I wish you could have known my friend Harry Kenney. You know the kind of friend who grew up in your era and watched all the same shows and so “got” all your jokes and cultural references? That was Harry for me. To everyone, he was hilariously funny; he had a kind heart; he had a million and maybe more friends. He was not simply a nice man but also a good man which is not always the same thing. He gave of himself a million times to help others less fortunate, even when he was going through some dark soul nights of his own. And when his nonagenarian mother descended into the final stages of dementia, he thought nothing of putting his life on hold and devoting his time to caring for her. He had promised her he’d never put her in a rest home. Even when she was far past the point of knowing or caring that he had or hadn’t kept that promise, Harry was as good as his word. He would end up paying the ultimate price for making that promise but he kept it all the same. Even when he knew his health was at considerable risk, he wouldn’t go back on his word.
At a time when I was going through a professional hell, while other friends of mine took safe, neutral positions, Harry was always fiercely and publicly on my side. He faced the viper pit which is e-commerce with the same essential decency he brought to everything else. He would not be bullied. He would not be scared away. He stood by his ethics and his friends at great personal peril to his own personal and professional interests many, many times. When one person in our business was arrested on bogus charges that were eventually dropped, while everyone else treated him like a pariah out of fear of being professionally “tainted”, he came home from making bond to find one message waiting for him -- a message from Harry. Harry wanted him to know that he knew he was innocent and wanted to see if he could help in some way.
That was Harry. Through the twelve years I was lucky enough to know him, he had been a force for good in many peoples’ lives.
Sadly, it was in part this essential “goodness” that brought about the final development in this story.
Unknown to anyone before the last two years, Harry had IHSS -- Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis -- a congenital heart condition wherein thickened heart walls damage the heart. He had suffered horrible pain episodes for years that incapacitated him while they transpired. Having no health insurance, he merely endured them, persuading himself it was some kind of back problem. Even when his friends urged him to seek out medical advice, he didn’t. When the attacks worsened, his good friend Molly finally pushed him into going to a doctor.
This IHSS should have been diagnosed years ago and the real reason it wasn’t is that Harry not only had IHSS, he also suffered from clinical depression. Clinical depression frequently keeps people from active participation in many areas of life, including seeking medical help, simply because they don’t have the mental energy to do those things.
The clinical depression, in a fairer medical system than our country now provides, would have been diagnosed when he was young. Most probably, the IHSS would have been also.
As Harry’s mother’s health declined, his own attacks grew worse. In the final weeks of his mother’s life, he asked his friends if the fact he would inherit her house might have influenced his decision to disconnect her life support. Everyone laughed hysterically at the very idea of Harry doing anything that selfish. But he was tormented by the ethics of the situation … driven to know what was the “right thing to do”.
On January 12th of this year, we spent two hours on the phone, discussing those ramifications. I told him (as others had) that only he could make that decision. He had to make it thus he only had to answer to himself. He told me he’d come to a place of peace with this decision and so had given the order for his mother’s feeding tube to be withdrawn.
I decided to change the topic quickly and asked about his own pain episodes but he laughed them off. We joked about his “congenital anomaly” sounding like something from Star Trek. Then I told him I’d call him on the next day to see where everything stood with his mother.
I totally forgot to call all day. He was in Philadelphia; I’m in California. The hours closed in on me so quickly that my window of time to call was gone before I knew it. I tried late in the evening but didn’t do anything but leave a message on his voice mail as I thought perhaps he’d finally gone to sleep.
Then the next day, as I waited to receive an email from Harry hearing that his mom had died, I received an email titled “Bad News”. But it was much worse news than I had expected. The email was from his best friend Molly letting me know that my old friend, my buddy Harry was dead. His overworked heart had given out. He died of a massive heart attack just hours after his mother.
Molly had been on the phone with Harry when his final attack came. She had to listen to the sound of his dying. In a way, I’m glad Harry wasn’t alone at the end, but it must have been a hideous experience for Molly, one that Harry would have never asked of her.
So now you know Harry. You may be wondering where “Dick” comes in.
Dick Cheney suffers from an ailment very similar to IHSS. It is what has caused his spate of heart attacks that have weakened what remains of his heart. Yet this very wealthy man with so dim a conscience that he knowingly builds showers for soldiers to be electrocuted in … this personification of evil who forms assassination squads … he is alive while a very good man named Harry Kenney is dead. Cheney can afford what amounts to a mini-cardiac unit built into his chest. The only reason he can do this is that his natural lack of conscience combined with his own good fortune have amassed a sizeable volume of wealth that allows him to tilt the table in his favor.