Sunday, May 19, 2013

One year later: Acceptance and Parchat Behar-Bechukotai

Today marks the one year anniversary of my heart attack. Not sure if that should be celebrated as a birthday or a yartzheit but regardless I'm happy to still be here and in good health, and I am very grateful for all the love and support I have received.

I've been feeling like I should mark the day with some great poetry or original song, some art driven by the pain and emotion I've been feeling, but for one reason or another I can't sort it out enough now to develop any.

I'm moving continually closer to acceptance, in the grieving sense. Definitely cycling through depression and anger on a regular basis. Pretty much past denial and bargaining, although I do seem to think that I can ignore my workout routine without any consequence, and most days I can focus on life rather than "life with heart disease."

But still.

There are the days, many days, when I want to cry because there's nothing I can eat, nothing I want to eat, no joy to be found in eating or even relief from whatever sadness I may be feeling. Food has become...not quite an enemy. An obstacle, a reminder, a lost pleasure. I've lost most of my vices. Physical activity follows different rules (I get epic bruises after even a short, gentle fencing practice), drinking is difficult because of interactions with all my pills, and the triple-threat combination of work, kid, and marriage pretty much take care of the rest (hard to stay up all night playing video games, even on the weekend, and still meet my responsibilities). Makes it hard on those days when I need something to take me away from myself, for a little while.

I live in constant fear, when I remember, of my own mortality. Constantly wondering not if, but when I will be forced to abandon my young son, my wife, my friends. It hurts me, not because of the pain I would feel at their loss but because of the pain I will cause them. We're making long-term plans, my wife and I, even more so than usual: buying a house, discussing a second child, saving for vacations...I leave every discussion wondering if I have started something I cannot finish.

And even though I keep getting positive health reports (except on the weight - that's creeping up a bit again; need to be careful about that) from every doctor I see, I get a massive jolt of terror if I experience any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the chest, shoulders, neck, or arms (Hello fencing!)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexpected tiredness or weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Stomach cramps (because that was a symptom of a heart attack in a book I read when I was a kid)
Now if that sounds like a list of symptoms one would commonly experience in every day life due to job, carrying a kid, not working out enough, working out too much, eating the wrong foods, not getting enough sleep...well, yeah. Until I get that pocket-sized EKG so I can get a status update on my heart as needed, or I get a lot more acceptance, there's going to be a portion of every day spent checking each symptom against every other to make sure they are a) unrelated, and b) due to known causes. 

I realize this has been a fairly heavy post so far; that's not really my intent. Life is very good right now and, as I may have mentioned, I'm glad to be a part of it! But as the anniversary has drawn closer I have been increasingly worried whether I could actually make it through a year without a heart attack, so there's a lot of heaviness to exorcise right now.


In the absence of art, I found myself wondering what the Torah portion was for this time last year - maybe I could find some inspiration there! Lucky me, it's Parchat Behar-Bechukotai, ie some of the driest-of-the-dry bits at the end of Leviticus. 

As I read through it, though, it became increasingly appropriate. Consider that the parsha is about:

1. Rules, lots of them. Rules that rabbis from that day to this have debated and studied and considered. I found myself thinking of my friends who converted to Judaism, and how they had to accept all these rules at once. That was my post-CHD experience - doctors handing me lists of rules I had to study and follow. As if my life depended on it. In many ways my experience with studying Jewish law prepared me for this new stage of my life. For example, koshering my kitchen was much harder than learning to buy the low-sodium products.

2. Jubilee. Granted, the biblical Jubilee is a very specific event, but that type of celebration and renewal is very much needed in my life at this point, so I'll take it.

3. Endings and Beginnings. This parsha is the end of Leviticus. After reading this we start on Numbers. Likewise, the heart attack marked the end of a chapter in my life, and, by extension, the start of a new one.

Many of the commentaries on this parsha note that while Moses received the entire Torah at one moment, it took many years to write the whole thing down. I can relate to that too.

Thank you to all my friends, family, coworkers, medical support, and everyone else who helped keep me healthy and sane and preserved me and enabled me to reach this season. Here's to another great year.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a White Pesach

To the tune of I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas
With apologies to...well...everyone

I'm dreaming of a white Pesach,
Just like the one in Exodus.
Where the matzah crunches,
And kinder search bunches
Of chairs for afikomen crust.

I'm dreaming of a white Pesach,
Read the haggadah as you lean.
Greet Elijah with "Shalom ale-cheem,"