Exactly one year ago today I was being rushed to the emergency room with severe pain in my chest and down my left arm. I was coming off an extreme case of pneumonia, and the night before I’d had a fever just under 103. Somehow I felt the pain in my chest was related to the pneumonia, even though I didn’t know how. At the same time the pain was so bad—unlike anything I had ever felt—that I figured it was best to go to the hospital (even though I had no insurance). At the hospital the doctors ran some tests, and told me I’d had a heart attack. I was in denial, in part because less than two years earlier I’d had a heart stress test that came back perfect, but also because I couldn’t afford an extended stay in the hospital.
After several days in the hospital, and some very expensive tests, it was determined that I didn’t have a heart attack, but myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle brought about by an infection from the pneumonia. I felt relieved that I hadn’t suffered a heart attack—and was even dismissive when one doctor had told me I was lucky to be alive. As far as I was concerned, it was only myocarditis, and not anything to really worry about. But the truth of the matter is that myocarditis is a lot like having a heart attack. As the website Medicine Net describes it, “Patients who have had myocarditis are at some risk for sudden unexpected, potentially fatal, heart rhythm abnormalities.” In other words, myocarditis can kill you just like a heart attack can kill you. And had I waited much longer to go to the hospital, there’s a chance mine could’ve killed me.
It took some time to really come to grips with how sick I actually had been, and how much healing I needed to do. One year later, I look back on what was the most difficult year of my life. Less than two months after being hospitalized one of my best friends died unexpectedly. Barry’s death was followed by two more deaths in less than three weeks, for a grand total of seven friends dying over the course of five months. And then, just when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse, my mom was hospitalized for two weeks, for what at the time seemed to be a ruptured disc in her spine. This combination of events plunged me into the deepest depression I have ever known, accompanied by frequent anxiety attacks.
Much of the past year has been spent spiraling out of control, in which I’ve spent more days suffering from depression and anxiety attacks than I have not. Nothing is as it was. I can’t get past the fear of dying in my sleep. Every time my phone rings I worry it is a friend calling to tell me someone has died. Whenever I talk to someone I can’t help but wonder if it will be the last time. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about Barry, trying make sense of his death, and beating myself up for the things I never said or did when he was alive. This has become the new normal that I struggle to change every day.
There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer has a heart attack, undergoes triple bypass surgery, and says, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” To which Dr. Hibbert replies, “Oh no, quite the opposite. It’s made you weak as a kitten.” And that’s kind of how its been with me for the last 365 days. But despite all I’ve been through, and the dark place I seem to spend most of my time in, I hold out that things will get better, that I will get stronger, and of course, that life will go on.