There have been many times over the last five or six years when I thought I was ready for death. My life didn’t have much meaning, but it didn’t have to, I thought, since I had lived a good, and a long life already. I mean, what’s the point of just living? Life needs to be lived, and I mean lived, enjoyed, relished, savored. It doesn’t matter what the mix of good and bad is. A really good week makes up for a bad day anytime. An exceptional day makes up for a bad week. However, since my days were one long string of bad, mediocre, or really crappy times, I couldn’t figure out why I was still alive.
Sometimes, I felt like I was dying. It seemed to me, day by day, that my life was winding down. Sometimes I had trouble hiking, and I could feel my lungs struggling to bring air in. Sometimes I felt pain in my chest. In my mind, I suspected I might have a heart attack anytime, or simply stop breathing. I was old enough. The idea didn’t bother me. We all have our time, and it seemed mine had passed. A few times, after I’d fallen asleep in my recliner, I’d awakened to find myself half dead, my brain fuzzy, my thoughts chaotic. It was as if I hadn’t been breathing for a few minutes. I would get up and walk around, but even though my lungs were moving, there was no oxygen in my brain. My brain felt dim, and dark, as though I was trapped underground. I mean, what is more symbolic of death than that? I asked my doctor about it, and she said those were panic attacks. Well, you’d panic too if there was no oxygen going to your brain. I believe I actually did stop breathing each time, probably not for long, but long enough to trigger my body’s desperate attempt to reboot. I envisioned a time when I would be found dead at home, probably days or weeks after the fact. Who would check?
When my step-daughter had experienced her brain tumor, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and more radiation and chemo, that had been really troubling. I didn’t want her to die. She survived, and the joy I’d felt then had been true joy, unbelievable happiness. However, my marriage ended shortly after that. There was no further contact, no hope of reconciliation. I had a friend I’d known for years, and asked her out. She was horrified at the idea, and gradually pulled away too. I retired from my job of twenty-five years. I lived alone. It all seemed pointless right then. Was I depressed? Sure. But, eventually that passed, but I could see that I wasn’t really living, I was just marking time. It was as though I was in a waiting room, killing time, only I was just waiting for death to tap me on the shoulder, even though I was occasionally having good moments.
So, a week ago, I did have a heart attack. I suspected it might be a heart attack before it had hardly begun. I had felt something odd in my chest, a tightening, or pressure, on and off for months. It never lasted long, and I could simply sit down and rest a bit and I was fine. I don’t exercise enough, so I attributed it to my less-than-perfect stamina. Hiking in the mountains here, once a week, even for 5 to 9 miles, is not really enough to stay in good shape when you’re old. When the day came and the pressure wouldn’t ease off, and I felt anxious, was sweating like a pig, and foggy in my head, I thought, yeah, maybe this is it. For years, I’d believed that I would welcome it. I debated going to see my doctor, the newer one who had diagnosed exercised-induced asthma. I was breathing OK. I had no pain. However, something was wrong. At first I thought I would get over it. I took two aspirin. I tried to relax. Increasingly, I felt worse. Suddenly, I had to make a decision: do or don’t. I decided to act. Got help. Heart attack verified. Angioplasty performed. Clot destroyed. Stent placed in right coronary artery.
For someone prone to hypochondria, this was actually vindication. I knew I was sick, and I was. More importantly, I made the decision to live. If I had just sat down, or gone to bed, I would have reached the point by myself, as I did in the cardiac lab, where my heart went into arrhythmia. I would have died, painfully, all by myself.
So, I had decided to live on. I took steps to get help. I survived. I am on drugs for a while to help get my body through this experience. I signed up to train for a half-marathon. It feels good.