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I was apprehensive when my dad, Pierre, decided that for last Father’s Day, he wanted to bike with me from his house on Mud Lick Road in Southwest Roanoke to Fincastle—25 undulating miles. A recent event had rendered him suspect—an outright liar—at least when it came to his heart.
It had happened on Mother’s Day, when we spent the afternoon at the Peaks of Otter Lodge enjoying their brunch buffet. Everything seemed normal. We sat around the table with my mom and dad and my wife’s mother and her grandmother as the waitress asked for our drink orders—lots of sweet tea, and wine for me and my mother. I wasn’t surprised by Pierre’s decision to pass on alcohol—nine times out of 10 he’s on a diet where some life staple that he loves is axed—bread, egg yolks, and now apparently wine.
I saw a missed call from my mother at work the next day. And then another before the text: “Call me as soon as you can.”
From his hospital bed, my dad explained to me what had been going on the day before, when he asked if I wanted to drive on the way home from the Peaks. I declined because of my wine at lunch, but might not have had I known he was having a heart attack in the driver’s seat.
“I took a nitro before we started driving back, but I wasn’t sure what would happen,” he said. The nitroglycerine pill is a last resort for a blockage, and causes an immediate drop in blood pressure—just what you want in a driver snaking along the Blue Ridge Parkway at 45 mph.
The family held off berating him for his silence until after two stents were successfully installed in his clogged arteries.
My dad has had six heart attacks. For a former hockey player for the Roanoke Valley Rebels and currently a personal trainer at the Y, this is devastating. I get it that my dad’s hubris and passion won’t let him drop his pursuit of athletic achievements, even at 64 years old. It’s engrained in his DNA. That being said, I didn’t want to be the son who was there on Mother’s Day when his heart once again turned on him and then on Father’s Day when all blood flow ceased, all because he wanted to ride bikes.