While waiting for my brother-in-law to come pick me up and take me to the Emergency Room I just lost it. Why was this happening? Why couldn’t I cope with this? What have I done with my life? Is this really it? Is it over? Just a few of the many thoughts flying through my mind as I tried to digest the news I had gotten earlier in the week. My heart was damaged.
I had suffered a heart attack. I thought I was having another one now.
Now, interestingly enough, this wasn’t news to me. As I blogged earlier (Total Eclipse By My Heart) I knew that I had apparently suffered a heart attack some time in the past. The echo cardiogram had indicated reduced heart function. I had learned this more than a month earlier and seemed to be handling the news well. But, earlier in the week I had an appointment with a cardiologist. She recommended a heart catheterization to investigate further (for those who don’t know, this is a procedure where they actually insert a “tube” into your heart to find out what’s going on. I’ll spare the details, but there’s more info here). The test was less than a week away. But for some reason the news was really hitting home now.
As often happens with people in my situation, I became hyper aware of every little twitch, pulse, pang, twinge, tightness, tingle, etc. of my body and my chest in particular. And trust me, for a middle age man in his late fifties – there are a lot of them. Finally the feelings – some brought on by my medication – became too much and I thought my heart was failing. Add a feeling of impending doom (another warning sign of a heart attack by the way) and I just lost it. I called family who immediately rushed to respond (thank you) and then just blubbered like a baby. Something I hadn’t done since my father passed away four years ago. I miss my dad dearly, but I’m not anxious to see him again if you know what I mean.
Fast forward several hours to the University of Michigan Emergency room and I’m lying there talking with a wonderful head resident – who’s name I wish I had taken note of – and she’s advising me that there appears to be no immediate issue with my heart. In fact, if they didn’t know about my earlier diagnoses they would have thought I was in very good health, but that sounded like it has been a life changing event and maybe I needed to find someone to talk to about it.
She was right of course.
This news was, and still is, life changing. One week I’m hiking through the mountains of Colorado, hanging out with Olympians (more on that story here), feeling like a teenager who just discovered the gym, a little sore but full of energy, on most days, and enjoying a relatively active lifestyle. The next, I’m lying in an emergency room surrounded by people who are literally dying and thinking that I might be one of them.
One day I see myself as a strong, healthy “old man” who can bench more than most twenty somethings. The next day I see myself as a feeble old man who’s days are numbered and has one foot in the grave. I moved mentally from someone who was eager to tackle the next challenge and change the world to being someone afraid that there was no more to offer. No more opportunity, no more chances, it was time to sit down and wait for the end.
These emotions, thoughts and feelings are not unusual. According to the American Heart Association it takes anywhere from 2 to 6 months for a person who has experienced a “hard cardiac event” to come to grips with what has happened. My mood improves each day – occasional panic attacks aside. I’m sleeping through the nights now. But, I’m still “hyper aware” of each little pang and twinge.
And aware that my life has, and has to, change.
- Diet – which I have always been trying to improve – is not literally a matter of life and death for me. And I still have trouble sticking to it! Do you know how much sodium is in like everything?
- Roller coasters – a passion for me – are now something I probably should avoid (sadly, at first my cardiologist thought they’d be okay. But on re-thinking and researching a little more she decided that I probably shouldn’t open myself up to “potential exposure” of a different type of cardiac event).
- Probably should find a travel buddy for long hikes in the woods. Which, to be fair, is always a good idea anyway.
- No more heavy weight lifting. In or out of the gym.
- And, I’m undergoing more tests. Do I really have asthma as one doctor once thought? I’m a heavy snorer (so I’ve been told), better check for sleep apnea. Maybe my Crohn’s treatment is part of the issue. Time to re-evaluate my medication.
But, I do have a new perspective on life. At some time or another we all must come face to face with our mortality. Once we do we have two choices: 1) give up and wait for the end or 2) embrace each day as a gift and work to make the world a better place than we found it. I’m choosing option 2.
Filters are off – or at least subdued – no more polite agreement on political and moral issues. I don’t need to be rude, but I’ll stand my ground more. I’ll smile more, I’ll say hello more, I’ll…well, you get the idea.
Stay tuned. My story isn’t over just quite yet.