To the brink of death

By Randy Grider
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I was in my room getting ready for work when I heard my dad’s truck pull into the driveway. I was surprised that he was returning home so early. Maybe there wasn’t enough coal to haul or the coal washer had broken.

I walked into the living room to find my dad looking terrible. His skin was grayish, and he was sweating profusely. He could barely breathe. He managed to ask where my mom was. He added he needed her to drive him to the doctor.

She was out shopping, so tracking her down wasn’t an option. I told him to get in the car and I would drive him. The nearest ambulance service was 15 miles away, and since our family doctor was about four miles away, it seemed like the best option.

Even though my dad had not ridden with me since I drove him and the family Dodge into a cornfield a few years before, he didn’t argue with me. We both knew something serious was wrong with him.

With labored breaths, he told me he had been changing a tire on his coal truck when a shooting pain went through his arm and chest. He said it felt like an electric knife. At 42, my dad was not in the best of shape – he was at least 50 pounds overweight. His diet consisted of mainly greasy foods that he covered in salt. He also smoked four packs of cigarettes and drank too much beer.

I was actually surprised that he made it to the doctor’s office without dying. The doctor saw him right away while I stayed in the waiting room. I made some phone calls and located my mom, who rushed over. After a while I was told to come back and see him. Surprisingly, his color was better and he could talk. The doctor told us that my dad had had a series of small heart attacks. He called an ambulance to take my dad to the hospital.

Dad told me to go on to work. “I’ll be fine,” he assured me.

Since he looked much better, I told him I loved him and drove 40 miles to the jobsite. That afternoon a friend pulled up at the house I was working on. He told me that my dad had had a massive heart attack as he was being loaded in the ambulance and that he had been airlifted to a Birmingham, Ala., hospital, about 90 miles away.

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When I arrived, I learned that the doctors were not allowing the family or even our preacher to see my dad. They were continuously working on him to keep him alive. They also let us know that he might not make it through the night.

Thankfully, he did make it through the night, and we were allowed to see him the next morning. He had quadruple bypass surgery a couple of days later.

But the emotional roller coaster ride wasn’t over.

With 40 percent of his heart permanently damaged, my dad began the long and lonely road to recovery. First, he had to change his lifestyle. He gave up smoking, greasy food and salt. He had to learn to eat healthier and exercise. With his mood swings, it was sometimes hard on the entire family.

By the time he returned to trucking three months later, he was already looking like a different person. By the end of the year, he was walking three miles a day. His attitude improved because he felt better.

Ironically, when he suddenly died less than two years later from an undetected brain aneurysm, he was physically and mentally in the best shape of his life. I wish now he had taken living healthier more seriously long before he did.

Like my dad, too many drivers today are in poor physical health. In this month’s issue, we take a comprehensive look at obesity while launching our Fit for the Road program. I hope that many of you can take the experience of my dad and those we’ve spotlighted to help you consider your current health situation.

If you’re obese and in poor physical health, remember, it’s not just your livelihood at risk – it’s your very life.