Over the next several years, my family would become quasi-experts in medical terminology relating to the human heart. We learned that heart catheterization required a long tube called a catheter which was inserted into a vein in the groin to introduce a dye into the heart. X-rays would then be taken to check for any blockages in the arteries. We learned that angioplasty or balloon surgery is used when the arteries just need to be expanded to allow for better blood flow. We also learned about stents which were explained to me as straws used to help re-enforce the artery walls.  In essence, we learned more about the heart and its function than probably the average healthy person will ever know — and definitely more than a sixteen-year-old kid without aspirations of going into medical school should know.

After turning 50 in July of 1989, dad would always say that he “just fell a part”.  Over the next 9 years and 5 months, he went through numerous medical procedures including one stomach surgery, two open heart bypass surgeries, 4 stent implants, a dozen or more angioplasty procedures, and Lord only knows how many heart catheterizations. Through it all, dad always kept his composure and was as jovial as one could be under the circumstances. If I have received his uncanny ability to listen, then I have also received his jovialness.

He also never stopped serving the Lord. His ability to put aside his medical concerns and issues still to this day amazes me. If you were to see him on the street corner, you would have never known that deep down inside he was sick. He always had a smile on his face and would jump at the opportunity to help someone and he remained active in his home church and still sang bass in the quartet nearly every Saturday and on Sunday’s.

Having grew up watching the West Virginia University Mountaineers play, he was an avid fan of everything WVU. His favorite by far had to be the WVU Football team. When I was much younger, we only had a few channels on the TV so our fall afternoons were spent sitting near dad’s radio listening to Jack Fleming, the voice of the Mountaineers, give the play-by-play call for that week’s WVU Football game. We would gather up snacks and RC Cola and sit back in our recliners and listen to the game —  every Saturday. The memories listening to those WVU games with my dad are forever implanted in my brain. And when winter rolled around it was WVU Basketball. One thing is for certain, he was die hard West Virginia University sports fan and I can still remember him saying, “Son, are we going to listen to the Mounties today?”.

He also enjoyed some pro sports with his favorite teams being the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Browns. Sadly he never got to see his Brownies return to Cleveland — which is the main source of my disdain for anything and everything Baltimore. Though he was an avid sports fan, he did have a rather peculiar disregard for some teams. The majority of the time, he never had an ill word to say about anyone however he did have this hatred for one particular city. My dad hated Atlanta and everything that came out of it. Be it CNN, the Braves, or the Falcons, dad hated Atlanta. I am pretty sure it had something to do with Turner and Fonda and specifically her war protests but we will never know for certain.

His disdain for all things Atlanta was widespread too. He would say, “I hate the Braves so much that I even do not like the poor guy that takes up the tickets at Braves games”. Or, “That guy who sells popcorn at the Braves games, I do not like him either.” Part of it was dad’s way of joking with people but there may have been some truth.

February 17th, 1999
By this time, dad had been placed on long term disability due to his continuing heart condition. Mom had been a stay-at-home mom all her life so with dad now home everyday and all day, this drew them even closer together. It was Wednesday, February 17th, 1999 and dad was getting ready to head out to the grocery store as he did numerous time each week. With check and grocery list in hand, mom looked at his face and said “Jack, your face is drawn. Maybe it is that Bell’s Palsy again?” Dad had had an episode of Bell’s Palsy a few weeks early which had only recently cleared up. He sat back down and did not go to the store that day. Later that evening, mom gave me call and asked if we would come down to the house. She still needed to go to the grocery store but did not want to leave dad alone. We said sure as I tried to never miss an opportunity to hang out with dad plus WVU basketball was playing Pitt that night. When we arrived at mom and dad’s house, they were just finishing up dinner – dad’s favorite of hot dogs with mom’s homemade chili. Tammy and mom made their way to the store while dad and I settled into what we called the TV room.  Most would probably refer to this room as a family room however in our case, we called it the TV room simply because you guessed it — this is where the TV was located.

“Watching Hollywood Squares again?”, I thought to myself.
Just as Carolina Rhea came on the TV screen, dad said “She’s really pretty”
“Yes dad, she is pretty”, I replied.
“Hey dad, I think I know why my satellite dish is not working very well. You know that splice we had to put in to make the cable longer? I think with all this snow and rain we have been having, the connector is shorting out or something.”

Jumping from the recliner, dad said “I have just the thing!”
A few minutes later he came back with a plastic zip lock baggie and a roll of electrical tape.

“Here son… take this and wrap it around the connector where those two cables come together and then use this tape to seal it up.”
“Ok dad, I will give that a try.”

We continued to watch Hollywood Squares while we waited for the WVU Basketball game to begin. A few minutes later, I looked over at dad and he was all curled up into a fetal position. He was not moving and was not saying a word. I screamed, “DAD! Are you OK?” Nothing. No response.  My dad had just suffered a massive stroke and I no idea what to do.

I called over to the local grocery store where mom and Tammy where still shopping. We knew everyone there because both me and Tammy had worked for this mom and pop grocery store. I ask if they could page over the speaker for Tammy or Beaulah Barker.

“Mom! I think dad is having a stroke. Please come home now!”
“It is probably just his Bell’s Palsy.”
“No mom! He is not responding.”

The ambulance arrived and it was back to the hospital for what we all thought would be just another routine trip.

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