I didn’t get it.
I was waking up from an electrical cardioversion to “fix” my (first bout of) atrial fibrillation. The doctors were kindly telling my wife and me that I had an atrial septal defect (ASD). My head was foggy, and it didn’t frighten me then. But as we waited and watched my arrhythmias before the ASD could be repaired, I was scared. I was worried.
The headlines jumped out at me. “Previously-healthy 39-year-old…” “high schooler at basketball practice…” “while walking the family dog.” Scary. Especially scary for a guy who, for 39 years, had kept himself in pretty good shape. And listened to his doctors. How did they not see this? Ever?
But I soon grew to be thankful. Those nine months of monitoring were laden with a blood thinner, so my stroke risk was greatly reduced.
The fine cardiologists closed my ASD, and my life took a different beat. My arrhythmias were exacerbated. Multiplied, actually. So much so that managing and reacting to their manifestations was like a full-time job for several years. Bradycardia, atrial fibrillation, tachycardia, atrial flutter, tachy-brady syndrome, junctional rhythm, sick sinus syndrome.
I “recovered” from one, “caught” another, and learned my way through a pharmacy of treatments, surgeries big and small (all complicated, of course, because of the Amplatzer closure device), and tried to keep myself fit and sane.
Ultimately a pacemaker has kept me consistently in-rhythm. It was supposed to be a decades-in-the-future last resort, but I’m glad it worked… at age 43.
I had learned so much through this journey that I wrote it down. My COVID quarantine project this spring was to publish “Atrial Frustration: A Cardiac Arrhythmia Saga.”
As I’ve now spent a few months discussing my literary and cardiac journey with friends, family, fans and critics, I relearned perspective last week.
Yes, perspective. I had been frustrated—it’s right there in black and white (and four-color on the cover!). I did document my appreciation for dedicated medical professionals at every turn of my long, drawn-out track toward rhythm. The trial and error (and its impact upon my family) was draining.
But I survived! A friend reminded me of that. My friend who had survived stage 4 cancer. And he reminded me that I can remind my fellow middle-agers to be inspected regularly and thoroughly. Ironically, that was a somewhat-touched theme in my book—as they examined me and worked on my heart regularly, my serendipitous byproduct was assurance that ultimately, they didn’t see anything else worrisome, anywhere else on my body.
So, as you may be young (I thought, at 39), old, or anywhere in between, I am thankful you are reading this. I am thankful I could write it. I am thankful you are in the hands of dedicated medical professionals.
I wasn’t looking for it, but I got a new lease on life. I pledge to enjoy it.
I didn’t get it on the day of that first diagnosis. But I do now.
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