There are certain dates in one’s life they never forget. A wedding anniversary, the date your divorce is finalized. The birth of a child, the death of a loved one.
For me, April 21, 2012 is one of those indelible dates forever engraved in my memory.
Waking up that Saturday morning just over two years ago why not think it would be a day like any other? Start the coffee pot, grab the laptop and start perusing email, Facebook and Twitter. Oh what an exciting life we lead.
Four weeks earlier I had started a new job, one completely different from running a real estate brokerage — my living for the previous eight years.
In the process of relocating for my freshly minted position of “Director of Industry Outreach” for a large real estate website company, I’d just flown from Seattle back to Phoenix late the night before so that I could take my daughters senior prom photos. That night was going to be a big night for my baby girl.
A Quiet House
My wife was out running errands. My daughter was doing what teenagers do; sleeping. My son was at a friend’s house. It seemed like a good time to pen a blog post.
Just as I was getting started, there was a strange “twinge” in the middle of my chest. Sort of like what a stitch in your side feels like.
“That was weird,” I said, probably out loud.
Some words spilled out onto the screen, and it happened again.
Dialing up the wife, I told her weird chest pains were happening. “It’s probably just indigestion from those Jack In The Box tacos you had at 2:00am. There’s some Tums in the cabinet by the fridge.”
The pains stopped before I got off the couch and head to the kitchen.
Several minutes later, it felt like Chuck Norris kicked me square in the chest and sweat poured out of my body. I knew something was horribly wrong.
“I’m 51 years old. This can’t be happening.” My mind was racing. I called my wife back.
“Honey…” was all I got out. She knew. “Call 911. Wake up Lauren. I’m on my way home.”
Now the chest pain was constant, and increasing. I couldn’t dial the phone. Yelling for my daughter, she came stumbling out of her room.
“I’m having chest pains. I need you to call 911,” I managed to eek out. Fully expecting her to lose it and freak out, she surprised me by grabbing the phone, dialing 911 and asking, “can you talk to them, or should I?”
“911, what is your emergency?”
“I’m having really bad chest pains.”
The 911 dispatcher was a consummate professional, instantly putting me at ease. She told me what address they had and asked if it was correct. She said the fire department was on the way.
“Tell them to hurry.”
The memory is fuzzy and it’s hard to recall what happened next, but I distinctly remember telling myself that dying in front of my daughter was not an option. It felt like my heart was going to explode.
At the time it seemed like an eternity passed, but piecing the timeline together later, the fire department arrived less than five minutes after the 911 call. They were everywhere, inserting IVs, hooking me up to oxygen and an EKG, putting nitro under my tongue. They were so calm, so professional and so nice.
Later my wife would tell me one of the fireman tore off the EKG strip, glanced at it and handed it to the ambulance driver. He took one look and ran for the stretcher. That’s when she knew things were not good.
Fortunately, my house in Phoenix was minutes away from one of the best heart hospitals in the country.
Less than an hour after dialing 911, I was being shuffled off to the heart catherization lab where an emergency room cardiologist would find my left anterior descending (LAD) coronary artery–the main artery that supplies blood to the heart–100% blocked. Another coronary artery was 95 – 98% blocked.
Lying in an ER bed in agony and having a cardiologist lean over and say, “You’re having a massive heart attack. We’re going to try to fix it.” may well be the biggest wakeup call someone can get.
“We’re going to try to fix it.” That will put a whole lot of things in perspective real fast. Being wheeled into a cath lab, only pausing for a couple of moments to hug your wife and kids and saying, “don’t worry, I’ll be fine” while inside you are thinking, “please God don’t let me die” will completely jack up your head.
The type of heart attack I had is colloquially called “the widow maker.” Depending on whose stats you believe, it has a 5 – 10% survival rate.
Obviously I beat those odds. I literally owe my life to a 911 operator, some amazing first responders and a highly-skilled medical staff.
I’ll spare you the details of the five days spent in the cardiac ICU after two shiny titanium stents were installed to prop open my blocked coronary arteries. Suffice it to say those days were filled with sadness, anger, relief, confusion and happiness.
Through the morphine-induced haze of the ICU, it quickly became clear that I’d been given a second chance at life. Wanting to keep on living, big lifestyle changes had to happen.
While there are some genetic things that could be blamed for my heart attack, the simple fact is I brought a lot of this on myself.
Change was required. Now. In consultation with my cardiologist and a dietitian, we set a goal to bring my weight from 240 pounds to 170. To lose 70 pounds changes in my diet were required, along with exercise.
Diet? Exercise? Me? An impossible task! Then I recalled the look on my wife and kid’s faces when the gurney ride to the cath lab started. I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe that look; but believe me, I never wanted to see it again.
From Wikipedia: A Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) is a business statement which is created to focus an organization on a single long-term goal which is audacious, likely to be externally questionable, but not internally regarded as impossible.
BHAG’s work. They force you to focus. Losing 70 pounds isn’t easy, nor fun. Looking for something to connect with the need to lose weight, this thought somehow surfaced.
Complete a full marathon.
Yeah, that marathon–running 26.2 miles in a single race. There was my BHAG.
26.2 Miles! Say What?
How in the world can an aging, overweight heart attack survivor that hasn’t run 100 yards since he and his high-school buddies did something stupid that resulted in the cops being called possibly complete a 26 mile marathon?
Start with one step, and never give up.
It was going to be an epic journey, no doubt full of twists and turns, progressions and set-backs. At the time, I actually relished the thought.