I wasn’t going to write this today.
Seriously. I had a whole other topic all mapped out in my head which will hopefully see the light of day down the line. Maybe it won’t. Who knows? Either way, I had one and this wasn’t it.
Today, December 13, 2017, is the five year anniversary of my quintuple bypass. To be honest, I haven’t really spoken to anyone about it. It’s kind of an awkward date to bring up.
It’s not really a happy or sad anniversary. I supposed if I had died on that day, it would have been a sad date to memorialize five years later. By the same token, if they cracked me open to find candy and money inside, it would have been a happy anniversary. Nope. Neither. It was a sudden anniversary – nothing more, nothing less. The time that followed was the time that really meant something.
I’ve made a lot of changes since that day in 2012 but it didn’t happen overnight and, no matter what it may sound like in some of my posts, it wasn’t easy. Changing my diet and approach to exercise was never the hard part for me. It was my short fuse and general handling of stress that appeared to be my biggest hurdle.
That wasn’t changed in an instant. In fact, I remember being more irritable than ever in the days that followed my homecoming. For the first time in a long time, I felt completely powerless. I couldn’t lift my kids. I couldn’t carry Christmas gifts in from the car. There were some days, where it was just a struggle to move at all. For someone who made a point of always holding open doors and taking all the groceries in one attempt, it was disheartening.
There were nightmares too. I had dreams that I was in the middle of a crowd. Then, from out of nowhere, my feet would buckle and I’d collapse to the ground. The people would continue to walk over and through me as I laid on the floor helpless. This dream would repeat in waves and while the scenery would change, the trampling was always there.
When you mix that newfound feeling of vulnerability with a life of overreactions, it makes for a powder keg. About a week or two into my time back home, I went into my bedroom when no one was home, closed the door, and really had it out with myself.
I yelled and threw some things around before looking in the mirror and telling myself to get it all under control or else I would certainly die soon. This wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky version of death either. I wasn’t talking about it in that far-off “one day” sense. Since that December 13th, death had taken on a very new perspective for me.
As I’ve mentioned, my quintuple bypass was a surprise. Within four hours, I went from writing a comedy article about Diff’rent Strokes to a major surgery (my first) that was never even on my radar. No major health issues were. I didn’t even have a radar. The whole thing was both immediate and terrifying.
Prior to this, any thoughts of my own demise were projected into a hazy distant future. However, that night they became real. I realized that the when I stumbled out of my house on my shaky-legged trip to the medical center next door, it could possibly have been the last moment I was ever in my home. Everything I ever owned and everyone I ever knew was, quite possibly, about to be gone.
And there was nothing I could do about it.
That was real. It wasn’t a day dream of the distance. Rather than imagining some far off scenario where I’m getting shot by a cannon at 80 years old, I was dealing with a real chance of death at this very moment. If I could compare it to anything, it felt like watching the series finale of a TV show and, as the time ticks by and the scenes play out, knowing that certain characters were now gone forever. That’s how I felt. All of my characters were gone forever.
Luckily for me, they weren’t. However, in the days that followed, that feeling didn’t go away. My dreams and stress served as reminders that my days were numbered. It felt catastrophic. While I sat in the hospital, time for me stood still.
Life for other people, though, went on. I would check my phone to see people making fun of Justin Bieber and battling over politics on Twitter. I’d see others complaining about traffic and the price of Christmas presents on Facebook. There seemed to be so much stress and anger. It all felt so alien to me, as if I had become an outsider looking in at the world and seeing everyone act so, well, so much like me just a few days earlier.
I think more people could use a reality-of-death experience to understand the things that are truly most important to them. The irony is that everyone will get one eventually. Maybe it will last a year. Maybe it will last a moment. Maybe it’ll happen at the end of life. Maybe it won’t. Either way, we all get a one. You will too.
I know the obvious take-away here is that I changed a lot after my bypass, but that’s not the best wording. It’s probably more appropriate to say that my perspective changed. I didn’t necessarily like how I acted and reacted before, I just did it. I never wanted to blow my top because a glass broke or stress insanely about getting to a party on time. It’s what I did and how I always acted. I knew no other way.
The reason I had to cut out that thinking was because I wanted to survive. The reason I wanted to cut out that thinking was because I now realized how pointless it was. I may not have been on my deathbed, but for a few hours, I thought I was. During that time, I wanted to make new memories, have new experiences, and embrace all the things that I never even thought about never seeing again. I didn’t, however, think about one party I was almost late for or stress over one glass I wish I didn’t drop.
And from that day on, I never have again.