I’m sitting by a large open window, wiping sweat off my face. The heat is unbearable. I know it’s hot in the UK too, but German heat is drier and stronger somehow. I don’t remember when I was in +35C heat last. My teaching week here is coming to an end, and this is the first time I have a chance to have had a proper conversation with my husband.
‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ he says.
My guts clench in response. It’s not what he said, it’s the worry in his voice.
Something’s wrong with the kids. Which one? Something has gone terribly wrong…. Thoughts are flying in my head, but I’m unable to say a word. My throat feels dry and tight now.
‘I’ve been to see a doctor yesterday. She said I might have angina.’
‘You have what?!’ For a moment, I even thought I heard a word rhyming with angina. If it wasn’t for his tone, I’d think he was joking.
‘It’s a heart condition. I’ve been feeling rough this week,’ he says. ‘I finally went to see a doctor yesterday.’
Tears spring to my eyes. Perhaps it was the heat wave. He’s not very good with heat. Heart condition? I know he always said that men in his family have heart attacks around his age, but he’s so well normally. Healthier than I am in some ways, despite our age gap.
Shaken, I stare out of the window for a few minutes, before the door opens and my German colleagues suggest we have lunch together. I share my news, and they seem kind and understanding.
‘Do you want to return home straightaway?’
‘There’s not much I can do right now. He’s got a hospital referral on 3 July.’
I returned home that weekend for a day, and my husband seemed a bit grey but fairly functional. I had another two trips ahead of me so there wasn’t much time to relax.
It was only a week later, I was finally home from teaching in Brussels and Luxembourg.
The day I returned home, we went to a music festival at a nearby park and my husband was levitating for an hour dancing to the good beats of live music. The next day was even better: we did an amazing voice workshop with a teacher from NY. Inspired and relaxed, I felt like life was getting back to normal.
The next day, we headed for his hospital appointment. It’s been nearly two weeks since he felt rough, so in all honesty, I wasn’t worried at all. What could possibly go wrong? I even booked myself into a yoga class at 1pm thinking his 9:30am appointment would finish in an hour or two.
So when a lovely nurse said that my husband had a heart attack two weeks ago, we were in a state of shock. She strongly advised for an emergency procedure, something my husband hesitated to undergo. When they wheeled him to his hospital bed, he protested vehemently:
‘I’m well! I was dancing on Saturday and I jumped off my son’s bunk bed this morning. I can walk myself.’
They operated on him on the same day, fitted two stents into his right coronary artery, which was apparently 95-99% blocked. He’s been recovering well, but this experience has been a major wake up call.
We are mortal, we know that. And yet the tendency is to live as if we have an eternity ahead of us. We postpone things which matter to us. We delay writing that book, meeting that friend, taking a better care of ourselves… The list goes on.
My husband often refers to Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the people who greatly inspired him at the beginning of his healing journey. She ran workshops on ‘Life, Death and Transition’, which included using the prospect of death to inspire us to live more fully. ‘A Year To Live’ by Stephen Levine points in the same direction.
“If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.” Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (The Wheel of Life, 1997)
I want to complete this post with an inspiring TED talk by Linda Sivertsen. She speaks of her experience of being a time debter. If you’ve been postponing life until further notice, this is worth watching.
What do you always want to do in life but never have time for? What is it you want to be remembered for? It’s worth acting on it now.
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think [Song covered by many musicians, including Prince Buster, Jools Holland and The Specials.]