Facebook Twitter

VISITOR TAKES HEART FROM THE KINDNESS OF S.L. STRANGERS

SHARE VISITOR TAKES HEART FROM THE KINDNESS OF S.L. STRANGERS

He had suffered a heart attack in 1987 during a visit to Florida. It was confusing because he had none of the classic symptoms - "an elephant dancing on my chest, fire in the left arm, sweats, nausea - just a funny feeling that grew less funny and more fearful hour by hour."

The result was bypass surgery and renewed health.Donald M. Murray, a newspaper columnist I read faithfully while I lived in Boston, recently visited Salt Lake City to conduct a writing workshop. While staying at Little America Hotel, he feared he was suffering a second heart attack.

Indigestion? A muscle pull from hauling luggage? An unexpected weariness? He wasn't sure. So he "grumped and growled while contemplating the penalty of denial against the danger of looking silly."

Finally, he called Stephanie Weaver, the concierge, who quickly offered him paramedics, a van ride to LDS Hospital, or a map to help him get there. "I would, I grumped, drive myself. The male animal is genetically programmed to choose pride before prudence every time."

Even though native Salt Lakers take pride in Brigham Young's carefully conceived grid system, Easterners hardly ever understand it, especially if they are under stress. Murray promptly got lost.

When he and his wife asked directions at a gas station, an anonymous customer volunteered to lead them to the emergency door in his car. A triage nurse listened to his vague symptoms "with gracious patience," then took him to "a burly, friendly male nurse - Robert Miller" - who connected him to machines that would monitor his vital signs.

Although he found solace in the hope machines might locate his malady, "it was the human caring from strangers that gave the greatest comfort." He and his wife were consistently treated with "dignity and respect."

When technology failed to reveal a heart attack, he felt "increasingly silly," but his attendants assured him he had acted intelligently. Dr. Ross Greenlee, who "couldn't have been more than a freshman in college," admitted "there was something on the cardiogram he could not understand."

Greenlee gave him "the gift of doubt," then allowed him to return to Little America still wearing his wristlet so he could be rushed back and treated instantly in the event of a recurrence.

"My nightmare of suffering in a strange city had become a remarkably comforting experience." Everyone had treated him in a humane and professional manner.

When he returned home, he wrote about it for the Boston Globe - in "Over 60," a thoughtful column in which he treats the aging process in a personal and compelling way.

When I talked to him about his Salt Lake experience, he exuded warmth. A retired English professor from the University of New Hampshire, he has been fascinated with writing all his life, leading to nine books, several novels and a lot of poetry.

At 67, he is at work on a psychological novel about war, inspired by Desert Storm and his own paratrooper experience. "I don't know if I actually killed anyone, but those of us who have had that intimate experience with war have to come to terms with it."

Even though Murray has been writing ever since he first went to work for the old Boston Record, he keeps teaching himself. "I'm trying to understand my craft." After graduating from the University of New Hampshire, he won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing at the Boston Herald at the age of 29. From there he went to Time Magazine, then, in 1963, organized a journalism program at the University of New Hampshire.

See LYTHGOE on C2

Murray "lives his life" through his writing, which is why he characterizes his column as "very self-centered - I cover aging the way I would cover the Middle East or Yugoslavia. So I feel duty-bound to cover an incident like the one in Salt Lake City - and do it honestly."