I had, what has been dubbed, ‘a mild heart attack.’ What is ill about this is that I had not even the slightest clue that I had one. I went to the doctor for a very long overdue check up and my doctor ordered an EEG. A few days later my doctor contacts me and asks the following: “About how long ago was your heart attack, again? I cannot find any record of it in my notes, I find this to be a problem.” Hearing him say that was more surreal than hearing my wife’s doctor’s voice on out machine saying, “You have tested positive for pregnancy.”
My heart attack? I’ve never had a heart attack.
“Are you sure? The test results indicate damage to your heart consistent with a heart attack.” What kind of shit was this?
What, heart attacks are operating under stealth protocol now? I immediately went to my man-shit trying to assimilate this information: I will find a solution to this. I will find where the mistake happened. There is no possible way this has happened. Actively searching for some kind of answer, other than my having the heart attack, went a long way in muffling my panic, fear, and sadness. I made the decision to absolve myself of any responsibility by blaming it on heredity.
The men on my mother’s side of the family weren’t made too sturdy. They started out strong. Very strong. There is a family story that my grandfather, a warehouse worker for his entire life, lifted a forklift off one of his co-workers who was trapped beneath it. The uncle right above me was a street fighter and would throw hands with anyone. I saw him handle three dudes, before I had a chance to jump in with my sock full of screws and nuts. He looked at the guys slumped in front of him, and then smiled at me. From that moment on, I worshipped that man. But for all of their strengths, my maternal menfolk were not very durable.
My youngest uncle died of some crazy type of cancer; he left two kids and a wife behind. The uncle right above him died of some mutant form of liver cirrhosis. He left behind a son. My grandfather’s heart exploded. He left all of us to make it through this life without his presence and influence. I included myself in this pantheon and began to speculating on when I would die. I am already older then both of my uncles who passed, and this fact has me looking over my shoulder more often than I care to admit—looking to see if death is trying to sneak up on me. I became resolute. Aha! My grandfather, the bastard. I inherited his faulty heart. No, my not exercising as regularly as I should, getting poor sleep, and eating like shit had nothing to do with it. It is all his fault.
It felt so incredibly wonderful to outsource responsibility for my crap heart. The semi-euphoric feeling I received from this lasted for a little while. I reduced my death watch to around twice per week. My stress lessened and I stopped formulating mental wills every time my heart beat fast. In-depth conversations with my doctor forced me to view all of this through a more complex lens. He interviewed me about my lifestyle and was “blown away” by the fact that I had never drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes or pot, or had done any other kind of narcotic or drug—I rarely even take medicine and have reduced my coffee consumption to a cup a week. The warmth of his approval turned into a pneumatic knee to the crotch when he began asking me about diet and exercise.
Once upon a time, I was incredibly fit. A sterling regimen of martial art training and rock climbing kept me in phenomenal shape. Then, a few years ago, I had my kneecap ripped off and reattached. I remember the pure anger I felt when I was told that my knee may never (and it has not) work as it once did. I was also told that I may need to have the assistance of crutches or a cane for the rest of my life. Thankfully I can walk unassisted. However, having a major surgery that put me flat on my back for several months shot me into a depression. This feeling of helplessness negatively impacted my marriage—resulting in me and my wife being about two inches away from divorce—and made me a real shitty father for my daughter’s first two and a half years of her life. I (think) I’m finally pulling out of the spiral.
As we discussed my health history, I become defensive by pleading that my sparring once or twice a week and talking walks was enough. He laughed at me. Laughter turned into his berating me: “As long as I have been your doctor, your weight has yo-yo’d from being ‘okay’ to obesity. You have this twenty-five pounds over/under thing that you seem to be trapped by. I distinctly remember giving you specific instructions, and resources, to deal with your weight loss and to increase your exercise. It doesn’t appear as if you took me seriously. More excuses from me: “I’m naturally a big guy. I’m six one and I my fighting weight was 250.” At the height of my fitness I was ripped, fast, and strong.
His retort was short and to the point, “How many years ago was that?”
Wow. “You are much heavier than you were in your prime, and you may never get back to that body. You’re in your forties now and your metabolism is slowing. It is going to take some serious effort to get it working at its optimum, from where you are now. Forget about your heyday. It is over. You need to get the healthiest you can be at forty plus. Starting today, you need to exercise forty minutes or more, every single day. You see how serious this is, don’t you? And you need to eat better. Fats and sweets are gone. Lean proteins, vegetables and fruits are in. Are we clear.”
Hadn’t felt scolded for a long time. But I sure as hell deserved it.