Who Directs the Storm?

“THE LORD IS a Man of War,” states the Bible at Exodus 15:3, in a famous passage dating from the 15th century BCE. And “The way of war is a way of deception,” wrote Sun Tzu in his work The Art of War, in another famous passage, dating from the 6th century BCE. Who am I to criticize either source, dear readers? From what I have seen of this world, on six out of seven continents, I take both of these statements to be true and authoritative. I suppose that they are the beginning and end of the old saying that “God works in mysterious ways.” Hold that thought till the end of the article, when I will amplify what I mean.

It’s All About You, Dear Readers

I don’t usually get personal in these Whiskey & Gunpowder essays. Sure, I write about what interests me. But I do it for you. It is all about you, dear readers. Whether I write about Col. Drake at Titusville, or Adm. Togo at Tsushima, a movie review about Flyboys or a book review about Red Star Rogue, or the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, it is all about you. I enjoy writing for you. And most of you, if your e-mail are any indication, enjoy reading what I write. So this relationship works.

Today, however, I am going to break with tradition. I am writing about me. This article is about me, and I am going to tell you more than you might want to know. But I am doing this because, deep down, it is still for you. That is, it is all for you if you care to join in the spirit in which I am offering what I am about to say. Bear with me.

Chest Pains, Clamminess and Nausea

As my biography states, I really am a lawyer in Pittsburgh. I have clients. I write letters and legal pleadings and other documents. I go to court. I work late, because otherwise, I could not get it all done. There is a lot of stress involved in the job, but I know that these kinds of things are relative. Hey, I used to fly Navy jets that landed on aircraft carriers, if you want to talk about stress. But that was then.

Last week, I walked from my office, up the street about two blocks from the U.S. Steel Tower, to go into the PNC Bank lobby. I have only made that walk about, oh, 1,000 times or so over the past many years. Lawyers sometimes say that “It is a long walk between the courthouse and the bank,” but that is not the context of this tale. Normally, it is no big deal for me to go to PNC just to cash a check. But on that one particular day, by the time I arrived at the revolving doors of my destination, I had these very strange muscle spasms across the top of my chest. I was feeling clammy and sweaty, and this in weather that was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill below zero. And I felt kind of nauseated. As we say at Agora Financial, “Hmmm….”

I’ll make a long story short. I wound up at one of Pittsburgh’s finest, the Shadyside Hospital Emergency Room, where modern medicine kicked into gear. The blood work indicated that I had not had a heart attack. But the clinical indications led toward a diagnosis of some sort of cardiac event. I spent the night hooked up to the cardiac monitors, being awakened every hour or so (to make sure that I was sleeping, I suppose), and underwent a cardiac catheterization the next day.

Quite a Procedure

A cardiac catheterization is quite a procedure, particularly for someone like me who has not been inside an operating room since undergoing an appendectomy in 1972. The first thing I noticed was that they wheeled me into a brightly lit room filled with machines that had the name “General Electric” stamped all over them. If you attended the Vancouver Wealth Symposium last July, you might recall that I recommended good old GE as a nice, safe place to park some cash until something else comes along. Since then, GE is up about 12%, plus the 3% annual dividend yield. Last summer, I was looking at GE only as a major manufacturer of power systems, including windmills. But it builds darn good medical imaging devices as well, God bless ’em.

But let’s get back to the catheterization. They numbed me up, although I was still wide-awake. In my case, they were playing “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, as background music on the boom box. (I do not believe that “Black Magic Woman” is part of the standard medical protocol, but I’ll go with whatever works.)

After a short bit of preparatory work, they inserted a long strand into my femoral artery, starting at the groin area. The strand snaked up the femoral artery to my heart (yes, I do have one), where they then injected a dye that showed up on the GE imaging devices. Basically, in this procedure, you can see what you heart looks like, especially the arteries, and that is the whole idea. “This is the gold standard of diagnostic techniques,” said the cardiologist, speaking a language that all Agora Financial subscribers can understand. “Treadmill stress tests or echo imaging just cannot show you what you need to know,” he added. No kidding, in that I passed a treadmill stress test last August with flying colors.

Left Anterior Descending

Let me keep a long story short. The procedure identified a 95% blockage of the left anterior descending coronary artery (LAD). The LAD typically supplies 45-55% of the blood flow to the left ventricle of your heart. So I was working with 5% blood flow through this critical vessel. “This artery is the big one,” said the cardiologist, who is acquainted with my work for Whiskey & Gunpowder. “This is your Alaska pipeline,” he added in an analogy that drove home the point.

In my case, and using a procedure that is performed thousands of time per week in the U.S., the cardiologist performed a balloon angioplasty to expand the artery wall, coupled with insertion of a stent to hold it open. The rest of my arteries were clean, and only if you have experienced something like this can you begin to imagine how glad I am to say that.

Courtesy of the GE technology, I was able to watch the entire procedure on the bank of monitoring screens in the operating room. I could see the part of the LAD that was narrowed to a miniscule fraction of its normal diameter. That was, I assure you, very creepy. I could see the catheter wire moving back and forth inside my heart. I could see the LAD artery being mechanically expanded via the angioplasty, and the stent being inserted. I could even talk with the cardiologist, although I was not about to say anything that might distract him from his job.

When the cardiac procedure was over, the doctor withdrew the catheter, and used a “star close” procedure to seal the femoral artery. The whole evolution took about an hour or so, but I was not exactly hawking the clock. “Take your time, do it right,” was all I could think. After a short stay in the recovery room, I was back in a hospital room, holding my right leg absolutely still so as not to disturb the healing process of the femoral artery penetration. There was a little bit of soreness in my hip, due to the femoral artery entry, but that was it.

It Is Still All About You, Dear Readers

So why am I telling you this? Because it is still all about you, dear readers. How is your health? How is your diet? Are you getting enough exercise? If you have time to read investment articles, let alone Whiskey & Gunpowder articles, do you also have time to see your doctor and get a checkup? If all else fails, do you have a power of attorney, a living will and a real will?

Hey, I lettered in three sports in high school. I rowed crew in college. I passed a Navy flight physical exam many years in a row. I went through parachute training. I pulled 7 Gs in Navy combat aircraft. I worked out over many years. Yes, I have endured that midlife weight gain, and that is one of my issues, but I still watch what I eat, which includes enough fish for me to grow gills. McDonald’s? Never. On many days, I take the light rail most of the way to work and walk the rest of the way, and vice versa at night. That means that I walk almost five miles per day. And I still had a 95% LAD blockage that medically indicated like a bolt of lightning. I had chest contractions that did not feel like anything I have ever felt before. They did not feel like 7 Gs or a parachute snap or anything else. It was all so strange that I almost did not know what to think.

But it’s not all about me, my friends. It is all about you. Would you know what to think if your chest started to pinch, or your arms started to hurt, or your legs cramped up?

Back to the Mysteries of the Lord

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned God and the Book of Exodus, and Sun Tzu and The Art of War, and noted the old saying that the Lord works in mysterious ways. Here is the rest of the story.

Earlier during the day that I wound up in the emergency room, I had been out of the office at a deposition. I returned to find my secretary crying. A dear friend of hers was terminal, dying in another hospital. She wanted to go attend to him. I asked her how she was going to get there. She looked at me with that “deer in the headlights” look, and said that she did not have any money to take a taxi. So I reached into my pocket and gave her $50 for cab fare.

About an hour later, it dawned on me that I did not have any money because I had given all my cash to my secretary. So I decided to walk up to the bank. And if I had not gone to the bank to cash a check, then who knows what might have happened, or when or where? I’m sure that you get the picture, dear readers.

It reminds me of what John Wesley said in his Sermon No. 84, section 11:

“He makes a Third supposition, — That he shall certainly live 40, or 50, or threescore years. Do you depend upon this? On living threescore years? Who told you that you should?…The breath of man is not in his hands. He is not the disposer of life and death: That power belongs to the Most High…an angel Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.”

Until we meet again…and I intend that we shall meet again…with gratitude, dear readers, and with humility and many thanks,


Byron W. King

February 6, 2007

The Daily Reckoning