When something goes deeply wrong, the realization it forces is inevitably learned at the grave of loss. John O’Donohue
What a spring. On my journey to save my tooth (which I did), I ended up with community acquired pneumonia and Atrial Fibrillation. This is my take on it, not the medical communities: it was a perfect storm of circumstances, I had finished intense negotiations for clients in January, I got pneumonia end of February, I went off hormones in early March after almost 20 years, and within a week I went into Atrial Fibrillation. With no markers for it – everything tested normal – it thumped and banged in my chest and sent me to the ER where I was put in ICU for 2 days to monitor the medication that brings the heart back down to almost normal beating. I torment myself with wanting to know where it came from as my usual blood pressure had been normal, my echocardiogram normal, I don’t smoke, drink or do drugs at least I haven’t for 30 plus years.
“Why the ICU?” I asked the ER Doc as I had just sent Tim home to sleep at 3:30 AM. “You’re at risk for a stroke or heart attack” he said. “Wow” and that was that. I am the healthiest person I know. I walk 4 miles a day, lift the awful weights, eat well – no processed food, low blood pressure, normal thyroid – and this. I never say why me as life is a journey of why not you! I do want to know why however, and I want it to reverse itself, so I don’t have to be on blood thinners and beta blockers. I have controlled most aspects of my life. Control, planning for the worst, hoping for the best has been my survival mechanism since childhood …. no more.
I haven’t found the right beta blocker dose – it’s been two plus weeks. The heart isn’t pounding its way out of my chest anymore and there isn’t the attendant flutter, but my BP goes from the 140’s to 120’s and my heart beat goes from the 80’s low 90’s to 60’s. Is it A-fib? They don’t know. So I have a heart monitor strapped to my chest for maybe a month to see if it’s A-fib or anxiety. It unsettles the brain and the rhythm of my body even though I don’t feel the erratic fluctuations. At night, my brain is on A-fib. Tim was in Hawaii teaching for 10 days and Heather was here for 4 days which helped me immensely. Elliot who teaches for HWOS was an awesome help and support after Heather left and before Tim got home, but I need to anchor myself. My doctor gave me anti-anxiety pills, something I never imagined I would take or need, and they do the trick. I can feel my muscles relax, my brain ease as I sink into sleep.
I lay out my past illnesses like treasured and well-packed old clothes looking for the answer. Scarlet fever and pneumonia as a toddler, Milroys disease – my genetic lymphatic thing, pneumonia in my 30’s, pneumonia this year, going off hormones, stress. Maybe it’s a mental result of winding down a long career, stepping into anonymity, societal marginalization and self-marginalization that comes with age. The hospital doctor was quite clear telling me I had two things against me: I was female and my age. I laughed and told him that’s been my entire life. If I wasn’t female and 70 I would be on aspirin not blood thinners.
The good news is going off hormones I don’t swell as much and the arthritis in my hands doesn’t hurt anymore and it appears the aliens living in my middle fingers are less visible.
People live with A-fib. It’s the “best heart arrythmia to have” I was told in the ER. And maybe it is a god-send. It may be the smack in the face, the kick in the gut I need to calm down, let go, accept the final stage of life more peacefully with an open heart rather than a cynical New York City heart. Although I love that heart, it needs more refined and gentler company.
I was very clear the past couple of years that I needed to change things. 2017 was a year of high-stress negotiations and internal reflections of how much longer I wanted to partake of that kind of stress. Like most people who have high-profile jobs, I didn’t really plan for when I wouldn’t do it. It was always a vague I will figure that out when the time comes. Our identities become inextricably tied to what we do and how known we have become in our specific industry. To lose that is unsettling. Though I bucked the corporate trend and did my work my way and was rewarded for it, I thought that would be enough to get me through this next phase. Tim said that Rudolph Steiner, philosopher and teacher, said that sixties and seventies present us with the reality of moving into the final phase of life and it is the hardest of all our life phases. Like the teens and twenties, we are uncertain of what is next or what to do and how to do it. Unlike the teens and twenties, however, we have crafted a life-time of identity and experiences and joy of living that we now know is finite. Our bodies need more maintenance, our aches and pains could portend something more serious. We hope our lives have meant something. I have worked my butt off this lifetime. In the early days of starting my business, I worked seven days a week, plenty of 12-hour days, no vacation for well over a decade as that money went to the kids education or camp or whatever. Now, at 70, the reward of that hard work shows up as a double-edged sword – bounty and breakdown.
And so, this A-fib is telling me it’s time to stop, it’s time to tend a slower heartbeat, to allow myself to do nothing, to sit, to stare, to stop the crazy brain races. I absolutely do not want to be a typical statistic or spend the remainder of my lifetime bedridden or dead before I fully retire. The word retirement however is fraught with hidden messages and I am not a retiring personality. I have always figured things out and I will this time as well.
With no more professional achievements to attain, no more people to call, or people calling me for my services, I turn to beauty as solace. Pascal wrote “in difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”
Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil
Certainly many instances of earthly beauty – a song, the twilit sea, the tone of the lyre,
the voice of a boy, a verse, a statue, a column, a garden, a single flower – all possess the divine
faculty of making man hearken unto the innermost and outermost boundaries of his existence,
and therefore it is not to be wondered at that the lofty art of Orpheus was esteemed to have t
the power of diverting the streams from their beds and changing their courses, or luring the
wild beasts of the forest with tender dominance, of arresting the cattle a-browse upon the
meadows and moving them to listen, caught in the dream and enchanted, the dream-wish
of all art: the world compelled to listen, ready to receive the song and its salvation.