Bryan Smith’s personal odyssey from flailing rail-clutcher to figure-skating champ

Like most of us, I spent a good part of the aftermath of Snowmaggedon ’11 heave-ho-ing shovelfuls of snow—off our deck, from our sidewalk, and up from the five-foot snow dunes that turned our driveway into a post-apocalyptic set worthy of a disaster flick.

Fortunately, I had some help shoveling. With the help of a neighborhood guy named Renaldo, and another guy, Kenny (at 20 bucks a man), I was able to excavate my Jeep from the wilderness.

Still, I was nervous the entire time—for me, for Renaldo, and for Kenny. What was that feeling in my chest? Did a pain just shoot down my left arm? Was I dizzy? I sure was sweating. Was I okay? Should I stop?

It happens to me every year: snow shovel-phobia—that awful feeling that I’m going to have a heart-attack clearing the walk.

For a borderline hypochondriac like me, it shouldn’t be surprising. I think I have meningitis every time my neck hurts.

But snow shoveling deaths are very real, as attested to by the heartbreaking stories on the front page of this past Sunday’s Trib. Which raises a dilemma every time it snows: How much should I shovel, when should I shovel, when should I stop?

On one hand, shoveling is one of those guy-pride things, like blowing leaves and flooding the floor trying to fix a pipe leak. Few things are more humiliating than sitting on the couch tapping on my computer while out the window, from the corner of my eye, I see my wife chucking huge shovefuls onto a growing pile (which I did for a few minutes on Sunday until I couldn’t take it any more).

On the other hand, I have a history of heart disease in my family, and I’m approaching 50 years old. I feel pretty fit, I’m fairly certain others did, too.

But I shoveled. Yesterday, I started feeling light-headed. My heart fluttered a bit. Psychosomatic? Probably. But I quit.

I guess the best thing to do is heed the advice of doctors: don’t overdo it, don’t overload the shovel, take frequent breaks, call 911, keep plenty of $20 bills on hand, and, to borrow the cliché, chill.