On February 24, 1987, I had a massive heart attack. It probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I was living a totally unhealthy lifestyle—smoking 3-packs-a-day. I smoked so much that I actually perfected the art of keeping a cigarette lit while taking a shower. I had a routine of resting it on it the soap tray so I could take a puff between sudsing off.
Healthy. Sexy. Sophisticated.
I remember one night when I was out of cigarettes. I walked three blocks in a snow storm just to buy a pack. I was in such desperation that I went behind the counter and started smoking before I even paid the attendant. That’s addiction for you. It’s debasing.
Well, quintuple bypass surgery has a tendency to make you reevaluate things. After the heart attack, I stopped cold. From that day on, I decided I wasn’t going to let myself get addicted to anything ever again. In fact, that’s why I carry a flip phone. I’ve seen friends and family become completely addicted to their smart phones. They can’t go ten minutes without nervously checking their phone for emails and texts. No thanks.
Anyway, I thought the dangers of smoking were behind me. It’s been over 30 years since I’ve lit up. But this year during my annual medical check-up, the doctor told me that he saw a spot on my chest x-ray that he didn’t like. He said that it was very small and that I’d be fine—but he wanted to keep an eye on it.
After the check-up I went on a speaking trip to Norway and London, and didn’t give the x-ray another thought. But then the doctor called. He wanted to run a couple scans—first a CAT scan, then a PET scan. The scans revealed that I had a small cancerous growth on my right lung. The doctor wasn’t sure if it was malignant or benign, but he was sure that he wanted to get it out. Benign tumors can become malignant.
Doc told me that the surgery would be no problem. It’s done through the ribs, by arthroscopy. You may feel “some discomfort,” he said. Well, I guess people have different ways of describing pain because the two words I’d use to describe the surgery would be more along the lines of “horrible pain.” You feel “some discomfort” when you get a parking ticket. When you lose 20% of your lung, you may want to use some stronger adjectives. “Shocking agony.” “indescribable suffering.” “&%^##!!” But at least it’s all over now. And…
The good news is that the cancer is gone. Completely.
The lesson from all of this is never to smoke. Doc told me that the growth on my lung could be traced right back to the habits I had over three decades ago. So obviously, smoking is a dumb choice. If you’re a smoker, don’t wait to get quintuple bypass surgery. Don’t wait until your doctor tells you that you have a growth on your lung. Stop now and give yourself a chance.
In fact, if you’re addicted to anything, do what you need to do to stop. Get help. I’d never really taken painkillers until after this surgery. But after seeing the effects of painkillers, I have a sense of how horrible they can make someone’s life. While I was on them I was delusional.
One night, while I was still in the hospital, I left a message on my wife’s phone telling her that I was in a hotel in Chicago, and to “meet me in the lobby in ten minutes DON’T BE LATE!”
Another night I thought that I was about to have a big dinner on my hospital bed. Everyone would need to wear tuxedos.
Yet another time I thought I was a prisoner in my own house—but that my captors had decorated my house so that it looked like a hospital.
Still another time, I thought I was a sick person in the movie. I kept asking the director (whoever that was), “what’s my motivation?”
I’m happy to say that all that is behind me.
When I came home, the doctor gave me some breathing exercises and before long I was right back at it. I’m ready for some good, positive things to happen again in my life. For me — for all of us — living our best lives requires that we take care of our health.
Salud, my friend,