Saint John's Health Center (File photo)
Saint John’s Health Center (File photo)

By the time you read this, I’ll be a changed man.

For the better. (About time, can’t wait, many are saying. And those are my friends.)

In a few hours I’ll be a bionic man. Well, I guess about .01 percent bionic.

I’m doing it for my career. My hoops career. (The one that exists only in my mind.)

That promising career (I kept promising myself it would be a career) screeched to a halt last March when I noticed my natural rhythm was off. The music in my head was having a rough time marching to the heartbeat drummer who was suddenly all over the place. I’m certainly one to appreciate musical creativity, but drum solos that go on for too long (30 seconds, let alone several hours) and with no discernible art are double No-Nos.

Having a history of little patience for bad drumming, I marched over to Saint John’s ER to get someone to straighten that fool out. It took a few hours but they did, and recommended I see a drum specialist.

I found a highly recommended group, and drummer Doshi told me an incident of arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation, I had; white guy’s disease) was not the end of the world, that many people experience it and live long and prosper. But his style is to analyze thoroughly, maybe even overdo it a little, so before recommending a course of action/medication, he was going to give me a stress test.

I didn’t stress, but it did remind me of U.S. Army basic training, where they give you a simple physical task (here, walking a treadmill; sounds easy — not) and then go way overboard and push you to the edge, looking for that thrilling moment just before you collapse. Then they take Polaroids of that drummer to see just what the hell he’s on.

Turns out a little dark patch led to the discovery that one of my main arteries was about 70 percent blocked. That may sound kind of sudden death serious and the kind of thing that takes out a lot of old folks (a club I will always refuse membership in), but my music specialist recommended six months of drugs (now you’re talking) to try to clean that pipeline out.

To give it a little perspective, a nephew of mine, early 40s who works in the woods taking inner-city kids out to experience wild nature — canoeing, climbing mountains, wrestling bears — recently underwent a similar surgery because his was 99 percent blocked. Walking up stairs had become a chore, never mind Half Dome. It can happen to anyone.

So the stress test for something fairly minor and controllable revealed something that needed attention. Don’t preach to me now about doctors who order unnecessary tests. That little weird drum solo was probably a lifesaver, and I’m pretty glad Doc Doshi followed his instincts. Glad he uncovered the bigger problem, I would tell people. Better now than in the autopsy.

So they did an angiogram on me back then, and that’s what I’ll be getting again, more or less. Drummer Doshi passed the sticks to his band mate, percussionist Pelikan, a no-nonsense dude who endeared himself to me by offering four choices of music (or silence — right, not sure he knew who he was dealing with) to be playing during the procedure, for which I would be drugged (yes!) but not knocked out.

I chose Merle Haggard over Bach, classic rock or Aretha. He seemed delighted. Obviously he likes all those (I applaud his good and eclectic taste) or he wouldn’t offer them, but I figured few patients without fresh cow pie on their boots pick Merle, and I like to go for the off choice, if it’s a good one.

They went up through my arm, stuffing four or five or 50 catheters into a vein and up into my heart, with cameras, vacuums, scissors, wi-fi, espresso makers and snowplows I think, and could have stuck a stent in if the video demanded it, but Pelikan went cautious. You’re not dead yet so let’s try drugs for six months, he advised. It could clear things up.

Worth the try but didn’t, so here I am again, grooving to maybe Aretha this time. I wouldn’t want the Bach to put my catheter crammer to sleep.

I asked Doc Doshi why he seemed reluctant to recommend the stent right away. I never want to seem like I’m pushing it, he said, if the situation doesn’t obviously demand it. It’s your choice.

My choice is, like Kobe Bryant, to get back to basketball, instead of being limited to nothing more strenuous than walking for the rest of my life. Lucky for me I had already embarked on my project to walk every street in Santa Monica — which will be complete in about three more sessions; good timing — so, given that my precious hoops was being yanked out of my lifestyle, being told to walk every day was just fine. But I can’t wait to start throwing elbows at my best friends again. I figure they’ve all healed by now.

Then I asked percussionist Pelikan the same question about why no stent the first time around. It seems like a common procedure, I said, from my position of zero medical expertise. He shot back, “Well, there are side effects.” Like what? I asked. “Like death, heart attack.” OK, we’re not talking upset stomach or rash here, are we?

So if this turns out to be my last column, I want it submitted for a Pulitzer. If it isn’t, well, dammit, I guess I’ll just have to come up with something different for next Wednesday. It’s always somethin’.


Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at

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