I was speaking with a friend and I felt like she accurately described what happened to me. It was like the universe held a stop sign in front of my face and said, “Okay bitch, if you are not going to slow down, we are going to do it for you.” And it did. Big time.
I keep thinking about my life before the heart attack and how much I loved it. When you get to do what you love for a living, what could be better? When your kids are doing well (for hormonal teenagers anyway), what could be better? When you have established a routine of health and wellness for your life that includes a community of people you can’t live without, what could be better?
I am grieving my life as I knew it as I struggle to get out of bed every single day. I will never have another day again like I had before. The thing about that though that I am slowly realizing; it does not mean my life is going to be any less meaningful or that I will be any less vital.
The word vitality, the state of being vital has been very present for me. I know the dictionary definition of vitality however, to me, I feel like it is more than those words. It is a feeling from the inside out, a feeling about myself I worked so hard to establish since I started taking better care of myself over three years ago. And just like that, on that one Sunday afternoon, the feeling was gone and has escaped me ever since.
I have had glimpses of feeling vital since that day. Maybe it was a compliment by a stranger about how I looked or a kiss I shared with someone or a moment of showing up for someone else when they needed me or when my kids told me the cupcakes and cookies I baked actually tasted good. Maybe one can’t feel vital all the time but these pockets of vitality are what is more important because they may culminate into something I never saw coming.
My reality remains…..I am sick. I have heart disease. I am currently battling a blood clot in my heart that scares me every day I am fortunate to wake up. I feel afraid to do anything for fear of having a stroke. A current reality. There are still many days I contemplate whether to get out of bed or to not. When I do not feel like I can get out of bed, my dog reminds me why I need to get up.
He is a perfect of example of what “more will be revealed” means. I adopted Archie a year ago. He is almost ten years old, blind in one eye. I wanted an older dog, a dog that needed love and a home and a place where he could enjoy the end of his life.
Never did I plan for my dog Archie that he would see me have a heart attack in my living room, see me faint in my shower covered in blood or not see me days on end because I was admitted to the ICU again. Every time I come home or walk in the door he is just the happiest to see me and doesn’t leave my side. He always has to have a pulse on where I am at and what I am doing, especially if there is even the remote chance I could give him a cookie.
I feel like Archie is teaching me how to be vital again in a different way. Every day I get out of bed, we get to go for a walk together and every day we get to go for a walk, I heal. He heals.
I think most of us are told our entire lives to be grateful for what we have, when we have it. At certain stages of my life, being grateful was sometimes the only thing that got me through a day. Let’s face it, we all go about our days, working, being Uber’s for our kids, sometimes with schedules so jammed packed we can’t even think straight yet alone have time to be all zen and grateful and shit.
Sometimes, I don’t even know what being grateful is supposed to look like. It is a very simple thing to say to someone, “Be grateful for what you have, who you are, where you are, etc.” But what does it mean? What does it feel like? I am asking these questions mostly for myself. I am asking these questions for myself because since having my heart attack, I feel like being grateful is something that I need to be but if I am being honest, it pisses me off.
What exactly am I being grateful for? That a widow maker heart attack didn’t kill me? Well let me tell you, having survived this heart attack that statistically should have killed me leaves me here alive wondering why I am here every single day. It leaves me here with an incredible responsibility to do something huge. That is a lot of pressure. Because I was afforded this additional opportunity to live my life, I owe the universe and everyone in it this big huge gesture. My entire life has been a big huge gesture. Momma’s tired.
Like what if I want to be an Uber driver and not a Psychologist? What if I want to be a Barista and not someone that fixes broken businesses? I guess I am free to do anything I want to do as long as my children are taken care of.
Here is the thing. I have the ability right now to be and do anything I want to do. I can be anything I want to be. I do feel like I want to use this opportunity I have been given for good. I often use everything I have and am for good, I don’t know how to be anything else.
This is where that gratitude edges into my life. I can’t help but feel a lightness in my spirit when I think about what I can be and do, that I am alive and while the reason hasn’t been revealed to me yet, it will be. This I believe.
I can confidently say that I believe one of the reasons I am still here was to be able to participate in my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah this past weekend. A lot of planning went into planning this event; plans that were in the works even at the time I had my heart attack. I savored each moment of this day. Watching her get her make up and hair done, helping her get dressed, watching her walk into the venue to see how beautiful it was, watching her all night. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
I was keeping my eyes on my son this night too. Just watching both of them is overwhelming. They are both so big now, their own people, their own thoughts, feelings, opinions about everything they experience.
It is very difficult for me to even think that I wouldn’t get to see their faces every day. If I wasn’t here, what other woman would look at them how I look at them? Would she understand them like I understand them? Would she be able to sense when something was wrong with them like I can? I think of it like this because they are worthy of being looked at and admired and adored every single day. They are wonderful to watch and to be around.
My daughter did separate dances with me and my ex-husband and she picked the song for each dance. For her and I she picked, “Can’t Take my Eyes Off of You,” by Lauryn Hill. This is our song, it has always been our song. We danced to the song, singing it to each other and hugging and crying.
At one point, I said to her, “I am so grateful I am alive to be here with you and share this day with you, Maya.” She said, “Today would not have happened if you couldn’t have been here.”
It hit me in that moment. That is what gratitude is. When you are able to be present enough in your own skin to not be able to comprehend your life for that moment without that person, place or thing. When it hit me, a very warm and loving feeling came over my body. It also felt sweet. Everything feels sweeter now than it ever did. In a way, I almost feel like a newborn that possibly gets the chance to experience certain parts of this life over again like they are happening to me for the first time.
My entire life, I have been so fortunate to have amazing people surround me. I have met people from all over the place as I have lived in many places, visited many places and have been involved in various aspects of community living that has allowed me to engage with people at deeply personal levels. Not to mention my career and the people I have been fortunate to meet and sustain relationships with as a result of the work I do.
When I was able to compose myself enough three days later to look at my phone after the heart attack and posted “I had a heart attack” on the book of face and insta, I could have never of imagined what would happen as a result of that post.
It was like every person I had ever met in my life was right next to me. Maybe it was someone from high school or college or a previous relationship, family, a friend’s family, whoever it may have been it was like every person in every group or community I had ever come in contact with, activated.
I think the thing about me having a heart attack that is startling to the people around me is obviously my age. I think my heart attack shoved people’s mortality into their faces. I know how I have felt when someone close to my age has passed away. It is devastating and it makes you re-think everything.
The thing about this situation though, I didn’t die. This time. I know. Morose. I say “this time” because statistically, I am on track to have another heart attack this year. This next year is critical to my heart health but I believe in science and I believe in data so when everything lends itself to “The chances of you having another heart attack this year are XYZ,” the only thing I can do is make sure my house is in order for my children if and when that happens.
So because I didn’t die, I think I serve as a constant reminder to the people around me about just how delicate this life is. Every morning when I wake up I say the words, “I had a heart attack.” I say that because it is such an incredibly difficult reality to live with, I need to remind myself so I can get passed the “I should really be dead,” part of the morning and try to have a semi-productive day.
I know everyone means well, I do. I just need you to know two things:
When you ask me how I am doing, please know, I have no idea how to answer the question. I would much rather know how you are doing and what is going on with you.
I know you are so hopeful for me and that you want me to feel “better” today and but chances are, I do not feel better today. I have had a lot of set backs and I feel worn out. My mind and body are just worn out.
So while I would love nothing more than to tell you I am doing better, I would be lying if I did and I am not a liar. I am finding that some people can’t handle being met with Jess in this state. If you know me, you know that I am generally happy, almost all of the time laughing (what I would do to laugh that consistently again) don’t let much bother me and love showing up for your life and sharing in your joy. I am not any of these things right now.
I am volatile. So angry. I feel gross. My body feels weak. The medications I am forced to take to stay alive are causing ailments in other areas of my physical being that I cannot do anything about because I need them. I want to lift a barbell and cannot. Fuck, I would even go for a run if I could, but I can’t. I want to go on a trip, but I cannot fly. I want to be in a loving, caring partnership; but really, who in their right mind wants the middle-aged single mom with heart disease.
You guys are super hopeful for me and I appreciate that. Some of you are very religious and I only found that out through this experience. You have added me to your prayer circles, I didn’t even know you were in a prayer circle. Your mom or dad have also added me to their prayer circles. You have written songs for me and sang them to me, you orchestrated meal trains. Do you guys know about this? People sign up to bring food to your house when you are sick. You guys signed up and then actually brought the food over and it was delicious. I received no less than forty-five bouquets of delivered flowers, gift baskets, blankets, clothes, warm socks, smutty books, you name it, you guys gave it and continue to give it to me.
I am not religious but have found myself caught on one of those shows on a Sunday morning closing my eyes and listening. Just listening. I take what I need and leave the rest but what I have taken in the past six weeks is that this happened for a reason.
I may never know the reason why I survived a heart attack that most die from. I know that the universe didn’t like the direction I was headed and completely halted my entire life.Just this thought alone is difficult for me because my life was amazing, I loved every single thing about. And it was a good life but I know I was trying to maintain a pace that was not sustainable. I think I knew deep down that something was going to give. No way in a million years did I think it would take something like this to stop me. I know I am an Aries and stubborn as fuck so maybe this is what it was going to take. Obviously, this is what it took.
My hope and goal is to at some point, be able to tell you that I am doing better. Until then, every thought you have of me or my children, I am grateful for and appreciate you. Please don’t stop thinking of us.
I successfully finished the CrossFit Open 20.2 workout at the gym and after I did, I hung out for almost an hour, talking to friends I hadn’t seen because I had been away in Arizona. I gathered my things and proceeded to leave as it was almost Noon at this point and I had to to get home to get things done with the kids. I drove home, windows open, probably blasting some type of horrid 80’s love song or Biggie, pulled up to my house, got out of my car, waved to my neighbors and I walked inside.
When I got inside, I took note that the teenagers were still sleeping (insert eye roll emoji). I walked into the kitchen put a new coffee mug under the Keurig machine and proceeded to bring the top down and hit brew. After I did that, that is when everything became fuzzy. All of a sudden, I felt very lethargic and I had one arm on the sink countertop and one arm on the island countertop trying to hold myself up. The next thing I knew, I was slumped over in the arm chair in the living room.
When I came to, not realizing how I got into the arm chair, I was sweating. I mean a sweat like I had never experienced ever in my entire life. I was also freezing and shaking. I was so cold that my nipples hurt. Badly. Again, not realizing what was happening I got up and went to lay down on the couch. When I did this, I started projectile vomiting all over the place. At some point during the sweating and vomiting, I had calmed down a little bit and I honestly thought I had a panic attack. I had not had a panic attack in probably a decade but it could have passed for one at that point for me.
Maybe at that point, 5-10 minutes had passed and I shot up on the couch and now I could not breathe. Not a symptom I had experienced before. I felt a tightness between my boobs that someone was stretching my skin from one side of the room to the other. It also felt like there were one hundred people standing on my chest. Now I am half on the couch and half off the couch and I am able to somehow in a quiet voice say my daughters name and when she came out of her room and saw me, she called 911 and handled the details of the call.
I remember the EMT’s being in my home but I don’t remember a lot of specifics just that they were doing EKG’s and sending the results to the hospital and at some point it was undeniable that I needed to be taken to the emergency room. I remember seeing my son, my daughter and my ex-husband standing in the dining room and I remember being in a lot of pain and I remember being more scared than I have ever been in my entire life.
I was in and out during the ambulance ride to the hospital. I know they put the IV in during this time to give me medicine (Nitro) to help control the pain and they kept having me chew baby aspirin. The pain was unbearable. It is a terrible feeling to not be able to catch your breath.
When we arrived at the emergency room I was greeted with urgency and jokes because I had just finished a CrossFit workout and some of the doctors and nurses found it necessary to not let that opportunity go to waste. I am a good sport and I remember laughing too. At this time, I was more calm because of the medicine and fluids. Nobody had said to me at this point that I was having a heart attack. I had not heard those words so honestly, it was not even a thought in my head because how could that be? How could I possibly be having a heart attack? I am 42 years old.
At some point they had told me they had called the on-call Cardiologist. I remember briefly thinking “That is weird, why would they call a heart doctor? Poor dude it is Sunday and he is probably binge-watching Netflix right now.”
The amazing personnel at the hospital were able to calm me down enough where I started to fall asleep because my body was comfortable. I am not sure how long I was sleeping but I do remember I will never forget what happened next.
I shot up in the bed and started projectile vomiting all over the place and the pain in my chest returned even worse than it was the first time. At this point it seemed like every person that worked in the hospital was tending to me and I was so uncomfortable. The most physically uncomfortable I have ever been. And crying. I couldn’t stop crying just like I can’t stop crying writing this.
I looked to my left and there was a man in normal Sunday clothes with his arms on the bedrails looking at me up and down. I said the best I could, “Who are you?” He said, “I am your Cardiologist and you are having a heart attack, I can’t believe how young you are.”
“You are having a heart attack” are not words one can ever un-hear. It is other level weird. It is hard to describe the level of denial that accompanies hearing that statement.
I said, “Should I say goodbye to my kids?” He said, “You should say something to your kids.”
I am sorry what? Is he fucking kidding me did he just say that.
The next thing I know I was being brought up to the catheter laboratory where I would have a procedure to place a stent. When I came to my right arm was immobilized and to my left there was a huge television screen with images of my heart. I was on a lot of pain medication so I was in and out during this time but do know I was in the cath lab for hours.
The verdict? I had a widow maker heart attack, 100% LAD blockage. All of my other arteries are clear. What? How could this be? I CrossFit 5-6 times a week, clean eat, have lost over 150 lbs, my blood pressure is perfect and so is my cholesterol. So what caused this for me? More to come on that in later posts based on testing I have gone through in the last six weeks.
The details of my ICU stay are undesirable and full of physical and emotional pain but I will say that I have never felt better taken care of by other humans than I did when I was there. Nurses and doctors are amazing people and do not get enough credit for what they do every day.
Over the next two days, I was moved down to what I like to call the gen pop floor. Little more independent, one step closer to home. The first night I was in gen pop, I started having that feeling in my chest again, that someone was standing on my chest and I could not catch my breath. The nurses and techs and doctors tended to me and it was determined I was having another heart attack so I had to go back to the cath lab.
This time, they did the procedure through my groin. I had developed a blood clot around the stent that was just placed so they performed an angioplasty where they had to leave the balloon in my chest for a 24-hour period. I am not sure which was more painful; the 24-hour period following the angioplasty and not being able to move or the actual heart attack. It was unbearable but it could not be done any other way. The procedure was successful and the blood clot is no longer a concern.
After five days in the hospital, I was released to my house with about eleven new medications that are basically keeping me alive, a set of discharge papers with instructions on all of my next steps and a heart more broken than it had ever been.
It has only been six weeks since my heart attack. I will write more posts about what has happened since then but so far, this six weeks has included another four-day stay in the ICU, a doctors appointment almost every day and a complete and utter level of emotional pain I am unsure how to navigate through.
I had booked a trip to the Grand Canyon in the early Summer 2019. Since getting divorced, I have always attempted to visit one new place per year to be able to make an informed decision about where I will move after my kids graduate from high school. This was one of those trips.
I was excited to get away as the pace I had been trying to keep with taking care of myself, my kids, my work and any other personal relationships I was trying to have, was beginning to seem more and more unsustainable.
I spent almost a week in Arizona visiting various places and seeing so far, the most breathtaking views these eyes have ever seen. When I returned from Arizona, it was quickly back to business as usual. Jumped right back into work, the kids schedules, gym life, etc. It was a busy week.
That first weekend I was home was a kid weekend for me and we had a bunch of running around to do. I remember on that Friday night we spent chilling out at home and Saturday was filled with errands and getting ready for the week. My daughter had a cheerleading game that evening as well.
For that Sunday, I had planned to go to the gym in the morning and complete The CrossFit Open 20.2 workout event as I was not home when to do it when it was released. I connected with one of my coaches to see if he could judge me that Sunday and he said yes so I met him the next day at 9am at the box.
I had no idea that that would be the day that my life would change forever.