Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Greatest Adventure of My Life

It’s been a while since I posted anything to this blog. That wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to post but that I was in no condition to post anything. Right after the holidays, I contracted a nasty virus that eventually lasted for a couple of months. This can be a bad situation for a freelance writer, for not feeling well also affected my ability to think and thinking is an inherent part of the writing process.

The symptoms of this virus–beginning with an ear infection and eventually ending up in my chest as acute bronchitis–eventually took me to the Emergency Room at a local hospital. As part of the check-in process, they did an EKG. At the time, everything seemed okay, heartwise. The doctors gave me a prescription for a strong antibiotic and sent me on my way.

A few days later, I got a call from my regular doctor, telling me that the hospital recommended I see a cardiologist as soon as possible. I went to one two days later. Little did I know that I’d be in the hospital for the next two weeks and have three operations to correct blockage in most of my main arteries. It turned out that most of my main blood vessels were 90 percent blocked. The scary thing about this was that I had no signs of any problems–my blood pressure and cholesterol were normal. My cardiologist said I was a walking time bomb.

Medical technology has sure come a long way. After snaking a tiny camera through my blood vessels during arterial catherization, they found the problems and immediately began working to fix them. First, they inserted four stints into my two renal arteries (those going to my kidneys), an artery below my left shoulder, and one in my right leg. A few days later, a surgeon cut open my neck to “clean out” my left carotid—artery (the main one leading to my brain) and two days after that he did the same thing to the one on the right side of my neck.

Two days later, I found myself laying on a cold, narrow steel table, much like the ones they use in the morgue–I watch a lot of the CSI shows—looking up at a myriad of bright lights. Around me were what seemed like an army of machines waiting for the surgical team to plug me into them. For I was about to have my chest cut open and my sternum broken, exposing my heart to what I hoped were skilled hands. In a few moments everything went dark as I fell into an anesthetized sleep in preparation for coronary bypass surgery. To say this scared me to death is an understatement. But for some strange reason I felt unusually calm.

While under the anesthesia, I dreamed I was in FedEx Office’s print shop, having recently had a cookbook printed there. I saw the number “3209" on the wall and tried to figure out what that meant—perhaps it was the number of the next print job. Suddenly, a dapper fellow dressed in a pinstripe suit and a bright-colored natty tie popped in to tell me I was all right and that everything had gone smoothly. At first I thought this can’t be happening, I must be dead, and then I realized it was the surgeon who had operated on me. Now I was really confused. It turned out he had a meeting to attend. It took another 20 minutes to figure out that I was in an Intensive Care Unit room in the same hospital, and now had a myriad of tubes stuck in my chest. This was truly uncomfortable.

And that was the beginning of what has turned out to be the greatest adventure of my life. The recovery process has been a long one, but at 10 weeks this past Friday, I seem to be doing a whole lot better than most in my situation.  And many of those had only bypass surgery. After all those procedures and operations, I should be a lot worse off. But I’m a survivor. I’ve worked just as hard to get through this as I have with my writing over the years. I didn’t make it freelancing for 26 years without a lot of effort and discipline.

For those of you who might be considering freelance writing as a career, remember this: It takes less time to recover from open-heart surgery than it does to become successful at writing.

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