People Say "It's REALLY GOOD To See You." I reply: "You know what? It's REALLY GOOD to see me, too."
by Brian Tomlin
(Greensboro, North Carolina, United States)
My story is so fresh in my mind, so personal, and so dominating of my thoughts. Call me crazy, but I tell it to friends, strangers - almost anyone who asks or gives me the opportunity. I'm ashamed of myself, on the one hand, for the controllable risk factors - 30 years of smoking; horrible eating habits - that helped me have a heart attack at 49. But I know some factors - heredity, mainly - were beyond my control, and that a lifetime of exercising might not have prevented the heart attack, but almost surely helped me survive it. So I spend less time blaming myself than I do thanking others - from the friends and family members and co-workers and colleagues who prayed and hoped so hard for me, to the truly amazing surgeon and cardiologist and nurses and technicians and phlebotomists and everyone else in scrubs who found a reason to put their hands on me. They were all awesome, and filled me with such confidence that I don't think I had a truly frightening moment until I got home and began to google exactly what they had done to me. All the fear of death I had set aside for my week in the hospital came rushing back at me those first few weeks at home. I think of it as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - I buried it as too stressful when I was actually experiencing it, but it found its way to my conscious. It had to be dealt with. So, with God's help, I'm dealing with it.
I'm proud of my scar, and I look for it on the others in my cardio rehab class. I yanked my shirt up during my first return visit to work, as my co-workers gathered around me. I knew that was what they wanted to see. I invite my 4-year-old daughter to inspect my scar every morning. "You're looking GREAT, Daddy," she says,
then kisses me on the chest and goes on her way. Her mother has insisted that we divorce now, after nine years of marriage, and in another life I'm sure that would have ruined my commitment to never smoking again. But something was different about me this time. I thought, for a second - Oh my God, I need a cigarette - but the urge passed. And my stress has been minimal. What kind of person, after all, would end your marriage one month after a heart attack and bypass surgery? Not someone worth mourning, I don't think. Perhaps this will be addition by subtraction. In the meantime, I hope to lose myself in my rehab for a while.
I've set some goals for myself. Keep my weight where it is now, 15 pounds lighter than when I checked in. Run a 5K in ... three months? Not sure on that one. I feel good enough to run now. I have to fight to hold myself back. I'm just so damn GLAD that I'm alive and moving and walking my neighborhood and taking my pulse and breathing and, well, you get the picture. I want to run but my docs say walk, so I'll follow their advice, for as long as I can. They haven't failed me yet.
I'm amazed at the stories and information out there on the web. I can find just about everything science has to say about my condition - past, present and future - and I can find real human beings who have been in my shoes and are glad to tell about it. And while it's not the kind of club you would ever WANT to be in, well, look at the faces of the people in your rehab class. What do you see? Read the stories on the blogs of the triple bypass survivors. What do you hear? People who are humbled. And happy. And just so very, very thankful.