More Tommy Christopher Heart Attack Oversharing

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 days since I live-tweeted my heart attack, and I’ve been meaning to do a post updating folks on my condition. There are a few problems with that. Even at my best, this is an overwhelming subject, but in my current state, it’s that much harder to make any sense. While I’m recovering well, it is really tough to think straight.  Aside from the exhaustion and the pain pills, I just don’t feel like myself. Still, so many people have been so gracious in their well-wishes, I feel I owe it the old college try. Spoiler alert! After the jump, there will be a gross picture of my scar.

I put my hand in the picture, not because I’m ashamed of that one nipple (I assure you, it’s magnificent), but just to give you some sense of scale. Amazingly, there don’t seem to be any stitches there, just glue.  Beneath that incision, they broke my chestbone, and it’s held together now by some wires and my ability not to re-break it by moving wrong. The fact that I’m partially responsible for keeping my chest from bursting open, or healing crooked, is not a comforting one.

The smaller scars are where they inserted various tubes into me. I have to say, the most disturbing part of this whole ordeal, aside from the near-death, was having those tubes removed. It reminded me of the end of Braveheart, where they pull Mel Gibson‘s guts out.

I also had a tube sewn into my neck, which was my favorite part of all this. When you’re stuck in the hospital, there’s precious little amusement, and I really got a kick out of the way everyone who came to see me eventually settled a disconcerted gaze on my monster neck-tube, even the doctors.

“Can’t we get that thing out of him?” several of them would say, but the nurse would explain that they’d only have to put in a new central line in my arm, so best to leave it in.

Even better, though, was when they finally did take it out. They cut the stitches very carefully, and told me to take a deep breath and exhale as they pulled it out. I did, and the PA pulled, but it didn’t come out. Apparently, the thing was double-stitched in there. It didn’t hurt when they pulled on it, but the look of horror on their faces was priceless.

So, I can’t smoke anymore. Most of my friends are very nervous about this, and believe me, it does suck, but I know I can do it. It just really sucks. I quit a few years ago, and it took a very long time before I felt like myself again. It will be especially tough when I return to the White House, as I smoke an awful lot when I’m there. I also know, though, that if I ever tried to smoke there again, there would be 70 or so White House reporters there to knock the cigarette from my lips.

Also lucky is the fact that there are surprisingly few smokers at the White House. I can only think of 3, one of whom I think has recently quit, another who I only ever saw smoke cigarettes that I’d given him, and one other. Oh, and one press office staffer. Maybe I can harangue them into quitting, too.

I’m also on a diabetic, heart-smart diet, which means that, to the extent that a diet can sap your will to live, mine will. When your life is at stake, though, there’s no half-assing it. It’s like, “Oh, okay, I officially no longer care about food.”

As long as I can identify a few things that I like, and am allowed to eat with impunity, I should be alright. Unsalted pistachios are pretty damn good, for example.

As I said before, I have been recovering very well. The pain has been a lot more disruptive than I thought it would be. Usually, I feel like I’ve got a heavy suitcase in my chest, and it only really hurts when I cough. the problem is, it really, really hurts when I cough. Also, for the first few days, the coughing also put me in danger of ripping my chest open, so I had to hug this heart-shaped pillow they gave me. I’ve got a real resentment toward that pillow, and avoided it as much as I could.

Even with the pillow (grossness alert), the coughing caused bubbly red fluid to gush out of the incision on my chest for the first few days I was home, which was both disgusting and badass.

On the positive side, I’ve managed to cut down to percocet only once or twice a day, usually before sleepytime. I still have to be very careful about exerting myself the wrong way, as evidenced by the cracking/popping sensation whenever I forget that I can’t lay on my side, or pick anything up, but I’ve been walking a lot, with no ill effects.

The downside is that, even if I do everything right, I might not live all that long. Who the hell knows? The point is, take care of yourself now, before the universe puts a gun to your head. It’s not that hard. Don’t start smoking, and if you already do, quit. The eating thing is really not that complicated. If you’re in normal health, eating proper portion sizes should keep you that way.

The live-tweeting thing was actually a welcome distraction from the rearing of my mortality’s ugly head. Since then, I think I have consciously avoided any kind of deep thought. Being an agnostic who leans atheist is little comfort at a time like this. It’s much easier to raise faux profundities about whether I trivialized my own life (or death), or exposed the way the media does the same, or both.

Not long ago, I lamented the way the media had treated the Twitter-related death of Dr. Frank Ryan, only to engineer the exact same circumstance for myself a few weeks later. I guess I hoped for a different result. CNN’s Jeanne Moos conducted an excellent, lengthy interview with me in which I explained how my action was intended to be a commentary on social media as well as a kinda kooky expression of my personality. The resulting 2-minute package was illustrative of the strengths and weaknesses of the medium of cable news. In TV news, you only need one angle, and zany is an easier sale than ironic. Besides, who am I to say that the zany angle wasn’t the truer one? That’s what journalism is, deciding what stories to tell, and how to tell them.

It’s going to be a very long time before I’m completely recovered, but I plan to return to DC in October, as soon as I’m allowed to drive again. I had a lot to prove before, even more now.



  1. […] gained notoriety for live tweeting his heart attack, is recovering and was kind enough to post a very in-depth update and look back on the experience (the photo and description of his chest […]

  2. Thanks for taking us along with you, I hope you have a speedy recovery.

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