La La How The Life Goes On

Archive for February 2013

So I almost died of a heart attack a couple of weeks ago.

Yeah. Good times. As of today, the finest team of cardiologists in the game have no idea why. My arteries are “pristine” and my cholesterol is normal. I have no risk factors or symptoms or indicators. But I got a monster blood clot in my heart that damn near took me out. No plaque. No heart disease. Not one element of a classic heart attack. Just a big old clot that blocked an entire artery in a millisecond. And not a clue how it got there.

I was at home and started feeling weird, like Baby Sister was sitting on my chest or something. Then my armpits felt weird. Then it spread to my jaw. And that was when I knew something was not okay. So I called the Baby Daddy and asked him to get the kids at school because I didn’t feel good. I was going to sit on the couch and let the feeling pass. But I remembered something I read or heard or saw or something on Dr. Oz (I’m totally embarrassed to admit, because I find most of Dr. Oz stuff to be quackery and nonsense for bored housewives) about how women have different symptoms of a heart attack than men, and the whole “Pain in the jaw” thing leapt into my mind. So I swallowed a baby aspirin, telling myself the entire time that I am an insane hypochondriac who will be laughed out of any medical facility should I show up. Then I called Baby Daddy back to say that I need to get this checked out anyway, so might as well be now before the kids get home.

MIL drove me to my favorite hospital, my “Cheers” where everybody knows my name. I checked in, they hooked me up to the EKG kind of laconically, and then, as the paper came churning out of the machine, THE WHOLE FUCKING PLACE LIT UP. STEMI STEMI STEMI, whatever that means. Next minute: IVs, aspirins, heparin, pills, meds, lines, and a trip to the cath lab on the super secret emergency elevator. I think what might have saved me up to that point was the fact that I didn’t realize how serious it all was. Not until, as they were preparing to wheel me out of the ER, the nurse touched me on the shoulder tenderly, looked at me charitably, and said, “You are going to be okay. I promise. You have the best in the business on your side.” That’s when I was like, ‘Wait. What now? Oh. Is this like THAT? You’re giving me the “you most likely won’t die” pep talk? Holy shit! I had no idea we had gone THERE in these few precious moments together!”

So…short story long. Cath lab, pull out the majority of the clot, stent the rest of it, spend the next three days in the hospital trying to figure out WTF just happened. NO ONE wanted to send me home until they knew what had caused it, but by day three I was like, yo medical friends, let’s chalk this up to Shit We Don’t Understand and let a girl sleep in her own bed. They agreed, but not before putting me on large doses of your grandmother’s medication.

And here we are.

So why tell you this now and not then? Why tell you at all? Well, since we are so close and all, I can confess three things:

1. I dislike being the poster child for “bad luck” and all its derivatives. People love to tell me what bad luck I have, and it makes me–to be honest–feel very stabby. I do not have bad luck, contrary to popular belief. The Kennedys do not have bad luck, also contrary to popular belief. They are a wealthy family with power, personal aircraft, deluxe skiing trips, and many many expensive drugs. That’s not bad luck; that’s just access to stuff you and I don’t have. By the same token, I am a person born with a genetic condition that required a bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplants save your life, yes, but you do spend the rest of that life managing the effects of the transplant. This is what that “access” looks like, friends. Drugs, flares, weight loss, weight gain, funky hair, random health dramas, unexplained physical oddities. This is just my–and many thousands of other people’s–reality. Luck is what we feel to be here, alive, as random and insane and challenging as it may seem to the uninitiated.

2. More than I dislike representing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I dislike sympathy. I know. I’m an asshole. But I just can’t deal with sympathy. I love and appreciate empathy. Acknowledgement that this might have sucked. A jokey riposte about my dramatic tendencies. I like them all. But I can’t take your sympathy. I can’t bear to be the charity case, the pobrecito of the hour. It breaks my spirit in ways I simply cannot express. When people say or write things like, “Oh my god I am so sorry for you! you poor thing!” it sucks the lifeforce right out of me. So I avoid it by avoiding telling you what went down.

3. When I realized how serious my situation was, I did not once think about God or Jesus or Heaven or religion. Not even for a fleeting second. I didn’t pray. I just thought about my husband and daughters. What did I say to Bambina this AM as she got out of the car? Will she remember it even if I don’t? Was it positive? Was it neutral? Was it worthy of being my last words to her? Will Dada know that she needs the Moroccan oil on her hair after bath time? That her beautiful brown skin requires extra care and extra cocoa butter? Don’t forget that she needs three extra hugs at night time. Why did I not give Baby Sister that extra kiss she wanted at drop off? Why did I cut her off because we’d already kissed a BAZILLION effing times and now that punk was malingering? Why did I do that? I should have kissed her a bazillion times more and said eff the teachers. Eff this whole damn school and your blasted schedule! These will be my last kisses on this child’s face and this will be maybe the only thing she remembers about me, so we shall have our 10 minutes of nonsense, time-wasting kissy face extravagance here and you will all bow down to the power and necessity of this moment! Will Dada know that he’d better get married again so my girls have a mother? That whatever decisions he makes, worried if they are the right ones, will be the right ones? Will they all know that I expect them to laugh and smile and live even if I go fucking tits up on this most bizarre and unexpected of days and in this most bizarre and unexpected of ways? Will they know these things? Will they know these things? I should have made sure that they know these things.

So. Maybe I’m telling you this now to remind you to make sure your people know these things. To remind you that life is, at best, random==for good and for bad. We construct intellectual fictions for ourselves, as individuals and as a society, that give the illusion that our lives are under our control. But me being here to write this came down to me kind of sort of deciding not to sit on the couch and let it pass. I sort of talked myself into going to the hospital, but I could just as easily have talked myself onto the couch..and a sudden death. It was random. But I hear you protest: I exercise! I eat right! I feed my child only organic nectar from flowers kissed by magical elfin bees (Looking at you, Gwyneth)! I tithe! I purchase fair trade! I {insert your talisman for long life/good fortune here]!

It’s great that you do those things, but the hard truth is that you will not be saved by those things if the vagaries of life and death say otherwise. And those things will not tell your family that you love them. They will not tell your family everything they meant to and for you. They will not tell your family what you wish for them, with or without you. They will not comfort your family in the lonely days and weeks and months that follow your departure.

The only thing that will do that is YOU. So, if thinking me unlucky makes you do that, then go ahead. If thinking me pitiable makes you do that, then go ahead. But what I’d much rather is that you think of your life as I think of my own: random, capricious, blessed, precious, and without a moment, a word, a thought, or an action to waste.

Now you know these things.