This February marked two years since I had a heart attack. It was a mild one, as far as heart damage goes, but I knew immediately what it was when I sat bolt upright at 4:00 and tried to squirm my way out of the stabbing pain that seared through my back and into my brain. I crawled for the bathroom with an intense need to pee, then the feeling that I would vomit, before figuring out that neither one mattered since I didn’t have the strength to make it to the toilet. I talked myself through the process of understanding what was going on before deciding that the cold tile floor was probably the best place to be while experiencing one huge muscle cramp, which is what it seemed like was going on. I lay in a growing puddle of sweat, trying to catch my breath as I mentally compared the level of pain consuming my body against the pain of unassisted childbirth some 40-odd years ago. I decided that birthing my eldest child was probably worse, but trying to breathe as my body seemed locked in one intense muscle spasm was its own kind of panic. Ah, the things we entertain ourselves with. As I waited for the pain to subside, I pondered what rescuers would walk into if I didn’t pull through and realized that the nearby door was locked. I slid on my back to unlock the deadbolt so they wouldn’t have to break the place apart to get in, but there was nothing I could do about them having to walk in on a dead, nekkid old lady and I felt bad about that. And then I fell asleep.
I woke up cold a bit later, crawled to the nearby bed and passed back out. A few hours later I called my boss to tell her I wouldn’t be submitting the expected work that was due and told her what had happened, though swore her to secrecy since I didn’t want superiors to know in case the news would jeopardize my job. Then I spent the next two days sleeping. On the third day I got up and caught a plane to see a dying friend and after a week, I took myself to a clinic. I was told that yes, I’d had a heart attack and I was going to have another one if I didn’t get immediate attention.
I’ve never been one to subscribe much to western medicine, preferring to educate myself on how to best keep me healthy, but I acquiesced to family demands to be tested after I shared what happened. The next year was consumed with hospital visits, blood work and appointments to figure out that genetics play a much bigger part in physical makeup than I ever realized. I’m seeing the same doctor my mother has used for decades, so he’s well aware of the family dynamics and he didn’t paint a very rosy picture. Basically, I was told that beyond the typical cholesterol meds and a bottle of “emergency” pills, it’s about watching general health. There was little to be done since DNA has pretty much determined my future. At least from a cardiologist’s perspective. His orders were to watch my food, slow down, get off the bike and avoid stress while living out my days as peacefully as possible. I thanked him for his advice and told him I’d check in when I came off the road, which sent his head spinning around backwards. He’s a concerned, compassionate guy and he struggles to get me to take all this as seriously as he does, so after two years of tests and consultations, I’ve taken the time to try to explain that I’m not ignoring his advice, I’m just continuing to live my life. At the risk of sounding maudlin, I’ll share that I’m being diligent in tending to myself, listening to my body and doing all the important stuff, but giving up life on two wheels is not even a remote consideration. I’m pretty sure being still would kill me off a lot quicker than heart disease ever would. I’m preferring to focus on things like the next adventure, road trip, event and experience while being appreciative for every sunrise, sunset, new friend and old memory. I’m blessed for every day spent staring down the yellow lines and tucking into the twisties and this logic is something completely lost on a cardiologist’s sensibilities. I feel sure that all of you will certainly understand since this lifestyle isn’t really a choice and I believe that on that, we all agree. Just like DNA, once motorcycling is in your blood, it’s no longer a matter of conscious thought, it just is, and it’s not something you can ignore. Or, in my case, would even want to. So, I’ve taken to tending to my body as diligently as I do the Beast. He gets his regular oil changes and services, I get my blood work and checkups, and we get each other down the road. I view it as teamwork. I trust him, he trusts me, and we each do our part to make each other shine. How much more do you need from a partnership?