It was February 24th, a festive Friday night, like any other. I had just come home from celebrating the birthday of one of my closest friends. Within a few hours, my body started speaking to me in strange ways. My head started to ache; there was a tightness in my chest; my body seemed heavier; numbness moved from my face to my right arm and then to my left arm. I felt a bit dizzy when I stood up, and I was having trouble swallowing. Many thoughts were racing through my mind, the most prevalent being a warning from a good friend and mentor who’d been the victim of a stroke, Joe Sabah. “Listen to your body, and if ever you feel the symptoms of a stroke, don’t fool around. Call 911 and get yourself to a hospital. Every minute is precious.” Wise advice for any of us!
I googled ‘symptoms of a stroke.’ Sure enough, I had five out of ten. Could I really be having a stroke? So I called Uber (made good sense at the time) and quickly packed a bag for the hospital just in case I’d be there awhile.
I checked in around 2:45 AM and was rushed in for tests. Vitals looked good, blood pressure: normal, heart rate: just a little low, no fever. Another false alarm, perhaps? It’s like taking your car in to figure out what that annoying noise is, but as soon as you drive into the service garage, it stops. I was feeling better already. Who has time for a stroke, anyway?
Next up, the MRI. All good, until suddenly they opened the cylinder and I was sweating and nauseous. The tech took one look at me and said, “You’re having a heart attack! We need to get you to the operating room!” Within minutes, I was on the operating table feeling like the luckiest man still alive.
A few hours later, I was in the ICU with 2 new stents to counteract the 99% blockage in my right coronary artery, causing the heart attack. Three days later I had another procedure, four more stents, two in two other arteries where I had 80% blockage in each. Quite ex-stent-sive I know.
Today, six weeks later, I feel great and grateful for such an easy road to recovery and a fresh perspective.
So how do these major events change our lives? And maybe more importantly, how can we most positively direct that change?
I think it starts with one simple question: What’s the gift?
As with every life experience, we have a choice of the story we will tell ourselves and others. Will we gravitate toward the negative, feel sorry for ourselves, allow ourselves to get angry or depressed, and play the victim? Or will we look for the lessons, commit to positive future action, and take a stand for what’s most important in our lives?
The game of “What’s the gift?” opens up a world of positive possibilities! It’s so much more fun and exciting than the self-pity party. So let’s play!
First, I’d like to serve as a good example and encourage others to get their health checked. I thought eating healthy and working out gave me a free pass to good health. Dummy alert: that’s flawed thinking. I’d recommend a yearly physical at the minimum and a heart scan every eighteen months to be safe. Listen to your body! When it starts talking to you in strange ways, pay attention, and get it checked out. It’s just not worth the risk!
Second, having a quick brush with my mortality made me think about what’s really important in life. Along with a greater passion to spread my message of using celebration to create happier workplaces and lives is a new sense of urgency to expand Together We Can Change the World’s mission of empowering girls and women in SE Asia to live more fulfilled lives. Through anti-trafficking, social business, fresh water, and education we can make a difference together.
There is an old Buddhist prayer that states “Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly filled.” That may be the best gift of all.
Please join me on this important mission. With your help, we can change the lives of even more girls and women who were born into circumstances offering far less opportunity than we have here in the U. S.
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