Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Other Shoe

Summer was over.  We had begun to settle into a nice calm autumn.  It was a quiet time at work as we began to think about gearing up for the holiday season and Brennis was getting outstanding reports from all of  his doctors and surgeons.  We were happy.  I, however, had a secret that was keeping me up at night.

About two years before Brennis' heart attack I had started having chest pains.  They weren't the  crushing chest pains that people describe when they are having a heart attack but they were burning, tightening sensations in my chest that almost always radiated down my left arm and up into my jaw.  Before Brennis' incident I had always thought that heart attacks are either very dramatic or fatal.  I didn't know they could be subtle like Brennis'.  He never even had chest pain, after all.  His heart attack manifested itself as a pain in his back. I had these pains fairly regularly at least once every other week.  Every time it happened I waited for them to get worse but they never reached a point where I thought I should go to the hospital.

I know now that I should have gone to the hospital after the very first pain.  Heart attacks can take many forms and have any number of specific or non-specific symptoms.  I know that now.  I didn't know that then and I didn't have insurance so I waited it out.  I didn't die so I thought I was okay.  That's not a particularly good plan but thankfully it worked for me for a while.

The pains continued throughout Brennis' time in the hospital and through his recovery.  He was aware of them but we both quietly tried to ignore them as much as we could because we were afraid of what might happen if we went to the hospital.  Neither one of us was prepared to go through this all over again.   This is what denial feels like.

In October I began to have other symptoms.  I was getting up to go the the bathroom five to six times a night and was going to the bathroom up to twenty times a day.  I was in my mid forties and I knew that this is the time men start having problems with their health and between the chest pains and the frequent trips to the bathroom I knew that it was my turn to grow up and go to the doctor. 

I made an appointment and three weeks later I went to the doctor.  I was assuming that it would be enlarged prostate, bladder infection, heartburn....something I could take care of....something temporary and treatable.  Within about ten minutes I knew I was wrong.

The doctor was concerned about my chest pains and my blood pressure was high.  Because of my symptoms and my family history the doctor prescribed a stress test for me.  I was numb.  I was afraid.  I would be going back to the hospital  that Brennis just left.  I was certain that they were going to find something wrong.  I wasn't sure how I had managed to avoid any serious health problems up until that point but I knew now that it was my day of reckoning. 

The doctor also made an appointment for me at a urologist since my prostate was slightly enlarged and that might have been causing my frequent trips to the bathroom.  I was falling apart, obviously. 

The first test was the stress test.  It was scheduled for early the following week.  I think I must have spent those few days in a fog.  There were many possibilities.  I could have a successful test and go home, they might send me home and find something wrong as they read the test results in the following days or I might have some indication during the test that something might be wrong.  I was so afraid and so certain that there was going to be something wrong....not because I like to worry (although I do) but because of my symptoms, my family history and my previously less than stellar diet, exercise and smoking habits. 

Quietly I got my life in order.  I hated that Brennis was going to have to be the one to go with me for this test after everything he had gone through a few months before.  I wish it didn't have to happen but I was thankful that I was going to find out what was wrong with me before something more serious happened.  In the days before the test I made sure I was caught up on all of the bills, the laundry and even made extra dinners for Brennis in case I wasn't able to be there for some reason.  I even made a  list of all of our accounts and passwords and put it in my wallet in case the worst happened so Brennis could take care of things after I was gone.

This was all very dramatic, I know....but I had just been through Brennis' open heart surgery so I was fairly well primed for drama.  I also, honestly, wanted to be prepared.  The surprise of Brennis' heart attack has never left me.  I am constantly on guard for what might happen next.  I don't let it rule my life but I am always ready in case I need to be.

The day of the test came and I passed the test successfully.  In the days following I waited for a call from the hospital telling me that something was wrong.  They never called.  I finally called my doctor's office for the results and they told me everything was normal.  I was shocked.  I can't even say I was necessarily relieved since I had never even entertained the possibility that nothing would be wrong.  After that news sank in I realized that I was being given another chance.  I had abused my body in many ways throughout the years and yet whatever I had done had not yet damaged my body enough to require repairs. 

I think in many ways I had given up on myself. I had always had horrible eating habits and I began smoking when I was 18.  I think I assumed that I was heading down the same road as my grandfather and father and was just destined to have heart disease at an early age.  I never thought I would live to a ripe old age.  That was not even a consideration of mine.  I spent most of my forties wondering when I would have a heart attack.....not if I was going to have a heart attack.

Now I know that that is no way to live your life.  It was foolish and that kind of thinking caused me to waste a lot of time and to make a lot of bad decisions about my health and those decisions affected everything about my life.  When I realized that I was alright everything about my life and the way I thought about my life changed.  This was probably, in the long run, an even more important event for me than the shock of Brennis' heart attack.  Everything I had assumed about my life was wrong.  Now to go about the business of changing it all...making amends and moving forward.

Your life is exactly what you think it is....but it doesn't have to be.  All it takes is changing your perspective.  Thinking that my life was going to be short made me live my life a certain way.  Now that I know that it will likely be longer than I thought I live in a different way.  Nothing really changed about me but my perception of my life. 

The same is true of every aspect of your life.  The way you think about something is the way it is for you.  The way you think about your spouse is they way they are.  The way you think about your job is the way it is.  If you can simply change the way you think about these things they can become different things for you.  You are never trapped by anything or anyone except yourself.  There is nothing stopping you right now from getting up out of your seat, walking out the door and away from the life you are currently living.  Is there?  Why do you stay? 

There are reasons you are in the life you are living.  Find the power within yourself to make it the life you imagine it can be.  If you want it to be tomorrow can be different....and nothing has to change but you.   

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