Saturday, February 27, 2010

Surviving the SCA - come to terms with not dying.

Talking with a friend the other day and musing on our respective near-death experiences. My Sudden Cardiac Arrest was my second such event - the first was a few years ago diving in the Blue Hole in Belize. (equipment failure at 119 feet - yikes!). These are obviously very different episodes, but what they had in common was by the end of each of the two days, I was overwhelmed by the growing understanding that I could have died that day. It can take a while for that reality to sink all the way in; my mind just wanted to reject that concept - on both days.

Of course, we could each die every day; car accidents, killer Orca's, hurricanes, earthquakes, lightening - all possibilities each day. But those two days ---- those were days when death was really close by; he was sitting with me, hanging around to see if this were the day we left together.
I know I'm not alone; many people have near death experiences. And I think I am a fairly rational human being, but it can be terrifically difficult to come to terms with. (Yes, I know that's a preposition at the end of that sentence, and I remember Winston Churchill's quip to a young editor slashing his manuscript with red ink, murdering those prepositions: "This is nonsense up with which I will not put"....

Back to death. Some days I think I have come to terms with it and other days I know I have not. I was unbelievably lucky - not only did I survive (2% do), but because I was in the ER when it happened, I apparently did not suffer heart or brain damage - and so many people suffer grievously from one or the other or both. I took a bar exam this week (5 months after the SCA), with my 50+ year old memory - always a drag, but really - I am so fortunate that this kind of life is even possible for me.

This morning, in an Alanon meeting, where I had not spoken much, the topic was "Intimacy" and I was stunned that as I started to speak about the nature of my relationships in the aftermath of the SCA - I became emotional. I NEVER become emotional in public or the semi-public that is Alanon.

So I'm not there yet. I want to think that I am, but I know in my heart that I am not. If I were, if I had fully come to terms with the presence of death that day --- I would be able to speak of my family's response to the SCA without choking up.

Some days I just don't know what to do with this extraordinary luck.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Looking backwards

I met someone for lunch yesterday. A new acquaintance, perhaps we'll do some work together, we have one shared network - that type of new friendly relationship.

We got on well, exchanging our work histories, our plans; common ground included a decent sense of humor. I mentioned my Cardiac Arrest almost in passing. He was one of those people who are intensely curious about it; some are, others think it's synonymous with a heart attack, some don't care. Anyway, he asked a lot of questions from the clinical to the emotional. He's a smart guy, and they were smart questions.

One was new - and pulled me up short for a second. Simple question really. It was "since the SCA, do you find yourself thinking back and regretting things you have or haven't done in your life?". I am sure it's perfectly reasonable that many people would do exactly that, but I just don't have that chemistry or orientation or whatever it is.

I honestly hadn't thought about it during these 5 months, and that was the surprise. But when faced with the very well-intended question, I did then think about it. And no. I haven't done that; I don't think I have spent 5 minutes looking back over my shoulder. Maybe I should, but I have not.

I spend time thinking about now, my new now - and the future of course, but not looking back. I'm not sure if it's a lack of introspection or just my inherent pragmatism. I couldn't help but think "what's the point of that?" - yup, pragmatism.
And of course Alanon and Courage to change - making constant clear distinctions between what we can control and what we can't -------- and not wasting our time and energy on the latter.

Me, I focus more on coming to terms this this new now and thinking about the future - the hopes, plans and fears of it.

But is surely was a great question - so surprising I hadn't even considered it.

Not Driving Made Me a Better Driver - really

Post Sudden Cardiac Arrest, I was not allowed to drive for 90 days. I didn't have physical limitations, just doctor's orders. I think they want to make sure you're not going to repeatedly lose consciousness out there. [Prudent, but another day we can argue about SCA people behind the wheel v. texters, eaters, arguers, singers, kid-tenders and all that].

So for 90 days, I sat in the passenger seat. With lots of different drivers. I hired one for the routine, non-social stuff. The first month included a depressing number of doctor visits, then 3 times per week to cardiac rehab for the duration. And all the mundane errands that I just couldn't bring myself to ask friends to do.

Beyond Driver Dude, I was a passenger with friends, acquaintances and visitors. 90 days. Passenger seat. And we know what our normal instincts are from that passenger seat. We "communicate" with sharp intakes of breath, occasional squeals or yelps, and of course, the slamming or tapping the foot on the phantom brake pedal we have over there. In a really tense situation, we might do all at once- gasp, yelp, slam foot to floor and perhaps grab the dash or the handle above the door. Not endearing, to be sure.

I am happy to say I don't think I did any of that. It was a quick conclusion that for 90 days I would have ZERO control over the car(s). I couldn't go faster, slower, change lanes, decide to stop short at a yellow or pop through as it turned pink. Nada, zip - zero control.

So I relaxed. Honestly, you can make a DECISION to relax. There is no control, we might as well give up all illusion and hope of control and enjoy the lack of it. Happily, Driver Dude was an excellent driver, so it was easier to get started with the "I will relax and forget about control and even influence over the vehicle"... A new 12 step mantra! "I am powerless over the car, and my life has become....".

It worked, first with him and then with the others. Not all of them were great drivers, of course. One often drifts over the center line, another accelerates at odd moments, one seems to be competing for a prize for number of lane changes per mile, and so on. But regardless - no control over here in the passenger seat. [I will say that I did want to ask the center-line-drifter if she/he didn't ever NOTICE the fact that oncoming vehicles swerved and veered away from the center in wild self-defense as we approached. But I was on a mission to relax over there, so I never did ask that.]

So I went through my 90 days and then got my keys back. I was surprised how quickly I dropped into my old driving habits and attitudes. How I was cranky about other drivers again right away after 9o days of zero crankiness in a car. How I drove faster again - Driver Dude never drove fast. It was kind of nice after I got used to it. But here I was, driving fast, changing lanes, calculating the odds of getting through that light, silently bemoaning how others drove. Too fast, too slow, too close on my tail, not close enough to the guy in front of them...

I've stopped. Or mostly stopped. I found a great sticker for the car; first sticker I've put on my car since I was in my early twenties (Philadelphia Flyers stickers - they had won the Stanley Cup; it was almost a Philly requirement). Here it is; a nice discreet oval "Wag more, Bark Less". On my car. My new motto.

I drive more slowly; I don't race. I don't change lanes. I mostly don't get cranky with other drivers (though I do have my lapses, for sure). It's a more peaceful experience to be sure. All this non-barking.

Not driving made me a better driver. Thanks to SCA.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grammy's and Leonard Cohen and being cranky

I was going to write about cars and how not driving for 90 days has made me a better driver, but hold that for another day.

It's been a week and a half and I am still cranky about the Grammy's - right, those music awards. I had been so excited to see that Leonard Cohen was to receive an honor, something along the lines of Lifetime Achievement. I told friends, marshaled an audience and poof - he got all of a 10 second "shout out" or something to that effect. THEN I checked and sure enough, he had gotten his award the day before in a "special ceremony" - like what the Oscars do with the awards we don't understand (key grips or something... or documentaries filmed in the Southern Hemisphere in odd-numbered months) . But the OSCARS - when they have special honors, they actually HONOR the person.

So Leonard, Loretta Lynn and some others got there pathetic "Shout out" during the ceremony and what was probably their time went to the elaborate spectacle for Michael Jackson. Now, I know Jackson is dead, and I know he single-handedly saved the music industry back in the Thriller days, but come on --- he died because he was a drug addict. Admittedly, I'm not much of a fan - I was, when the music was great - but over the years, the ick factor rose and quality of music declined until finally ick turned into revulsion, and I just didn't follow Mr. Jackson any more.

So he got Leonard's time, and I am still cranky. Cohen's contributions are legion. I am so grateful that I got to see him a few months ago; such an outstanding concert, and a terrific time all the way around.

So I'll put my crankiness to rest, but geez Grammy producers, you should either honor them or not - .

I'll get back to the unanticipated benefits of not driving next time.

PS Skippy remains absolutely quiet. Tomorrow I have to do a "manual transmission" of his data - should not be scary, but it is. I'm trying to figure who to coerce to come over here while I am doing it - just in case Skippy perks up.