“Patient, 34 years old, myocardial infarction, coded blue.”
“How long did he code for?”
I’m naked save for a flimsy hospital gown. I’m lying supine on a metal table and I’m so cold that I’m shaking from head to toe. I’ve never felt this cold before, and it makes me think about what it must be like to die of hypothermia. My mind briefly drifts to the reality of the combination of Canadian winters and homelessness and how lucky I have been in my life. Perhaps this is the cost of that luck.
How long is 30 seconds? How about 45 seconds? Relativity tells us it depends on context. The Mayfly’s average lifespan is 24 hours. The Greenland Shark can live up to 500 years. Surely three-quarters of a minute is looked at very differently between these two creatures.
What can one accomplish in less than a minute? The low-hanging fruit from the comedy tree is a sex joke. The fastest man in the world can get pretty far away from you in 30 to 45 seconds. An NHL shift is nearing its end around the same time. But what about less tangible tasks? How long does it take to make someone smile? How long does it take to reassure a loved one or perform a random act of kindness? A lot can be said, expressed and intimated in less than a minute. Many of life’s best and worst moments take place in that time, and often in less. The ripples however can last a lifetime.
In the ER, they give me something to calm me down so I can stop spastically shaking. I’m still awake but I’m no longer flopping around like a fish out of water. I look down and see the eyes of a surgeon. Just his eyes as he’s fully gowned and masked. His eyes are young but filled with confidence. Not confidence from cockiness, but rather confidence built from competence. He knows what he’s doing and he’s good at it. I look up and left and I see a huge screen with a large, pulsing image. It’s my heart. At least it’s pulsing.
There are two arteries both 95 per cent blocked, one of them being my left anterior descending artery. When this artery becomes so blocked, the heart attack suffered is rather cutely referred to as a “widow maker.” Good thing I’m not married. Stents need to go in to open the artery. They first try through my wrist, but my body is too spastic to allow it as the fuse box to my body has gone haywire.
“We’re going to need to go through your groin,” the cloaked but confident surgeon said.
Seems this day is getting worse for both of us I think to myself.
Three stents go into my overly dramatic LAD artery. Another angioplasty is scheduled for three days from now to place one final stent to open the second blockage. That one goes through the wrist without issue, and I become something of a half man/half machine. Okay fine, hyperbole aside, let’s just say I haven’t felt as “organic” since that day.
Shortly after the ambulance dropped me at the hospital, an ER doctor broke the news: “You’re having a heart attack.” He was younger than me and I wondered if we were experiencing a first together.
“Am I going to live?” I asked.
Why did I phrase it that way? Why didn’t I ask if I was going to die? Maybe I didn’t want to say the word die, seeing as how my brother and mother were present. Lord knows this event would scar them enough, perhaps I subconsciously wanted to be positive. Perhaps I was terrified and in shock and those were just the words that came. My mom and brother saved my life that day but at the cost of their own trauma. I suppose that is the pinnacle of love.
At some point, my mind drifts to Arnold. My maternal grandfather whom I never met because he had the same “widow maker,” only he was married with children and didn’t survive. He was 40 years old. The loss was a generational trauma. I was 34 when I had mine but now that I’m 40, I think that whatever I face moving forward will be uncharted territory for both of us.
How long is 30-45 seconds? When you’re not conscious it’s moot. Time is a construct of a conscious person. Those seconds didn’t exist to me.
“Of all the people who suffer a heart attack as severe as you have, only 5 per cent of them survive with a near normal heart,” so said the surgeon the following day in my recovery room. The same cloaked and confident surgeon. The hero who was just doing his job.
I have a near-normal heart, the tests revealed. There is scar tissue of course; a landmark or memorial of the trauma that took place, I suppose. I was left with some metal hardware and daily medication, but I was also alive and with lots of life still ahead of me.
I am both lucky and unlucky.
But actually, I’m really, really lucky.
Zachary Yaffe lives in Montreal.