Before I can blink this time will pass and I’ll think “that wasn’t so bad.” My memory of fear, pain and frustration will fade into a distant past. I’ll lose the sensation of the Grim Reaper’s touch against the skin of my chest. I suspect before long my ego will transform me into a hero who laughed in the face of death. In advance of when I forget I want to record the true story of walking through the valley of darkness.
This fatigue is far deeper than 24-hours of nonstop ocean swimming, nothing like seven consecutive days cycling 140+ miles and way more than the end of a marathon in Ironman. I don’t know how best to explain this feeling other than to take a nap. I wonder if it would be a clique to say it goes past my bones and into my soul. What is most significant is that the kid I’ve always know inside suddenly looks and feels like an old man.
I remember one day returning home from school and my grandparents had grown old in my absence. What seemed like a sudden transformation was nothing compared to the astonishment when my mom shed her skin for that of an old woman. Yet all the teaching they have provided by example nothing prepared me for the realization I am now closer to the door of death than before. On a door that despite my objection the old man in me keeps knocking.
On the even nights I sleep solid and on the odd I wake around 2 or 3 AM. I’ll lie in bed while the monkey in my head swings from my brain stems limbs. Until now, outside of exercise, I have never been able to feel my heart. Now I feel it beating, I feel it just below the surface, just under my ribs. I try to slide my fingers between the bones and feel the pulse against my fingertips, but I don’t need my fingers to know it’s there. The beat, the rhythm is the sound on which my life depends. There is no fear, only curiosity echoes with the pulse reverberating off the walls of my skull. I now appreciate that devoid of its sound I am dead. At 3 AM between the beats moments of silence are consuming sounds and eternity.
I keep traveling back to when my heart seized a few moments of quietness. I keep trying to distinguish if I know what’s on the other side, but the memory is slipping.
Lying in bed there was pain in my chest, not excruciating, but significant. It wasn’t the kind of pain I could sleep through and the sudden fever that broke into a cold sweet forced me to rip my shirt off and wake my wife Chris. Sitting on the toilet while she was searching the house for a bucket that I could throw up in I realized I was going to pass out. I started to slide myself off the toilet seat to avoid falling to the floor, but it wasn’t soon enough because the sound of my head against the cold bathroom tile sent Chris sprinting up the stairs and into the bathroom.
The pain started slipping away as I drifted into a dream. It was a significant difference because I was finally falling asleep and the pain was leaving the room. Mostly I remember the sense of relief I felt as I to end with started to slip into a dream. At some level I knew I was lying on the floor. I could feel the cold tile against the skin of my cheek, but I didn’t care because I was finally falling asleep.
Our neighborhood baseball park wasn’t close enough to our house to be within earshot of my mom’s voice. The sound of her voice cutting through a cool autumn school night at the baseball park could only mean one thing, get my ass home and fast. To this day nothing captures my attention quicker than my mom’s voice, well, that was until I got married. When Chris saw me lying on the floor face down with my underwear to my knees and shit pouring out of my ass her voice reached my dream. It was a distant sound from outside, but provided that same feeling of fear and oh crap response, I better get my ass home now.
The same feeling happened a few hours later when on an operating table I could hear an army of nurses and doctors screaming my name and telling me to cough. They were outside when only moments earlier we were together. I was having that same overwhelming sense of relief that I was finally falling into a dream. Some place in the archives of my minds memory I could see the words in an email that if you’re ever having a heart attack and your heart stops cough. The action somehow helps your heart to start beating again, so yeah, I fucking coughed and suddenly we were all in the same room.
Now in bed at home around 3 AM I don’t experience fear when I can feel my heart. I don’t fear my dreams. I’m curious about that one dream and I keep going back to see if I can find something else that I might explain in writing—some feeling that I can share. I keep coming up empty while the memory is slipping further away. Yet, there is this overwhelming awareness that the door is strangely close and an old man wants to walk through.
Today marks four weeks since my myocardial infraction. The medical community loves their esoteric language. I have no clue why they don’t just call it a freaken heart attack.
I swam today for 35 minutes. Just 25-yards at a time and I stopped at each end of the pool to gather my thoughts and breath. It was effortless and joyous. No, I didn’t get a green light, nor did I get a red light. I thought I would see the doctor this week, but I won’t see him until next week following more tests.
Last time we spoke he rationalized that the risk of swimming wasn’t worth the reward. Waiting two more weeks would provide the heart that much more opportunity to recover. I waited those two weeks, but I couldn’t wait one more. Not when I know in every cell of my body swimming is the best thing I could do right now.
Last night I woke at 3 AM again only this time I smiled and eventually feel asleep.
This new set of circumstances in my life is far more interesting and fascinating than a long swim for which I am grateful.