Seventy-five Mile Canyon / Grand Canyon National Park

Sept. 8, 2017 — FOR A GUY WHO COULD EASILY BE DEAD RIGHT NOW, I’m not feeling half bad. Here in the wilds of my backyard, I’m enjoying Peck’s Skippers and other late-season butterflies. I’m watching the sumac leaves catch autumn fire and the warblers dart through in migration. I even walked a half mile to my office yesterday — my greatest adventure since a heart attack put me down in the woods two weeks ago.

You know that thing they say about heart attacks? That you don’t want one? Yeah, it’s true. You don’t want a heart attack — certainly not while on the trail up Mt. Hunger here in central Vermont. Heart attacks hurt, a lot, like a fallen oak across your chest, and mine almost killed me.

But thanks to a brigade of people on the trail, some luck, and the science of medicine well practiced, I’ve got three stents and a second chance at staying alive. I’ll be spending the next few months in cardiac rehabilitation (exercise while wired up to monitors) trying to strengthen my damaged left ventricle. In the meantime, I feel, more or less, “normal.”

Cabbage White on Joe-Pye Weed

From among those you who already know about this event, Ruth and I have received a flood of love. Our living room is a gallery of your cards and drawings and prose. Our fridge and freezer are stocked with your cooking. We’ve been touched by our closest friends and families, by people we have not heard from in years, and by folks we have never met.

Never have I received such warmth from so many. And because Ruth and I cannot begin to thank all of you in the way we would prefer — to return every phone call, every text, every email, or better yet to thank you in person — my message here on the blog will have to suffice for now. Ruth and I are, more or less, healing in quiet for the time being. We may indeed take you up on your continuing kind offers to help us out. For now, however, we’re in good shape, with lots of family and dear friends nearby.

In addition to all of you, of course, I am grateful for so many things. Allow me, here on the blog, to express my gratitude to the people involved in saving my life — from getting me off the mountain to putting me back on my feet. Many of you are either sadly unknown to me or otherwise far too numerous to recall. But Alexei Rubenstein and Thea Schwartz happened to meet up with Ruth and me on the trail when I went down. Good thing for us. They were incredible (and strong in helping to carry me down). The Middlesex Fire Department and Fast Squad also did a lot of heavy lifting. Then there was the guy with the ATV — I never got his name. Montpelier Ambulance was waiting to treat me at the trailhead, and took me to Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC). From there, Barre Town Ambulance rushed me to the University of Vermont Medical Center, where, standing by, Dr. Harold Dauerman and his team installed my stents (and put up with my lame attempts at humor and conversation in the operating room, or so I’m told). And, oh, the nurses. Praise the nurses — from the ER to the ICU to the cardiology units. There can be no healing without them.

Now, here closer to home at CVMC, I can offer no greater praise for Melissa Beaudry, my nurse practitioner in the Cardiology Medical Group, who, during a follow-up visit after my surgery, recognized that we needed to drive up my blood oxygen levels, which is exactly what happened when I was readmitted for a couple of days last week and then came home on September 1. And long ago, when I was a newspaper reporter, I interviewed Dr. Mark Heitzman for an article about some hot new cardiac technology at the hospital. I was impressed with the guy then. Under his care now, I’m even more impressed. He and Melissa and the team, along with my new doctor John Wilson, are about to play a big role in my future.

I’m not quite sure when I’ll get back out chasing nature with my usual exuberance, or when I’ll return to my students in the Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning programs at the University of Vermont. For now I’m content watching the prosaic Cabbage Whites and Eastern Phoebes here in the garden. Oh, I’m also watching my sodium.

Thanks again, everyone. Onward!