How Someone Saved My Life

I came home from work. I had only been with the company for a couple of years. I was working PC Support for a local food distributor.

I had a little girl. She would have just turned 3 at the time this all went down.  At the time I was about to be given my death sentence.

I looked around the house. My wife was not home yet. Our work schedules were slightly out of sync. She left for work after I did and came home later. So, what I found on the bed would have been placed there after I had left for work that morning.

To say I wasn’t coping well with the new married life was a bit of an understatement. In retrospect, many things make sense now that didn’t at the time. I guess that’s what retrospect is, isn’t it? I don’t know how long we’d been in that apartment. Failing to keep my family safe in our previous abode had led us there, not 3 blocks from my childhood home. That episode will have to wait for another time.

This is the time for the death sentence story.

I came home. My wife and daughter weren’t home. I went in to the bedroom to change out of my work clothes and in to something comfortable.  That’s when I noticed them.

On the meticulously made bed were two suitcases.  One was my wife’s. The other was smaller.  Like one you would put a child’s clothes in.

I checked–they were empty. For now. The message was fairly clear though.

Dinner was a silent affair.  After our daughter was put to bed, the conversation was direct. And decidedly one-sided.

“You’re turning in to an ass. To me and to our daughter. I don’t know what the deal is, but you need help. And if you don’t get help, I’m leaving. And taking our daughter with me.”

There was more. And I’m sure those weren’t the exact words. Memory has a kind way of making some of the sharper edges fuzzy with time.

I called her mom’s doctor the next day. I didn’t have a primary care physician of my own.

“Yes. Hi. I’m so-and-so’s son-in-law. Yes. She’s a patient of Dr. Whatzits.  I need to see if I can get in to see him. I think I might be suffering from depression.”

BOOM.  The big D. Depression.

They were able to schedule me for an appointment the following week. I made up some bullshit at work about going for my annual physical or something like that. It was going to take a few hours (because back in 1997, they actually pretending to be thorough before prescribing something that changes the core chemical composition of your brain).

I had the standard battery of tests. And because I had previously had pneumonia, they wanted to take an x-ray of my chest and lungs to make sure there wasn’t anything weird there.

I was led in and out of the exam room to various rooms throughout the office.  And then I was led back in to the exam room and I sat.

And sat.

And waited.

After what seemed like an hour, the doctor came back in and asked me what my day was like.

I was a little confused. He clarified. Asking me if I had time for a few more tests. Something caught their attention and he wanted to “just clear a few things up.”

And then he said it, “it’s probably nothing, but we just like to make sure.”

What’s probably nothing? I asked.

He then proceeded to tell me that in the x-ray of my chest my heart was too big. Apparently there is a ratio of how big your heart should be versus chest size. Mine was too big. Indicating it was working too hard (it is a muscle, after all).

Well, sure. I mean…seems like the kind of thing I want to rule out.

More tests.

This time and EKG.  And wasn’t I in luck? On the day I was there, the office cardiologist was also there.  He was the one that evaluated my echo.

After what seemed like forever with sensors, and pads, and squiggly lines and ultrasound gel, they led me back to the exam room. The exam room that in 4 short hours had started to feel more like a cell.

They came back in with the results of the test. They weren’t able to tell me what sex the baby was, but they were able to tell me that there was a hole in my heart.

What had started as the size of a pin prick when I was born had grown to be something considerably larger (at least relative to the fact that you’re not supposed to have that kind of hole in your heart to begin with). This hole was now threatening my life.

Oh. You thought the diagnosis of depression was the death sentence? Pshh. Please.  When I do it, I do it big, baby.

Hole in the heart.

And the kicker…I was told that I probably had six good months left if they didn’t do open heart surgery.

Twenty-five years old. A three year-old daughter. A wife who thought I was an asshole.

And six months before my heart decided it didn’t want to play any more.

I look back on that period of my life with a strong sense of the meaning of irony.
Let me break it down for you:

  • I went in because I thought I was depressed–or rather because I didn’t think I was, but wanted to prove my wife wrong and really just wanted to keep her from taking my daughter.
  • I left with a prescription for an anti-depressant and a pretty damn good reason to be depressed, if I wasn’t already (I probably was).
  • And…the one person who thought I was an asshole (and has thought it many times since then, I’m sure) is the one person that saved my life.

By threatening to leave me, a threat she made good on 2 years later, she actually got me to a place where a doctor found something that would have killed me if left untreated.

Yeah…irony, to be sure.

My heart has thus far (physically) last longer than that marriage (and longer than the one that followed it).

Apparently I’m not quite through in this lifetime yet. I got shit to do.


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