Hanging Out in Rockford: Heart of Rockford

Kim Wheeler has tricked me into cooking for the Heart of Rockford at the Mendelssohn Club. I don’t usually do anything off premise, as many who have asked me know, but I have committed and am resigned to doing the event. The night before, I am nervous about the party for 150 people. I have sort of an anxiety attack, but I meditate and then feel fine. I decide to stay home and rest up. I often do that before any large undertaking. Sort of charge my batteries with solitude.

The next day, I am feeling really chipper. I drive to Lincoln Rent-All to pick up the charcoal grills. Someone has thrown sidewalk café chairs in my van, and I have not noticed, so instead of two trips, I have to make three. Then it’s about driving all over the west side of Rockford to find charcoal. Not too many places on the west side sell charcoal for some reason. I finally find it at the One Stop Pharmacy on Marchesano. I stop at Nicholson Hardware and get a plastic cover to protect the charcoal in case there is rain and then set everything up at the Mendelssohn Club.

I’m back at the Irish Rose watering the new plants that the Block 5 neighborhood chipped in to put in the city planters when Tommy Lorden walks up. We talk about the progress of the city over the last three years and agree that pretty much nothing has happened. We talk about the possibility of Larry Morrissey entering the race for mayor. Both of us think it would be the best thing for the city of Rockford. Tommy asks how the new Mexican restaurant, Los Portales, right down from the Rose is. I tell him that I personally have been there a half dozen times, and I think it is excellent. We walk there together to have lunch.

I have tongue tacos; Tommy has a vegetarian burrito. We talk about where the city should be heading and about whether Larry can be convinced to run again. We both express strong feelings about the destiny of our town and the need to do some positive things quickly. Tommy pays the bill. I try to, but he will have nothing of it. Then we start back toward the Irish Rose.

As we walk along, a strange feeling overwhelms me. A tightness is building across my back. It feels like someone has put a Dymax strapping machine there and is tightening it. I feel dizzy. I don’t want to alarm Tommy, so I just say goodbye and head upstairs to my apartment where Jen is working on the payroll. I call out to her and have her get Troy. By now, I have broken out into a cold sweat, and I know it is something serious.

I tell Troy that I won’t be able to work the event. He runs off to ask Eric Ohlson, who is painting the remodeled Little Italy, if he can help out and returns quickly to say he can. I know at this point that I am going to the hospital, but feel almost too weak to walk down the stairs. I sit on my bed and contemplate calling 911. I really don’t feel like the drama that goes with that and decide to ask Jen to drive me to the hospital. (In retrospect, probably a really bad decision.) I remember that it is important to take aspirin, and I ask her to get me some. Then I just sit on my bed for a moment to gather my strength. I find some inner resource and then ask Jen to take me to SwedishAmerican.

We pull into the emergency entrance. She goes to park the car and I walk right up to the window and say to the attendant, “I think I am having a heart attack.” There really isn’t anyone else there. It is about one in the afternoon. They ask me to sit in the lobby. Jen joins me from the car. We sit there for 10 or 15 minutes. Jen makes a couple of trips to the window to ask about getting me some help. Finally, I am escorted to a small admitting room, where a woman begins to ask me a series of questions.

“Have you ever had diptheria, whooping cough, are you allergic to any medicines?” It seems endless. I try to answer, but my symptoms are rapidly accelerating. It feels like my jaw is in a vise. Finally I say to her, “You have to do something for me, you have to give me a tranquilizer or something. I can’t take any more of this stress.” My next memory is of a doctor bending over me with a clipboard telling me that they are going to give me a test and that there is about a 1 percent chance of dying. He indicates a line, and I sign my name.

Evidently, I pass out at this point. My next memory is of the defibrillator paddles coming toward my chest. My back arches off the table as I feel the shock. I wonder if I am going to die and then resolutely accept that there is nothing I can do about it. I lose consciousness again.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com, and featured on WNTA talk radio AM 1330. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

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