Trenchcoat Mama: This Makeover Gets to the Heart of the Matter

Never thought I’d ever accompany someone to a makeover, but four days ago I did just that. My brother had  an angioplasty and walked away with—if a picture’s worth a thousand words—a brand new heart.

Now I’ll tell anyone who will listen about this amazing procedure—how you can actually lie there (unanaesthetized and feeling nothing) while someone snakes a[cMy brother’s heart (bottom) angioplasty, (top) after angioplasty tube from your groin to your heart, opens the blocked vessels and inserts a metal mesh to keep them open for good.

Every time the doctor poked his head in the room, I wanted to ask how the bleep-bleep anyone decides to do this for a living.

Like my kid’s godfather said, “It’s like orthodontia, only for the heart.”

My brother is not your average guy either. When he was born, he suffered oxygen deprivation at birth. At various times he was labelled developmentally delayed, borderline-schizophrenic, with an IQ ranging from below normal to genius.

Today, however, he would be described as autistic—at the very least, somewhere on the autism spectrum. I can’t account for the fact that this diagnosis was never made. I’m just grateful that people have started talking openly about autism because when I think of my brother, it’s the only story about him that makes any sense.

Gerard comes over to dinner every week. He has two beers (his only beers of the week), Caesar salad, whatever we’re preparing as the main course (preferably pasta and preferably Italian) and dessert. He leaves promptly at quarter to 7 so he can make it home to watch COPS and America’s Most Wanted on Fox.

One of his great passions is traveling around the city by foot and public transit, but in the last year, heart disease has stolen that joy. He gets winded on hills and can’t manage the stairs if an escalator’s busted.

Have you ever seen the outline of somebody’s heart? It was a first for me, and it got me thinking about the punishment our bodies take in the name of living. Bill Clinton. Dick Cheney. David Letterman. My daughter’s other godfather, who died tragically two years ago. 56. Heart attack.

I thought of my brother’s stress level too, and the daily challenge of convincing people that you are neither stupid nor intentionally rude—just that you operate by a different set of rules. Parents of kids with autism know all about that. Every time you bundle your kid off to face the world, you know the world may not push back so nicely.

I couldn’t—and can’t—stop thinking about all the people whose stress level is through the roof, including single parents. If you’re the go-to person for elderly parents or siblings and if your job provides enough stress for six people. . .and you’re trying to parent on your own, imagine what your body is going through every day and what your heart thanks about all that. At the risk of sounding like the Sally Field Boniva commercial (“I’ve got this one body”). . .let me add that. . .one body can’t do it all.

My brother’s recovering nicely today. He’s back at home, doing some laundry and surfing the Internet. My daughter’s just settling into a double-feature of Halloween Town and Halloween Town 2 while I catch up with writing and blogging. The dishes? They can wait. Outside it’s perfect Toronto fall weather.

A good day.

If there’s a trick to living well, it must have to do with not trying so damned hard.

And those folks who can do an angioplasty.

Jessica Pegis