Jim Lehrer was devastated by his heart attack. He was the co-founder of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, which was one of the first news programs on public television. He had to have a bypass operation soon afterwards to prevent a second attack from occurring. He was unable to return to his work for a long time. However, his heart attack allowed him to rethink his life and change many of his bad habits which had caused his heart attack in the first place. There really is nothing like staring death in the eye to get a man to change his ways.
His first thing that came out well was the smoking. He had been a smoker for most of his life, and had developed an incredible addiction to it. Despite the constant pleas of his wife and daughters, he would not stop. He switched to pipes instead of cigarettes. He faked quitting by throwing out packs of a moving vehicle. He even went to see a hypnotist. But as he said, “The ritual of smoking was about the only constant one I had in my life. It was part of me and what I did.”
But. He found that after he had come home from the hospital, he could not even think really about anything. By the time he could, his addiction had gone “real cold turkey.” He just had no desire to do it anymore. “Apparently I had come across an easy way to quit smoking. Have a heart attack.”
Another thing that changed for the better was his diet. He stated that before the heart attack, his diet was that of “a pimply-faced fifteen-year-old.” He listed a very long, connected list of junk foods, all in one sentence, like this, most of them with fries. But he was not allowed to eat any of these after the attack. This was something that did not just go cold turkey. He had to force these diet changes. One by one. His list was very separated. Short and punchy. Like this. It contained items like nonfat yogurt cups. Celery sticks. Peas. Peas!
Several other habits developed. He started a nap routine. He says that it was the first good habit he developed. This is obviously not true, but it shows how significant it was. After he gradually came back to work, he built his schedule around his nap. Not mealtimes, not even the news program. He built it around his map.
Not every good habit he developed was related to his health. After the attack, he started up his old hobby of going around and collecting old bus memorabilia. He started aimlessly driving the back roads of Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. He also started writing fiction again. Since his only hit, Viva Max!, he had not written much. But while recovering he had the idea for a character named One-Eyed Mack. Mack is now the star of six novels. Six! He has also written around 7 other novels since that time.
His heart attack also gave him his most important piece of work. My Heart, Your Heart was a documentary on heart attacks Lehrer produced after he had fully recovered. Many people sent letters with their thanks, saying that hey had changed their habits right after watching the program. One even reported that someone’s life had been saved.
Despite all these good things that came as a result of his heart attack, Lehrer says that it was not worth it. Going through the process of the attack, and then the nightmarish recovery, is not worth feeling more alert than before. He said this at the graduation ceremony of his daughter; another thing he would not have done had he not had the heart attack