I first got the news on Facebook of course. Then I started getting text messages. My friend Tony had sustained a stroke of all things late Friday night. My first thoughts were those of shock and disbelief. After all, Tony is only in his early fifties if that. He doesn't smoke and he observes generally healthy ways. Up until now he enjoyed vigorous good health. He plays softball and he bowls. Likes to hunt and play golf.
However, his main claim to fame is that he is "Mr. Tony" to the kids at Miracle League where he has tirelessly pitched to the kids all day for most Saturdays since the league started business in Little Rock some 6-7 years ago.
How could this be possible?
I went to the hospital to see him yesterday. The big guy filled up his bed in the ICU and he was hooked up to all kinds of electronic stuff. I took his hand.
"Boy, what are you doing in here?" I asked. He started to speak. He couldn't. His wife Tish is a nurse. Thank God. She recognized the symptoms and called 911. He couldn't answer her last night when she spoke to him. Tony is a talker. Time to hit 911.
I was pleased to see that he had good grip strength. No facial paralysis or drooping. Movement is returning to the right side. He can make vocal production but he loses his words when he attempts to state a sentence of more than a couple of words. He communicated with me with his eyes and facial expressions.
Still, as I told folks later, he is lucid. Tony is still Tony in there. That is not always the case after a stroke event. And I have every hope that he will enjoy a full recovery and return once again to his life of selfless service toward others.
But boy. This is the kind of thing that wakes you up. I mean, we are all aware of our mortality. As the Richard Thompson song "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" memorably puts it, "She thought she'd live forever but forever always ends."
Still, you never think guys like Tony, or my late friend Hugh, are gonna get struck down. Not even for a little bit. So strong and larger than life. This is the kinda of thing that happens to other people. Like to people that smoke cigarettes by way of conspicuous example.
Or guys like me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but thanks to my father's genes I have cardiovascular disease. Indeed, the sludge in my system is in the left anterior descending artery, commonly (and amusingly) known as "the widowmaker."
Now I work out vigorously, am completely asymptomatic, get 2 stress tests a year and am otherwise hovered over by a gaggle of white coats. And my family doc says the odds of me keeling over like Buck did are "zero."
But stuff like this gets your attention. We take our life and our health for granted. We know not the day nor the hour. Well, most of us don't at least. But that's a story for later.
Like I said, I have every hope that my buddy Tony will make a full recovery and will be back throwing at kids in wheelchairs sooner than later. The rest of us will step it up over at Miracle League until he can come back.
But damn. Stuff like this wakes you up. Life is short. Way short.
Forever always ends.