Wow! Sixteen months since my last journal entry! Is it possible that some of my readers thought I died? It’s a logical conclusion.

The truth is that health concerns have monopolized my mind and time, and I was loathe to write about it, to give it even one more minute of my attention. Yet, I couldn’t really think about much else. My muse took up residence in a distant corner, put her feet up, pulled her hat down over her eyes and said “Wake me up when life returns to normal.” The truth is, it still hasn’t, and chances are it never completely will. Post heart attack, I am a very different person – but that’s a story for another time.

To bring some closure to the heart attack saga, I have to start by saying it was surreal. Once my pain was under control ( and for those of you who wonder what the pain felt like, the closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get if something icy is caught in your esophagus – think brain freeze, but in your chest, arm, neck and jaw), it was largely a matter of being closely monitored and medicated. On my second day, a young cardiologist came to speak to me. Part of me still had trouble believing their diagnosis. I’d been under a lot of stress for months. I’d suffered a personal loss. I had fibromyalgia, which mimicked a lot of other conditions. I’d read about something called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, commonly called “broken heart syndrome.” After all, I had gone through some scary episodes of chest pain when my mother dies 17 years earlier, and though a EKG initially indicated a heart attack, there was no indication that my heart had suffered any kind of true “event.”

Couldn’t that be what happened again?

He assured me that wasn’t the case this time. Blood work indicated the presence of enzymes that are a direct result of a heart incident. They were highest when I was admitted, then went down. But I’d had a little chest pain again the day before, and the markers had increased. There was no doubt that I’d suffered an attack. He told me that he wanted to do an angiogram to get to the cause. “That way,” he said, “perhaps we can get you another twenty years.”

It felt like those words were written in the boldest black marker. Twenty years? That was nothing! Twenty years was just yesterday! I wanted more than that ahead of me. I expected more. Until that day, I’d never really thought about my age. But I suddenly realized that from young doctor’s perspective, I WAS OLD. Shouldn’t living another twenty years be enough to satisfy me? Twenty years, as opposed to one or two years. What choice did I have?

They scheduled my angiogram for the next day. It hurt much more than I expected, the chest pain quite similar to my heart attack pain. Apparently that’s not typical. I learned later that the nurses and doctor who were to perform the test made bets between themselves that if I did have any kind of blockage, it would be minor. I seemed “too healthy.”How wrong they were! There, on the screen to the left of me, was proof of my attack, and just how serious it could have been. They explained that I had a 95% blockage in the LAD (left anterior descending artery). It feeds the largest portion of the heart. And because only 5% of people survive it, they have a nickname for it: THE WIDOWMAKER.

Experts say that a heart attack usually hits not when you are experiencing stress, but once you’ve relaxed: on Sunday mornings rather than at the mid-week board meeting; on the golf course more often than at your desk. And that’s how it happened with me. It came like a sniper.

I felt relaxed for the first time in weeks. I’d had a few glasses of wine during the evening and enjoyed fruit and cheese and crackers. I’d laughed with friends and family as they good-naturedly music-jammed, and I’d even joined them at the microphone for a few minutes. It was a good night.

The only abnormality at all was that I was sweating profusely. My hair was soaked underneath and I spent half the night holding it up off of my neck.

We arrived home at around 1:30, and shortly afterwards I began to experience what I thought was simple indigestion. I had some pressure at my breastbone and even burped a little. I chewed two antacids, got ready for bed and waited for it to abate. It didn’t.

When I tried to lie down, the pain in the centre of my chest grew sharper. I have a hiatus hernia, so my first thought was that acid was rising up into my esophagus and causing a spasm. It’s happened to me before. I got up and walked around. I went downstairs, took a drink of water and sat on the couch with my computer. The pain was not as severe sitting up and at some point, I must have dosed off for a while. A sharp stab jolted me upright, and the pain of that movement made me realize this was not simply heartburn.

Very soon, I was aware of pain from my breastbone through to my spine, from the spine through my left side, both front and back, under my arm to my armpit, up my neck to my jaw and down my arm to my hand. I woke my husband and he immediately called an ambulance. It was 5:15 in the morning.

Despite calling an ambulance, I didn’t believe it was my heart. It felt like a mega muscle spasm, generating just under my left shoulder blade and twisting my entire left side out of shape. Having fibromyalgia, I’m prone to such things. While I waited for the ambulance, I writhed in pain, lifting my left arm up over my head, bending sideways and forwards to stretch out my back. My stomach cramped and I threw up. I was light-headed.

When the paramedics arrive, they too first suspected muscle spasms. One paramedic found a huge knot on the left side of my back. “Does this hurt?” he asked. I moaned with the pain.

Heart attack was the last thing on my mind or theirs, until my blood pressure took a rapid drop in the ambulance. Suddenly, everything changed. The ambulance siren kicked in, they gave me aspirin, nitroglycerine, and then an oxygen mask. It was all very surreal.

Once we arrived at the hospital, they wasted no time. There was a flurry of activity around me – EKG’s, blood tests, a constant monitor, and an IV administering blood thinners. I was in constant pain, making futile attempts to find a position where I didn’t hurt as much. The pain came in waves – a dull ache for a couple of minutes, followed crescendos where it stabbed at my breastbone and made it hard to breathe. The curtain in the emergency room cubicle was open, and people glanced at me as they walked by. I cared about nothing but the pain. Finally, a nurse injected me with something that helped, and a young doctor returned to check on me.

I expected to hear “you had a severe muscle spasm that’s now under control.” Instead I heard the words “you’ve had a heart attack. We’re admitting you.”

He may as well have told me that I was now living on Mars. It was that surreal.

heart_art_200_20071214093616I’ve come to realize that my writing is fueled by passion, not peace, by angst, not serenity. Otherwise, how do I explain the fact that I wrote my last entry here over ten months ago? It is either that, or my need for self-expression is being satisfied by Facebook, which would be really sad. In any case, there is something to be written about now, because it’s just too significant NOT to talk about. I need to process it, and my readers need to think about the implications for their own lives.

On January 18th, I came close to dying. It happened on the heels of an very emotionally difficult time, and there’s no doubt that the stress of it, along with the stress of the past seven or eight years, contributed to it. For now, I’ll concentrate on recent events.

Early in December, my elderly father, already an amputee, had a risky angioplasty to save his remaining leg. Seeing his frailty, my siblings and I began the difficult process of researching assisted-living facilities. We worried over the best way to approach him and get him onside. We agonized over him seeing it as a betrayal.

Shortly before Christmas, my youngest son was injured at a part-time construction job he’s taken while he’s back in school. The phone call came from inside the ambulance. All we knew was that a cross-saw had sliced through his wrist, and it was serious. Later, we learned he’d been lucky.  Though there was significant nerve damage, the saw missed the main artery and surgery could wait. We left the hospital, only to rush back fifteen minutes later when he had a serious allergic reaction to the medications they’d given him. My heart was in my throat. I didn’t even wait for the triage nurse – just pounded on the emergency doors to be let back in. I was terrified he’d go into anaphylactic shock. A swarm of nurses and doctors descended on him right away and within an hour, he was stabilized. By the time we got home, I was emotionally spent.

The rush of Christmas brings its own inherent stresses, but then a few days afterwards, my father fell ill. I was hosting a post-Christmas party and received a phone call from my brother saying the emergency room doctors wanted to know if Dad had a “Do Not Resuscitate Order.” I said yes. I had his POA for health matters, and panicked when I couldn’t find the original form to take to the hospital. My cousin and his wife drove us to the hospital, forty-five minutes away, and stayed with us until the wee hours of the morning.

Less than two weeks later, after positive signs then steps backwards, and many hours spent at his beside, Dad died. We were heartbroken and in many ways, stunned. The decline came so quickly. He’d always bounced back before, and we thought he would live forever.

We lived the next few days in an auto-pilot haze, planning the funeral and spending time with family in the evenings. Everything went smoothly, and we reconnected with many people we hadn’t seen in years. I was sad and I felt numb. I was also tired and weak, but I put that down to stress and lack of sleep. Everyone else felt exactly the same way. Sleep should help, I thought.

And it did. Wednesday and Thursday I did little else. By Friday, I felt much better. While family members were in town, we gathered at our dad’s home to choose sentimental favourites among the dishes our mom left behind. It went well – very few tears and no conflicts. Then we headed out to one sister’s home for a final gathering before others would have to fly home. It would be a “music night,” with lots of instruments and singing. We all needed to let loose and feel alive again. Dad would have approved.

I had no way of knowing that a major roadblock was waiting for me around the next corner.



cute-baby-25The birthday balloon is tethered to the top of a table lamp.
No longer taut, it sways seductively,
its “Make A Wish” message calling to me
as the helium hisses a slow escape.

There is much to wish for as one grows older
but my one wish is simple.
Let me live long enough to see our sons
with families of their own.

Their happiness would fill my heart to overflowing.
And oh, to have a granddaughter,
so that I can finally experience some
of what I so sorely missed with my own baby girl.

Such joy. My birthday wish.



In support we meet, each a conglomeration of everchanging aches
and complaints,
each a walking frustration of foggy thoughts
and dead-end detours.

She says the secret is to laugh,
that our brains can be tricked
into compliance by smiles and
belly-laughs of imaginary amusement.

She speaks of blocked chakras and tree of life imbalances,
of inherited cellular memories and soul repair,
of angels that answer her simple prayers at first thought.
She says she was once like us
but now is cured.

She slides a silver pendulum from around her neck.
First still, it soon sways side to side,
telling her our secrets,
the “yays” or “nays” to her questions.

“You are now unblocked,” she says.
“You are now in balance.”
“Your inherited cellular memories are gone.”
“Your souls are healed.”

I scan the hopeful faces around me,
their evident willingness to accept that which has been said,
and I wonder if I’m the only one
who doesn’t believe.


like,quotes,thought,txt,life,moment-5883bba7d4638f2ed6a2fdbf964f22b0_hA name forgotten, an appointment missed,
a recipe that must be read and reread.
It sometimes frightens, that feeling that something is lacking,
that my mind will never function
as it did in younger years.

“Play sudoku,” someone suggests.
“Use your brain more,” another adds.
“Don’t type. Use a pen. Read.”
There is no
end to their cures.

But a brain is like a sponge, I tell myself, and mine is saturated
with images of a man on a bike laden with a hundred orphaned hubcaps,
and another who cheerfully pulls a tall wagon behind him, a free ride
for a grown woman, her legs stretched out, her gap-toothed smile pure glee.

Sounds vie for space here.
The rich tones of church bells at noon, the rush of sirens in the distance,
the rattle of carts and wagon wheels as the more resourceful, the more desperate,
scour the curbs for returnable bottles before garbage day,
the quiet voices from neighbouring verandahs on summer nights.

If my brain can only hold so much,
let it be this,
And let the random lists and names of unimportant celebrities
seep away.

tree1Recently, a friend and I caught up over an email and discussed the ups and downs of life. I told her about a dream I’d recently had, one that seemed particularly relevant when seen against the framework of my life over the past few years. I would like to share it with you now, in the hope that perhaps it will also help others through times of difficult transition or loss. I hope she will not mind me repeating it as I told her.

“I had the most interesting dream the other night. I often dream about not being in control of things. I wake up in panic. In this dream, I had to scale a vertical wall that had to be one hundred feet up. There were bricks and hooks to grip on, and others were doing it, but I was terrified. Once you got to the top, you had to let go and allow yourself to fall straight down.

I’m petrified of heights. In dreams where I fall, fear makes me wake up before I land. In this dream, I relented and started to climb the wall. Suddenly, it was as if I was being lifted straight up. Getting to the top was effortless. Once I got there though, I was afraid to let myself fall. I had to take several breaths to compose myself. I suddenly felt very peaceful, and rather than letting myself fall straight down, I allowed myself to fall backwards. As if I was on a breeze, I sailed onto the ground. When I landed, I was overcome with emotion. I’d allowed myself to be vulnerable and somehow it worked out.

I know the dream was inspired by a talk I had earlier that day with a family member. We spoke about having faith in yourself and trusting fate, that usually, things work out as they were meant to.

It’s a hard thing to live by, but when you look back at rough times, you often see that kind of pattern. We can’t judge our lives by the valleys we go though. Eventually, it all evens out and we realize we’ve survived.”

Sometimes, you do much more than survive. You overcome, and you see the world around you with fresh eyes and an open heart.

I wish that same gift for you this Christmas!