Out of the Streator hospital with the newest calcium channel blocker, I was on my way to see a cardiologist in Pekin. No cardiologist was serving at Streator at the time, and my GP, Dr. John, referred me to Dr. Riaz Akhtar at Pekin, 45 minutes in the opposite direction. I hadn’t been to Pekin in many years and never knew my way around the city, so I got lost. (This was many years before Garmin and GPS, but I did have a little Pekin map.) Jan was not with me on this first visit, she was in school, and, after having survived three events in which I expected to die, another stress treadmill and echocardiogram sounded easy enough to do by myself.
Finding my way around Pekin was not easy, though, and I pulled into the cemetery along the main highway, to look again at the map. There was no parking along the busy highway, and the cemetery provided no traffic and easy parking. I scanned the cemetery, and was surprised to see a familiar name, Glen Sims.
The Sims family was my prior connection to Pekin, and I had visited them there twenty years previously. Before going to Pekin, Glen Sims had been my pastor, and he continued to be my mentor through my years of college and first year of seminary, until a malignant brain tumor suddenly ended his life fifteen years before. That was when I had last been there, in that spot, though I had no memory of where it was. I had just came upon the place when I was lost. Beyond my parents and wife, no one had influenced my life more. I missed no one more. Since events had brought me unexpectedly to this place, and I still had enough time to make my appointment, it seemed a propitious time for him and me to have a conversation, tearful and refreshing. He always had that effect on me, a mixture of tenderness and joy.
Afterward I drove straight to Dr. Akhtar’s office. After the tests, and at a later appointment, Dr. Akhtar gave his advice. He was a no-nonsense cardiologist. My moderate exercise and diet and propensity to let events control my schedule, instead of my doing so, must change. I must gradually build up my heart like any muscle, since it was woefully inefficient as it was. I must live on a low fat, low carbohydrate diet, no caffeine, no alcohol, and I must run or swim, not walk, six days out of seven, for at least forty-five minutes, or else. Or else, what? They could put in a new heart valve, but he wouldn’t recommend it, since they would have to do it again within a few years, and life would not improve without these other changes anyway. Fortunately he didn’t expect me to jump into running immediately. He advised that I enter into that exercise slowly and steadily, under Dr. John’s care, since he happened to be a runner also. And the other “or else?” A rule of thumb, he said—seven years of experiences like yours and you can expect to be dead, if you’re lucky.
I was very glad to have had that conversation with Glen Sims.