The report of the heart attack death of filmmaker John Hughes (16 Candles) hit close to home this morning. We shared some history, we were close in age, both did work for National Lampoon and I admired his midwestern sensibilities regarding humor. The news report said he was out for a walk and dropped dead.
So, what does it feel like to die like that?
We arrived in Kingman on Friday night, March 21, 2008. Kathy and I met Charlie and Linda Waters at the Calico Cafe and chatted about the Exits Exit. We then drove up to Hilltop and had dinner with Wayne and Marylin Rutschman at the Dambar Steakhouse. The place was slammed so we ate in the bar and I had the salmon even though I wanted the steak (looking back, I might as well have had the steak!). We had fun catching up with the Rutschmans, trading Kingman kid stories. From there we checked into the Hampton Inn on Stockton Hill Road. When we got to our room I realized I hadn't done my six sketches for the day (a common predicament for me when I'm on the road). So I dutifully sat on the edge of the bed and whipped out the requisite six drawings:
In the morning I decided to get a jump on my sketches and at breakfast worked on an ambitious female figure holding her hand against her brow. I had so much to do, so many deadlines at the magazine and elsewhere and as I drove down to the old Elks Lodge in downtown Kingman for our band rehearsal I didn't realize this would be the last time I was looking at my hometown.
I had about four hours to live.
By three in the afternoon, I was ready for a nap. The rehearsal was going awful. I was agitated about how bad we sounded. The songs sucked, nobody could end at the same time, bridges were missed, more than one person was flat (besides me). I remember playing our proposed three-man Wipeout showstopper and getting kind of crazy, leaving my drum set and jumping around, doing the gator, rolling on the floor, showing off.
They tell me I went back to my drums, slumped forward and fell face first on the floor, breaking my glasses. That was it. Game over.
I've sinced learned that for every minute your brain doesn't get oxygen, you lose 10% of your brain. In ten minutes, you are history, and, although I love history, I need all the brain I can get. Fortunately for me, two band members knew CPR (what are the odds of ex-rock 'n' rollers even caring about this?). Wayne Rutschman, assisted by his son Cody, and Terry Mitchell immediately began CPR, with Wayne and Cody doing mouth to mouth and Terry doing compressions. When I asperated two tacos, Cody looked at his dad and said, "He's your friend, Dad." Incredibly, Wayne wiped away the debris and continued the mouth to mouth.
As a post script, a mere week later the Red Cross came out and said mouth to mouth was not necessary anymore and Wayne cried out into the darkness, "Oh, great! Now you tell us."
I don't remember any of this. I woke up three days later in Kingman Regional Hospital with a tube in my throat and several more in my arm. I couldn't talk, so Kathy brought me my sketchbook. Here is what I wrote:
At the top it says, "What day is today?" and then under that it says something about "one stint (sic) or two stints?" Actually, there were four stents. The girl with her hand to her forehead which I had rendered the morning of the attack suddenly looked quite ominous. Did she know? Hindsight is twenty twenty. Of course she knew.
Later I tried to sketch a few things, but I had lost my touch:
This was drawn from my bed looking up at a big intensive care style mirror over my head. The note at the bottom says, "ICU (intensive care), room 306: in Kingman Regional Hospital, 6 day lapse from heart attack."
I finally went home the following Thursday and resumed my daily sketches on April 1. Those first drawings were especially tentative and weak:
Slowly, I climbed back and got stronger and stronger. Here are my sketches from yesterday:
With these drawings I have completed 9,700 with 300 to go. What a thrill it is to still be on this planet and to be on this quest.
"Death is never at a loss for an occasion."
—Old Vaquero Saying