Because of my heart’s fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) and tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat), I spent the last month disabled: That is, in an instant, I became unable to do some things that were normal for me the day before. And then, in another instant, with a shock of electricity on Monday afternoon, I was able to do them again. But now I do those things with a slightly different perspective. I learned something in my disabled month.
I do most everything fast. I walk as fast as I talk as fast as I eat as fast as I type. But now I slowed down because if I overdid things by just a hair, the heart rate would go wacky. Walking up a slight hill on a Manhattan street — even walking against the wind — suddenly felt like a force field fighting me.
I have dealt with the heart problems for six-and-a-half years now and can relate to what Mr. Jarvis says. Except in my instance, there is no shock of electricity that will allow me to go back in rhythm-the problems I have will stay with me for life and I can only learn to adapt to them on a daily basis without thinking that I will go back to the way I was. I was always a fast talker, walker, and eater. I loved being a Type A person who was on the go and could work all day, lift weights and run for miles. And now I can't--it has changed who I am as a person and not necessarily for the better like everyone tells you. I can no longer do many of the things that I love. But I have learned how to cope--and I often use my heart trouble to provide comic relief. Maybe I can provide Mr. Jarvis with some tips.
For example, Mr. Jarvis describes his feelings of embarrassment at not being able to climb stairs:
In the PATH station in New York, I stood there with old people, sick people, and mothers with baby carriages, waiting for a lift. I was embarrassed. I wondered whether they looked at me thinking, ‘What a lazy SOB: he looks fit and healthy and the excercise of a few stairs would be good for him: Get moving and don’t take up space on our elevator.’ Of course, it’s New York: Nobody really pays that much attention to anyone else. But I heard that echo in my head.
Several months after my heart attack, I went to my gym to walk around the track. Everytime I would go, a fit young guy would run by effortlessly and tell me to get moving. I tried to ignore him and flatter myself that he was just being nice. But the tenth time he told me I was not helping myself by crawling the track at a snail's pace was the breaking point. I looked at him and said, "I just had a heart attack and got out of the hospital, this snail's pace that you are laughing at is the best that I can do." A look of horror and embarrassment clouded his face and he slunk away. So, Mr. Jarvis, my first tip is, let others be embarrassed about their reaction to your condition--do not feel embarrassed yourself for having human frailties.
Mr. Jarvis notes that he cannot always perform tasks that a normal person can perform:
When I got on the plane coming home, they put me in an exit row and asked me the standard question: Are you able, etc.? I had to say, no, I’d rather not sit there just right now. I didn’t say I wasn’t able, though I wasn’t. I sensed another odd look: ‘What, you won’t rescue your fellow passengers, you selfish, first-class oaf?’ As we used to say in California, I was projecting. But that thought did flash through my head as I thought for a second about sitting there to avoid the embarrassment, though I realized that would have been irresponsible.
Rather than see yourself as selfish for having medical problems, my second tip is to use them to your advantage to get back at those you dislike. Case in point. A secretary at my daughter's school had been impolite to me on the phone the week before. I went to pick up my daughter from school one day and this obnoxious secretary told me that my daughter was at the playground half a mile or so outside and I would have to go fetch her. I looked at her and smiled kindly, "I'm sorry, I am disabled after recent heart surgery and not able to walk that far." She looked troubled at the word disabled (you know, all those ADA rules etc. have school personnel skiddish) and scurried down to the playground while I plopped myself in a chair and read a magazine in the air conditioned office until she came back with my child, apologizing for taking so long. You see, medical problems are not all bad.
And finally, why let feeling strange while on television or when speaking stop you from a peak performance:
But I didn’t tell everyone I felt strange. I did talks and panel discussions and was fine. But as I blogged, when I did an appearance on Donny Deutsch’s show and got pissed at a professional prude and enemy of the First Amendment, my heart really went wacky fast and I thought for a second I might pass out on TV. Now that would have been embarrassing. Luckily, few would have seen it.
Instead, use it to enhance your performance like I did the time I was doped up on beta blockers. I was working as an expert on a crime show and felt so sluggish, I thought I would fall asleep while being interviewed. When I later saw the show, my sleepiness came through as a kind of coy, sly detective type look which I thought really enhanced my performance on the show. Okay, I went home, fell on my face and slept for several hours, but I got through it and sometimes, that is the best one can hope for when dealing with medical problems. Or maybe the lesson, if there is one, is to have enormous patience for our fellow human beings who "look normal" but may be suffering the same way we are or worse. Oh, and continue being a snarky blogger--we can never have enough of those!
Udate: GM Roper has more thoughts on how to cope with a serious illness.