10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Heart Attack
It was an ordinary day, we were in a Jewish Deli named Hymies in a Philly suburb. Rich and I had our usual bacon, scrambled eggs and wheat toast with a cup of coffee that morning. His dad had bagels and lox. I didn’t finish my meal, I remember leaving some bacon and toast on my plate. I was anxious in anticipation of the drive to Washington DC. We had planned to spend the fourth of July weekend in DC with Rich’s sister.
We got up to pay the bill and as I walked over to the counter, I was struck with a sudden jolt. Like lightening hitting me, a sudden debilitating pain and weakness came over and slammed me in my chest and left arm, elbow to be exact. It was like a heavy lead weighted blanket of pain. I knew this was something serious and I could only struggle and wish it away.
I began to pray silently to myself and think of my daughter who was in NYC, so far away from me. Faced with my own mortality, unable to move I felt like I was 90 years old. The possibility of death hung over me like a chandelier about to fall. I continued to pray and beg God to save me at that moment. I could only hope he heard me as I traveled to the hospital silently in the back seat of our car.
To make a long story short, I was spared and they say hindsight is 20/20, so here are some things I wish I knew before my heart attack.
1. I remember how often I would casually say. “I almost had a heart attack,” to something that was scary or surprising. If I knew how powerful those words were, they would be struck from my vocabulary. Those words take on a new meaning and those casual utterances now startle me. Knowing what I know now, I would watch my words, so they don’t take my mortality or heart for granted. I no longer say, “I have a broken heart,” I say “I have a healing heart.” Words matter.
2. I would walk slowly, not like I was running a race that I never seem to finish. I would slow down and smell the roses. Clichés are there to remind us, to be grateful for the little things in life.
3. I would meditate rather than dismissing it and saying “Nah I could never do that.” I would breathe deeply instead of the shallow breaths I took in my stressed out existence. I would breathe deep into my pelvis and out through my mouth. I would have oxygenated my heart and given it the oxygen rich love that it needed. Meditation got me through the hardest part of my cardiac recovery period. It sustains me now.
4. I would have worked less and lived below my means, allowing me to travel and spend more time with my family.
5. I would focus more on the present moment and appreciate the smaller things in life, like the way the sun hits the trees, the way the birds gather on the telephone lines in the morning sun outside of my bedroom window. I would have noticed the way my food smells, the way it looks and tastes without gobbling it down, blindly in the car on my way to work. I would be more mindful, and more observant.
6. I would have preserved my body and given it more time to rest and recover from the grueling workouts, I did over and over, for the imaginary race to the never ending finish line.
7. I would have focused on what I love to do and focus less on what I should do. I would not care as much what people thought about me. I would have listened to my gut more and listen to what my heart was telling me. When my body said “I’m tired and worn out, don’t travel to Philly,” that day I had my heart attack, I would have listened.
8. I would have made sure I found a way to laugh more and bring joy to my life each day with gratitude, grace and love. I would have watched more Saturday Night Live, Trevor Noah or watched cat videos that make me laugh. Laughter, I now know is the best medicine.
9. I would have allowed my self to grieve, for losing my two siblings within months of each other. I would have cried more and given myself comfort and pampering, like a warm bath full of lavender and bubbles. I would have talked to someone about my grieving instead of burying the loss in my body and soul, as I continued to work, afraid to ask for time off to attend the out of country funeral.
I would have put my needs first.
10. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have done the things I had been thinking about doing for the last 20 years and not put my life on hold. Life is to be lived not put aside for later. Never put things aside! The time is now and we have this wonderful body, heart, soul and mind that needs to be nourished and fed with a diet of gratitude, adventure, learning, openness and love. Live each day as if it were a gift, because it is.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver