Apparently, I am dying.
Or so said the interventional cardiologist who performed my latest heart catheterization procedure as he described a preciptious decline in my cardiovascular function and proffered options of last resort such as heart pumps and transplants.
Do I look like I’m dying?
Do I feel like I’m dying?
Do I act like I’m dying?
I posed this conundrum to the physician I saw during the follow-up appoitnment at my regular cardiologist’s office.
Heart catheterization test results are the gold standard in this discipline of medicine and the treatment regimens he mentioned are the only possibilities remaining to someone with your level of heart function, she began as I looked increasingly incredulous.
BUT, she continued, numbers do not tell the whole story. They do not take into account a patient’s spirit, will to persevere, and perhaps in your case the athleticism you have cultivated for the past two decades. You are in great shape for a man your age, you take your medicine religiously, and you eat a sensible diet. Very little research has been done on people like you. You’re an anomaly we don’t understand, and while I wish I could prognosticate your trajectory, your heart function might continue to decline with you being able to happily cycle through the Alps or you could pass out watching TV and never wake-up. I don’t have a better answer. I’m sorry.
Her words hung in the air as she exited the examination room and I grew contemplative. Am I really nearing the end of this journey we call life? Will Atropos step forward to cut my mortal thread as I settle into watching another episode of “Get Smart” on DVD?
Could I deceive this fearsome Moira by saying “Would you believe, at this very moment, you are being surrounded by an army of Myrmidons, Argonaunts, and Gorgons?”
Then the words of Horace Mann rang through my mind. “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity,” said the great educator.
I’d better get busy living then because right now, the trophy case is looking bare.
But what battles to fight? What objectives to secure? What victories to win?
One epiphany came during a January visit with my cardiologist. After I told her about completing my first 200K bike ride, I jokingly inquired about when she was going to publish her paper on me. She didn’t laugh. Instead, she turned her head and said (more or less):
When are YOU going to start speaking out? I see you once a year, and you like to regale me with some anecdote about your latest physical accomplishment, but I never see you out in the community. I never see you in media. I never see you sharing your story with anyone else. And you teach rhetoric and public speaking?! Shame on you!
Do you have any idea what impact you might have? I see patients every day who think their diagnosis a death sentence and just give up or live in fear waiting on the other shoe to drop.
Pick-up a microphone and tell a roomful of other heart patients and cardiologists that you cycle thousands of miles each year and do grueling work-out routines at your gym. Maybe you’ll remind them what a precious gift life is and what’s possible with current treatment methods. Even older patients or ones with more severe conditions might be inspired again seek out the beauty of a warm spring day or contact someone they have not spoken with in a long time.
Don’t speak to me of papers and journal articles when YOU’RE the one who has far more potential to touch people day-to-day.
Message received doc. Maybe, by pedaling and inspiring others, I’ll score that victory for humanity so when the time comes as it must for us all, I can stand before the Creator and look back on my life without having to say, “Sorry about that, Chief.”
That’s not the only reason I ride, but it is a BIG motivator to keep pushing the envelope.