In 1979, my Father died of pancreatic cancer, and suffered from coronary issues while sick. He was 60 years old and I was 20. As I grew older, I did wonder whether there was a certain sword of Damocles hanging nearby my head. When one's parent dies early, it is hard not to think about what your time on Earth has in store for you. A year and a half ago, I turned 60 myself. It was surreal to consider that my Father had only that many years to live and feel what that span of life felt like. Life has just turned sweet again for me after some difficult years and I am ready for a new chapter of designing and living with a life partner. Fast forward to a full check up with a new Internist in my hometown this September. He places a stethoscope on my chest during the exam and says, "huh". I ask him what does "Huh" mean in this context, and he says he hears a large whoosh or heart murmur. Suddenly, I feel a panic of what I thought I had escaped a year and a half ago in that 60 year old threshold. Maybe "my time" had just been delayed for a little while? My doctor gets me to schedule an echocardiogram the next day and the day after he has the results: "You need to see a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic." I swallow. It turns out I have a bad mitral valve. The good news is that it can be repaired. The "whoosh" sound is the valve "leaking" or regurgitating blood back into the heart that should pump outwards. Also, good news: The Cleveland Clinic is one of the top places in the Country to have this work done and it is only an hour away from home. I proceed to have days of testing and follow that up with a visit with the surgeon, where he informs me that as heart surgeries go, mine is relatively minor. He has done thousands of bypasses, stents, valve repairs and even heart transplants. Also, good news: I find out my overall heart health is pretty good. Eating a healthy diet and exercising has paid off along with a lifetime of statin use. Almost two months ago, he performed the valve repair on me with about 20 colleagues in the OR ( I lost count before the anesthetic took control) and it was successful. I spent five days in the hospital and am now writing this from home.
Each day I take my meds and walk. Each day I am feeling a bit stronger. Each day I worry a little bit less about the pressures I feel in my chest, the palpitations, the ache from within from the healing.
On the second day after my surgery, I was recovering in the cardiac ICU ward. At about 2:30 in the morning, I get a call on my cell phone from a California number that I did not recognize. When they called back an hour later, I thought I'd better answer it. It turned out to be Life Alert and they had received a signal from my 90 year old Mother and were not able to reach here. I feared the worst and essentially was right. She had fallen in her bathroom and was not able to get up and had indeed broken her leg in the process. Paramedics eventually were able to reach her after she was on the floor for probably about three to four hours and brought her to the ER. She required surgery on her leg.
I am very lucky because both my daughter Jesse and her girl friend Amy as well as my Fiancé Carisa were here and were able to help with my Mother's situation. At other times, I would be involved and taking control over what I could do remotely. Under the recovery situation I was in, with fragile health and not a great deal of energy as well as the need to avoid stress, I am and was so grateful for the love and support of my family. Accidents happen at the wrong time no matter when they occur but somehow life had conspired to provide me with the help and support I needed when I was not able to do much on my own. Life always seems to be a test. How much can you handle? Being in the Cardiac ICU is not enough? How about dealing with your elderly Mother's crisis too? Just for icing on the cake, I cracked a tooth and had to see the dentist, (needed a crown), my Mother developed Covid-19 in a rehab facility, and one of my daughters decided it was time to vent some of her feelings that I was not quite ready to handle. It's a good thing I have a blood pressure cuff at home!
I am getting through all of this. I am trying to practice gratitude and acceptance. I am focusing on my breathing. I am keeping the big picture in mind. I am taking life one step and one day at a time. Each day, I feel stronger. Each day I walk a little further. This year is starting off just as it was meant to be.
I have not shared this news widely beyond my immediate family and friends in Canton because I am a private person by nature and because I wanted to avoid any unnecessary worrying by friends farther away. My business continues and so far 2021 is looking a lot better than last year. Although I have a large and healing scar on my chest, I am feeling pretty good in almost all respects and although I cannot lift anything heavier than 20 lbs, and have to limit my upper body use, I am doing almost everything else I could do before the surgery. For the moment, I am thankful that the sword of Damocles remains a metaphor.