Things that go ‘eek’ at 1 a.m.

A recovery from a massive heart attack includes trips to the gym

Joining the ranks of sweat-soaked zealots has an upside: You’ll be able to brag about your gym exploits at cocktail parties and stuff.

Joining the ranks of sweat-soaked zealots has an upside: You’ll be able to brag about your gym exploits at cocktail parties and stuff.

Photo By David Robert

Five years ago, I had a massive heart attack that damn near killed me, but that’s not the bad news.

Reno heart surgeon and friend Todd Chapman saved my life, but he could do only two bypasses—the rest of my heart arteries were too blocked to bypass. But that’s not the bad news.

Then my heart gradually began to fail. My lungs slowly filled with fluid. I used to walk around the Reno Gazette-Journal newsroom with my lungs going grack-grack.

“Hey, listen to this,” I’d say. Grack grack. Senior editors weren’t impressed. Tough room.

Still, that’s not the bad news.

Finally my heart went blah to the point that I retired (or, as my wife says, “got out alive").

At about the same time, my cardiologist started me on a wonder drug called Coreg. It actually rebuilds heart muscle. A few months after that, I saw my heart on ultrasound and, for the first time in five years, I saw the bottom of my heart move. The muscle had been dead, and now it was moving, beating.

Well, sure you might think that was good news, but that led to the truly bad news, the awful news. I was healthy enough to join a gym and exercise.


All my life I’ve figured that getting out of bed in the morning—or, more accurately, in the afternoon—was exercise enough for any sane person.

Now I was joining the ranks of sweat-soaked zealots, people who talked about “the burn” as though it were a good thing, people who talked about “breaking through the wall” and didn’t mean a scene in an action movie.

Weird people.

My wife and I joined a gym, an exercise in itself that’s reminiscent of buying a used car. You are exhorted to buy this, buy that, try this option. You even sit in a little cubicle like a car dealer’s.

Once I joined, though, I found that the gym is a cool place. I even worked with a personal trainer, a delightful and sweet lady named Jeannie Kennedy who tried not to make me feel bad because she was 18 times stronger than I was. She showed me how to use various exercise machines, big hulking things that looked like something from a movie where the heroine says “eek” a lot.

In this case, heroine Jeannie kept saying, “You’ll really like this one,” and I said, “Eek.”

There are machines to make your arms sore, machines to make your legs sore, machines to make your stomach sore and machines to make places sore that you didn’t know you had.

However, my wife and I discovered a marvelous feeling that comes with exercise. No, not exercise itself. The righteous feeling of Having Exercised. We go over to 24-Hour Fitness at 1 a.m. one day, and the result is a smug feeling that lasts for several more days. Hey, I worked out. I be fit. I be not having to come back for a couple of days.

There are, I discovered, people with incredible bodies at the gym. On one of my first visits, I turned into the men’s locker room just as a guy was coming out. We almost collided, with one of those “Excuse me,” “No, excuse me” moments. My face was almost touching his arm, or as we muscle boys say, his biceps. Or maybe it was triceps. His arm. And this guy’s arm was bigger than most people’s thighs. It was like looking at a telephone pole with large bulges.

There are also hardbodied women with thighs that would put an Olympic speed skater to shame. It’s not good gym etiquette to stare, but if someone happens to walk across your field of view while you are riding a stationary bike, you can’t help but look. At least, that’s what I thought. Then my wife’s voice came over my shoulder.

“You could die," she said cheerfully.