college classmate visited.  You probably know him; Doctor Grantland in the Department of Finance and Accounting here.  We had a long talk the upshot of which was that, on his recommendation combined with my business experience and enthusiasm to try teaching, I was offered a conditional appointment as an instructor in Marketing.  My wife was whole-heartedly for the change.  I was reappointed at the end of that first year, and now, if I am successful with my thesis, I will be become an assistant professor, and, hopefully, start on the path for tenure.  End of story.”

I heard Meg shout and, startled, looked up in time to see her ducking to avoid an errant Frisbee as she walked, laughing, across the campus toward me.

“Thanks, Prof. See you Wednesday.”

‘”Wait just a moment.  I’d like you to meet my wife.”

Meg stopped close and kissed me on the cheek.      “Meg, I like you to meet Ana Childers.  All my marketing students are good.  She is among the best.  Ana, this is my wife, Meg.”

“It’s a pleasure meeting one of the people Mike is always talking about,” Meg said.

“We’re very fortunate to have him,” Ana replied.

“So am I,” Meg said planting another kiss on my cheek.

 

 

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