Around midsummer last year, I had a couple of heart attacks, which resulted in a sextuple bypass. As I've  described earlier, that operation entailed sawing my ribcage open, pulling arteries from elsewhere in my body and attaching them to my heart to replace the arteries that were almost entirely blocked.

As I posted earlier (and right after the event) the experience and its aftermath made me reevaluate my priorities. I decided to spend less time worrying about work and more time enjoying my family, neither of which were perhaps particularly original, although the feeling was definitely heart-felt.

It's been a little over six months since then. I'm in better shape than I was before the heart attacks but the simple truth is that my life expectancy is now much shorter than it was before. In thinking about what happened and what's coming, I've learned a lot about myself, my goals, my emotions and other people.

Here are some observations, for what they're worth:

1. Doctors can be curiously negative.

Both my cardiologist and my GP seem unable or unwilling to help me stay positive about my prospects. It's bad enough that I have a genetic propensity for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes... does that news really need to be delivered with such doom and gloom? Their advice has been about on the level of "if you're lucky, you'll die before you get diabetes." Not helpful, guys.

2. Most people don't "get" it.

My erstwhile business partner assumed a heart attack meant I'd be in the hospital overnight to have a stent installed and be back on my feet in a week. Another of my clients cancelled an ongoing contract because I wasn't fully back to speed within a month or so. I must say, however, that my editors at Inc.com were very understanding and allowed me to lighten the load. 

3. People say stupid things.

One of my relatives wanted to know if I'd seen a tunnel of light or a circle of angels. (Uh, no.) Another relative insisted upon providing details of how, when he was hospitalized, he had frequent sexual fantasies about one of the nurses. (TMI, dude.) It wasn't just other people. I also said some stupid stuff... like making a joke to my cardiologist about enjoying the fentanyl while in recovery. (Not funny.)

4. Obits can be weirdly fascinating.

In the past, I pretty much ignored the obits. Now my news feed is full of them. I immediately calculate the difference between my age and the age that person died and then read the obit to see what they died of. As awful as this sounds, I can't help but feel a bit cheery if the death was something preventable, like an overdose. The worst are when a relatively young person dies of heart disease. 

5. I really regret wasting time.

I resent every minute that I spent working at a job I hated or staying in a bad relationship. I cringe when I think of the thousands of hours I've wasted playing computer games or watching mediocre television. I think of all the times in my life that I could have been kinder to other people or accomplished something noteworthy. Now I have, what, 5? 10? 15? maybe 20--if I'm lucky--years left?.  No way will I make those same mistakes.

6. Every moment is precious.

When I was young I felt immortal and therefore didn't appreciate the many good things in my life. I breezed through experiences because I figured I'd always get a second chance. Once I realized--in my gut--that I'm getting a do-over and that This Is It, I find myself savoring experiences in a way that was impossible in the past.

7. The longevity freaks are dead wrong.

There are bunch of nouveau-riche baby boomers in Silicon Valley who think they'll become immortal by transferring their brains into computers, becoming plasma vampires, or other varieties of pseudoscience. What they don't realize is the most important thing I've learned: that I didn't really start living until I almost died.

Published on: Feb 15, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.