My eyes started to shut involuntarily as I rounded the last set of stairs to our hotel room. Knowing I had only a few seconds left, I urgently guided my 3 year old’s right hand to the railing as I released his left. I knew he would be much safer guiding himself the rest of the way than holding onto me. I left him behind as I rushed toward the last step and into the hallway, where I dropped to the floor and tucked my head into bent knees, hoping I wouldn’t lose consciousness. Again.
Thankfully, my husband was just a few steps behind our son. “Should I call 911?” he asked as he burst into the hallway.
“No. Wait.” I said. A few times I’d been able to stay conscious (or semi-conscious), and a call to 911 felt a bit over-the-top.
But this time, my plan wasn’t working. My world faded to black only seconds after I saw that my son was being guided safely away by my in-laws.
“Good,” I thought. And then...nothingness.
My next “conscious” moment could barely be described as consciousness at all. I was not aware that I was Melissa, that I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I was not aware that I was in Placerville, California, visiting my husband’s family, planning to visit my friend later that day to celebrate the 4th of July, or that the temperature was already nearing 90 degrees at 8 o’clock in the morning.
I was not even aware that I was a human being.
I was only aware of this one, most precious thing: that I was something struggling to stay alive. Shallow, rapid, requiring everything of me, was my breath. I could not see, hear or feel anything, save my breath.
The paramedics arrived quickly. They asked questions about who I was, where I was, what date it was. I was so hot, I said. I needed water, I said. “I need some fucking water,” I said, hoping the added emphasis would let them know how serious I was.
I was passing out again, I said.
“Get the scissors,” I heard. There was a tug at my dress, then my bra, and the unfamiliar feeling of sticky cool pads on my chest.
I was Melissa, mother to a sweet boy who was guided away by loving grandparents. Wife to Matt, who was not allowed to hold my hand. My heart was struggling to beat and I was struggling to breathe.
The paramedics carried me up the stairs and into the ambulance where I was administered oxygen. “Her heart rate dropped to 35 but is back up in the low 40’s...”They were on the phone with the Emergency Room.
“The pads,” I thought. The cool sticky pads on my chest. I had taken a CPR class before I began teaching yoga. These were defibrillator pads.
Deep inside, every cell of my being began to panic as I realized how grave the situation was. And in the very next instant, I knew that panic would not help me. I needed to focus every ounce of my energy on breathing. I closed my eyes and began to meditate on this mantra:
“Inhaling, I am healthy. Exhaling I am safe.” After only two rounds of my breathing meditation, the paramedic to my right interrupted, “MELISSA. MELISSA! I NEED YOU TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN.”
“Inhaling, I am healthy. Exhaling, I am safe,” I thought, full of doubt, as I stared at the white metal ceiling of the ambulance, unable to control the rapidity of my breath.
Moments later the doors of the truck burst open and I was wheeled out into a hot breeze and a brilliant blue sky. Then this next thought came to me, as sure as ever:
“I will probably live. But I might not. My sweet boy is loved by so many wonderful people, and he will be ok. Everything will all be ok, whether I live or die.” A sense of peace washed over me, despite the fact that I was still working very hard to breathe.
Hours later, after being administered two full liters of saline, I began to feel a bit like myself again. I was forking a piece of pasta from a flesh colored plastic plate when a woman, who I correctly assumed was the charge nurse, stopped in her tracks and boomed, “Boy am I glad to see you sitting up and eating! You didn’t look so good when they wheeled you in here. You really scared the paramedics this morning.”
Ever curious, I inquired as to why. “Well, your heart rate dropped pretty low when you fainted. For someone as young and healthy looking as you are, it’s usually not too much cause for alarm when your heart rate’s in the 50’s. The 40’s we start to get a bit concerned. You dropped into the 30's at one point, and honey, after that, there’s really no place left to go.”
She explained that in the movies, we see doctors try to restart hearts when they stop. “But that’s not how it works in real life. When you’re in the 30’s, we stop the heart, and then restart it again. Thankfully, you jumped back up to the 40’s and stayed there so we didn't have to do that to you. But you had an irregular EKG on the ride over, so we’re going to have you see a cardiologist.”
Cardiologist? You might think that, at this point, I was alarmed. But my very first thought was incredulity. My heart? "No way. I have a healthy heart!” I assured myself. I ran a marathon once, and how many half marathons? I taught yoga and made a human being! And, just recently, I laughed for TWO HOURS STRAIGHT without keeling over while watching Melissa McCarthy's SPY. Wouldn’t I know by now if I had a faulty ticker?
In the past 30 years, I’ve passed out at least 10 times, starting at the age of 6, when my mother was trying to extract a splinter from my pinky. For years, we were unable to get a definitive answer as to why I lost consciousness on occasion. I’ve had blood glucose tolerance tests, sleep-deprived EEGs, more EKGs than I can count, and more than a few embarrassing fainting episodes (namely, the time I hit the concrete in 5th grade…lucky for me, my teacher incorrectly assumed it was because my stone-washed jeans were too tight, so they unzipped them while I was unconscious, airing my California Raisins underwear for the entire 5th grade to see. (Sidebar: I was called “Raisins” by one boy until I graduated high school. I haven't forgotten Shane!))
And I’ve been seen by countless neurologists, the best of whom diagnosed me with a sensitive vagus nerve. I was, as he explained, “Like one of the women in the old-timey movies who passes out when they see something frightening, or if they get too hot. Even slight dehydration can cause you to pass out. You have to be careful to take very good care of yourself.”
Which, as we know, is super easy in motherhood.
So now, at the tender age of 36, I have a cardiologist. Who has a resident in tow. Who has a medical student in tow. All of whom concluded that my case was “interesting” and “a little muddy.” What every patient wants to hear! I get to wear this super sassy heart monitor 24/7 that looks like the cell phone Andrew McCarthy used on the beach in Weekend At Bernie's, and am scheduled to have an Echocardiogram on Monday to see how my heart is functioning.
After that, who knows? I’m not sure whether I will get the all clear if the monitor and echo show nothing, or whether I will be subjected to more tests. To be honest, even with extensive googling (don’t tell my husband!!!), I still have no idea what kind of defect(s) they are looking for, and what the potential impact on my health/life expectancy they could have. I am in a state of limbo, and doing my best to navigate it with gratitude (for excellent medical care) and positivity (about my future…I still do believe I'm like those ladies in the old timey movies, just a little less skinny and a lot less classy), lest I go down the deep dark rabbit hole of anxiety, which threatens to consume me on a daily basis.
And, anxiety…it is so pointless, really! If we do not know the future, isn’t it only beneficial to think of it positively? We have research that proves this! Yet we still allow ourselves the gluttony of dark thoughts. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says it’s because we think we can prepare ourselves for the worst by visualizing it, but the tricky thing is, we’re actually really terrible about predicting how we will feel in the future about whatever situation we imagine (even the worst ones!). I digress.
Oh! And did I mention that my cardiologist told me I cannot drive for the next 3 months? Super fun! I cried a snotty blubbery mess most of the way home from the doctor’s office and called one of my BFF’s and cry/yelled a lot of curse words. And then, I walked through the door, put my big girl panties on and decided that I will make this car-less 3 months an adventure. How? Thankfully, the weather is (mostly) nice this time of year and there are plenty of places my boo and I can bike/bus to together (not to worry, I am also equipping myself with a life alert style necklace that allows me to be located by GPS at the press of a button. It also has fall detection should I faint without warning (which I never have)). Annnnnnnddddd...as an added bonus, at the double press of the button, the device can also give me an instant "mom makeover" should I unexpectedly run into Cristiano Ronoldo while lunching with the hubs on the Nike campus.
Anywho, follow my blog for more on this suburban SAHM’s car-less summer adventure!!!
But seriously, how lucky am I to live in the age of Instacart (I don’t even have to put on a bra to get my groceries!?!), Amazon, and GPS location services? And lovely neighbors and friends who’ve committed to visiting so I don’t lose my mind for lack of driving freedom (don't worry girls, I'll put on a bra for you)!
But, what’s the purpose of me writing about the drama that, for almost a month, I’ve mostly saved for my mama? I haven’t written a thing in 4 years (coincidentally, since I became a mother), so why now? Because I have learned a few things along the way that I feel compelled to share with you:
Gratitude and positivity are the best medicine
Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this a thousand times. Then why the F. aren’t you listening yet? Because you haven’t been scared shitless, that’s why. So go jump out of an airplane, feed some hungry sharks, or whatever it is you need to feel absolutely fucking terrified. Just don’t overdo it! Get it? Wink wink. Because I promise you, it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.
Ok. Back to me. You see, of all the times I’ve lost consciousness, this is the first time I was genuinely scared shitless (figuratively speaking, I didn’t actually shit myself, which is apparently a real possibility when you lose consciousness, given the number of times I was asked by medical professionals whether I did, in fact, crap my pants. So…hooray for bowel control!). Anyway, from the moment I thought I may not live through the day, I have been deeply grateful for every minute of my life, especially my time with my son. And, yes, even when he’s being a turd, because 3 year olds can be turds sometimes. But so can we. Breathe and move on.
I’ve also been doing this 21 day gratitude meditation with Oprah and Deepak Chopra and it has been absolutely life changing. [Insert eye roll here. Which is appropriate because that is egg-zactly what I do when I see O on EVERY SINGLE COVER of her magazine while standing in the checkout line. Really, Oprah, really?!]
But, thanks to this change in mindset, I have been – literally - giddy with joy for my life (and even grateful for Oprah!), despite the various inconveniences of the last few weeks and the uncertainty about my health. I have allowed more time for grace, and less time for anxiety, because ain’t nobody got time for that (Yes, I know this video is hella old. It’s still funny.)
The point? Yoga is great and all, but meditation is where it’s at.
Prepare for the end by acknowledging that it will come, and that’s best for everyone, really.
What is WITH our obsession with living forever? It is so silly! And self-centered! We live in an age where pretending to not age is what is expected of us, ESPECIALLY women. Wake up! We are going to have hairs growing out of ungodly places someday (if we don't already) and the worst part is: WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE THEM AND EVERYONE ELSE WILL. And, if you’re lucky, YOU WILL LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO CRAP YOUR PANTS SOMEDAY and YOU WON’T EVEN BE ABLE TO CLEAN YOURSELF.
Breathe that in, y’all!!! Real deep.
And how, exactly, are we preparing for that? By pretending it isn't true and, instead, shooting ourselves with botox and fillers and killing our feet with high heels and push-up bras that, respectively, damage our feet and restrict the flow of breath in and out of our lungs? No thanks! And, yet, according to Time’s, Nip, Tuck, or Else article, cosmetic procedures will soon be as normal as makeup!? That. Is. Terrifying.
Trust me on this: the only way to live forever is to LOVE as FULLY AND DEEPLY as we can, starting now, to INSPIRE the hearts and minds of others, and to PASS THE TORCH of generosity and kindness.
To LOVE is to CHANGE THE WORLD.
And, lastly, why is it best for the world that we will all, someday, have our end? Because British philosopher Alan Watts said so. (Grab the tissues and play it. Twice.)
Yours truly, madly, deeply,