Thwarting the Grim Reaper

Friday April 3, 2015 10:00 p.m.

Three weeks to 94! No complaints. I am blessed and grateful for my current existence. I believe, and hope, that
I have a cat’s genes for “nine lives.” The Grim Reaper beckoned me six times so far, and God saved my ass
each time. The first encounter was when I was 8 years old living in Brooklyn, N.Y. I hit a girl on the head
with a cup of ices and took off running with her close behind. As unthinking kids will do, I dashed off of
the sidewalk into the street and got creamed by a horrified driver who just could not stop in time. An aunt
at the scene said the rear wheel of the car stopped just inches from my head.
Of course I was unconscious and bloody. When I woke up, a guy in a white jacket asked me if would like an
ice cream cone, and I later regretted saying, “No.” It turns out that I was taken to the corner drug store
for treatment, was bandaged up and in good enough condition to go home.

A 2nd encounter with Death occurred when I absent-mindedly ran a Stop Sign while on my motorcycle and god
hit broadside, causing the bike to spin like a top and fling my airborne. I landed in a sitting position
on a curb, and when asked if I were all right, I said, “I don’t’ know yet,” and proceeded to take a mental
inventory looking for areas of pain. There were none, but after being taken to the hospital, they discovered
a bad injury in my left shin that had to be stitched. As I lay on the gurney, a nurse approached with an
identification tag, and I pleaded with her, “Please don’t attach that to my big toe!” She laughed and
attached it to my wrist. God was with me when I was hit by the car. It hit the back of the bike just
inches from my leg, putting the bike into a spin. Had I been hit directly in the middle of the bike,
that would have been all she wrote.

The 3rd encounter happened in 1992 when I was 71. I had just returned to Florida after attending my father’s
funeral in New York. Usually, I could run a mile in about 10 minutes. On this particular day, which was a
Friday, I was unable to finish the first quarter-mile lap. I not only found it difficult to breathe, but
also experienced some pressure in my chest that felt like pleurisy. When my upper back began to ache, I
quit and decided to try to see my doctor that very afternoon. Of course, it was Friday, which meant I might
have to wait till Monday to see him. When, on the phone, I described my symptoms to the receptionist, an
ex-student of mine, she consulted with the doctor, and I was advised to come in immediately. After Doc
finished his routine stethoscopic examination, with inconclusive results, I was hooked up to an EKG
machine for a more precise check on my heart’s condition. I never expected to hear the news. With no
hesitation or emotion, Doc looked up from the EKG readout and said, “Mr. Sganga, you have angina.”

“Angina!?” I said in disbelief, “How can you tell?”

Showing me some squiggly lines on the readout, he replied, “These inverted T’s are a sure sign.”
The bottom line: I underwent two angioplasties (ballooning of arteries) that worked in preventing
me from having a heart attack.

The 4th encounter was once again a matter of “pure luck.” (Divine intervention?) I was now 81.
Since my Urologist found I had a bit of blood in my urine, he had me undergo an IVP (x-rays taken
of the urinary track as dye is injected into a vein) to check out my lower abdomen for cancers.
While sitting opposite me in his office he said, “There are no signs of cancer in your abdomen,
but you have an abdominal aortic aneurysm.” “What’s that?” I asked. Showing me the x-ray of my
abdomen, he pointed to a bulge in the artery where it branched off into my legs. Continuing, he
said, “I advise you to have this taken care of immediately because if it bursts, it will fill
your abdomen with blood and kill you almost instantly”
Bottom line: I underwent a “Triple A” (short for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm) operation that was
terrible! Spent a whole week in the hospital on a liquid diet that caused me to look like a Holocaust
My Urologist, by pure luck on my part, saved my life. Jogging with the ailment was very dangerous.
It killed Einstein, my father and a much younger brother-in-law. It is an insidious disease with
no symptoms that can only be detected by a doctor looking for it, and it is recommended that
everyone over 50 get checked out. If it bursts, there’s no way to get to a hospital fast enough
to save you. They measure the size of the bulge in centimeters and mine was a top-of-the line 7 cm.

I’ve been writing now for more than 2 hours and I’m tired, and it’s not smart to write when you’re
tired. Stay tuned for the next installment.