Editor’s Note: This article was written at the lowest point of my life. When I wrote it, I did so as a distraction to relieve the incessant panic attacks and anxiety I had been feeling following my latest round of cardiac problems. In truth, I never really cared if it were printed in the newspaper or not, because that wasn’t the reason I wrote it.
the past, I’ve always found it easy to be grateful for my life; however, after
spending the four-day Thanksgiving weekend in the cardiac ward — my fourth
stay in Stamford Hospital this year — it’s becoming increasingly difficult.
suffer from ventricular tachycardia (V-tach), an arrhythmia similar to atrial
fibrillation (A-fib), an ailment for which pharmaceutical ads run almost
constantly on TV. Both carry the risk of heart attack and stroke, and both are
spring, I began passing out from V-tach-related dizzy spells, so I went through
some heavy-duty drug therapy and was implanted with an ICD, which is a combination
pacemaker/defibrillator. Since the procedure, I’d considered myself lucky to
have gone five months without either device coming on, but that was before
of my doctors had explained to me that being shocked by my defibrillator would
be “uncomfortable.” It was a strange word choice: A pebble in one’s shoe
is “uncomfortable”; an electrical jolt to the heart from a defibrillator is
excruciating. I was also told that, if it happened, the device was likely to
shock me only two or three times, and, at worst, it might deliver half a dozen
jolts. If only that had been the case.
my 10th shock, I’d begun to worry that the device would never stop firing. I
was starting to hallucinate, imagining sparks spurting from my chest. The
feeling of being kicked by a horse in the ribs from the inside is not improved
by the sensation of crackling and burning around your heart. This felt less like
a medical procedure than something that might take place in a medieval torture
the 14th shock (yes, I was stupidly counting them), I called 911, which was
harder to do than you might think, because the jolts kept making me lose my grip
and bounce my phone off the carpet. After I’d given my address and explained my
situation, the ambulance arrived mercifully quickly, along with two fire engines
and a dozen firemen.
I flopped around on my living room floor like a dying fish, the firemen tried to
hold me down, so the paramedics could put monitors on me and an IV in me.
Another “uncomfortable” aspect of this experience was the loud thud I heard
each time the electricity zapped my heart, a sound that turned out to be
inaudible to everyone but me. As a result, the paramedics and firemen had no
indication I was still being shocked (other than my periodic, high-pitched
was probably the worst aspect of this whole terrifying affair. Here I was, lying
on the floor, bawling like a child, amid a roomful of tough-looking firemen —
guys who rush into burning buildings for a living. The only thing that finally
quieted me down was when the EMS techs managed to pump enough chemicals into me
to stabilize my heart rate sufficiently for the defibrillator to shut down. Then
I was loaded into the ambulance, and driven to the hospital.
next morning, one of my doctors — I have nearly as many physicians as Donald
Trump has criminal attorneys — “interrogated” my ICD (i.e., downloaded
data from its ROM chip). When he asked me how many times I thought the
defibrillator had gone off, I guessed “20 times,” which caused him to scoff
that I was surely exaggerating. Unfortunately, his next comment was, “I stand
corrected. It fired 25 times.”
asked whether this might be a malfunction, but my doctors all assured me that it
fired 25 times because that’s how many times it needed to in order to keep me
alive. Without it, I’d have died of cardiac arrest before the paramedics
arrived. So, although my implant had tortured me, it had also saved my life, and
I should be grateful for a Thanksgiving Day miracle.
heard a lot about “thankfulness” lately. Religious friends tell me I should thank
God for allowing me to live, but that’s not the way it feels. Throughout 2018,
God has seemed to be doing his best to kill me off,
while medical technology, paramedics and an army of cardiologists have struggled
to keep me alive. Realistically, The Big Guy probably has more important things
to do (like spinning galaxies and blowing up supernovas) than tormenting me. If
the universe has a Creator, it’s doubtful He even knows who I am.
I do know three things I’m thankful for this holiday season. The most
important is my wife, who, after 43 years, still stands by me, is truly my best
friend and is a pit bull when it comes to taking care of me. Some say marriage
is a dying institution, but no one will ever convince me of that. Secondly,
there are the close friends who’ve listened patiently and sympathetically as
I’ve whined endlessly about my condition.
after spending way too much time in the cardiac ward, I’m thankful for nurses.
These are the people who do the most to make hospitals bearable and your time
there tolerable. IMHO, nurses are saints — some of the kindest, most decent
and hardworking people you’ll ever meet.
they’re being paid, it’s not enough. It would be great if more of the rest
of us, especially our leaders, demonstrated similar dedication. Now, that would
be something to be truly thankful for.
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