One year ago, Friday, March 12, 2021, I had big plans for the day — two Zoom gigs and a Covid surge take-out dinner with my sweetie, wrapped and ready to go from our favorite Mexican Restaurant, Paco’s Taco’s.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” wrote John Lennon. Instead of enchiladas, I stared down a baby bowl of tepid vegetable soup that a guy from dietary delivered to my hospital room.
Many of you know that my husband drove me to the emergency room at U.C.L.A. early that morning because, well, something didn’t feel right. I was experiencing strange heartburn in my throat, tightness in my neck and jaw, mild pain that radiated down both arms, a little pushy-pushy in my chest. No drama, no clutching. But all this stuff happened like an arpeggio in music, one note after another until the whole dissonant chord was ringing. When I circled the living room trying to walk it off, I felt sick to my stomach and was breathing hard. “It’s a panic attack,” I told myself, rather unconvincingly, because I don’t get panic attacks.
Like many people, “denial” is my first strategy of defense. It’s a freaking miracle that denial gave way, quickly, to begrudging acceptance. I swallowed an aspirin and got to the hospital where I tried to play down the whole thing as the emergency room nurse greeted me at the door and asked what’s going on. “Oh I feel like an idiot being here, but…”
In minutes the nurses and ER doc were huddled around my EKG. X-Rays were ordered, an ultrasound of my heart. They started an IV immediately and brought on the blood thinners and God knows what else. The cardiologist arrived and did his twenty questions thing. It would take hours before a diagnosis was made because, for one thing, I was NOT “presenting” as someone in acute cardiac distress.
Well guess what…
I was having a heart attack, right there in the emergency room and if I hadn’t gotten help in time, there is a chance I would not have survived. The big firehose of a coronary artery, the LAD (Lateral Anterior Descending), also known as “The Widow Maker,” keeps a big hunk of the heart watered and fed. If it goes, so do you. Mine was 80% blocked with sticky goo.
The doc in the cardiac heart catheterization lab gave me a full report after the procedure and didn’t mince words. I have to take pills to lower my cholesterol (forever) AND blood thinners for one year otherwise my brand new stent may fail and I can kiss my ass goodbye.
So March 12th is not only the anniversary of my heart attack, but it’s the day I can THROW AWAY the Plavix. Bring on the trumpets!
For the past year, a dinky paper cut would bleed until cows fly. Mysterious bruises — colorful splotches of black, blue, purple, red — appeared on my body, out of nowhere. Did I bump myself? Walk into a wall? Take up wrestling? Maybe…maybe…nooooo. My hemoglobin is still in the dumper. I know this is a nothingburger price to pay for being alive. I also know that too many women (and men) do not survive their first heart attack. I wrote several blogs about what happened and lots of people shared their own stories with me. Sometimes things ended well and sometimes they didn’t.
News Flash: According to the American Heart Association, heart disease kills one woman every 80 seconds in the United States. And half of all women who experience a heart attack have no warning signs and only subtle symptoms. “Unfortunately, this has led to worse outcomes in women with heart disease compared to men.” Cardiologist Marcella Calfon Press, MD, PhD, co-director of UCLA Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center
I thought I’d bounce back quickly and resume my way-too-busy schedule. Like NOW. But even while I was building my stamina in Cardiac Rehab, I had to take naps to make it through the day. As a performer and teacher I’m used to standing up in front of an audience and bopping around. But it took nine months before I could jettison the chair and bop once more. Then there’s the “head space” thing. Stuff I thought I had worked through years ago — family traumas — came roaring back and almost knocked me out of orbit.
When something like a heart attack (or fill-in-the-blank) happens, it’s like a body blow that throws you off balance or flat on the floor or over the edge. I remember laying on that hard gurney under the flying angiogram machine as they inserted a stent into my heart and thinking, uh-oh…this could be it.
The curtains parted a little and I got a real good look at the BIG PICTURE. That I am a renter here and the lease will end. That everyone I love will leave, some way or another. Every thing I cherish has a short shelf-life, even when I measure it in spins around the sun. Every tasty bite of guacamole…chew, swallow, gone. Disappearing into the wild, whirling cauldron of life. 24/7 alchemy, it is.
I don’t need to look any farther than our beloved ukulele to feel the kiss of impermanence. We strum four strings, a chord, make a beautiful sound and it ripples in our bones. But almost immediately it changes or melts into the next strum or just fades away. Back to silence.
The best I can do is embrace this moment — this pixilated, messy, terrifying, dazzling moment. The best I can do is trust that somehow, somewhere woven deep into the tapestry of life, everything is okay. Even when it’s not.
“How wonderful to be who I am, made out of earth and water, my own thoughts, my own fingerprints—all that glorious, temporary stuff.” Mary Oliver
Thanks to Stuart and Doug for inviting me to be the guest on their recent Ooktown Podcast. I share a few laughs, some stories, songs and sing my one hit, “It’s A PMS Kind of Day.” You can click here to watch the video version or click here to listen to the Podcast (Ep.105: The PMS Song) on iTunes. Enjoy the whimsy!!!
The CC Strummers are going strong, with four live jams a month and two Zoom classes every week (Monday and Thursdays). New players in SoCal are joining us in person and others from around the world are logging onto Zoom. This is definitely one of those silver lining things that happened because the pandemic happened. I am grateful beyond words for our community of players. We are helping each other bear the heaviness in the world. And feel the joy. Speaking of joy… Click here to watch us play and sing my own song Brand New Day at our most recent jam.