Five Years Later, a Toast to Life
Exactly five years ago today -- about 7 in the morning -- I felt a crushing pain in my chest. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one went to 11.
This problem was my heart. It had kept me alive for 38 years, and now it was trying to kill me. A coronary artery had become blocked and, starved of oxygen-rich blood, my heart tissue was starting to die.
When I think of it now, I imagine millions of little cardiac cells valiantly holding their breath and then starting to succumb, one by one. I see Death moving across my heart like a combine slicing through a wheat field.
I'm too young to die, I think.
And Death says, "Nonsense! You're never too young!" And then he pops the clutch on the combine and downshifts with his bony hand.
"Ouch," I say.
There's still a bit of my heart that's dead -- though, thankfully, the rest of me isn't. My Lovely Wife dialed 911. The ambulance took me to the hospital. A doctor there punched a hole in my groin, snaked a catheter up to my heart and reamed me out.
I lay in intensive care for four days and then went home to start the rest of my life.
What's that old saying? Dying is easy, comedy is hard? What I discovered was this: Having a heart attack is easy, recovering from one is hard.
I don't mean the physical recovery, though that's no walk in the park. (Curiously, however, it did include walks in the park -- and around the mall, and on a treadmill.)
I'm talking about the mental aspects, the whole gee-I-almost-died thing. It messes with your head.
Bob Gelenter knows what I mean. He's never had a heart attack, but for years he suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. "It's an enlarged heart," said Bob, 74, of Rockville. "It causes problems. Sudden death is one of those."