Northside SF  

The Final Word
Idealism thrives in the Marina
By Bruce Bellingham

After that rather cryptic dispatch was printed in this paper last month about me, that is, “Bruce went on a vacation that no one would envy” or something like that, I feel I have some explaining to do for the readers.

No, I am not in jail with Lindsay Lohan. That punishment would be too cruel, and certainly too unusual for the poor, misbegotten woman. She’s suffered enough.

I was in the hospital for a time. They call it a heart attack. Every time I see that fellow on TV, proffering drugs for some pharmaceutical firm, woefully claiming he had a heart attack at the age of 58, I say, “Shut up, already.”

I’ll tell you, I had no conventional symptoms – no chest pain – just felt really sick, as if the flu had been delivered to me in a big package by overnight mail.

I took a cab to St. Francis Hospital. That’s my friendly neighborhood healing house, but they said I had to go to St. Mary’s. I was transported by ambulance there. We couldn’t fit all the paramedics in a taxi, I guess. Suddenly it all became very dramatic and terrifying. Enough to give one high blood pressure. Lots of people were involved. I was embarrassed by troubling them that much.

I sensed disdain from the staff as I was wheeled into an operating room. They cut off my underwear with a pair of scissors. Imagine. I hardly know them. Everyone looked grim. I felt guilty. I think they knew I knew I was not exactly a health nut for the past couple of years. I thought I could eat anything and drink everything. Why take my underwear? They had to insert a needle into my groin. It’s called an angioplasty. It introduces a stent to clear a blocked artery. Yes, a blood clot. All of the menudo and margaritas had caught up with me.

I was flushed with anticoagulants. I said to a nurse, “If I water down my drinks, will that help thin my blood?”

She didn’t think that was funny. It was a week with a shortage of humor, I’m afraid.

Later, Dr. Debbie Brown would say to me, “You romanticize the wicked life of a writer too much. Maybe Herb Caen could have gotten away with it until he was 900 years old. That doesn’t mean you can.” Yes, Dr. Brown knew of my affiliation to Herb Caen. Herb was 80 when he died, by the way. He might have said, “You can stay away from hooch, rich food, no sleep, and bad company. You may not live forever. It will just seem like it.”

Perhaps the worst part of all this is getting yelled at afterward. Everyone yelled at me: “How come you didn’t tell me?” All that sort of thing. To tell you the truth, I did not know what was going on. I didn’t think to pick up the phone to call.

I’m sorry about that, people.

Perhaps, like Thomas Jefferson, I should have a conversation with my heart. I certainly owe that still-beating beast an apology too.

I once owned a Morris Minor. I was only a kid when I was driving the Morris in Golden Gate Park when the front left wheel fell off. The mechanic said to me, incredulously, “You sure like to ride them right into the ground, don’t you?”

I’ve been doing it ever since.

Remember that old Lightnin’ Hopkins song? “My starter won’t start this morning/My motor won’t even turn.”

It just comes to mind.

A few days after the hospital stay – yes, that vacation you don’t want to take – I got a call from the ambulance company. They said I owe them $1,876.00 for my excursion to St. Mary’s Hospital. Imagine that. I didn’t even use the minibar. I’m not sure what kind of tip I should leave. I’m still gobsmacked by the cost of the trip across town. But the fellow was nice, as was everyone at St. Francis and St. Mary’s. With all these saints, how could I lose?
A saintly nurse at the Castro-Mission Clinic said, “Oh yes, it’s you. I saw your chart. You’re lucky to be alive.” And so I am.
If this long list of medical facilities bewilder you, well, how do you think I feel? The list is longer, but I’ll skip that for now.
This is not meant to be a cautionary tale. We’re all grownups here. But for all the complaining I do about San Francisco, and how it has slipped into a funky condition, I have to say they provide comprehensive health insurance that saved a wretch like me. Talk about pre-existing conditions. I got out of the hospital on a Friday. Monday, I’m in the office of Healthy San Francisco on 25th Street. “You had a heart attack?” asked the friendly chap. “I think we can help you out.” Imagine that.
A whole cadre of kind people helped me out so my final word – as yet – does not have to be so final.

Bruce Bellingham is a writer for Northside San Francisco and the Marina Times. E-mail him at Tell him something encouraging.

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September 2011 Issue


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