This is sterility at its best. A germ couldn’t possibly be hanging around here. I’m surrounded by shiny aluminum and chrome and spotless white paint. I’m strapped to a clean, crisp starched bed hooked up to more plastic tubes and electric wiring than a NASA space shuttle.
I’m so bed-bound I think the masked and rubber-gloved people now holding my life in their hands are afraid I will try to escape. Why would I? The pending surgery amounts to what is really my only hope of survival. Maybe they simply think I could tumble out of the bed on the short journey down the hall.
The waiting area where my wife and I exchanged our possible last kiss defined for me the real meaning of the word "surreal." This is something that happens to other people. I was to spend the next nine hours under the knife. For me, those nine hours would best be described as a drug induced coma.
This morning it was me, Wick Fisher, taking that ride down the hallway, strapped to a gurney, my life suddenly placed in the hands of strangers. This was the moment you saw on television on the popular medical shows such as Dr. Kildare, The Doctors, Ben Casey and the long running soap opera, General Hospital.
I did have one non-stranger with me, Dr. Park, one of the top heart surgeons in the world. However, by the time he entered the room, I had already breathed enough of the airy cocktail that was flowing through my mask that I couldn’t have distinguished him from Central Park.
Moments before, I had signed off on the papers that stated “I agree to enter this high-risk surgery” and I allow the medical staff here at Mayo Clinic to basically do what it takes to get me through it. This was the moment reality hit me. Wick, you may be having your first meeting with the Lords of Death. How does that make you feel? My first reflection was “Now you have a Dr. Phil moment?”
In reality, I realized no fear was involved. I was not afraid to die. The deep emotion that did swell from within me came when I thought about my wife, three sons and my sister — in other words, my closest family.
Think about it. When you die, it is not you who are left on planet Earth to suffer the loneliness that accompanies the departure of a loved one. The gap that is left in a person’s life belongs to the living, not the dead. So it seemed only natural to me that the few tears that were clouding my journey down the hallway were not being shed for me, but the ones I may never see again, at least in the current physical dimension I was either to depart or return to with a new heart.
The main thoughts circling my brain were, “How did I get here?” and “How did this happen?”
It was a full year after the event that so changed my life when the answers came to me while looking through some photos we had taken on New Year’s Day of 2012. We had spent the holiday season in San Diego and we were winding up our vacation with a day trip to a favorite place of mine, Point Loma. After descending the long stairway that took us down to the beach, we walked around, climbed a few rocks and gathered for several photo opportunities. One randomly shot photo took on tremendous significance.
My wife was sitting at the kitchen when she hollered out, “Wick! Come here and look at this!”
I glanced at a photo of myself sitting alone on the beach looking quite uncomfortable.
“My God, Karen, that was when I had the heart attack!” I exclaimed.
We reiterated the details preceding the moments before the picture was taken. We had attributed the excruciating chest pain I was experiencing to the sternum I had fractured during a recent car accident. That photo explained it all.
It now all made sense. Now I knew when I had a massive heart attack. I just didn’t realize what it was until the photo surfaced a year later.
By myself, I climbed the long, steep stairway back to the parking lot and awaited the rest of our party. No one knew I had just suffered a massive heart attack. Later that day we went out to a famous seafood restaurant and celebrated the New Year. I must say, all in all, it was a quite enjoyable day, even if I had a heart attack I didn’t know about.
A month after surgery, my questions, “How did I get here?” and “How did this happen?” were answered. Eventually I came to realize just how many of the early warning signs had slipped by. After all, isn’t this one of those things that happens to someone else?