The Longest Day Of My Life
On this date in 2002, at approximately 6am (EST), my like as I knew it, came to an end. I was about to embark on a journey no one is ever prepared for, and I dare say, no one wishes to go on. At that fateful moment, now 10 long years ago, I woke up not feeling particularly well. I felt worse yesterday, which convinced me to go to the ER at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn - a town we had just relocated to.
My visit to the ER was not without it's comedy of errors, although had I had my wits about me, would be more a tragic tale that ended with a huge lawsuit. Regardless, I was sent back home and since I did feel better, I did just that.
But the morning...the morning was different. I seem to recall sleeping decently. One of my then 3-year-old twin sons, Elisha, climbed into my bed. Elisha has always been my teddy bear and it was normal for this to climb in and snuggle with me. But this time, something was telling me this was different.
After a couple of moments with Elisha, I began to suffer from a small panic attack and I had no idea what brought it on. My then wife offered to call the hospital to see if they were still too busy for me to come on. They responded that the night before's wild rush had greatly settled down. So I told her that I was going to get dressed and drive back over to Maimonides' ER. As I was pulling up my pants, the panic started back up. This time, it forced me to ask my wife if she would instead take me. I was short of breath and feeling weak all of the sudden.
Within a minute of asking her to drive me, I realized I was in serious distress. I think told my wife that instead, she should call Hatzolah, the Jewish ambulance service. At that moment, I raced to the kitchen sink and began to throw up what looked like water. For a quick moment, I felt much better. But very quickly after that feeling of calm, I started to get clammy and very weak and lightheaded. There was a towel on the counter and for some reason, I thought it would be a good idea to put the rag on the floor to lay under my head. The next thing I know, I'm on the floor, rag behind my head and the sound of my wife telling me how dirty the floor AND the rag were. But I didn't care. It wasn't that I felt any pain. Instead, as I law down on that rag, a certain peace swooped over me. I was suddenly so very tired and just wanted to sleep right there and then.
In hindsight, I was clearly losing oxygen and on the verge of death. But in my current state, I felt warm and relaxed. That moment was broken up a minute later when the EMT's from Hatzolah arrived. Apparently, from the way the situation presented itself, the ENTs were checking for a wound or some kind of trauma. After all, I was a 39 years old and looked even younger. But suddenly one of the ENTs noticed my lips were turning blue and he realized I was having a heart attack. At this point, I was unaware f my surroundings, or what was going on. I'm pretty sure I had passed out by this time. But for some reason, I do remember being carried out on a chair and feeling the outside fresh air hitting me when we got outside.
The next thing I remember was arriving at the ER at Maimonides. As they wheeled me in, I recall asking if I was still alive. The lady who answered me was a visiting doctor from Los Angeles (why I remember that, I have no idea). Then, for whatever reason my brain had, I asked her if she was an angel. I'm assuming she said no. I then asked what happened and was stunned when she confirmed I had a heart attack.
Ten years ago today.
I don't recall much else from those few days at Maimonides. In fact, even after all this time, the 5 days I spent there are pretty much a complete blank. Perhaps my brain erased these memories for my benefit. I suppose that would be for the best. All I do know is that the following Monday I was wheeled into the operating room for, what I was told was, a relatively common triple bypass. Of course, the next thing I knew, it was almost 4 weeks later and I woke up in an entirely different hospital in an entirely different Borough.
This is not a rehash of my heart transplant story and the truth is, I really have nothing new to add to the story I already published on my website. But this isn't just a normal anniversary. Ten years is a milestone. To be honest, I wasn't sure I'd live this long. After all, everything about my illness was atypical - from surviving a massive heart attack at my age (39), to suffering a minor stroke when the bypass failed. Even my recovery was abnormal.
Even though I am in worse physical condition than I was at that time (ruptured disk in my back and recovering from major knee surgery), my heart has remained the strongest organ in my body. Credit for that goes to a number of people; Dr. Garcia, my heart surgeon, and his team, Dr. Anderson, my current cardiologist who has saved my life more than once, and especially to my late donor. I requested contacting my donor's family years ago. But they preferred to remain anonymous. Perhaps life would be different if I knew his story and his family.
Ten years. Wow. I'm less than 2 months away from both my own 50th birthday, and my heart transplant's 10th. I wish it were easier, but on the other hand, I'm really just glad I'm still here to celebrate.