When I woke up this morning my head was pounding. My mouth was dry and my lips cracked from breathing through my mouth all night. I opened the curtains and it is cold and raining outside, the kind of grey drizzle that does no good, just keeps the sun away. The lawn is littered with fallen debris. As the house is inspected it reveals dirty dishes in the sink, an unmade bed in the guest room, clothes spewed all over our bedroom where I have been living out of a suitcase for the weekend, books and papers scattered about the living room. There are used towels on the floor in my bathroom, and we are out of toilet paper.
I cannot remember a more beautiful morning in my life. The dishes, clothes, and towels are all over because we just had my wife’s father and my brother-in-law down from Portland for the weekend. One of the papers cluttering the living room was a beautiful Valentine card from my wife. We are lucky enough to have a lawn for debris to be scattered over, and this rain is the first we’ve had in over a week and it is mid February.
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. What makes this such a beautiful morning is that I have the wife, the lawn, good friends, a new family (after I was divorced I got to keep the old one, so now I have two) and more importantly my heart is beating regularly.
Yesterday was one of those “ah ha” moments, or wake-up calls. Atrial fibrillation is a condition of cardiac arrhythmia usually reserved (at least in middle-aged men) for those either on a drinking binge reminiscent of spring breakers in Cabo, those with heart conditions, or those extremely dehydrated or on stimulants like caffeine or cocaine. I had none of those conditions so it was a bit of a surprise when I awakened to find my heartbeat rapid and shallow and about as regular as a ping pong ball in a clothes dryer.
This happened to me before, so I tend to downplay what does not seem immediately life threatening. The in-laws, wife, and I were scheduled to drive down to Pebble to join our wonderful sponsors at Hertz for a day of fun, food, and watching Bill Murray and Matt Cain. Oh, yes, and there was also golf being played. They having flown down from the great Pacific Northwest to attend the event, and my wife being the driver and also a great fan of the “amateur” celebrities it made no sense for them to miss the event to watch me lie in a hospital bed tied to all sorts of tubes, wires, and monitors. With a little reluctance they dropped me off at the ER at 8:00 in the morning, kissed goodbye, and all said they hoped to see me sometime again, in THIS lifetime.
The emergency room was jammed, but having a heart disorder no matter how trivial (guess there is no such thing as a trivial heart disorder in their minds) guarantees you a bed immediately. Having done this before I know was somewhat hoping to have the opportunity to spend an hour or two in triage watching the AT&T before being admitted. No such luck.
Having to suffer the indignity of immediately disrobing and being connected to an intravenous drip, an electroencephalogram (EEG), blood oxygen monitor, respiration monitor, linear accelerator, and wind tunnel, I was now prepared for my treatment. The first time this happened within 30 minutes they had me on blood thinner, my second drip bag of hydration, and 60mg of Soma to try and regulate my heartbeat which was vacillating between 100 and 300 beats per minute. My normal resting rate is 60.
This was not the case yesterday. The ER was jammed, so basically I got a bag of saline and was left alone – completely alone – for about three hours. There were some other brief encounters, but in general no progress, and no human contact for almost eight hours. There is no better format for meditation and introspection that comes to mind than sitting, watching your heartbeat racing in the “danger, warning will Robinson” zone on a monitor, trussed up like a thanksgiving Turkey, and just waiting. The occasional alarm would bring in a worried nurse/technician to look at the monitor, adjust the alarm threshold and DO NOTHING. I have no disrespect for Kaiser, but there are some horror stories that leave its reputation somewhat short of Johns Hopkins, so being left alone with my own mind it was quickly apparent that there was indeed the distinct possibility that there would be no future in my future.
With even this remote possibility, however self-created, comes certain clarity. I need to treat my loving wife, all of my friends, and family with more than mere respect, with palpable gratitude. That rainy blustery morning outside the bedroom window is one of the most beautiful things in creation. Every single person that can be helped by what we do as a marketing agency is precious. Every opportunity to turn someone’s business even more slightly towards the path to success is a unique gift from God to help. Random acts of kindness like sending $100 to help a friend I haven’t seen in ten years sponsor a short film even if it never amounts to a thing, every $10 check to the Southern Poverty Law Center, heck a $5 check to the Rush Limbaugh drug rehabilitation fund, anything anyone can do to help another is your great karmic responsibility.
Let’s all redouble our efforts to include what we share on the net. Is what is being written and broadcast truly intended to be helpful or is it self-serving? When we host an event is it truly crafted to educate our audience, or is it a veiled attempt to provide just enough information to “hook” them into being customers. Question the ethics, even the karma if you will, of what you are producing. The Buddhists call this “right livelihood.” It doesn’t take much explanation. When you speak at a convention or meeting, when you teach a class or sponsor a meet-up sincerely ask the question of your audience “are you being served?”
After eight hours of an extremely uncomfortable experience lying on a hospital bed, unable to turn, bleeding from the holes in my arms, and dying of hunger the doctor comes in and tells me “it’s not working.” This is sobering news as it means that they are going to have to stop my heart and start it again with electric shock. Although time is a factor, since my wife is in Monterrey with her family, they asked if “just in case” anything were to go wrong the procedure could be scheduled when she could be there with me. Short of asking if I wanted a priest, that was somewhat devastating news. We decide to postpone the procedure until the next day.
Since the sole reason for my fasting all day was in case I need what they call “cardio conversion” ( which is doc-speak for killing you and bringing you back to life) I was finally allowed a turkey sandwich (my now most favorite of all foods – ever). Figuring it to be symbolically my “last supper” I abandoned my diet and even had real mayonnaise on it.
Upon completion of said meal I took one last look at the little heart monitor which had been so disappointingly displaying rather random blips and squiggles for the last eight hours, and started crying. It revealed a sweet, absolutely regular, normal heartbeat.
A mandatory “safety” hour later I was released. I kissed the orderly (not sure he totally enjoyed that, but what the heck) promised to name my next pet after the doctor, and would have paid the bill with antique silver dollars had they asked.
Since my wife was still at the Pro-am and I didn’t want to bother any of my friends (whom I now adore one and all) it was decided to walk the two and one half miles home. What’s that line from “My Fair Lady?”
“I have often walked down this street before, but the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before…”
The exhilaration and resolve for re-dedication to a more skillful position of loving-kindness towards all that is, can be fleeting after such an experience. My earnest prayers are that if only for a moment, it will be remembered and take priority over the usual knee jerk reaction to the next person that cuts me off in traffic.
Go hand a perfect stranger a flower today!