Chuck McCullum rarely missed a day of work ever since he started working at the Texaco station on Southeast Stephens Street in Roseburg 58 years ago.
That all changed in August when his career there — and his life — almost came to an end.
The 74-year-old McCullum, the longtime owner of Chuck’s Texaco, didn’t know what was happening when he started feeling “a little weird.”
It turned out he was having a heart attack that had been building for about three days before he started getting some symptoms.
“I got to where I couldn’t blink my eyes, so my wife took me to the emergency room,” he said.
He was immediately sent to Riverbend Hospital in Springfield. After two days of tests, he was given some bad news by the doctor.
“He comes in and says you need a four-way heart bypass and that you only have 15 percent of your heart working,” McCullum said.
The doctor wanted to install a pump so the team could perform the bypass surgery, so they wanted to put him to sleep for three days to do the operation. But it’s a rough procedure and the doctor was not sure he would be able to survive it.
“The doctor said either it’s going to work or it’s not, and I kept telling him I was going to get off that table because I had a lot of people that wanted me to come back to work,” McCullum said. “I wanted to take care of my obligations.”
The doctor explained what had to be done, and asked if he was afraid.
“I said no, and I told him, I’ve said my prayers and I’m going to come off that table and walk through that door...and I did,” McCullum said.
He spent five weeks at Riverbend while doctors made sure everything was stable and there were no complications. But through it all, he was confident he was in good hands, and if the doctor told him to do something, he made sure to follow instructions to the letter.
When he finally came home after five weeks in the hospital, he couldn’t drive, couldn’t use his arms and couldn’t lift anything over five pounds. That went on for about a month-and-a-half. He joined Mercy’s rehab program three times a week and he was strict about following the regimen that the doctor ordered.
McCullum has been walking a lot with his wife and has to pay close attention to the diet.
“I like lasagna, meatballs, spaghetti and pizza and I love Umpqua ice cream and I have to give it up for a while, so now I’m using their yogurt as a replacement,” he said. “It’s a little change, but it’s OK.”
He couldn’t wait to get back to work and two weeks ago, he was back greeting customers, washing windshields, checking oil, tire pressure, and all of the little jobs that he could do.
“It was exciting, I was told I would have to work part-time, so I can’t do a lot of things I’m used to doing, but at least I felt useful again,” McCullum said.
He may be part-time, but his version of part-time is a little different than that of most people. He’s usually at the service station seven days a week, but he just doesn’t stay quite as many hours as he did before the operation.
For several weeks, he had to run the business by phone, and even though he felt his crew did a good job in covering for him, he really missed the customers, many that he has served for several decades.
McCullum was overwhelmed by the number of people that came to see him while he was in the hospital. Some of them drove up the freeway from Roseburg, some from Redmond and Bend, and one couple came from Florence. He was flabbergasted that they would take the time to do that.
McCullum says he’ll keep working as long as his health is good, and it’s getting better each day. For his many loyal customers, he’s just as glad to see them as they are to see him back on the job.
“I’m back on my corner and I’m blessed with my health again and I enjoy seeing them,” he said. “My heart is now up to 50 percent.”
McCullum prides himself on having a real service station where you do all the little things, and go the extra step to take care of customers.
With his health improving daily, he’s hoping to get back to doing a lot of the duties that he’s been doing for nearly six decades, and he wants to keep doing it as long as he can.
“It was nice to come back and talk to customers and clean their windshields and and do all that stuff. That’s what I live for,” he said. “I just can’t wait to come to work in the morning, I still enjoy my job and I like to think I make a contribution to Roseburg each day.”