Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 3, 2016

Brush with death recalled (part 1)

I Swear

Vic Fleming

I was 50 when I died. April 21, 2002. I can’t forget the date.

A few weeks earlier, I saw an old friend, Cotton, at a memorial service for a mutual friend. In the early 1980s, Cotton and I were in the same golf group. After the service, we reminisced about a golf outing that no one involved could forget. 

It was on a Saturday morning in 1981 or ‘82. I was still new to the group.

We were playing in groups of three, on a golf course in Cabot, Ark. Twelve of us: Benny, Bill, Cotton, Don, Jukie, Sam, Tom, two Vic’s, Will, and two people I’ve been unable to remember, although they may have been the sons of Sam and the other Vic.

Because some players wanted to walk, we had one cart per threesome. 

Cotton’s group was in front of mine. I was the walker in our group. On the sixth hole, a short par-3, I saw Cotton lying on the ground off the green. He was on his back and appeared to be writhing in pain. His partners, co-workers of his, were on the green putting out. 

I drove our group’s cart over to Cotton to ask what was wrong. 

“Indigestion,” he said, rubbing his chest. “I’ll be okay, but it’s spreading to my arms.” I recognized symptoms of something more than indigestion. I told Tom to give me the keys to his pickup, forced Cotton into the golf cart, and made a beeline for the pro shop. Will and Don stripped the cart of two golf bags as I drove off.

No one seemed happy with the young lawyer’s overreaction! After all, they knew Cotton. There was nothing wrong with him!

The golf pro gave me an oxygen rig, plus directions to the nearest hospital, in Jacksonville, Ark., ten miles away. Finding Tom’s truck, I helped Cotton into the shotgun seat, and took off to a location I’d never been to before—with a man I’d known for less than a year.

Twenty minutes later Cotton was admitted to the E.R. At the age of 48, he was having a heart attack.

We rehashed this experience, Cotton and I, recalling the anguish and the humor. Though full of fear and pain, he was a comical sight, holding an oxygen mask to his face while trying to wave motorists out of our way through the passenger window. 

And then there was me, starkly serious, padding through the hospital in my sock feet. I’d driven there in my metal golf spikes, which, of course, I couldn’t wear in the building. It took me an hour to track down Cotton’s wife, to whom I would introduce myself by phone under less than ideal circumstances.

She would come to the hospital in Jacksonville. And, from that location, she would track down their two college-age kids. And their priest. All with my assistance. 

After the priest arrived, by which time Cotton’s condition had been diagnosed as non-critical, I was told that I was free to go, so to speak. This was about four hours after I’d hijacked the golf cart.

I returned to the course in Cabot, where the others were on the third nine of the planned 27-hole event—all the rules of which had had to be modified four hours earlier, when the teams’ makeup suddenly changed. I briefed them on Cotton’s situation. 

They decided it was probably a good thing that I had done what I did—but I should have been considerate enough to take the ice chest out of Tom’s pickup. After all, it had the beer, soft drinks, and sandwiches. 

It was my fault, they decided, that no one had had any lunch. 

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.