As they say on television: "It might be your mother's cooking or it might be your Aunt Mary's gene pool," but let's face it, one of us is going to have high levels of bad cholesterol and we are going to run into heart problems.

In my case it wasn't my mother's cooking or Tanta Sophie's gene pool, it was simply a "me-too" attitude to be like everyone else. A CT angiogram, echo cardiogram and an X-ray last November resulted in heart surgery, a quintuple bypass that undoubtedly saved my life.

Up to that point I had been measured by a man dressed in black who wanted to know if I liked pine or oak.

I remember meeting my heart surgeon, Dr. O'Brian _ he is a bundle of positive energy who inspires confidence by just being there. We chatted for a while and he closed with the words "I've done bigger." (Whatever that meant.) I forgot to ask how they turned out.

Although I met my surgical team before the operation, I wasn't paying attention to names or faces _ I was trying to remember all my past sins and was trying to figure if things did not go well if I would end up with the sheep or the goats. (I hate hot climates.)

After the operation, I was doing great until my cardiologist said that I would need a defibrillator and a pace maker combination ... "just in case." This is not a big surgery like a bypass but it still has its snags. I paid a lot more attention to the surgical team that got me "prepped."

I remember telling all my old hospital jokes, including those about phlebotomists, and was doing quite well until my anesthesiologist said "You may notice that this will feel warm," as she plunged the hypo into my heparin block. I didn't remember squat but woke up all wired up with a steady "beep ... beep" telling me that I was alive.

There was one problem. They have to test the implanted equipment to make sure that if my ticker goes into a rumba when it is supposed to do a waltz that the subsequent electrical jolt will get me back into three-quarter time. This procedure is referred to as the NIPS test (Non-Invasive Program Stimulation).

As the instructions state, "Your doctor will use a special computer and your implanted ICD to put your heart into ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation." Translated, this means that you are going to be put on a slippery slope with your hands tied behind your back and you are blindfolded. (My eldest daughter gave me the best advice: "No matter what happens don't walk into the white light.")

I was warned that this was not without hazard but problems only occur in 1-out-of-1,000. I asked the doctor, "How many successful cases had gone through before me?" He replied, "998." I vowed to tell the next person I saw getting prepped for this operation to go home and come back another day. Why fight the odds?

Then I met the surgical team. They all remembered me from my bypass surgery and the ICD implant. I told them I had a million jokes. They said they heard them all the last time. I was not off to a good start.

It should be noted here that it is vital that you are on good terms with the surgical team because I have it on highest authority that the doctors get all the money but the surgical team does all the work. (In fact they are the ones who keep the doctor from making the mistake of performing a hysterectomy instead of a face lift.)

Remember the game Operation? This was the game where you had to remove internal body parts with a pair of metal forceps and if you touched any sides an alarm would go off? Most surgeons fail this as a pre-med student.

It was then that I noticed that the head operating nurse of my surgical team was a dead ringer for Eddie Murphy with a laughing sense of humor to match. He was standing next to me while some guy (obviously the manufacturer's rep for the equipment that was going to put me in harm's way) explained to him what to do and when to do it. They placed a large flat electrode on my chest and another on my back, and I think I heard the rep say, "Let's crank old sparky up." I could not help but wonder if I would smell smoke like I do sometimes when the dentist is drilling for oil in my mouth.

I also noted that Dr. O'Brian's surgical team consisted of only beautiful women _ I couldn't resist telling one of them that if she had to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation that she should "use no tongue" because that would evoke a whole set of different problems. She smiled _ she had heard it all before. I smiled because I knew that all of my "equipment" had gone past the warranty date about five years ago.

I passed my NIPS test with flying colors and was told that I was good for another 30,000 miles or five years, whichever comes first. As I walked over the bridge from Albany Med to the parking lot I noticed a new Starbucks jampacked with white coats _ all doctors on break. As time goes by, let's face it, they are the only ones who can afford it.

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. He can be reached by e-mail at

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