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Yale 62

My Health Hegira, or A Never-Ending Story

By John Harger Stewart

I suppose it began late last summer when an oncoming car on MY side of the road did not as I might have hoped give way, and I turned to the left too late to avoid a collision. Aside from a cracked rib and a few scratches I was fine; my car was totaled.

Next, just as I finished putting away the very large clay flowerpots I tripped over my hand truck and fell straight on to my nose, broken two places on the bridge. Good news was no deviation and six weeks later the nose was as good as new. In the Sharon Hospital E.R., where I bled for a few hours, a CT scan was taken just to check on the nose and the back where there were three compressed vertebrae, the latter not a big deal and easily handled in yoga and Tai Chi. But the attending physician spotted a dark area in the brain which he diagnosed as a stroke. I have no memory of a stroke but was frightened enough to visit my cardiologist and here the fun began. He immediately started me on a mini-aspirin, prescribed two tests, an echo-cardiogram and an examination of my carotid arteries, and for a month I wore a heart monitor.

I hope you’ve never had to do this. There’s a tape socket taped onto the upper chest, and a device changed and recharged and replaced every morning, with a phone which needed to stay within 10 feet, also recharged every night. Frequently the tape socket worked loose and I had to replace it. This device revealed a few extra beats above and below the heart, and I was referred to an AFib specialist. Although both of these doctors looked about 14 years old, they were great – thorough and professional. As a retired singer, I got a private kick at of their names: Benoit, the same name as the landlord in la Bohème Act I, which in the opera is pronounced Ben Wah, but for him it’s Ben Oyt. And the AFib guy whose name is Hoch, which is pronounced, as far as I could hear, Hatch, instead of the German pronunciation which is the sound you make before spitting.

Then I saw a neurologist in Poughkeepsie, the head of the dept. at Vassar Hospital, who after studying the CT Scan was very positive that I’d not suffered a stroke, but because there was a mirroring dark area on the other side of the brain, felt they were both due to a car accident I had at age 22, which gave me a fractured skull. This was a great relief. Fortuitously, his name is Dr. Wright, and I hope he is. He tended to pooh pooh the possibility of AFib, but still very shortly I will be subjected to an MRI of the heart area, and soon thereafter be implanted with another heart monitor, this time under the skin, sealed with a stitch, which will eventually dissolve after conveying info back to Benoit and Hoch. And my name for the potential condition is now Atrial Tribulation.

These experiences have punctured my sense of timeless invulnerability and left me feeling fragile. On the road I’m very suspicious of oncoming cars or those theoretically waiting on side streets. I’m much more careful going up and down stairs, but unceasingly resisting any slip into hypochondria. All of us who are keeping on keeping on I’m sure have similar stories!

Post script. On Thursday the 31st of January, I spent over an hour in the MRI machine, listening to the most soporific and saccharine “classical” music in existence. (But consider the alternatives!) Beforehand I was asked about claustrophobia, actually not one of mine. And the good news was that my heart seems normal.

We welcome your comments.

5 comments to My Health Hegira

  • Lee Bolman


    Thanks for sharing an experience that feels all too familiar. My “sense of timeless invulnerability” has been well and truly punctured, and feelings of fragility continue to accrete.

    Some 20 years ago, the New York Times carried an article from which I gleaned the message that physical decline typically sets in with a vengeance around age 75. At the time, I hoped to escape that fate for at least a few years but I have not secured much of a postponement. Meanwhile, a big news item today is the special counsel’s report that depicts Joe Biden (who’s about 2 years younger than most of us) as a sweet old guy who doesn’t remember very much, which isn’t too different from the way my wife has been viewing me lately.

    You have the right spirit, John. Keep on keeping on, and accept with a touch of gentle humor that what is, is.



  • Neal Freeman

    I would add to Lee’s remarks if that were possible. He says it all. And I admire your Bond-like insouciance, John. My response to being inserted in large, whirring machines is to panic.

  • Bill Weber


    Difficult experiences which I hope not to experience. So—I simply look for the circling vultures to make sure they are not getting lower!
    Best wishes, Bill

  • My recent MRI experience was sharing the meditation of Jonah in the belly of the whale leading to his deeper conversion and his subsequent successful mission to Nineveh, and mine to take a step back and let God act before I do. John’s joyfulness is an inspiration which I’m sure will help us all. I seem to have a small blood clot on the small part of our brain that deals with relationships.

    Peter CT

  • Tim Hall

    John, this is a lovely piece of personal reflection. Once again, with your sense of humor, self-awareness, acceptance of reality, and a strong, positive attitude, you are an inspiration to us all! As someone who has hypertension and atrial flutter, I can relate to all of the mechanical offenses to which you have been subjected. But we are the fortunate ones — all of this beats the alternative!

    Be well,