A funny thing happened on the way to the Lions | Ferry Home Companion

Howard Schonberger

Howard Schonberger

Every once in a while (around my birthday usually) I read the horoscope in our sister paper, The Islands Weekly. On April 6, Pisces said all my good stars were being attacked by Mars and it could affect my home, job, health, etc.

I shrugged it off, although I was plenty tired. On Sunday morning, we had gone to the Carter Ranch at dawn for Easter Sunrise Services. Then we attended the Easter Breakfast at Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church. We were accompanied by Helen’s sister, Margy, who had spent the last two weeks of her rehab therapy with us after breaking her hip and femur during a cruise in January. Easter afternoon, we returned Margy to her condo in Fairhaven where she was now able to negotiate the stairs after great rehab by nurses in Friday Harbor.

Monday, we attended the second funeral of the brothers Nash, Charlie and then Al. It seemed unreal to lose two such fine gentlemen and friends so closely together.

I was really getting depressed when I picked up the Weekly and saw that horoscope Tuesday morning. I hated to go to the Lions Club that day but I did my duty, stopped at the bank ATM and started to the Legion Hall. Suddenly, my one good eye started to flash on and off. No pain, but a bad symptom. I turned right to go to Burk Gossom’s San Juan Healthcare, creeping all the way. Once there, I was rushed into the room where they took my vitals.

The nurse told me to sit down. Dr. Gossom said, “Is this right?” when he read the figures. “I did it twice,” said Nurse Mayo. Dr. Gossom left the room and was back in a few seconds. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’ve ordered a helicopter. You’re going to St. Joe’s for a pacemaker.”

“Why?” I asked. “Can’t I take the ferry?”

“Your heart rate, your pulse, is 26 to 28. It should never be less than 60.” I was stunned. “You don’t have to go, but you won’t last a year if you don’t get there quickly. You’re not pumping enough blood. OK?”

I didn’t see much choice. “Go for it.”

Just then the EMTs arrived and started securing me.

Helen arrived as I was wheeled to the aid van. At the airport they slid me into the tiny helicopter. The ceiling was three inches from my nose. “Made In China” was printed on the ceiling. Looking between my spread feet I could see a great view of the island as we rose rapidly eastward. I silently apologized to neighbor Lynn Loring for the noise and waved goodbye to my house next door.

The EMTs asked me questions and reported to headquarters various numbers. I heard one of them say, “That’s the lowest number I’ve seen on someone still awake.” All I could think of was the column I had written a few weeks before on my birthday about all my rules for staying healthy. I shrugged, thinking they could always run a retraction. Still no pain. Probably the stuff they were feeding into my veins was working. They told me Helen was taking the next ferry to join me in Bellingham. We landed at the hospital and gurneyed me to my room.

At the cardiology floor, where more than a dozen experts have made St. Joseph’s Hospital an icon in heart treatment, I was given more IVs, questions about my past records. I told them about having had bronchiectasis since WWII and the fact that my collapsed middle right lobe caused my heart to move over a bit. They took X-rays and other tests and Drs. John McGregor, surgeon, and Peter Beglin, cardiologist, set me up for the implant of a pacemaker under my left collarbone on Wednesday. I felt better all the time as they went through the explanations.

I can’t say enough about how great that hospital was. Helen arrived and they put a cot in the room for her to be with me during my stay. What a pleasant surprise. The surgery was a piece of cake. When I woke up I was ravenous. When I finally was allowed to eat, everything tasted wonderful … my taste buds were working as they hadn’t in years. All of my senses were coming to, as though they had been dulled for years.

The second night, a nurse assistant walked me around the hall three times and twice around the next afternoon. I was ready to go home but had to wait till Friday morning. They did an angiogram with dye so they could see how my blood flow was doing. I passed with flying blue colors.

So there now. No retraction. I listened to my body. I reported to the doctor when I didn’t feel right.

Now, I feel 10 years younger. No shortness of breath climbing a few stairs. Good appetite (even hospital food!). And it doesn’t hurt when you live in a place like San Juan Island, wise enough to get health care with an organization like PeaceHealth building our new hospital in Friday Harbor. From top to bottom, that staff is as saintly as its name St. Joseph implies. They will truly make a difference to all of us.

The batteries on a pacemaker last 10 to 15 years and can be hooked up by telephone to headquarters. Medtronic sets up your phone so as an implant owner you can confer with Dr. Christine Andersen in Anacortes on a regular basis, or in case of problems. She also comes to the clinic on regular appointments every month or so.

What a wonderful world we live in!

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or hschonberger@sanjuanjournal.com