"All your life you had to stand in line
Still you're standing on your feet
All your choices made you change your mind
Now your calendar's complete
Don't wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don't ask me why"
(Don't Ask Me Why, Billy Joel 1980)
In the early 1990s, my first partner and I lived atop a split home. The apartment above suited our lifestyle and was close to the college we attended. The lower part of the home was rented by an interesting family. Both parents had significant health issues including extreme obesity, diabetes and they smoked more than I did at the time. Their son was a nice boy, a teenager who, a few years later, ended up in much more trouble than it was worth. I believe he was incarcerated at a prison in eastern
After Doug passed away in 1995, the effort I made to keep in contact became a great challenge. Every time I called, one of them was in hospital. When I visited, you could see the effect that neglect was taking on their bodies. Eventually, one suffered a heart attack and one was diagnosed with the early stages of lung cancer. Each time I ventured back for another visit, I could picture the toe tags dangling from their appendages. Ignoring the factors that led to their fate was something they both seemed to excel at. When I spent time with them, we literally blew smoke in each other's faces. Their predicament had little to no effect on me. It was their problem and irrelevant to my internal state of ill repair. With ten years of puffing behind me then, I wish I had used their warning signs and been an example. If only I had quit smoking from the rear view. If only hindsight was my friend. I was a fool to think such things could never happen to someone like me. Twenty years later and they both rest peacefully. No matter the treatment they sought out, the damage had already been done. Continuing the status quo killed them both. A common grey stone is all they have left to share. Perhaps if they had listened to their doctors, made the appropriate changes, they might be here to tell me that they told me so. I suppose it's true that we often ignore the plight of others. We only notice the danger to ourselves. We don't acknowledge and learn from suffering as a consequence until it happens to us.
"You won't find me
Naked and cold justa sittin'
On the doctor's table
Waitin' to be told justa why
I'm no longer able
To feel my heart beatin'
Give me a good reason why!"
(Nah!, Shania Twain 2002)
When my alarm went off at 5:00 AM, I could not have cared less about my heart condition. I just wanted to ignore it all and return to my sleeping. I never imagined that getting up so early on a Monday morning could be so tough. This was just another reminder of growing older. It would not have been a problem for me at thirty. Tougher still was deciding that I would go. By 7:00 AM, I was dropped off at St. Mary's Hospital (If I had known they were going to administer drugs, I would have brought my own. What they gave me was mild to say the least. When they wheeled me into the operating room, I felt like I was part of the opening credits from the television program Six Feet Under. I wiggled my lower digits to confirm I was still alive and looked for the toe tag. I couldn't spot one anywhere. Of course, I had already been prepped, then hooked up to the ECG machine and those damn sticky pads. Next came the clippers. Apparently, my cardiologist only works from the groin area. I got trimmed right down to an itch. With no food or water for the past twelve hours, I sat parched and my lips started to crack. As the 9:00 AM hour approached, one of the gentlemen ahead of me decided to have his heart attack right there in the bed beside me. This in no way made me feel comfortable with the care from those nurses. I told myself I would be lucky to survive. I was pensive, but that in no way made my thoughts less silly. An hour later, I was wheeled into surgery and flipped onto a rather large metal slab. Whatever narcotic they fed me through the IV catheter in my left arm did little to quell my anxiety. When the procedure began, I asked if I could watch on the monitors. I didn't realize that my cardiologist was already deep inside of a vein. My heart beat in rapid rhythm as I watched it from my vantage point. I have to admit it was a little surreal. It was actually kind of cool to see it pulse the blood through me. The thin black wire suddenly appeared and wiggled like a tadpole in a rapidly evaporating pool of liquid. Suddenly, a spray of dark ink filled the cavity, there was a pause and then another spurt from the siphon. It took less than fifteen minutes to determine if I was already dead or not.
) and I wandered up to the
second floor Cardiology department. The delay in the waiting room was short and
semi-sweet. The more I sat there, the greater the temptation was to leave. I thought
I could easily just forget it and simply pretend that nothing was the matter,
but I could not ignore reality. The chest pains that started at the end of the
previous year had faded. There was little left for concern. The beta blocker I
was prescribed seemed to do the trick. I had waited almost four months for the
Angiogram and decided to maintain the course and make damn sure. I was shuffled
quickly into a change room and told to strip. One thin gown and an ugly thinner
robe were the only company my socks had for the rest of the day there. Despite
the occasional scuff or bruise that led me to the emergency room, I had not
been admitted into a medical hospital since way back in the later 1970s. The
place smelled exactly the same as any hospital did in my childhood. Kitchener,
When I started smoking at age eighteen, I had no idea it would carry over as one of my greatest regrets. Perhaps the idea of sucking on death was apropos back when I was untreated for my Bi-Polar disorder, but the addiction did not go away with proper care and treatment. I had spent the last ten years of my life trying desperately to quit by the time I turned fifty. With that birthday long gone and well over a year since my last cigarette, I am no longer desperate. The occasional cheat got me through the first six months but my health propelled me through the next half dozen. I have become a non-smoker but I am not an anti-smoker. I am not about to turn on my one time compatriots. I hate it when some well meaning anti-whatever acts like their experience is the only one that matters. I refuse to allow the social disdain towards smoking to turn me into one of the annoying martyrs that to this day still drive me crazy. Really, how hard is it to just mind your own business? It's not really my place if smokers are in their rights to do so. Not one of those in your face critics ever made me smoke less. If anything, it made me blow smoke in their face while they blew smoke out of their ass.
It was less than a half an hour when the cardiologist returned with the results of the Angiogram. It was not my lungs, as I had suspected, from years of huffing and puffing. It was, in fact, my heart. With a main artery blocked completely, and some residue damage from smoking, I was disappointed but in no way was I surprised. The surprise came when I was told the medication I was already on would be enough for now. The future of my heart would be left up to me. If I continued to exercise, made adjustments to my diet and never smoked ever again, I could lead a healthy and long life. Surgery was unnecessary but always available if the problem evolved into something more severe. At least it wasn't cancer. Without the smoking, there wasn't a whole lot that needed to be changed. I was already taking the beta blocker. I already exercised regularly, I eat no fast food, little meat, and my weight is steady to falling. I have one glass of alcohol a year. All my levels are consistent and rarely fluctuate. Considering the forty plus cigarettes I inhaled each day for thirty years, or one thousand and sixty weeks, or ten thousand nine hundred and twenty days, for over half my life, I came out better than one should have expected. My lungs are black but repairing themselves as I speak. I have no chest pain or breathing issues. I have much lung butter to spare. I feel good. I hate using the term, but I am a 'lucky man.' It could have been so much worse considering my family history of heart disease and stroke. The worst part is trying to get rid of the blockage without surgery. I am attempting several holistic solutions. No matter what might happen or not, I am constantly aware that I have no one to blame for any compromise made to my health through smoking. Doing so was the chance I was willing to take all those years ago. Smoking is the chance I no longer am willing to embrace. Although I still miss it, my lesson has been learned. You always have to pay the price, but you have no one to blame but yourself.
"So I took the road less traveled by
And I barely made it out alive
Through the darkness somehow I survived
I knew it from the start
Deep down in the depth
Of my rebel heart
(Rebel Heart, Madonna 2015)
I am not invincible. I am not some immortal character from some childhood conclusion in my mind. I may have spent my life thus far hoping that these things were true, but I obviously knew they were false all along. I am not the Highlander, or Gilgamesh or even some form of a Superman. My mortal frame (and all the guts contained within it) is as human and as frail as anyone else's on this planet. There is no escaping this truth no matter how much I don't want to hear it. Still, I have spent most of my life soaring above the ailments that seem to attack me on occasion. Thus far, nothing has kept me down. Perhaps the idea that I was impervious to harm was the wrong way to look at things. Maybe in some strange sense I do have an innate ability to pick myself up and carry on. Most certainly, if my past is any indication, I always manage to rise again. My physical struggles with a chemical imbalance, smoking and genetic predispositions like Diabetes, have done more than taught me how to survive. I'm not some warrior but I have finagled past them, always ready to fight the good fight. In light of my recent heart problems, I have certainly realized there are consequences to ignoring your health, regardless of how much you justify or isolate them on an intellectual level. Apparently, being some Megus was nothing but a figment of my overwhelming ego and imagination. I recognized long ago, one day I am going to die. This fact is not lost on me. It would appear, in my case at any rate, that I am the greatest determiner of just how and when and why that event will happen. I am confident that I shall do my best.
I am not afraid to die. I never have been. It was always the method of my future destruction that left me with much trepidation. Isn't that ironic? To this point, the secret of my survival is not only acceptance of my situation but learning from my mistakes and correcting them. If you change nothing then nothing will change. After all, everything in life is a result of the choices you have made. If you want a different outcome, you have to make a different choice.
"Say goodbye to yesterday
Nothing standing in my way
Never was a guarantee
In my heart I know
There's got to be
Gonna take some time
I'm on the mend
Starting over at the end and feeling
Stronger than I've ever been
(Healing, Michael English w/ Wynonna 1994)