Saturday, May 12, 2012
The 1st Anniversary of The Day I Cheated Death
Last year, almost one year ago to this day, I was diagnosed with heart disease. The news came as quite a shock to my system, because, prior to that, I never once noticed any trouble whatsoever with my heart.
However, in many ways, my mind, body and spirit were engaged in erecting the Perfect Storm for Heart Disease.
I had been experiencing a deeply emotional few years. I was broke. I was thought to be a fairly successful writer, however, after several years of hard, blood-letting, soul-robbing work, I was being systemically robbed, cheated at every turn, embezzled out of every single dime due to me for the steady sales of my work; deceived by a publisher that blatantly stole from me, and who didn’t give a damn. Then, to make matters worse, all my efforts to right that egregious wrong had been dashed. Lawyers cost a bail of cold hard cash, and after fighting the good fight, for many months, I was at my wit's and my money's end. People who I thought were friends had been a constant source of disappointment to me. Family members were dying, and it seemed as if life itself was slowly crushing me.
To deal with the stress of all this, I raged, I grieved, I seethed and I smoked like the proverbial chimney. I didn’t eat any of the right foods. In fact, I pretty much ate like a typical teenager. I consumed way too many burgers, fries, pizzas and sodas. Oh my! I treated myself to ice cream on the regular and I lived for desserts… the richer the better. And oh yeah… did I mention that I smoked… a LOT?
Never one to give up on myself completely… slowly I began working on me. The mirror revealed the sad truth that my supermodel figure had gone to pot. My 30 inch waist was gradually expanding to 32, then 33, then 34 inches. Suddenly none of my rather stylish clothes were fitting! To offset this madness, I started to exercise more, to walk more, and to limit my caloric intake. Also, in a deeply revolutionary move of self-preservation, I’d quit smoking… cold turkey.
Mind you, it was shortly after I’d quit smoking that I began to notice some difficulty catching my breath. There was some craziness going on with my breathing, yes, but still not my heart.
Cut to 2011: I was sick every day from January to mid May, and I do mean EVERY single, solitary DAY! The majority of these illnesses occurred above the waist... my stomach would ache like hell and then my throat and then my head would throb from the worst migraine known to man. This became a gut-wrenching pattern where feeling lousy became the norm. I lost my appetite. All food tasted nasty to me... even my favorite things began to have NO taste whatsoever. I lost weight rapidly. Cyber doctors were assuring me that it was all a reaction to the absence of nicotine, and my body crying out for it. Hell, I almost went back to smoking just to rid myself of those hellish symptoms!
But then, to make matters even worse, I soon noticed that my feet, ankles and legs were swelling. Something was definitely wrong and now I knew it! Too many things were happening to me all at once. It had to signify something… perhaps something deadly. Something was definitely ailing me…. but what, exactly? I didn’t want to know. I was afraid to know. My entire body was betraying me. I felt fatigued after walking only a few feet. It was like having a wheezing 90 year-old geezer suddenly living under my skin. Then it became nearly impossible to do the simplest things without getting winded, or to lie on my back without a sense of sudden panic while experiencing this frightening sensation of choking, and finally, not being able to muster the strength needed to put on my shoes… my shoes! I realized I HAD to get my lax and increasingly sick ass to the nearest ER.
It was there at the hospital, after being seated in a wheelchair and rapidly rolled into the ER where a small tribe of nurses began furiously massaging my legs (apparently to get the blood to better circulate) while simultaneously I was brought to a small examination room where my heart was monitored. Within minutes, I received the terrible news that I was suffering from Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
Fools! I figured the doctors with all their fancy tests had gotten it wrong. Maybe I'd some kind of lung infection, perhaps, but whatever the problem was, it could NOT be some potentially deadly malady that couldn’t be cured. Well, surprise! Yes. They were correct, and no, there is not a cure.
The day became so strange and dark and quiet afterward. It was raining and it had been for days. It seemed to reflect exactly what I was feeling inside. CHF? WTF? I was slowly trying to come to grips with my brand new reality.
I kept hearing my doctor’s voice echoing in my skull… telling me that I now had Congestive Heart Failure.
CHF? For real? But how could this happen and what did it mean? Did I even have a future?
The best they could do was to make me comfortable; give me something to knock down my dangerously high blood pressure. The most welcome news, in fact, the only welcome news was that they would supply the right meds so that I could finally get a decent night’s sleep. Yes! Please! Sleep was what I needed most of all… and I needed it desperately. At the time, I had NOT slept for an entire night in many, many months… and it was driving me absolutely bonkers. It’s more than unhealthy, because, the lack of sleep can begin to affect your mind, your logic and the way you generally function. Hallucinations had befallen me. I had the strangest daydreams. People I didn’t know or rarely ever thought about would come visit me in my bedroom and I’d have lengthy conversations with them. One evening, I was up half the night conversing, then arguing viciously with Joy Behar. WTF was Joy Behar (of all people!) doing in my room, and why was she saying those terrible things about me??? This was all very odd and yet it seemed very, very real-- only... it wasn’t. It was (as the Temptations sang) just my imagination, running away with me.
However, the reality was, as one doctor told me: “You’re a very sick man.”
To be told you have a disease that will likely be the death of you is not something you can easily blow off, dismiss nor forget. I’ve never been a person to live very long in a state of denial. I’m a fighter by nature, but it’s also been my history to choose my battles wisely. What could I do to fight it?
Well, since there is no cure, at best, you can combat it by eating less, exercising and moving around more, staying away from salt, nicotine, sugar, all the delicious things you’ve grown accustomed to, and maybe, just maybe you’ll have a chance at surviving beyond the general “five year” life expectancy.
Damn! Just damn!
That’s not an easy diagnosis to live with. For the first time in my life, I actually had to THINK about the reality of dying someday. I never really THOUGHT about my death before, at least not in a realistic way. No. I didn’t live inside a bubble of delusion or some cotton candy-coated fairytale that I was immortal, but I wonder now, just how many people go through life, as I did, never considering how much time they have left here, and just what might happen to cause their eventual death.
Long story short: Every day since that fated diagnosis has been a Blessing. Not necessarily a click my heels, tap-dancing like Mr. Bojangles HUGE deal, where I celebrate life, break into gradiose musical routines while walking down a city street, and EVERYONE suddenly joins me... but, a Blessing nonetheless.
I realize that there are no coincidences. Some things, some events, some moments are destined to be. After spending nine days and nights in a hospital being poked by endless needles and asked a myriad of invasive questions, I was told I’d be going home the following morning. Cool. I guess I must be better if they’re sending me home, right?
However, that very night, while sleeping (yes, sleeping, at last!) and still being monitored, Dr. Alexander Delvecchio and a floor nurse rushed into my room, and shook me from my sound slumber to ask if I was “all right?”
“Ummm, yeah. I’m fine. I’m going home tomorrow,” I vaguely remember answering in a groggy state.
“No. You won’t be,” the good Doc Alex informed me.
I was told my heart had been jumping around all over the place, clocking crazy rhythms, displaying an unusual and possibly deadly case of arrhythmia.
I had absolutely NO idea. I didn’t feel a thing.
He then made a quick and life-saving decision that I would require a pacemaker to be implanted in my chest, as soon as possible. That ASAP turned out to be the following day.
This was to be the day I was scheduled to GO HOME!
But… had I gone home, I may well have died the next day, in my sleep from sudden cardiac death, experienced a fatal cardiac arrhythmia or a debilitating stroke. That I didn’t is a complete Blessing. Had the scenario been any different, I would not be here today, living a healthier lifestyle, writing these words, telling my story, advising anyone who reads this to get a check up if anything feels wrong, physically, or any strange symptoms should suddenly nag at you.
There are no accidents. I was indeed, saved, spared to be here for a reason. No idea how much longer this will be, but I’m doing my best to live life with a renewed sense of purpose. I don’t want to cheat myself of the time I have left. I was never a bad, evil, foul or unfair person but I want to be a better one. I want to be better in all aspects of this life, a better son, brother, uncle, friend, lover, writer, and yes, a better human being.
So, on this anniversary of my diagnosis, I am acknowledging this magnificent and most exquisite Gift that is Life. I am choosing NOT to waste it with bullshit or on bullshit people, but to live without falsity or foolery or to abuse it with vanity, or to allow it to pass me by unnoticed, without giving it some meaning. I thank GOD for it.
That’s it. That’s all.