A Year After My Heart Attack

By Lloyd Graff

Today is a day I’ve pointed toward and dreaded. It’s a day I’ll be relieved to look back upon. Today is the one-year anniversary of my heart attack that almost killed me.

If you’ve read my stuff in Today’s Machining World you know my story. Feeling really crappy after a two-week vacation of feeling crappy, my wife Risa drove me 50 miles to see my doctor in Evanston, Ill. He looked at me, listened to my heart, and said, “Lloyd, you are in heart failure and I’m wheeling you to the emergency room right now.”

A stent, heroically implanted a few minutes later gave me a shot to make it past Labor Day when the heart surgeons were able to complete quadruple bypass surgery and a valve repair.

After 12 days on a breathing tube I regained the ability to breathe on my own. Two days later I went home. I resumed writing “Swarf” a few days later.

Has this near death experience changed me and my life? Yes and no. The stuff of my day-to-day living is remarkably similar to before the heart attack, except that I’m working more intensively, and later. My schedule is different because I start around 10:00 a.m. and work until 6:00 p.m. I know I absolutely do not want to retire. I love the structure that my work at TMW and Graff-Pinkert brings to my life. I love the people work brings into my life. I love the intellectual challenge. I do not enjoy the financial challenge the recession and structural changes in the economy have wrought. But the perspective that comes from having had my “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment helps me deal with everyday trials with more equanimity than I used to have.

Now I really do believe that every day I get to live is incredibly valuable borrowed time. I used to talk that talk, but I did not truly believe it like I do now.

I take a minute each day, after a few minutes of morning prayer, to identify five things I am particularly grateful for. I think it shifts my mood to a happier quadrant.

I wish I could forget about the heart attack episode, but I think about it many times every day. The big thick pink scar running down the middle of my chest still itches, and part of my left ankle is numb where the surgeon must have severed some nerves while fishing for a spare artery.

But what I connect with the most is the wonderful feeling of getting more time, knowing how my wife and children and friends supported me and each other for those two terrible, emotional and bonding weeks in the Intensive Care Unit of Saint Francis Hospital. I only wish I could have been in the waiting room, renamed the “hospitality suite,” instead of waiting for the nurses to fiddle with the tubes in my body.

Tonight, God-willing, I will get to say the Jewish Shehecheyanu prayer of gratitude for “reaching this day.” I know I will cry a little and feel immensely grateful to be able to experience the tears roll down my cheeks.

Question: How has a life-threatening illness affected you?

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