reading Stoic philosophy’s viewpoint on pain — get a grip,
it only hurts if you let it — I was as ready as I could be for
whatever might occur.
An angiogram usually proceeds without significant
complications; mine did not. I experienced a major problem
with my heart’s electrical system and immediately required a
pacemaker to normalize my heartbeat. It was also discovered
that three of my coronary arteries were obstructed and
needed prompt surgical intervention. Valve? Pacemaker?
Arteries? The horsemen hovered in the neighborhood.
The night before the surgery, I dreamed that I had died.
I was struggling to escape from a stifling white cloud, which
engulfed me like a terrified fish caught in a net. I awoke,
paralyzed with fear. In the morning, after my chest hair was
shaved, the possibility of my death gripped me more strongly
than before: What if I die? What happens to my family?
What’s next for me? Heaven? Hell? Reincarnation? And even
more disturbing, What if there is no “next”? The religious
anointing seemed far away and long ago and perhaps might
indeed prove to be extreme. My friends, the Stoics, had left
the building. I needed reinforcement.
On other occasions I had used music to reduce surgical
anxiety. So in case I had to undergo an emergency cardiac
procedure, I had loaded some songs onto my MP3 player.
As I waited outside the operating theatre I turned it on.
A young surgeon asked me, “Is that gangsta rap?” His
amusing question and the music put me at ease. Later, it
occurred to me that I could have answered him in rap:
When you come to your decision
How to make my chest division
I am sure that your incision
Will be done with great precision
With no need for a revision
On this body of mine!
At the time though, I didn’t feel quite that cool. Anyway, I
wasn’t listening to gangsta rap. My choice of music was Fred
Astaire’s 1948 film rendition of “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,”
Irving Berlin’s composition about a guy heading out for a date
with his best girl. My last memory was the sound of Fred’s lively
singing and tap-dancing performance, and it accompanied me
as I stepped out with my own partner — Death.
When I began to wake up 18 hours later, still in a semi-
conscious state, I asked my wife, “Did you call Fred?”
Neither of us knew anyone named Fred.
“Do you mean Fred Astaire?” she asked me in a
“Yes,” I said.
I didn’t get to see Fred on this trip. Maybe I will —
Many people live their entire lives and never consider the importance of healthy heart valves.
Learn what heart valves do for us.