Six years ago, I died.
Thanks to the aggressive efforts of Cobb County paramedics, my death was relatively short-lived, but it was certainly a life-changing experience by any standards.
The short version: at about 11:45 pm on Friday, April 7th, 2000, I began having severe tachycardia (rapid heartbeat). I had just finished wearing a monitor for a few days to try to learn more about some heart problems I'd exhibited a week or two earlier, but nothing severe had shown up. Nevertheless, I could tell that this was much more severe than usual. I also felt anxious and stressed--physically stressed. I grabbed a blood pressure monitor and confirmed that my blood pressure was way, way up. I told Susan that something was wrong.
Within a minute, the pains began. Severe pains. The most severe pains I've ever felt. Pains that began in the hollow of my left jaw and seared their way down my neck to my chest. I told Susan to call 911. She did, as the pains increased. The paramedics arrived quickly, hooked up an EKG to me...
...and said I was having indigestion. I told them no, this was a heart attack. I knew that from an earlier heart "event" in mid-March that had been confirmed in retrospect as a minor heart attack. Nope, nothing was showing up, they said. We did a back-and-forth for another minute or so, until my heart took my side of the argument and ceased operations, just to drive my point home.
And for about 7 minutes, the paramedics worked to bring me back to life while rushing me to Kennestone Hospital. I'm quite pleased to report on their success, and the subsequent success of Dr. Mike, my cardiologist, and the heart surgeon who did a lot of repair work. And amazingly enough, I was back home on April 15th, recovering from open-heart surgery. Ast hey told me afterwards, my heart problem is the sort that rarely, if ever, shows up on an EKG; it rarely shows up, in fact, until the heart simply stops. It is, I believe, the same sort of heart problem that took a dear friend, Carol Kalish, in the 1990's; it was the fact that I live less than a mile from the paramedics station that kept me alive. (What serendipity: until late 1999, we had a farmhouse in rural Floyd County at which we stayed every weekend. Had someone not approached us and made a phenomenally generous offer for the farm in the fall of 1999, we would have been there on April 7th, and I would have stayed dead on April 8th).
Today, six years later, I'm a far healthier man than I was on April 7th, 2000. I'm about seventy pounds lighter; I exercise twice a day; I eat much more sensibly; my bad cholesterol and triglycerides are very low, while my good cholesterol is very, very high.
I'm no longer juggling three jobs; in the aftermath of the heart surgery, Dr. Mike advised me to give up something or else I'd be seeing him again soon... only I'd be on an autopsy table. Since I had enough years of teaching to draw a retirement check immediately, that's the job that went away. Now I split my time between Dr. No's, Comic Shop News, and living sensibly.
I have a great group of friends who have known me for many years; they've been supportive of my eccentricities and quirks, and have done a great deal to encourage me to stay healthy. They've gotten used to seeing me at 2/3 of my pre-2000 weight, and no longer even comment on the changes, although it still surprises some who see me for the first time in many years. They don't even make fun of the fact that, when we go out for our every-Wednesday-night Mexican dinner, I have them pile extra lettuce on my Nachos Mara and then pour a bowl of salsa over the plate, at which point I eat lots of lettuce, lots of salsa, and only a little bit of the cheese, chicken, beans, and chips beneath. I no longer get up at 5:24 a.m. I see a doctor regularly to ensure that nothing ominous is going on without my knowing it.
I won't deny having some moments of anxiety every April 7th, though. I usually do what I can to keep my mind off the whole event as the hour approaches; this year, though, I decided instead to tackle it head-on. And in doing so, I'm a lot less anxious, actually; I realize that I was lucky enough to discover some very good things as the result of a very bad event, and I am far luckier in that regard than most.