Back from the abyss

The day I was first diagnosed with hypertension, I thought I might be having a heart attack. When the ER nurse took my blood pressure and it was 224/124, they said, “Yeah, you’d better come on in here and stay awhile.”

They were pretty sure it was NOT a heart attack, but just in case they gave me a nitroglycerin tablet. At some point they gave me a second pill, and I was making small talk with the nurse when I started feeling nauseous and everything went white. (That was the most interesting part, you always hear about “blacking” out but this was definitely white.)

An undetermined amount of time later, I woke to a bunch of concerned medical faces, who told me my heart had stopped for a few seconds more than anyone felt comfortable about. They called the heart-restarting team to the room and had the paddles out and everything. It was a little scary in hindsight, and I had trouble sleeping that night — largely because I was in a hospital bed and they hooked me up to a monitor that beeped every time my heart dipped below 50 beats a minute.

But I went home the next day, spent about a week away from work, and have been on blood pressure medication for a little more than 21 years without another episode like that. 

Damar Hamlin went home this week. His cardiac arrest was measured in minutes, not seconds, so I can’t pretend to know what his experience was like except maybe that first moment of losing consciousness. I am relieved and happy that he is recovering from his nightmare.

Moments like this are reminders of what’s really important. I can’t add to what has already been said and written since Hamlin collapsed on the football field and brought everyone together for a time. 

You always wonder if this will be the time we all stay on track, when we gather together once and for all and hang onto the understanding that life is precious and how silly and petty all of our disagreements tend to be. Then someone changes the subject and we’re bickering again, or remembering old grudges, or shooting at people we’ve never met in the name of some greater purpose.

I don’t know why it’s so easy to forget that the person you hate, the political party or race or foreigners you can’t stand — they’re all living human beings and each of them precious. Damar Hamlin’s crisis brought us to sanity for a few hours, and that was a good thing. We need to hang on longer to that understanding next time.

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