Living in the Present
From Where I SitOpinion

Living in the Present

Dave has learned valuable lessons in the year since suffering a heart attack, but he misses the deep dish pizza.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Dave Schechter
Dave Schechter

April 20 will be my/our 39th wedding anniversary (thank you).

April 21 will be the first anniversary of my/our heart attack. Yes, I suffered that heart attack — a “widowmaker” the cardiologists call it — the morning after our 38th wedding anniversary.

Had my wife left for work five minutes earlier that Friday morning, there might not have been a 39th. Given the intensity of the pain I experienced as I gripped our dining room table, I don’t know that I would have made it back to the bedroom to retrieve my phone and call 911.

But she was there and bundled me into the car and drove to Emory University Hospital. [Yes, we could have/should have called 911, but we chose not to wait. We were fortunate.]

A stent was inserted in the left anterior descending artery, but that proved to be only a temporary fix. A robotic bypass in early June at Emory Midtown Hospital was required.

The scars from that procedure have healed and faded a bit, but the memories of last spring’s crisis remain. I say “our” heart attack because of the way it impacted my wife and our children and the importance of my wife and our children in my recovery.

The week before the heart attack we had been in Chicago, visiting with my mother and one of my sisters and attending the EXPO CHICAGO international art show. I had experienced twinges of chest pain the previous two weeks but attributed those to exertion when cutting the grass and high pollen counts (I know, not smart). That weekend in Chicago I walked some 40,000 steps, ate at my favorite deep-dish pizza parlor, and enjoyed the art show.

A week later, I was being fed nitroglycerine pills and prepped for surgery.

I do not blame the deep dish pizza (or the ice cream I ate the night before the heart attack). What happened was going to happen, a combination of occasionally questionable eating habits dating back to my earliest days as a newspaper reporter and a decades-long habit of swallowing work-related stress.

The heart attack was an effective diet plan, but I don’t recommend it. I never looked particularly heavy, but what weight I carried had redistributed over the years. In the past year, I have purchased new suits, sport coats and slacks, all slimmer, and jeans a waist size or two smaller.

After the first bag of grass I cut this spring, one of my neighbors, a doctor, looked at me as if to ask, really? So now I am contracting that work. (By the way, whatever happened to the high school kids who used to cut grass?)

As I’ve written in this space previously, I try to make a practice of, as early in the day as possible, stepping outside and saying “Good morning, world. I’m still here.”

And I’ve not forgotten the words of a nurse in the cardiac intensive unit at Emory Midtown Hospital, who visited me twice and both times told me, “Try to find some grace in your life.”

More sobering is the occasional thought that I should not be here, which leads me to think of what I would have missed in the past year.

Walking with my wife (sometimes being walked by our dogs). Dancing with my wife (she very well, me not so well). Video calls with my mother and siblings. Our daughter’s engagement last November (and wedding in late September this year).The pending self-publication of a book I’ve carted around for 30 years, continuing work on another book that I sketched out 15 years ago and recently picked back up, and another idea percolating in the back of my brain. Not to mention a variety of jazz concerts and soccer games.

I appreciate those who see me and ask, how are you doing? So many of us face challenges that we would not wish on another. I have learned that there is value in just asking, how are you doing?

One of my sons occasionally presses me to appreciate moments in the present. I do a better job of that now than I did before the heart attack and recognize the importance of that practice.

I am finishing this column the morning after returning from our latest trip to Chicago. We had lovely visits with my mother and sisters, the weather was great, and EXPO CHICAGO was wonderful, but I ate no deep dish pizza. And I really like deep dish pizza.

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