Tail of the Weak Heart
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
The Covid-19 pandemic had killed over 250,000 Americans and pretty much most of my regular gigs in 2020. So, I was overjoyed to get a call from Golden Isles friends—Randall and Mary Brooke—asking if I would be available to sing at their wedding reception on Hilton Head Island that Saturday afternoon, October 24. Well, I was already booked the evening of the 24th for an annual backyard get-together known as the Blythe Island Porch Party, thrown by my old high school
classmate, Danny Johnson, and his wife, Nancy; so, it became a matter of hours and seconds between entertainments. I've double-fisted a few times in my lifetime of playing music; so, this was just another drive down I-95 for me. It was an inauspicious start as I left Waycross around 8:30 am in a fog that began to slowly lift by the time I reached Patterson, with about two hours more till arriving at the Spanish Wells Golf Club on Hilton Head. Mary Brooke was as radiant as an angel and Randall looked as handsome as a devil as they exchanged vows overlooking the Calibogue Sound in front of a small, masked audience of family and friends.
At their reception, I played a solid two-hour set of oldies and goldies—along with an original love song concerning the mating habits of love bugs on windshields, humpback bulls and cud-tooth cows, and oversexed mosquitos. Following the party, I was given a slice of lemon wedding cake, two to-go plates for the road ahead, and a generous financial contribution for my efforts. It was 3:30 pm when I pointed my car in the direction of Blythe Island, two hours south down Interstate 95. No stress. The evening festivities didn't start until seven.
As I rolled along—nibbling on after-wedding cuisine of sauteed green beans, balsmaic rice, and some flock of foreign chicken—I got a call from my little sister, Deb, concerning big brother, Gary, and his recent episodes of nighttime spells, of which he'd had two this very day and was being transported to Savannah for further evaluation.
While shouting admonitions about ineffectual ministers of medicine towards the dashboard of the car, I was suddenly reminded I was doin' less than 77 in the far left passing lane, as cars began zippin' by to my right. Stressed? Well, that shocked me back into the reality of my afternoon stroll down I-95; and, yes—I was concerned about my older brother.
It was 5:40 when I finally made it to Exit 29, then slid by M and B Liquors for a bottle of Jose Gold for the party. Upon arrival at the Johnson's backyard, I backed in to the porch stage, unloaded, set up my equipment, and strolled inside with my bottle of tequila for to put a chill on it and myself. I tucked Jose away in Nancy's freezer, placed wedding entree to-go plate number two in the microwave, then sat down to shrimp, grits, and cornbread.
I could've stood a nap and my shirt could've stood a wash; but, time wouldn't allow but a short spin with a dryer sheet and a quick shower to wash away the stress—I mean to say, the Hilton Head afternoon sun—leavin' just enough time to visit with a few of the incoming Blythe Island revelers.
It was a four-hour performance, with a 20-minute break about midway, including songs from the past and present—duets with local singer/cajonist, Marie Toler, on "Mustang Sally", "Me and Bobbie McGee", and "Angel From Montgomery"—a come-to-Jesus singalong of Kris Kristofferson's plaintive "Why Me", with a choir of King sister porch angels, Cassie and Shari—and a unhealthy dose of tequila-sippin' supplemented by a couple of Buttery Nipple shots, courtesy of Danny Harvey, the Unofficial Mayor of Blythe Island.
I slept rather restlessly on an unrestful recliner in Danny and Nancy’s living room and woke up after a few short hours of tossin’ and turnin’. Steppin’ outside onto their shady, tin-roofed patio, I had a pack of peanut butter and cheese crackers, a Coke, a cigarette, and a vengeful laugh while watching highlights of Tampa Bay Ray’s Randy Arozarena rounding third base, stumbling and falling 20-feet shy of home plate, and miraculously recovering to score the winning run in Game 4 of the World Series against my Atlanta Braves’ nemesis, the L.A. Dodgers.
As more Porch Party oversleepers started showin’ up with hungry faces, Danny and Nancy fired up the outdoor griddle, leavin’ all on-comers satisfied with fried egg eyes, pancake chins, and bacon smiles—the kind of south Georgia breakfast I’ve grown up with and learned to love with all my heart. The kind that makes you stretch out on the living room couch and take a long nap until Aunt Lynne wakes you up sayin’, “It’s time to take me back to Waycross”.
The headache started as soon as we were headed west on Highway 82; so, I popped a couple Ibuprofens as we cruised home. There were a few things to unload, mail to open, emails and Facebook messages to delete or respond to, YouTubes to watch, things to Google, and cigarettes to smoke—while I opened, read, deleted, responded, watched, and Googled. Around midnight, I took a couple Benadryl allergy relief tablets that usually have the lids of my eyes slammin’ like fairground ticket windows at closin’ time on Saturday night.
The lids were tired enough to slam, it’s just that the headache—which had now been joined by a sore left throat—wouldn’t allow me any good rest; so, I propped up to see what I could find to watch on my Amazon Fire Stick. Along about four in the morning—after a few hundred YouTube clips, several glasses of ice-cold Coca-Cola, a roast beef sandwich, and half a bag of FRITOS®—the headache and sore throat had worsened and was now joined by a burning sensation every time my chest heaved.
Now, given I’m 67 and in pretty good health—other than smokin’ too much; drinkin’ a little here and there; and not exercisin’ at all—the first thing I start doin’ is worryin’ about the aforementioned Covid-19 and wonderin’ who I might’ve gotten it from. I figured a trip to the local health department for a Coronavirus test was in order if things didn’t start calming down.
By 7:45, there was no calming down to be done; and, I started throwin’ my clothes on. By 8:00, I was sitting in my car, setting up a 9:15 appointment for a Covid test. By 8:15—as a Waycross freight train started to roll from my head on down—I knew that was an appointment I was not goin’ to make. I could barely walk from the car to the house for the pain—that train was in my chest, feelin’ every bit as heavy as Waycross freight trains do.
I leaned on the front door till it cracked open, caught the eyes of Aunt Lynne, who was just wakin’ up, and said somethin’ in the vein of, “WE GOTTA GO! NOW! DAMNIT! JESUS!” She finally got her shoes on, slid behind the wheel, and tore out toward Satilla Memorial and their Emergency Room entrance, thinking that all this drama had something to do with my brother’s double seizure on Saturday, she later told me.
All I could do was moan and groan, spray-legged on the front passenger seat in pain until, what seemed an hour later, she peeled into the ER driveway. As I opened the car door, Aunt Lynne sobbed, “Oh, no! He’s not dead, is he?”, which confused me as to why in hell she was talkin’ about me in the second person, when I was right there in front of her—slammin’ one door and fixin’ to go in another.
The Emergency Room attendant got a brief and economic conversation from me—“HELP!!”—as she dutifully made me take a second to follow pandemic protocol with a quick temperature check that found me Covid clear. She sprang into action. A wheelchair appeared out of nowhere and I collapsed in it—beggin’ for a nurse, a doctor, or a gun—I was hurtin’!
After what felt like a half-hour of beggin’, hurtin’, and waitin’, a nurse descended upon me, whiskin’ me into the back. Next thing I know, I was bein’ stripped, questioned, prepped, gowned, tested, and administered to by a top-notch team of medical messiahs—headed up by Dr. Timothy Catchings, a heart specialist with the voice of Moses.
As they rolled me to the Cath Lab, I was still babblin’ on about trains and pains and “Why the hell am I hurtin’ so bad?”—to which Dr. Catchings let go, “It’s cause ya havin’ a heart attack, man! You was 100% blocked in your right aorta. We fixin’ to fix you up with a stent.” At some point, I must’ve smiled, because the pain was gone; and, I felt a cold, liquid running from my right wrist and up my forearm.
Next thing I knew, I was awake and being rolled into a room in ICU, where I was greeted by the head nurse on the day shift, Paige, a young soon-to-be newlywed. I hadn’t had anything to eat since my three a.m. roast beef and corn chips; so, it wasn’t long before a hospital plate of beef tips on rice, a nice vegetable medley, bread roll, and iced tea was sitting in front of me—but not for long.
Although I was fixed, fed, and fairly anesthetized, the worst was yet to come—so I learned afterward—because I don’t remember but a couple things. According to a Duke University study, only 5.7% of heart attack patients who undergo stent placement, experience Ventricular Fibrillation. That’s when your heart starts disco-dancin’ like John Travolta on amphetamines—instead of doin’ what it’s supposed to do—beat regularly and most importantly, pump blood. Basically, you’re dead until CPR or electrical shock is administered.
Leave it to me to complicate things by falling into that 5.7 percentile. My sister, Deb, and daughter, Megan, were standing by the bed when it happened. They said my speech went from Uncle Dave to Uncle Dribble, an alarm started beepin’ frantically, and my eyes rolled up in my head.
Head nurse Paige was on top of me in an instant beating on my chest and calling to the nurses outside for help. They shocked me twice with the paddles; and, everything was like it should be again. I was gone for about 30 seconds and did not hover with no feeling where the wall becomes the ceiling—didn’t walk toward a peaceful light—nor talk to anybody named St. Somethin'.
While I don’t remember anything about the episode, my eyes were still seeing and my ears were still hearing. I recall watching rather casually—almost amused—the wide-eyed nurses pouring into the room and moving in all directions. I heard a voice from somewhere say, “Get the paddles!” My next living memory is of bein’ terribly sick and dry-heavin’ blood into a modern bedpan that looked like Yao Ming’s athletic sock—sweatin’ like Saddam Hussein at a international courtroom trial for do-goodery—and fieldin’ questions about the recent medical history of my gastronintestinal regions. Talk about a stormy Monday.
I must’ve appeared to be Halloween-come-early because all I heard from everybody who entered my room the next day was how considerably much better I looked. I suppose my appearance was quite improved, considerin’ that—the day before—the Psychopomp of Death was blowin’ me kisses with his right hand while his left had me by the soul.
I’m thankful as I can be to all the personnel at Satilla Memorial who played their part in settin’ me right again—and to my family and friends from points all over who constantly let me know that love is real and prayers do heal.
I’m a lucky man. I survived a heart attack. I know what the worst day of my life feels like. And I know what it feels like to be on this side of it. It feels kinda like Tampa Bay Ray’s Randy Arozarena must’ve felt—rounding third base, stumbling and falling 20-feet shy of home plate, and miraculously recovering to score the winning run in Game 4 of the World Series against the L.A. Dodgers.
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Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin