As the horticulturist could predict the type of defective flower emanating from a diseased and desiccated seed, the life course of a man could be equally reckoned by observing his beginnings. Jim Tomlinson, a wreck of a man, had chosen the wrong parents, and thereby suffered the consequences. His father was a capricious and jealous old goat, prone to sudden explosions of violence and abuse, with alcohol often the accelerant. His mother was a broken woman, having long ago abandoned any thought of a normal, good life. Her greatest pleasures now were playing canasta and eating Mallomars. Given the choice of a good canasta game accompanied by a sleeve of Mallomars or reading her son a sweet bedtime story, she would go with the former every time.
With such a miserable upbringing, it was no surprise that Jim Tomlinson developed into a nasty, atrabilious young man, and, eventually, into a tired, defeated and depressed old geezer. He had known many women in his younger years, but every relationship ended similarly. As closeness and intimacy grew, Jim Tomlinson retreated and fled for the hills. Jim did have a few friends with whom he would banter about the world and life in general. But, regarding women, his mantra was, “What do I need a relationship for? It’s more trouble than it’s worth! In the end, all they want is your money.”
One cool evening, Jim and his friend Jeff decided to go down to the beach for an evening of philosophizing and erudition. They each brought a lounge chair, some cigarettes, and a six pack of beer on ice. Jim lived only a few blocks from the beach and often went down there to sit and think about things. Lately, feeling his age, he had been introspecting quite a bit more. Once the two men had settled in to their places, Jim took a deep swig of beer and opened the deliberation with an in-depth discussion on the best way to broil a steak. Jim firmly believed in an open flame, whereas Jeff was a strong advocate of the George Foreman grill with barbecue sauce. From there, a full discourse on the dangers of elastic in underwear ensued. Jim was of the opinion that the “boys” had to “breathe.” Jeff, on the other hand, felt a snug fit prevented undue swinging and buffeting of the jewels against the inner thighs. Following this, a dispute broke out when Jim stated his belief that there are 28 teeth in the normal human mouth, whereas Jeff was certain the number was 30. But after several other important subjects were hashed out, Jim became more serious.
“Hey, Jeff, do you ever think about whether your life was worth living?”
Jeff thought for a moment and said, “No, not really. I never thought of it. I just assumed it was worth it.”
Jim countered, “But why? What have you ever done that gave your life any meaning?”
Jeff pondered the question. “Well, I won the trifecta at the Hialeah track about eight years ago. A two-dollar bet got me 56 bucks. Man, just imagine if I had put down a C note!”
Jim looked at Jeff with amazement. “What kind of dope thinks a bet on a horse gives a life meaning?”
Jeff responded, “Well, what have you ever done?”
Jim looked out at the horizon over the ocean. Miles out at sea, the soft glow from a distant cargo ship shimmered like a diamond seen through a gossamer veil. A barely discernible band of zodiacal light rose from behind the horizon.
Jim’s voice now sounded slightly emotional. “Jeff, I was married once, about 35 years ago. We had a son. He was the sweetest little boy. I remember how he loved to watch me roll a ball to him. He looked just like I did at that age. But I couldn’t hang in there. I felt trapped. I had to get out of there. One night, I just got up, packed a bag, and walked out the door. And I never looked back. I’m 78 years old, and I lived an entire life without ever looking back. But now I can’t stop thinking about my wife and that little boy. What would have happened, how would my life be different now, if I had decided to stay and be a good husband and father?”
There was a long pause before his friend Jeff responded. “Jim, maybe it was better that you left. It’s possible you would have ruined the kid’s life. Let’s face it. You’re just not the fatherly type.”
Jim ruminated on that last comment. “Jeff, you may have a point. I admit it. I have been a real screw up in my life. Perhaps you’re right. It’s probably better that he never really knew me. I’m just really curious to see how he turned out. I hope he made something of himself.”
The two men sat quietly for a few more minutes, observing the quiet lapping of the waves at shore. Then, finally, Jim suggested calling it a night.
“Hey, Jim, would you like a ride home?”
“No, Jeff, after that talk, I think I’d rather just walk home. I live only a few blocks away. I didn’t bring my wallet but I did remember to put my house key in my pocket.”
With that, the two friends said goodnight and went their separate ways. Jim watched as Jeff jumped into his Chevy Impala and drove off. The air was cool and dry, and the walk home would take just 10 minutes.
After only one block, Jim began to experience chest tightness. Every time he walked a few steps, the pressure would worsen. He figured he would just quicken his pace and get home as soon as possible, take some Pepto Bismol and get into bed. But as he strode forward, the heaviness became crushing and suffocating, like an elephant had sat down on his chest. Moments later, Jim collapsed on the sidewalk unconscious and comatose. A neighbor out walking his dog witnessed the event and immediately called emergency personnel, and Jim was rushed by ambulance to the nearby hospital emergency room, brought in as a cardiac arrest.
As the gurney burst through the emergency room doors, the young ER doctor responded urgently. The ambulance workers provided their report. “Elderly man found lying face down on the sidewalk. No sign of head trauma. A witness observed the man collapse with no apparent antecedent or premonitory event. We don’t have any identification and we don’t know his past medical history. The only thing the man had on him was his house key.”
The doctor quickly assessed the patient and began CPR. Orders were rapidly given.
“Patient does not have a pulse. Nurse, begin compressions. Steve, give the patient one amp of IV-Epinephrine. Do we have a pulse with compressions? Get me the defibrillator. Robert, start a large bore antecubital IV for fluids. Start normal saline at 250 cc per hour. Let me see the monitor! I think we have a rhythm. It looks like regular sinus rhythm. Good! Andrea, give the patient a bolus of Lidocaine 75 mg IV. Prepare an Amiodarone drip. Check for a pulse. OK, we have a pulse. What’s his blood pressure? OK, pressure good. I think we got him back. Tell the cardiology attending we have a patient for him in the coronary care unit. The patient will probably need to go to the cardiac cath lab in the morning for a stent.”
CPR was successful, and Jim was stabilized and transferred to the CCU for further care. With that, the young ER doctor sat down to write his report.
“Elderly man, age approximately 80 years old, presents in full cardiac arrest. Identification unknown at this time. Social services investigating. Full code blue initiated. The patient had CPR in the ER for approximately 10-15 minutes. Cardiac rhythm restored. IV-Amiodarone drip started. Patient hemodynamically stable upon transfer to the CCU. Appears neurologically intact. Further treatment as per cardiology fellow and attending. Will follow up in the AM to observe his progress.”
Signed, Dr. James Tomlinson Jr.