Of all the weeks in the year this is the one I dread the most.
I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which was triggered by my almost catastrophic heart attack that occurred 11 years ago this week. It is also the week that my mother died suddenly in 1993.
I think about the heart attack every day of my life, wondering how I survived, why I survived, and when the final shoe might drop. I don’t try to not think about it, because that only causes me to think about it even more.
The strange thing is that it wasn’t all that terrible for me when it happened, because most of the time I was drugged. I had collateral heart circulation developed over 25 years of dedicated running, so even though my most important heart artery was 99% blocked I could still function, if only in a painful and sickly way. I had trouble breathing and thought I had pneumonia. My wife, Risa, and I drove 55 minutes August 29, 2008, to see a friend who was an infectious disease doctor, and I walked into his office at the hospital while Risa parked. He was treating a kid while I waited. I remember him checking me out in the waiting area, putting a stethoscope on my chest, and saying Lloyd, I’m wheeling you to the emergency room myself. I remember somebody yelling, “Can I cut his underwear off?” and then nothing.
Then the nightmare really started for Risa and my children and many, many people who rushed to the St. Francis Hospital in Evanston to be with her.
Somehow by good fortune that morning a heart surgeon Dr. Muhammed Akbar was available to insert a stent into my blocked artery, known as the “widowmaker.” When asked after the emergency surgery how he did it he simply pointed skyward, Risa recalls. Without the longshot stent insertion I had virtually no chance of survival. Bypass surgery at that point was almost certain to fail. The hope was that I would gain strength over the Labor Day weekend, and they would do a quadruple bypass on Tuesday.
Risa and my children and sister slept in the waiting room for those four nights. I mostly slept and got stronger. I was unaware of what was happening. I wasn’t worried, as best I can remember. They suffered and waited but also had wonderful family togetherness moments.
I strengthened over the long weekend. I was hooked into tubes and had a mask that prohibited me from speaking.
My family regaled me with songs for 45 minutes before the surgery. I am sure it helped them and me, but I can’t remember the singing. The only thing I think I can remember is that the Cubs were on the radio, and I heard the score was 9-6 just before I went into surgery, and they cracked my chest open.
The bypass surgery worked amazingly well. Afterwards, the surgeon said I should be good for 20 years. I’ve held on to that comment desperately for the past 11 years.
Now it’s 4017 days later, and I’m feeling pretty darn good. But the event haunts me – every day. It affects every big decision. I think about it every time I plan a vacation or blow out birthday candles. The memory still lingers of being wheeled into emergency surgery and not exactly being terrified, just being in shock and amazement and almost amused about being asked whether I cared if they cut my underwear off.
Will I ever forget that day, those crazy weird moments? No, unless I lose my memory.
My PTSD is not horrible. I live my life, often with great joy. I am not depressed, most of the time. But I am stuck with that memory tattoo of August 29, 2008. The day I probably should have died, but didn’t.
Question: Do you have post-traumatic stress disorder?
Coincidentally, I just listened to an entire radio program about a woman who used CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy) to release her PTSD. The episode is called “Ten Session” by the show This American Life. You can Google and listen for free. Best wishes to you!
I did hear some of it, found it interesting but not that applicable. It brings up the question. How much do I really want to shake it off?
I have had 3 severe asthma attacks, all because of my negligence to take care of it before it got bad enough to be hospitalized. The 1st time was the least severe but scared the crap out of me at the thought of leaving my young family without my support. The 2nd and third episodes had medical staff looking at me gravely and saying,”you are in serious trouble”. It’s strange how you don’t really feel like your dying. I thought it would be more painful. I don’t know how close I was to “the end” but the hospital staff were making a way bigger deal out of it than how I felt. Like your underwear comment, I had a similar perception to the situation. I suppose we could have just slipped away and been none the wiser.
Have you ever considered where you would have been if you had died on that day, 11 years ago?
For me that is the most important question. And I believe that whether or not you get the answer right is based on what you believe about Jesus Christ. In this world, most things only work one way. Sun always rises in the east. Gravity pulls you down. And if the road to the Creator who made all of this universe is like his creation, then it stands to reason there is a right and wrong answer. Jesus rose from the dead, after predicting that he would die at least 3 different times. If he can pull that off, I am going with what he had to say about himself. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6. What do you believe about Jesus?
So when you come back, “how” do you come back? as a newborn, new parent, or as the day you died? what about your pets, and do they all come back? do you get a job in heaven? With all these loved ones around you may be to busy to have a job, Just wondering.
My dad returned from WW2 after surviving 2 plane crashes. We didn’t know what PTSD was. But the abuse my family got as we grew up was horrible. My mom got the abuse also. The military, the VA. and the government did my father and his family a great dis-service for not taking care of us. This horrible thing haunted my father until the day he died. I could write a book of the horror stories that were generated by this man as re4sult of his military service. But I’m, like my siblings, are trying to forget.
I don’t have it but I had an uncle (don’t think you had met him) that was a WWII Army Air Corps veteran. I don’t think they referred to it as PTSD back then…maybe ‘shell shock’?
Anyhow, he was the mechanic and the gunner in a P-61 Black Widow night fighter and was stationed in Saipan and Iwo Jima. The plane was credited with shooting down 2 Japanese G4M ‘Betty’ bombers around Christmas , 1944.
He slept with a night-light on till the day he died. He was afraid of the dark after his war experience. The plane only patrolled at night to defend the islands.
Bob, my wife’s Dad fought in jungles of the Pacific during WWII, narrowly missed death by missing a troop ship that was sunk, came back with malaria, but strangely showed no signs of Post traumatic shock. I always wondered why he seemed so unaffected. Even stranger he opted to go back to Japan with the occupying forces. He was not that eager to resume civilian life.
So you missed the big one, you and your family are truly Blessed!!!
Accept, enjoy and make the most of this gift.
A friend lost a son to cancer, one should never have to bury their child. He signs every email with: “live each day as your last, for someday it will be…”
I think you and my friend have more survivors guilt than PTSD.
Regarding PTSD, I have met and sat in many of Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s lectures.
His career includes service in the U.S. Army as a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division, a platoon leader in the 9th Infantry Division, a general staff officer, a company commander in the 7th (Light) Infantry Division as well as a paratrooper and graduate of Ranger School. He went on to become a professor of psychology at West Point. His books are mandatory reading at all US Military officer’s schools.
He speaks at length about PTSD and how important a support network is and sharing your feelings with others, it takes part of the weight off your shoulders so it is better managed.
Your father-in-law most likely came back on a troop ship, packed in with many comrades in arms, where they shared their experiences and realized they were each scared out of their wits and had bad dreams/memories. This sharing is what got most of them through their difficult times.
You know I hate podcasts! But I have one for you. I have read all of his books. I have seen similar talks of his in person.
Dave Grossman – PTSD, and the Physiological Effects of Combat
I urge you to give the whole thing a careful listen!
I live differently after experiencing traumatic stress in earlier job responsibilities; I think I now live in post traumatic- stress order.