I’ve made a lot of life changes since my quintuple bypass in 2012. My diet, exercise, and stress levels were altered almost immediately. Since that December day, I like to think I’ve become a stronger person and more focused on my own health than ever before.
I did it, to be honest, for my children. Without them, I don’t know if I would have reacted the same way. I know that sounds like the type of thing that parents say and, I guess, it is. In that moment, though, I saw myself through their eyes. I saw myself as more than who I am in the world. I saw myself as who I am in theirs.
What made this different was that this case wasn’t a hypothetical. I wasn’t sitting around the table at an Applebee’s Happy Hour telling strangers how I would “give my right arm for these kids.” Words like that are easy to string together when no one is actually asking for your right arm. I imagine there would be more than a few people ready to backtrack if you pulled out a tourniquet and bone saw. I’m not questioning the validity of all who claim this, just the ease in which it is said.
In that hospital bed, the question of whether I would do anything for my kids was real. I had gone through a surgery that could have killed me and, if I continued on an apathetic course in life, could still kill me. My daughter’s stories about having fun with her dad would all include a sad footnote about how “he died when I was little”. All for what? So I could eat bacon and avoid the doctor?
So, even with doctors preaching “moderation”, I fully quit many of the things a heart patient should avoid. It was actually easier than it sounds. Knowing that I had to do this for my children made it more doable. I had no problem depriving myself of some things that I enjoyed if it meant my children would get to have me around.
Before you write this off as more right-arm-giving word salad, you have to realize who I was before these kids. I was a reckless youth; taking chances and pushing boundaries. I battered my body and partied like a rock star. My 20s were crazy and I did little to truly care for myself. I know it sounds terrible, but hey. At least I wasn’t headbutting walls. Ha ha.
I’m kidding. I did headbutt walls. Seriously. I’m not sure what I was thinking at the time, but it happened…a lot. I, along with some of my friends in low places, would all take turns slamming our skulls into the walls of various Hofstra University bars. Then we would growl and throw cups. It wasn’t light stuff either. There was often bruising and blood. I wish I could say that we did it to impress the ladies but, if we’re being honest, the ladies were grossed out by it. There was lots of screaming. I’m not sure why we did it. But we did.
So yeah. With wall-butting on my to-do list, you can safely assume I didn’t worry much about my salt intake. My own health was pointless. Heck, we’re all going to die anyway, right? So, what is the point? Live it up now. In the words of Ivan Drago, “If he dies, he dies.”
Then, about a decade later, I did almost die. After throwing caution to the wind for decades, I was somewhat shocked over the fact that when the real possibility of death came knocking, I didn’t want to open the door.
I remember remarking to people at the time that I was surprised by my push to live. Time has a way of flowing from one season to the next without taking a break. One minute you have your head full of splinters from a townie bar. The next minute, you’re holding babies and making Elmo dolls talk. You become a completely different person in so many tiny steps that you don’t even see the transformation happening.
Yet, here we were, and I was at a crossroads. One side was the road to hell and the other was Sesame. If I wanted to continue with my children by my side, I had to care about my own health. It was a concept that was foreign to me, but one that I knew needed to be done. If not, my demise would serve as nothing more than a sad footnote to the lives of two people I love more than anything.
This is where I usually downplay my actions and say that anyone would do the same thing for their children, but I’ve come to realize that isn’t necessarily true. These realizations began right away when my hospital roommate, fresh off his own heart surgery, excitedly told me how his daughter would be making him a big sausage dinner on the day he got home. Yum. Tastes like hospital.
Different folks. Different strokes. Keep in mind, I’m not judging the decisions of others, I’m just telling you mine. When the day came to choose self-indulgence or living for my kids, I didn’t have to think at all. I woke up with a tube in my throat and knew, from that moment on, that I was going to keep myself as healthy as possible.
My kids keep me alive. Without them, I doubt I would have the same drive and determination to stay breathing on this giant spinning rock. They’re why I eat heart healthy. They’re why I have regular doctor visits. They’re the reason why I made a triumphant and stomach-churning return to the dentist’s chair recently. I want to stay alive in my world, so that I can stay a part of their world.
I convince myself that my kids can’t live without me. The irony is that telling myself that, even if it’s not completely true, keeps me working harder to stay alive. When you really look at it, I’m the one who can’t live without them.