As a follow-up to my blog, “My Search for Shocker,” which I posted a couple weeks ago, I continue to write about my journey to bring Urban Shocker’s story back to life.
Shocker and I connected across time—in more ways than one. We first “met” in 1998. A decade later, we re-connected, in a most unusual way. Shocker’s heart disease took his life prematurely; mine was identified and stabilized before it claimed me. Let me explain.
In the early 2000s I had put aside my Shocker manuscript. It wasn’t ready and neither was I. Then one evening in 2009, I had a strange and powerful urge to return to the story. I worked through the night, until the doctor’s appointment for my annual physical the next morning. While I was in the best physical shape, I never had high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, and there was little if any family history of heart disease.
Because I had not slept the previous night, my pulse rate was somewhat unusual, and my doctor had me take an EKG for my heart. He expected to see the typical results of a somewhat out-of-shape 59-year old. (I find it interesting that with all the money Americans spend on health care, an EKG is not recommended for a routine exam at any time. It is an inexpensive and non-invasive procedure. Why does the AMA not recommend it at age 55, 60, or 65?) Instead, he saw something very different, quite abnormal.
I soon was under the care of a cardiologist. After an echocardiogram (like an ultrasound, but measuring the heart’s flow), the verdict was confirmed. I had heart failure.
Heart failure? Our Corgi had just died of heart failure. The ominous name of the condition seemed synonymous with death, yet I was still alive. But my heart’s Ejection Fraction (which measures the percentage of blood that leaves my heart with each contraction) was dangerously low at 35%. (A healthy heart has an Ejection Fraction of 50-55%, not 100%.) My doctors could not explain its cause or origin, and my cardiologist said it could have been caused by a virus. Like the non-smoker who gets lung cancer, stuff just happens.
Had my doctor not had me do an EKG that day, I might have gone to sleep one night later in 2009 and simply not woken up. I was immediately put on a regimen of Beta Blockers and Alpha Inhibitors, heart meds that have been around since the 1960s. While Urban Shocker and I now shared a heart condition, I was born in an age where there was hope; there was treatment. Shocker was born too soon; his mitral valve failure was a death sentence in the 1920s. Today, an artificial valve replaces the defective one, and the patient is home for dinner the day of that procedure.
The meds not only stabilized my heart’s Ejection Fraction, but brought it up to the high range of normal, to 60%. I will always have the condition of heart failure and will need the meds to help my heart pump efficiently and sufficiently.
For the third time in my life, I had come close to dying; the first two had occurred about a half century ago:
• A near double-drowning in the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1960s. My 88-year-old mom still has vague memories of lining up on the shore as people watched the daring lifeguard rescue. (I have had this strange urge to track down that lifeguard, Mike Wright of Miami Beach, to thank him.)
• A car accident in the early 1970s, when my Datsun 510 slid through an icy intersection and was t-boned by a pickup truck. The brunt of the impact hit the center post of my auto (between the driver’s seat and the back seat) and crushed the seat behind me. A fraction of a second had spared me from instant death. That little car’s center post absorbed at least some of the impact. I still drive a Nissan (formerly Datsun) today.
A day does not go by that I do not think about my brushes with death—that I really should not be here, that by all laws of probability and logic, I should have exited this world 40 or 50 years ago. All my experiences and accomplishments, from family to work to creativity, would not have happened There’s only word I’ve ever come across that can describe the feeling such thoughts generate. It’s simply NUMINOUS.
As I have grown older, I often wonder how Shocker dealt with his heart disease and bleak prognosis. Until it became clear my condition would be stabilized, we may have felt a similar trepidation. But I had hope, where he had none. And when my hope became a reality, I found myself in the role of telling his story. Its inspiration can provide hope to others.