Thoughts by Richard Bleil
The truth is that I didn’t have a heart attack. I actually had two. The first one was in May or maybe June of 2011. My wife, a few days earlier, had told me she wanted me to be gone. I like to say that she literally broke my heart, because the pain in my chest was unexpected, sudden and terrible. I couldn’t find a position to be comfortable, and if I tried to move at all it made me throw up, although it happened so often that nothing was actually coming out despite the heaving. I didn’t go to the hospital, though. My wife told me she wanted the marriage to end, so I didn’t want to live anyway, and she was so loving and caring that she simply said that I was faking it for sympathy and being lazy. It knocked me out of the game for about a week.
Eventually, without treatment, I felt well enough to begin moving, and a little beyond that I actually could begin to live my life once again. Whether or not I should have is another matter, but I did. Some eight or nine months later, I started feeling the then familiar pains of a heart attack. I had mentioned the first heart attack to my friends who were, frankly, livid with me for letting myself go untreated the first time and forced me to promise them that if it happened again I would tell somebody. I was working as a water treatment chemist, so, I can literally say that my second heart attack occurred because I was handling a bucket of crap at the time. But being a man of my word, I did indeed tell my friend and co-worker who insisted that I go to “urgent care”, who in turn rushed me off to the emergency room.
After my angioplasty failed because my arteries were too blocked and brittle, they went with an old-fashioned triple bypass. Ironically, my then estranged (but not yet divorced) wife was in another wing of the hospital for alcohol treatment. After the surgery, my surgeon told me that, based on the scar tissue, it was obvious I had had a serious heart attack at last six months earlier. In a weird way, I was thrilled that I almost died. After all, my wife was clearly wrong about me “just faking it” and having anxiety. I felt like running down the hallway to find her and laugh in her face. I guess I showed her.
I got to thinking about this. Apparently, as the major arteries of my heart were blocked, my body just found new pathways to bypass the damage. There was scar tissue, so yes, damage was done, but at the same time, the heart was healing. This seems like a metaphor to me.
Figuratively or physically, damage to the heart can heal. I suffered two blows to the heart, the block in the arteries causing tissue damage, and the end of a marriage. Both hurt, and both made me feel like I could die. And maybe I should have, but I didn’t. But the scar tissue is still there, and I’m certain that it always will be. You can’t suffer that kind of damage without scars to show for it, but what can we do but to survive to fight another day?
My second heart attack didn’t feel as severe as my first. It still hurt, but were it not for my promises, I probably would have ignored it simply because it felt so mild compared to my first. And yet, in that second heart attack, the doctors still performed the triple bypass, so it must have been serious. The first one I faced alone and recovered without the help of another. I still have scar tissue from my second heart attack but now it’s much more visible. I also recovered much more quickly, and better than in my first. I’m told that the surgery should hold for about a decade (and, yes, the time is just about up), but the healing from the first didn’t even last a year.
Now I have friends to help me heal from the figurative damage to my heart as well. These scars are far more visible because so many people have seen them. There’s no hiding them; heck, YOU have seen these scars. When I separated from my wife, I crawled into myself and shut myself off. In a way, I never really got off of the couch from my first heart attack. But I would like to think that maybe I’m healing now. I still need help; I need the love and support of my friends, and with their help, I’ll survive to fight another day..