This last week I experienced another one of those moments in life that was unforeseen and somewhat shocking. For a couple of mornings, I had waked up with what felt as a large weight on my chest which made it hard for me to breathe. Like older men I am not prone to going to the doctor’s office to complain about pain. But this time, I felt so bad that I did go to the doctor. Luckily for me, I was able to see my doctor within just a few hours of a phone call. I have been to the clinic where my doctor works several times before for different reasons. It is always been a positive experience with the doctor and the physician’s assistant always being upbeat and friendly. After explaining my symptoms this time to the doctor’s nurse, I was put on an EKG machine. I had just had one of these exams on the EKG several months before. On that occasion everything worked fine. On this occasion the physician’s assistant entered the examining room with a very serious looking face and informed me that the EKG showed that I had Afib. She explained that I had atrial fibrillation (also referred to as AFib, Afib, A-fib, and AF) it is an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm. She then informed me that I was to go directly to the emergency room so they could do further tests. That declaration took us by surprise because she was so serious when informing me and my wife (who was in the room with me when I saw the doctor) that we needed to immediately go to the emergency room due to the Afib. When we were told this I quickly looked into my wife’s direction and I saw her begin to tear up and I felt that I was in shock. Neither one of us expected the results of the EKG.
This life moment reminded me of when the doctor told me I had prostate cancer some years ago. At that moment my wife was also with me and both of us went into a little shock. I know that millions of people received the information that they have cancer or that they have heart problems. But that knowledge did not prepare me to hear that I had cancer or that I had a heart problem. In both cases the first thing that I thought about was my death. I know the no one lives forever but I’ve never looked at my expiration date or feared that my time was up so much as when I was told that I had cancer or this time and heart problem.
On both occasions, after receiving the information, I pragmatically went into a mode of survival. I did not experience an epiphany (epiphany has been defined as “a sudden spiritual manifestation, “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is at the end of the fork.”) There was no enlightenment or a review of my life. I just asked the doctors what I should do next and I followed their directions. I think the only times that I reflected on anything was while I was sitting in a hospital bed with nothing to do but wait for the next technician come in to take my blood.
In both cases there was no time that I tried to explain away the illness that I had. Both cancer and heart problems many times lead to a very quick end of life. In both cases there was something that I could do. I could follow the doctor’s orders and go through the radiation treatment and take the medicine for my heart while following the doctor’s advice.
In both cases I continued my existing way of living by continuing to be active while addressing both short time and longtime goals. The fact that you get the information that you have a life-threatening disease does not stop life around you from continuing. For many people, having a disease does not stop them from having to go to work. It did not stop the bills from coming in nor does it make it okay for you to put your life on hold until the end. It does mean that you’re probably going to cry little bit and are going to put down your end-of-life wishes and directives into writing. In the beginning, the people around you would treat you differently. But as life goes on, things will get back to normal, as normal can get while you are being treated.
I know that to get well I must get the treatments and for some period of time I have to stay in a hospital. But for me, hospitals are depressing. And it gets really difficult to get any rest because every three hours somebody’s in there to take your vital signs or your blood. There’s only been one time when I was in the hospital that I thought the food there was worth eating. Thank goodness there’s a TV on the wall that you can control while in your hospital room. As much as I wanted to get well and have all the tests that are given to me in the hospital, I cannot wait to get out of there and go home. Fortunately for me, I have the necessary insurance to cover almost all the cost of going to the hospital. But I know many people who do not have such coverage and spend the next several years trying to pay off the cost of a hospital visit.
As dramatic as my life felt when I received the information about my heart problem, I also felt the need to keep things as normal as possible in my life. I need to be busy and I need to remind the people around me, like my wife and children, how much I need them. Today, I will go visit one of my sons out in California. So my thoughts go from today concerns about Afib to the concerns about being stuffed into a small seat for hours in a plane of people I don’t even know. I may not like flying but it keeps me in real time of life journey.
I will admit that receiving information of my health condition is a whole lot easier to accept and live with rather than the information that someone I love, like my wife and children, has a life-threatening condition. When it happens to me, I feel that I am in some control of what will happen. But when it happens to someone else, I feel totally useless and with no control on what can happen. Initially, I want to be with that person and somehow protect them from any disaster. But eventually, I know that the situation is not under my control and I have to accept any possibility that could occur. Sometimes I think that is much harder for me to understand and live with.
I titled this blog a fib that is not a lie. It was a play on words which states that when I was told that I had Afib I knew that it was not a lie, or story, or someone else’s problem. I knew that I was at another one of life’s moments when I was reminded how I am human and that someday I will die. That is not a lie, but until then I will experience the adventures of life, which means I will go on that plane and then going to worry about other things.