So, A Dude Staggers Into A Sandwich Shop. . .

I like to think of today as The Day I Didn’t Die.

Okay, yes, fine, then.

I’m pretty sure you could say that every day but one in your life is The Day You Didn’t Die. The deal, though, is that while I didn’t die, I sure came darn close.

It was a decade ago today. November 5, 2004. At the age of 39, in the best shape of my life, weighing less than I had weighed since eighth grade, I suffered a heart attack and almost died.

Since I value you folks too much to subject you to a long, boring recitation of the events, I thought instead I’d subject you folks to a long, entertaining recitation of events. Somewhat cut for length.

See, I was coming out of Harris Teeter when my entire body felt like it had fallen asleep and was just now waking up to the pins and needles feeling you get when your hand goes nighty night. Things got fuzzy. Then fuzzier. Then, as I sat in my car in the parking lot, I browned out. I didnt completely lose consciousness, but I was close. Darn close.

Then, of a sudden, my sight returned, my brain cancelled its vacation and my body snapped upright. I felt. . . fine. So I did what anyone would do who had just started tingling and then passed out.

I started the car and drove to my next errand. Stupidity, thy name is Jones. So the tingling and pins and needles started coming back as I was driving down the road and I thought it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to brown out while driving. With that in mind, I pulled into the southern end of the Arboretum shopping center and took a parking space next to the Roly Poly sandwich shop, which no longer exists there. I made it out of the car and stumbled inside.

Thinking it might be dehydration, I secured a cup of water and drank it down. Nope. No good.

Through trials and tribulations that I won’t go into here (mostly involving the idiot counter dude), I ended up calling 9-1-1 on my cell phone. And lost the call. Called back. And lost the call. Called a third time and, yes, again, lost the call.

Eventually, I figured the universe didn’t want me to use the phone. I leaned back in the chair, about a hair’s breadth from tipping over backwards, and. . . I really don’t know what. The next thing I remember is a bunch of men in white button-down shirts come running into the shop from this bunch of fire trucks out in the parking lot.

The calvary had arrived in the form of John and and Thomas, two emergency medical technicians, who quickly strapped me up, slapped me on a monitor and then wheeled me into the ambo, where I heard four words I never want to hear again while riding in an ambo: “Lights and sirens, please.” They were in a hurry. That, I thought, must be bad.

When Thomas was talking to the ER, he mentioned having a “thirty-nine-year-old white male with an ongoing MI.” I know just enough medicine-speak to be dangerous so I recognized that. MI is myocardial infarction, a.k.a. a heart attack. Which I would have sat up and vigorously denied if it weren’t for the fact that I was too weak to move and my blood pressure was maybe a tick north of zero over zero.

Still, I thought I was going to be all right. Until I noticed a few things. One, my EMTs were John, Thomas (if you understand British slang, you’ll understand) and the one named John had a last name of Bobbit (but a different one.). That was enough to put me on edge. Well, it would have been if I could spare the energy from all the dying I was trying to do.

And then we got to the ER and my interventional cardiologist introduced himself as Dr. Cox. Yep.

That’s it, I thought. I’m boned.

stent.jpgTurned out, though, I wasn’t. I made it through the day, had cardiac balloon angioplasty during which doctors inflated a balloon in one of my cardiac arteries, allowing blood to resume flowing, then placed a stent in that same place to hold the walls of the artery apart. It was all a lot of fuss and bother and thank goodness.

Although I’m pretty sure I probably got on the nerves of most of the medical professionals treating me when I kept asking if I’d be home from the hospital by 3 pm so I could meet the school bus with my boys on it. 

When I woke up I felt great! Like nothing had happened. But something had happened. For one thing, the balloon angioplasty had to enter my arterial system in a large artery, like the femoral artery. So, I had a large hole in my femoral artery and if I managed to disturb it, I could bleed out in a matter of seconds. Which meant I was pinned to the bed for a good day or so.

But I made it through.

It wasn’t easy. It especially wasn’t easy when I went home and everyone I saw kept trying to help me. They wanted to do things for me, each time reminding me that I’d just undergone a catastrophic event and barely made it through. I was not a nice person while undergoing rehabilitation. And I know I was a bear when I found I couldn’t sleep for fear that I would never open my eyes again.

It was a rough couple of years there. But I learned something from my mom, something she reinforced as she lay dying. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

I’d had a heart attack. I’d lived. I had done and was doing everything I could to make sure it didn’t happen again. Worrying wouldn’t help and might actually hurt. So, she suggested, just let it go and enjoy what you’ve got.

Which is why I’m here with you folks today. It’s a cliché to say that you should live every day like it’s your last. The thing is? It’s become a cliché because it’s true.

The day I had my heart attack, I had been scheduled to take my three sons to see Pixar’s The Incredibles. I didn’t make it for another week or so. When I saw it, surrounded by my sons and my wife, I almost didn’t make it through the movie. I kept crying and laughing and crying some more because I was there and I was able to see the movie and I was able to see the movie with my family, who I loved dearly.

You dudes have your family. You’ve got your kids and your spouse. Sometimes, I know. . . 

Sometimes it gets rough. You’d do almost anything to just be . . . alone. . . for a while. No demands. No screaming. And no baby noises either. It can be hard, but imagine not having this. Imagine, if you can, nothing.

Closing your eyes and never seeing your family again.

Now, don’t you want to open your eyes and drink in the sight of your loved ones as much as possible?

I know I did. And I do.

Today, ten years ago, was The Day I Didn’t Die, but that’s all in the past. From now on, Nov. 5 is just like every other day: The Day I Enjoyed Being Alive.

Join me, won’t you?