September 5, 2009. A date I will never forget. Until I do. That was the day my heart stopped for no reason at all. In Sudden Cardiac Arrest circles, we/they will refer to the date as "the day I died" or "the day I died the first time" or the less macabre "my re-birthday". For me, it's always been just the day my heart stopped. Sometimes, I'll refer to it as "Skippy's birthday" - Skippy being the implanted defibrillator that came into my life and chest shortly after the whole heart-stopping-thing.
The first anniversary, 2010, was awful. Well, not truly awful - the heart didn't stop again, so it wasn't quite awful. But I had heard so much from my SCA friends about celebrating the day - a whole year with an intact heart. So as the date approached, I manufactured more and more pressure to mark the day in some momentous way. But instead of joy, I was increasingly anxious as the date crept closer. I re-lived the 2009 day over and over and over. Instead of finding joy and celebration, I was scaring myself to a bizarre degree. Like there was a heart fate switch out there somewhere that would make it stop again - on this September 5th. As if it would be an annual event. In the end, I spent the day boating with a good friend. A simple pleasure.
Then in 2011 and 2012, I vowed to let the date simply pass. And I did. No celebration, no anxiety; I knew the countdown; I was aware of it on September 2nd, on the 3rd, on the 4th. But I did nothing to mark it. For me, that seemed the safest route - I think I was determined to make September 5th an ordinary day.
And then 2013. I forgot. On September 10, I realized that the 5th had come and gone. I was so surprised, shocked even - pardon the pun. It was done. I had succeeded. September 5 had been relegated to the ranks of the mundane dates. I was relieved. And a little bit sad.
Such a neurotic; I feel bad that I forgot my SCA birthday. Like I owe Skippy an apology. Or a cake.
Friday, August 9, 2013
(And I'm happy to say that Skippy the implanted defibrillator was quiet and peaceful, even when the hills got taxing. Another first as my Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) 4th birthday looms).
And then there was our cycling group. It included 5 people who are veterans of multiple Ironman triathlons. And my sister and I most assuredly are not. Others brought their own pedals for their own special shoes. And we didn't even really understand that sentence. So mostly we saw these people at meals.
There were a few I genuinely enjoyed; one from Hawaii and a couple from Seattle. The Seattle pair seemed great - smart, interesting, etc - call her Jane and John. She also happened to be pretty and very stylish. She wore 'outfits' while biking, but not biking outfits. She crafted her own look, and she had a "look" each and every day. And turns out, a nascent fashion business on the side. Or expensive hobby. In any event, for Jane, appearance matters, aesthetics matter.
I liked Jane and her husband through much of the trip. One evening before dinner, the group went to visit a wine cellar on a working vineyard. I don't have much curiosity about wine-making, so I sat by the house where the working family lived. It was a beautiful early evening, lovely sitting outside as the sun headed down. The family was ending their separate days; mother feeding the young kids, hanging laundry outside on racks, feeding two large dogs, a couple cats and an adorable litter of kittens. I remember thinking she had probably worked all day and then had to face kids, dinner and laundry. It seems women may have tougher lives than men in rural Italy.
And then we were at dinner; a 'family-style' dinner in a courtyard restaurant, our group at 2 long tables surrounded by local families. I happened to be across from Jane and her husband and for conversation, I asked about the visit to the wine cellar. She responded that it had been almost wonderful, interesting, good wine, that the visit was terrific with just one complaint. She thought the family should have taken in the laundry before our group arrived. That our group was on an expensive vacation and we shouldn't have to see laundry at the vineyard.
I was shocked; speechless in fact. Her husband looked mortified. And then I managed to say that I thought it was just a shame that she didn't have a dryer. Then, because we are adults with well-developed social skills to use on travel with a group of strangers, I asked about the wine.
Beware the pretty ones; they can be marred.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Skippy the implanted defibrillator and I are off on an adventure; hopefully one that does not include Skippy's actually getting involved. I wrote this post on the long travel day; it started around noon or so and ended I don’t know when. It’s an overnight day with a 7 hour time difference and I don’t bother with that math. But it is a long travel day.
I have logged enough business travel miles that I should be deeply travel-jaded, and in some ways I am. Destinations are fun; most of travel is tedious at best. But amidst all the annoyance of the long travel day – luggage, delays, costs, TSA. Amidst all of that, there is the one thing that I still love. The one thing that apparently will never turn jade.
It’s the actual flying. It’s flight. It’s magnificent, and it never ceases to delight. Most of the time, like all seasoned travelers, I’m an aisle-seat person. Anything to make the day easier. But on this day, my first leg was up the east coast. From NC to Philadelphia. I am not a million-miler and there are huge swaths of earth I have not seen, but I've been to a fair number of places. And there is still not much I enjoy more than flying the east coast on a day like today. On this flight, I always, always, always get a window seat. Always. On the east-facing side of the plane. Picky.
The first bit is dull, but then we reach water. The Bay and then the ocean. We come north up the western side of the Chesapeake, then the eastern shore, then the Atlantic coast around Maryland and Delaware. On a day like this, even South Jersey looks magnificent. Partly cloudy – enough clouds so they somehow make me miss scuba diving on walls, though that’s tough to explain. Enough cloud that there are layers, discernible layers. You are above all clouds, then under some and over others. In an instant. Enough clouds that you can almost feel them. But not so much that it’s a solid blanket.
Days like this it is astonishingly beautiful - the coast stretching below and breathtaking clouds outside. And just partly cloudy enough, partly sunny enough – that the sun reaches through to the tops of the clouds outside the window. So we get that white. That one in a million white. The “can that be real?” white. I always see it as ‘Renoir white”. It turns up in his paintings – as a speck of light reflecting in a small dog’s eye and as a bigger dab in the bottom of the wine glass. Renoir white. Impossibly white.
It was a quick, magic hour and I loved every minute of it.
Small choices. Had I taken an aisle seat, it would have been just another mildly annoying flight, delayed with many loud children. Barely a flight at all, just travel.
A wonderful start to the adventure. A choice day.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
My ex was released from jail today. I still can't believe that sentence is true. He was in there about a month. Until this set of events, I had not seen him in three and a half years. Big, bad, ironclad boundary. Thou shalt not touch that boundary. I had found more serenity than I'd known in decades by laying down that particular boundary in some material akin to rock, steel, kryptonite. No getting close to that one again. Ever. So I had vowed.
Until about three weeks ago. He was in jail. And I was told about the wreckage that apparently has become his life in the past three years. It spun me out of my safe, impenetrable, immovable, nuclear bomb shelter boundary world. How? Why? It was incomprehensible that this was him, the man who was my husband, my significant other for decades. I kept thinking it must all be a mistake. This could not really be him.
Then, through his lawyer, came a request. The type of request I had to say no to. I'm so bad at recognizing that boundaries must must must be obeyed, adhered to, honored, respected - I actually thought about saying yes. For a little while. Then, you see it for what it is - my ticket back to non-serenity, the way to make wreckage out of my own life.
Then a second request - this for socks and underwear. I had said no to that first request, but I could not possibly say no to this one. It was socks. And underwear. How can someone ask for that? But I can't say no I couldn't. So I saw him. 3 weeks ago. It was disturbing beyond description. He was many things; he was never this. Three weeks later and the idea of it, the memory of it still takes my breath away.
Yesterday, I sat having lunch at a spot that overlooks a tee box at a golf course. And a man - one of a foursome- he walked to the tee and did his pre-drive routine. His back was to me, and it could have been Tom. It should have been Tom. That is what he should be doing at this time in his life. Playing a round with friends on a beautiful afternoon., wearing that purple shirt, khaki shorts, goofy golf shoes and an odd hat. I almost let myself believe it was him.
It wasn't. He wasn't there. He was still in jail. He got out today. I thought half a dozen times today of contacting him, It is so hard to let oneself feel heartless. To accept that you can't help. I put my toes right up on that boundary line, but I didn't go over. Not going to go over. I can't fix that.
I didn't call. I went to the beach.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
For our brains, the hard, cold fact of it is that if the heart is down longer than 4 minutes, the risk of brain damage sidles up. Cells begin to die after 4 minutes without sufficient oxygen. You get more time with serious CPR, more time with hypothermia - but the magic 4 minute mark means risk of Anoxic Brain Injury (ABI). Damage to the brain can be small, it can be moderate or it can be devastating.
I escaped ABI; my SCA happened so close to defibrillator paddles. Some other lucky souls were not as close to the paddles, but happened to be surrounded by people who knew how to do the new kick-ass CPR where your chest is really pounded, You may break some ribs, but you buy time for your brain.
We chatted recently - a small group of SCA survivors. We find each other online; we have those normal, quick online interactions. But now, we have talked; we had a conference call. It was a pleasure to hear voices. After a few minutes, it became clear that most on the call were dealing with ABI to some extent or another. And this was what they wanted to talk about, this dominates their lives. Sitting on the phone, I slid between stark sympathy and the guilty relief that it wasn't me. They may struggle with impulse control, with memory, with the ability to process information, and then there is confidence. What made my heart ache was the toll ABI took on their confidence to navigate life, to communicate. One was so fretful about her communication that she peppers her talk with "did I just make sense?" Of course, she made perfect sense. But she worried. They all make perfect sense. But they each worry that people are judging them, looking askance at their errors, not recognizing the heroics of their work to recover. This is their centerpiece, and it makes your human heart hurt.
As our call wound down, we talked a bit about the odd or annoying things that people ask or say to us about SCA. Most annoying is probably those who suggest we stop thinking about it and "move on". You want to say - try that. Let's say your heart stopped for no known reason and you have no idea whether it will stop again. Go ahead. Move on and stop thinking about it.
Try it. See how many inches you can move that thought of its stopping again - how many inches away from your consciousness can you move that idea?
We each had our other irritants, but we all shared the top question: "Did you see a light?" That question gets tiresome. And of course, it doesn't matter. We did, we didn't, we don't care.
Hearts stop. Some live, most die. Some brain cells are lost. Be kind, applaud the effort that it takes to embrace life with hearts that have mysteriously and unpredictably gone off the rails. Tell your ABI sister you are so proud of her progress that she fights, fights, fights for - fights for every single inch of it.
All that beats asking about the dumbass light.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
People who say it's time to "get over" a loss have never missed anyone. Or have never permitted themselves to feel it. That missing. This missing. That utter gone-ness. In the beginning, it's not so much a hole, a gap - it's that your entire day just became a hole - a "something that should be here is not here". The entire day. All 24 hours.
Days inch by and you cannot believe that after weeks and months, it is still the same. The same absence is always present. All 24 hours.
Then months and then a year and finally, some relief. First it's only 23 hours, then maybe sleep returns to normal and its 16. Then, then, then, you realize one day that there is more time in today without that absence than there is with it.
That alone brings enormous relief; you grasp wildly and strongly at the thought that your life may one day not be entirely about this absence.
Time moves more normally. But still, there is no 'getting over it'. It still slides back in some days, and when it does - sometimes the memory is sweet, almost pleasant. And other times, it' not a memory - it is a present, again agonizing absence. People who say "oh, he's still with you" are insane. He is not here; his gone-ness is what is here. His gone-ness keeps coming over for dinner, stopping by for coffee. Overstays its welcome.
The word "miss" has probably 20 definitions and synonyms - from ladies to being off-target, escaping or avoiding, not getting it. We are young misses, we miss the point, we miss hitting a car, we missed an appointment, engines misfire, we miss beats, we miss the boat, we miss out on any number of wonderful things, we swing and miss, we miss chances, we miss payments. We have near-misses, we mis-understand, misconstrue, misread and we make mistakes.
Today when we miss, we "feel the absence of". So much of an understatement, it approaches misstatement There are still these days, but tomorrow probably won't be another one.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
We are the same and we are not. And every now and then we find things we can't say even there. Some things divide even us, even this group of survivors who were supposed to die. We don't talk about politics, thank god. And we don't talk much about god.
A few days ago, I was talking with a new-ish friend who asked so many questions about my SCA day. Including questions about T, the ex-husband who drove me to the ER exactly 10 minutes before my heart stopped. While we had split yet again, he was still living in my home, working on buying his house - my new-ish friend asked all those questions.
So I re-capped that morning over coffee with my new friend - my waking up too early with a vague sense that something was wrong. Spending 30 minutes wandering about the house convincing myself it was nothing. Then finally yielding to the astonishingly lucky instinct to go to the hospital. I woke T up, who by then had been banished to a guest room. But he got up and he took me. Where my heart stopped. Dead. Lucky. Shocked back to life with three goes of the defibrillator paddles.
Then my friend asked me a new questions: "So, he - the ex - he saved your life?". My response was quick and visceral, though happily it was at least a litte short of harsh, but it was "No, he doesn't get that credit. I don't give him that". I was surprised, even at myself. I told my friend and myself that no - I would have gotten to the ER before my last 10 minutes was up. I wouldn't have called 911; I didn't know my heart was about to stop. I think I would have driven myself. The day would have been more complicated, but I think I would have survived. But the most surprising thing is that even though I have relived that morning dozens and dozens of times, I have never once asked myself if I would have lived if he hadn't been here. Never once. Not one time.
Should I "give" him the credit? We survivors are all different in this - who gets the credit for our surviving that day. Many of them give it to their God. Other give it to their 'first responders' - the friend or loved one or good Samaritan or EMT who kept them alive until their defibrillator paddles shocked the crap out of their hearts. I don't participate in those conversations, and I've never heard anyone give the credit to an ex-husband parked in the guest room who was being booted to the curb yet once again. They all seem infinitely more gracious than I am.
I've hoarded the credit. I've given it to luck. That I had a lucky beyond lucky instinct and then another round of dazzling luck to get there in time. Toss in even more luck that I'd been hooked up to the monitor or whatever it was so that when the nurse left my cubicle in the ER the alarms sounded as my heart stopped. I've given all that to luck.
What a bitch. I should probably thank him.