He entered the curtained partition in the emergency room looking splendent in his white lab coat, reviewing charts. He was direct. He looked at me and said, “Mr. Jones, I’m Dr. Soni, a cardiologist, and you are having a heart attack.”
Very scary words that put mortality’s mirror smack in front of my face.
As several nurses ran down the halls of Marin General Hospital pushing my gurney towards the operating room, I lay motionless in my mountain biking clothes and stared at the white ceiling tiles as they raced by overhead. Moments before, I had just heard those most frightening words. I don’t know how I processed this shocking information and, truthfully, I didn’t have time to. It was a blur. The nurses were whispering in hushed tones. In staccato. IV lines dive-bombed into my veins while the gentle weight of the defibrillators attached to my chest reminded me that there was no joke about my condition, or what was happening.
Things were very real. Not ninety minutes earlier I left on a mountain bike ride with three close friends.
Later I would learn that another cardiologist called my wife from the hospital to inform her I was having a severe heart attack. She was out of state when she got the call. My left anterior descending artery (aka, the “widowmaker,” for good reason) was 100% blocked. No bueno. If not treated quickly, the mortality rate shoots well into the 90% range.
Anyway, there I was on the gurney, feeling weightless while consciousness faded. The square ceiling tiles kept my focus in the living, the here and now. My body was in the fight of its life. The pain in my chest was crushing – like an elephant was sitting on my chest plate – and I labored to draw in breath after breath. Every inhale felt like a million needles poking at my chest cavity. The pinky and ring fingers of both hands had gone numb. I was weak, exhausted, with no strength in sight. I’m not going to lie, I was adrift somewhere between alive and someplace else. Whiteness was around me and, strangely, I felt warm.
Then, as my body was failing me, I experienced a brief spiritual awakening. I transcended out of my body onto a new plane and saw my life in context. Oddly I was at peace. I felt good about who I was and what I had accomplished with my time on earth. There were no worries. No panic. Just unusual blissfulness. My fate and future were in the hands of someone else and I felt calm about that. Somehow, it would all be OK. My cardiologist would one day explain to me that the feeling might have had something to do with the drugs they were pumping into me. Either way, I know that’s what I felt. 100%.
I returned from this transcendent moment to three clear, distinct thoughts that shaped who I want to be today. The first thought was would I see my wife again? She was in Colorado working a client event. If this was my time to say goodbye, I wanted to do it properly. Not have her fly home a widow. My next thought was why didn’t I kiss my kids and tell them that I love them before I went mountain bike riding that morning? I had dashed out of the house to meet my friends and hollered to them over my shoulder that I’d be back soon. My screenagers had hardly lifted their heads from their iPhones in acknowledgement. That should never happen again, I said to myself. These two thoughts drove my third and final thought before we burst into the operating room. I told myself that this was not going to go down today, that I would walk out of this hospital of my own volition and on my own two feet. Yes, dammit, October 8, 2016 was not the day for me to check out.
Before I knew it I was on the operating table. Forty-five minutes later I had a cleared artery, was the proud new owner of a stent, and the recipient of another chance at life. Yes! I had made it!
Thank you Marin General cardiology team. Thank you Cardiovascular Center of Marin and the awesome team there: Joline, Janet, Ashlie, Nancy, Beth, Dr. Gershengorn, Dr. Raghupathy, and Dr Soni. I wouldn’t be here without you. No truer words can be said.
I have made bold changes to my life due to those pre-surgery thoughts. I’ve changed jobs to allow me to hug and kiss my children every morning and evening. Daily. I cherish every moment with my wife, Liz. And you had better believe I’m having so much fun. What could possibly constitute a bad day now?
Here’s me and my son riding together less than two weeks before my heart attack! Imagine what would have happened if I had been with him when it went down? I was wearing this same white shirt when the attack happened.
This is me about one hour after my operation. I cannot express how good I felt here. In some strange way, I had never felt better. Was it relief? Joy? I was alive. I was breathing sweet, pure oxygen.
Here’s me walking out of the hospital two days later on October 10. Yes, I did walk out of the hospital on my own two feet. I declined the use of a wheelchair. The trophy was a metaphor for winning life.
Here’s me and Dr. Soni on December 21, 2017. Thank you, Dr. Soni. One day we will ride mountain bikes together.