Late in his first term as President, Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack. It was September 24, 1955 and it happened in Denver. The following quotes come from Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas, an excellent history of Ike’s Presidency focusing on his foreign policy.

President Eisenhower did not like to have his golf game interrupted. On September 23, he played a morning round at the Cherry Hills County Club outside Denver. Ann Whitman [his private secretary] recorded in her diary that she had never seen him “look or act better,” possibly because he had just spent four days fishing in the mountains or because his popularity polls stood at an astronomical 80 percent in the afterglow of the “Spirit of Geneva.”

Ike was a frequent golfer. The Presidency is such a stressful job maybe we should stop getting mad at Presidents who play “too much” golf. Ike often played the Cherry Hills course when he was in Denver.

By lunch he was in a foul mood. Three times he had been summoned from the course to take a call from Secretary of States Dulles — only there was a mix-up, and Dulles (who often spoke as often as eight times a day by phone with the president) had not been on the line. The president’s game collapsed after the 14th hole. At lunch, Ike wolfed down a hamburger slathered with Bermuda onions and headed back for nine more holes. Again he was interrupted to take a call from the secretary of state. “These onions are backing up on me,” he told his golf partner, the club pro. At dinner, he felt some indigestion and skipped his usual cocktail. Ike was staying in Denver at the home of his in-laws, the comfortable eight-room house on a tree-shaded street where Mamie Doud had grown up.

The Doud house is located in the middle of the 700 block of Lafayette Street in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. It is of special interest to me because I grew up next door. We bought our house in 1966 and lived there for over 40 years. The Colorado State Historical society has a photo of Ike sitting in a convertible in our neighbor’s driveway with our house in the background.

Ike & Mamie visited her parents often and when they did, Ike would sit on the front porch with his Secret Service detail and chat with neighborhood kids. One of those kids, John Archibold, lived in a beautiful house on the corner of 7th & Lafayette. John gave an interview to the Eisenhower Presidential Center about chatting with Ike and talked about how Ike once gave him a free ride to the East Coast on the Presidential plane. John was heading back to college but this use of taxpayer dollars became a minor nationwide scandal. After college, John came back to Denver, bought the house from his mother, and his son Steve was a childhood buddy of mine.

Back to Ike and his indigestion next door. Ike loved reading western novels, unless a woman appeared and there was romance, at which point he moved on to the next western.

He retired early to read a western. At about 2 a.m., Mamie, sleeping in the next room, got up to go to the bathroom, and she heard her husband stirring in bed. Looking in, she thought he seemed troubled and asked if he was having a nightmare. “No dear, but thank you,” he said. He complained of pain in his upper abdomen. Accustomed to Ike’s stomach troubles, she gave him some milk of magnesia and called the president’s doctor, Howard Snyder.

At age seventy-four, Snyder was old to be the president’s person physician, and Ike’s millionaire friends fretted that he might not know the latest diagnoses and treatments. But the handsome, six feet three Snyder, whom Ann Whitman affectionately called “Old Duck,” knew his patient, including his anxious stomach and mild hypochondria, and was attentively if sternly sympathetic. Arriving at the house shortly after 2:00 a.m., Snyder checked his patient’s vital signs and decided, he later said, that the president was having a heart attack.

According to some notes that Snyder later made, the doctor engaged in a lonely bedside drama. He immediately injected Ike with morphine for the pain and drugs to stop his blood from clotting. He tried to put an oxygen mask on him, but the patient resisted. Ike began to sweat profusely. By four o’clock, his blood pressure was dropping and he seemed to be going into shock. Snyder tried to warm him with rubbing alcohol and then told Mamie to climb into bed and wrap herself around her husband to keep him from shaking. Ike finally fell asleep at about five.

At eight, Snyder told the deputy press secretary to put out the word to reporters that the president was suffering from “digestive upset.” He would later claim that he wanted to let the president rest, that he didn’t want to unduly alarm Mamie (with whom he had not shared his apprehensions of a heart attack), or the staff, and that he wanted to wait to confirm his diagnosis.

All this was almost surely a lie. As historian Clarence Lasby has convincingly shown from the documentary evidence (which Snyder did his best to cover up), Snyder misdiagnosed Eisenhower in the early morning hours. “Indigestion” was not a cover story; it’s what Snyder mistakenly believed was causing Ike’s suffering. He did not administer the anti-coagulants or try to fit the president with an oxygen mask. He probably did help him to the bathroom. Snyder did not realize the president had suffered a coronary thrombosis until Ike was given an EKG after he woke up at 1:00 p.m. Then the president was finally driven to the hospital.

When the news got out, the stock market crashed, heart specialists were flown in and Ike spent seven weeks recuperating at Denver’s Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. He had 66 visitors during this time period including Vice President Richard Nixon and while there was an attempt to keep up appearances, visits were limited to 15 minutes and Ike was not allowed to read the newspaper. He recovered and went on to win re-election and serve a second term.

In Ike’s Bluff, Evan Thomas argues that Ike’s determined leadership saved us from several potential nuclear confrontations. Ike thought nuclear weapons meant the end of war because any war could lead to total war and total war meant mutual annihilation. He began to think the enemy was war itself, not the Russians or the Chinese. His “bluff” was that he never told anyone — not a single person ever – whether or not he would use nuclear weapons. So other international actors always had to fear any escalation could lead to nuclear war, which nobody wanted. Even Khrushchev thought nuclear war was insanity. Because of Ike’s military background, international actors also knew (or suspected) he was capable of retaliation if provoked.

What if Ike had died in Denver that night due to Dr. Snyder’s improper diagnosis? Richard Nixon would have been at the helm starting in 1955 instead of 1969. Evan Thomas talks about how Vice President Nixon favored military intervention in Vietnam in 1954 to help the French as Dien Bien Phu was falling. Ike said no. How would a President Nixon would have handled the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 or the Formosa Strait Crisis of 1958? How would that earlier President Nixon have handled the Soviet Union?

These days, girls with Cystic Fibrosis call themselves cysters and boys with the disease are known as fibros. This cracks me up but it’s awesome. I grew up in a mostly solitary fight against Cystic Fibrosis but these days with the internet and social media there is a great and easily accessible community of CFers out there. If I was growing up today I’d likely join in. I’ll save the whys of my solitary route for another time but today I want to discuss two dramatic portrayals of CFers, one a cyster and one a fibro.

Spunky Cyster with Low Lungage

I recently watched the first season of Bates Motel on Netflix streaming. I’m not into horror movies and had little interest in Psycho or this prequel that imagines Norman Bates as a high schooler — but I am interested in one of the characters: Emma.

Emma is 17 years old, has Cystic Fibrosis, and walks around with an oxygen hose in her nose and a portable oxygen tank on wheels pulled behind her. She is said to be waiting for a lung transplant. Reading up on the series it sounds like they added CF as a character quirk and do not plan on getting too involved with it. Or do they? Maybe Norman falls for Emma, she dies, and that is the final straw in his growing insanity. She is being set up as the girl we want him to end up with. And she seems to be his last morsel of moral compass. (Mama Bates is nearly as psycho as Norman.) So if he loses Emma — both the love of his life and his moral compass? Trouble at the Bates Motel.

The portrayal of a CFer is wildly inaccurate at times. I was afraid she was going to roll through the entire season without coughing but finally in episode three, on a hike, she breathes heavily and coughs. Later in the season she has a more realistic cough session. However, you can’t have a character coughing all the time on a TV show. I understand that so I’ll give them a pass. But throw in a cough here and there people.

A CFer on oxygen and on the transplant list would not be able to run around town and school as effortlessly as Emma does. Needing to use oxygen during the day indicates her lung capacity (let’s call it lungage) has dropped to about one third or below. Usually being on the transplant list means one’s lungage is even lower than that. And low lungage means one’s body cannot get enough oxygen to the body for it to function. It is not just a matter of being exhausted, like someone at the end of a 10K race. Runners still have high oxygen saturations at the end of races.

So it is hard to imagine her taking the aforementioned hike, which must have been several miles into the forest to a hidden pot field. To make it more ridiculous, at the end of the hike Emma sprints away from the bad guys with her oxygen tank in hand. I’m at 27% lungage and I’m on oxygen and it takes minutes to recover from climbing one flight of stairs. There is a time delay though. I could run up those stairs. I could sprint. But three seconds into it my body would go into catastrophic failure. It’s more than being out of breath. The body urges collapse. The lungs strain for oxygen. The mind rejects all sensory input and shouts, “THE END IS NIGH!” I imagine it’s a lot like drowning.

Olivia Cooke, the actress who plays Emma, was asked if she researched CF for the role. She said, “I watched a lot of documentaries.” And she said CF is, “called the disease of the beautiful people. From the outside, you wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with them.” And of CFers, “You think there’s nothing wrong with them, apart from when they go home, they have to take lots of medications and do lots of exercises.” She adds, “I never wanted to play too much on her disease” because “she’s such an intelligent, spunky character that I would never want to play too much on the CF and take anything away from her.”

In short, I’m a beautiful person! But I think you can usually tell something is physically wrong with a CFer. Mainly because of the coughing. It is a deep nasty cough and usually phlegm comes up (and is hopefully spit out). Or, often the CFer is underweight due to bad digestion. This is probably less true today with improved CF therapies. Meaning young CFers are looking healthier than ever.

But I’m not complaining too much about Emma. I’m glad there is a CF character (and a very likable one). And I appreciate Olivia Cooke’s idea that she doesn’t want CF to dominate the character. That was at the core of my solitary approach to having CF as a kid. But less sprinting and a few more coughs. And get her a better portable oxygen set-up. Hauling those wheeled oxygen carts around is a pain in the ass.

Fibro Tired of Hot Babes Hitting on Him

I also recently watched a movie called Foreverland, written and directed by Canadian fibro Max McGuire. It’s a solid road trip movie about a fibro and his friend’s cute sister. The friend was a fibro and has died. Their mission is to deliver the deceased fibro’s ashes to a sacred spring across the country. The fibro lead looked really familiar and this was bugging me until I realized he was the actor who plays Norman’s brother in Bates Motel, Max Thieriot.

Max does a good job of playing a CFer with some good deep coughing. He should give Olivia Cooke some tips. But my favorite scene is when he gives a presentation to some medical students and a hot woman med student hits on him. He rebuffs her like it’s a big hassle to have babes constantly hitting on him. This has not been my experience with CF! It made me wonder if this has been a genuine problem for the writer-director or if this is some wishful writing. I knew things were getting better for CFers — but this much better???

Three’s Company (1977-84) was a ridiculous TV show. But I enjoyed watching it in daytime reruns as part of my daily routine while waiting for my first transplant in 1997-8. In almost every episode, one or two people in Jack, Janet and Chrissy’s living room would overhear two or three people talking in the kitchen and a misunderstanding would ensue. By the end of each episode, after many laughs and hijinks, the misunderstanding would be cleared up.

Let’s say neighbor Larry stops by the apartment to tell Jack about the hot date he has lined up for Friday night and as he steps into the living room he overhears Jack and Janet talking in the kitchen. Larry hears Janet say, “You’re so good with your hands.” Cut to Larry’s eyes bulging. In the kitchen, we see Jack preparing hamburger for a meatloaf as Janet looks on. Then she samples soup on the stove and says, “Mmmm.” Larry runs out of the apartment and we see him arrive breathless at the Regal Beagle, where he tells Chrissy (or one of her replacements) that Jack and Janet are “getting it on” in the kitchen. Mr. Furley, sitting at the bar, overhears this and does a spit take. This is grounds to throw them out of the apartment! (Mr. Furley and the Ropers before him had no tolerance for a couple living in sin.) Later, a version of Larry’s story reaches Jack, who hears it as Janet wanting him. He proceeds to make a fool out of himself. At episode’s end, the whole gang gathers and talks it all out. Okay, I don’t know why I enjoyed this show but I did. Let’s just say TV back then was more deadwood than Deadwood.

I used to think it was preposterous to assert such misunderstandings could occur. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to believe that silly misunderstandings occur all the time. Now I believe the preposterous part of the show (and most sitcoms) was the idea that such misunderstandings ever get cleared up. Life overflows with misunderstandings and bad assumptions that are never clarified or corrected. People’s lives intersect in moments of miscommunication far more often than in moments of clarity.

I had a funny Three’s Company moment the other day (minus one of the show’s patented sexual double entendres). I was in my kitchen cooking dinner. My window was open and right outside my kitchen window is an alley often used by people to cut across the neighborhood. It is almost a street, a narrow one with no sidewalks. As I was cooking dinner, I dropped an apple on the floor. I yelled, “Shit!”, then picked up the apple, put it on the counter and walked out of my kitchen.

I was going to return in a second to clean the apple. But as I moved away and out of the kitchen I caught a glimpse of a man leaning over in the alley five feet from my kitchen window. By the time I put everything together it was too late to say something.

What had happened: one of my neighbors was walking his dog past my house as I made my dinner. His dog took a dump next to my flower bed. And — from my neighbor’s perspective — just as he leaned down to pick up the poop, I yelled “Shit!” at him out my window.

Maybe one of these days I’ll get a chance to clear this up.

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