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The International Writers Magazine
: Surviving A Passion Attack

Close call - if not last
Lionel Darmendrail on a matter of the heart

Friday, Dec.10th.

The afternoon was gloomy, cold and wet and I had been mostly reeling across the day. The previous evening, preceded by afternoon funeral in Mauléon, had been rather long and heavy as I had gone to bed pretty late (4 a.m.) after some orgiastic dinner at tough partners' in Cambo (the two guys who fish with me on my boat).
The 'apéritif ' had lasted too damn long (2 or 3 hours of greasy tapas washed down by double scotches).

Dinner consisted of mountains of red and high meats emerging from seas of Rioja and Navarra wine. Run aground after desert, I vaguely remember trying to tell the difference between some 1948 Armagnac and a 1949 Cognac and acknowledging that I was too loaded to make any sense. I didn't like me at that point.

Catherine, my wife,had been pretty upset of late with that type of wild socialising and was angry with me for not being able to escape that sort of traps. Plus, my workload was hectic in between and my cigar intake way up above normal.

I had celebrated my 55th birthday on Dec. 7th, and she had told me she wanted us to lead a quieter and better organized life. Then, the following day, Dec. 8th, we had been invited in Biarritz and left the premises at 3.30 in the morning. Driving home, Catherine had noticed I could hardly articulate my sentences because of the abuse.

So this Friday, to make myself forgiven, I decided to start a nice fire in the fireplace so Catherine would certainly be pleased when returning from school at 5 p.m.. When she arrived and came near 'la cheminée', I started undressing her for what the French call a 'cinq-à-sept' (afternoon meeting between lovers).
I must confess that I did my best to rise to the occasion. On such circumstances, one means to surpass himself. The metaphor of a steam engine leaving the station is quite appropriate: slow start, first strokes, gears being set in motion and speed progressively building up.
After a while the tempo increases as procedure gets hotter and faster... and soon, crouching, puffing and panting, I was out of wind and winded alright! I had to stop my effort and wait for my second wind before resuming action (in retrospect, I was foolishly trying to fuck like a twenty-year-old. But that's the way it had always been with me since the "I'll fuck you like a superman!" Beatles' days, plus I had read somewhere that rock'n'roll love-making was good for the heart; maybe I had rocked the boat beyond its specs).
My breath soon came back but the pain--some annoying sensation at the top of my lungs--persisted. So, to our regret, I decided to withdraw entirely and made for the door to breathe some fresh air outside. Our family doctor--whom Catherine had called--was on the scene in a matter of minutes. He checked my pulse and my blood pressure. Everything seemed normal he said. But the pain still lurking, he advised me to go to the nearest cardiologist in Cambo. So, I got dressed, brushed my teeth and sat in the car next to Catherine who drove me to Cambo.

Dr Birkmaker did an electrocardiogram on me that appeared to be inconclusive. Still, he refered me to the Clinique Paulmy in Bayonne (that specialises in cardiology) and called an ambulance that rushed me to emergency with flashing lights on. During the time it took to drive the 20 kilometers the male nurse next to me kept making sure I was still alive by asking little questions in the dark.

Soon afterwards, in the middle of the night (?), I was taken from intensive care onto the operating table. Totally conscious, I could follow on a screen the operation done on me. It is called an angioplasty. A catheter is introduced in one of your arteries. This catheter has a balloon at its end. A iodine dye is sent through the artery and it will indicate where the artery is narrowed or clogged (preventing the circulation of blood and thus causing the heart attack--i.e. the Myocardial Infarction). Then the balloon is inflated to widen/dilate the passage or break up the plaque or the clot clogging the way. Also, a 'stent' (a stainless steel mesh tube) is placed that will keep the coronary open...

*According to a 1998 Canadian study, out of 30 deadly coronaries (heart attacks) happening during sexual intercourse, 27 were extramarital. The same study also showed that the younger the female partner was, the higher the fatal outcome was and the deadlier the illicit relationship.

The following Monday, I was transported from intensive care to the cardiology ward above and given a room with bathroom all for myself. That was a relief. I was permitted to stand up for the first time and go to the toilets with the drip in my right arm. I was constipated and couldn't shit for a whole week. On Wednesday, Catherine came to spend the night with me.
Being in her arms again was being brought back to the world--resuscitation.

Between the night nurse's rounds (every other hour) we made love very quietly, intensely and satisfyingly.
Throughout analyses performed on the following days showed that my coronary was a small one that had left minimal traces and I was advised to drive my mountain bike uphill in a very near future-thank God! Now, after a week in bed, here I am, peaceful and quiet at home, happy to be alive and under control, so to speak. I haven't felt any better in ages. I sleep well and eat well, walk 40 minutes every day, do not get overworked...and I can appreciate good wine more than ever.

I thought very often about Bob Fosse's film "All that jazz", one of my all time favourites. I've always loved that film for the mark it left on me when I first watched it in Marrakesh back in the late seventies, thinking that was the type of thing that could well happen to me. It did. I've always suspected that we were living on reprieve. And I just got a personal message of confirmation.

There's no unsinkable ship. We'll all hear the last call when our time is up. So it goes.
The funny thing was that my brother Jean-Pierre (he's a year older) had had the same adventure (he was shopping) just two weeks before mine. He was back to business after 6 days at hospital, not wanting employees to know (for fear it affects their performance--'sick leave' being a taboo word to any employer in France) Our younger brother, Xavier, has also made an appointment with his cardiologist for a physical test.
I am very glad after all to be here writing this.

© Lionel Darmendrail Feb 2005

2021 Lionel is now retired from teaching English and Documentary Film at the Lycee in Biarritz, France. He is the life and soul of any party, a handy sailor and much travelled father of three. We are very happy he lives on and is writing his memoirs! Ed

See also Jerez

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