Last March, as you might remember, I had a hospital scare that ended in me getting my own health regimen back on track. That day sucked, to be sure, and it was followed by plenty more that were also pretty awful. But it ended up for the best, I suppose. I got better and my health improved to a point where it was more solid than it’s been in years. I ended up traveling with Schuyler to extraordinary places and had equally extraordinary experiences. And to stay on top of my health, I’ve been going to the doctor regularly, because that’s what normal people do, I guess. So I hear.
Things were going well, right up until early October when my doctor detected a faint heart murmur that wasn’t there before. He wasn’t overly concerned, so I took his lead and decided not to be all that concerned, either. He referred me to a cardiologist, just to be thorough, and a few weeks later, me and my mumbling heart took a stress test. When no red lights or alarms went off and no one called me back for a few days, I assumed I got an A. Which was cool; I didn’t even study.
About a week later, my cardiologist called me out of the blue, late one evening. According to my test results, at some point in the past few months, I apparently suffered a heart attack.
A heart attack.
As they say in the movies, I didn’t feel a thing.
I never felt any crushing chest pain or shooting agony in my arm or cold sweats or barfing or any of that. I didn’t fall to my knees, one hand clutching at my chest, the other reaching to the sky. If I noticed anything at all, I certainly don’t remember it. Maybe I thought I had gas. Perhaps I just farted and went on with my life, unaware that my shitty, shitty heart just said, “Fuck you, Rob” and silently tried to murder me.
It failed, of course. I am STRONG like BOOL.
So. This is my new reality. I am a guy who survived a heart attack and didn’t even know it. I mean, that’s worth a few badass points, right? Just a couple? I don’t know a lot yet. I have an echocardiogram in a few days, and a heart cath procedure in January, which seems like a long time to leave me at the mercy of my murderous heart, but I’m also taking that as a sign that my cardiologist doesn’t think I’m in mortal peril. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
I honestly don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, I feel absolutely fine. Or I did. Naturally, now that I know, every single little pain or twitch sets off alarms. Tightness in my chest? Doesn’t matter if I was reaching into the back seat of my car to get something. Clearly, it’s the Big One. Random aches and pains? It’s the baby Jesus taking me home. Today I felt vaguely unwell, so I once again looked up the symptoms of a silent heart attack. (Apparently mine was of this polite variety.) Just so you know, those symptoms are pretty much identical with “stuff that happens to you when you are older than forty”. I read the list and thought “wow, I’ve been having this heart attack for ten years. Wicked.”
But behind all my joking (which apparently amuses no one except me, but whatever; if I keel over dead tomorrow, I’d like my final post on social media to be both entertaining and creepily prescient), there’s an undeniable truth. I’m pretty sure I already knew this, but as it turns out, I’m mortal.
For parents of people with disabilities, that mortality feels like it comes with a heavy price. It caries fear, not just of death but of the chaos it leaves behind. That brooding fear is inevitably accompanied by guilt for abandoning someone who needs me and will likely always need me, even after she no longer has me.
And that weighs on me.
Schuyler and I have been talking about this, because I don’t believe in hiding the hard stuff from her, not one bit. She sees through my dumb jokes and cavalier attitude. She knows what could happen, and she knows she’s not ready for that world. She might actually be wrong about that, which is a thought that eases my worry a little.
But we’re not ready to be done with each other. We have adventures left to embark upon. We need more time, we have beautiful, risky ventures awaiting us. I’m not ready for that to be done.
A few days after getting that fun phone call, Schuyler and I grabbed my tiny euphonium and drove a couple of hours away to join a bunch of other low brass musicians in playing Tuba Christmas in Wichita Falls. The next day we did it again here in our own town, and we’re going to hit two more next week, including Christmas Eve in Dallas. I’m still in love with being a big dumb nerd and playing my horn with other big dumb nerds. I still want to get a tuba before I die. (I even found a used one super cheap that I love, if anyone feels like throwing their money away to grant the dying wish of a feeble old man trying desperately not to go into the light, coff coff…) I actually got paid the other day for playing the ophicleide in public for people who weren’t even being held against their will, which isn’t nothing. I’ve got shit to do.
And I have a remarkable young lady to do those things with, and more. I have someone I need to walk down the aisle one day. I have unborn grandchildren to meet. I have glorious risks to take and a rowdy, rough life to live. I’m not loving being faced with the tangible suggestion that I could run out of time far earlier than I’d planned. My father died from a crap heart at fifty-one, the same age I am now. I’m not a big fan of repeating history.
If I am out of time, perhaps this is how I’d like to be remembered, in a photo taken last weekend by Schuyler, my biggest fan and the engine that runs my faulty but doggedly determined old heart. Just a dork with a really dumb hat and a tiny euphonium. I could do much worse.