It’s finally happened…I realize I say this a lot, and it’s always about something that was just waiting in the wings, something to which I am no longer immune.

I’ve had a heart attack. It was “just a mild one,” according to my doctor. I didn’t even know what it was, didn’t seek help. I just remember there was a day with extreme heartburn and I was too weak to even walk, so I took some Tums and went to bed in pain. But since I have back surgery scheduled in two weeks, I had to get an EKG, and it was revealed I had heart damage clearly related to a recent infarct.

I do have high cholesterol, and I have gained some weight recently due to not being able to work out with my back all messed up, but not enough to push me into the dangerously overweight category. I just have a bit of a belly now. 🙂 But it’s fairly obvious what did this damage; the 64 oz per day of Bang and Rockstar sodas, along with the ephedra pills and off-label thyroid hormones I thought would help me lose some weight. It didn’t even work. I never drink water; only enough energy drinks equivalent to 12 cups of coffee, then a pot of coffee a day on top of that, and pills I have to order from Canada.

So, preventing this should be simple, just cut out all that stuff. But having a small heart attack puts someone at risk for a larger one, so once this back surgery is over I’ll have to see another round of specialists. I’m just not young and in perfect health anymore. Everything I used to do was bound to catch up with me eventually. I’ve had a heart murmur since high school (thought to have been caused by cocaine use) and I used to take steroids and human growth hormone, which can enlarge and weaken the heart. I thought I was immune. I’ve gone this long without a broken bone or a medically necessary surgery.

So I decided to call my mom a few weeks before her scheduled birthday phone call to give her the news, and see if there is perhaps some genetic heart problems in our family. Turns out, she’s also having serious health issues; she literally can’t eat anything but certain fruits and rice due to a stomach issue. My mom is one of those people who truly can’t have gluten or, now, much of anything else. She’s lost 40 pounds due to her health problems; I’ve gained 20. We had a good laugh.

I tried to tell her, again, that she’s an old lady now and should live like one; move up near me where there is better medical care. Sell your house and get an old-people condo and old-people hobbies. She owns her own home in the middle of a wooded and very isolated area, which is how she likes to live. She’s a great organic gardener, except now she can’t eat most of her own produce. She doesn’t like to live in a “city,” which to her means anything over 10,000 people. She says life wouldn’t be worth living if she couldn’t be surrounded by trees. She doesn’t want to hear traffic or see airplanes.

So for now, she’s still going to live in the forest with her cats and her garden, and drive to her teaching job, but one day she won’t be able to do any of those things. She won’t be able to drive, or take care of a yard or animals. She can find something else to give meaning to her life and occupy her mind. I had to give up competitive bodybuilding. But I can find something else. There are some things at work I can no longer do, or can do only with assistance, but there are other things I can do. Maybe one day I won’t even be able to lift small bodies. Maybe I’ll get lung cancer and won’t be able to work around formaldehyde. I’ll find something else. I’ll just meet with families, or do makeup, or work for the mortuary board and bust dishonest funeral directors who sell used caskets.

My dad has worked hard all his life as a carpenter and electrician. He has not even a high school diploma but can build a house without a blueprint. Last year he fell off a ladder and shattered his femur. He probably won’t be able to do that kind of work anymore. He’ll have to retire and find something else. He plays chess. He reads. He can stay occupied.

People are often forced to adapt and overcome. People serving life sentences can do things to find meaning and purpose in their lives. People who have become paralyzed, who are terminally ill, who suffer loss after loss can find something else that keeps them going and gives them a reason to get out of bed.

I read one account from a person who had spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement, where he often couldn’t even see. He could barely move around. He spent his time daydreaming; replaying every enjoyable childhood memory over again in his head until that occupied all his waking thoughts. Not how most of us want to spent very long stretches of our lives, but it was something he found that he could still do.

The end of your job, your mobility, your health, your hobbies, your family or your freedom doesn’t have to mean the end of all meaning in your life. I hope my mom can find a way to live closer to a city, closer to medical specialists she may need and family who is willing to lend a hand before that choice is made due to a nasty fall or other old-people thing.