#1: Surviving a heart attack
To all of you who sent get-well wishes, thank you from the bottom of my repaired heart!
Upon turning 60 in June, I remember morbidly if briefly wondering to myself whether I was entering the final ⅓, ¼, ⅕ or maybe tenth of my life. Little did I imagine that October 10, 2013, might be my last day.
Logically, most of us conscientiously avoid the thought of what might really happen tomorrow. Without some healthy denial, we’d never make it through the day — or go crazy first. So I’d like to share with you a very personal view of my recent crisis. It’s neither unique nor sad, but one from which I’ve learned to treasure both breathing and loved ones. I’ll leave out the gore and TMI parts, concentrating on what ran through my head and heart.
I had come to NY representing Curiyo for a great 3-day Israel to NYC program. We were a 15-startup delegation, meeting with business partners, marketers, and investors, and an event Wednesday evening at the new WTC. Afterward, by Thursday 7:30AM morning, I checked out and ran off to the first two of six meetings before heading to JFK and home to Israel.
But I started feeling strong pains in the middle of my chest.
Now here was the moment of truth. Should I tough it out, get on the plane and deal with it all upon landing home? Or maybe admit the pain and walk into a NY emergency room.
What would you do?
In a rare smart moment, I took a cab to Beth Israel Medical Center on First Ave. & 16th. The ER doctor did a simple CPK blood test and EKG and said I had suffered a minor heart attack. A catheterization, however, would determine arterial blockage and treatment options: medication, stent, or surgery.
First, call Diane. Cancel my appointments via smartphone email. Cancel the flight via our great travel agent, Mark Feldman and Esther Salomon at Zion Tours (and extend medical insurance!) Our most amazing friend Martha came over to sit with me before the procedure. I gave her my hotel suitcase receipt and a few key passwords. At a moment like this, you find yourself thinking some pretty morbid thoughts and wondering whom you will ever see again. Will my children know how much I loved them?
Thursday evening was the “Cath-Lab”. I was treated by the wonderful Dr. Hugo Rosero. When I was awake enough to understand, he said, “Mr. Rosenschein, you must have done something good in your life, because the Lord has given you a second chance to live! It would have been a big mistake to get on that plane. You have 95% blockage in your main arteries and we need to operate on you tomorrow morning.”
Called Diane again: “The good news is that I’m alive! The bad news is that I need surgery in the morning.”
They prepped and wheeled me into the operating room by 8AM. The anesthesiologist introduced himself. That’s all I remember.
But poor Diane, besides her sleepless night and long ride to Ben-Gurion, flew 12 hours with no status report. She’s not usually one of those fliers who turns on her cell phone the second the wheels touch down, but made an exception.
Meanwhile, back on the OR, my lifesaving cardiac surgeon Dr. Darryl Hoffman. “harvested” lengths of artery from both arms, opened up my chest, sawed open my sternum, and grafted arterial material to bypass my blocked arteries. Total time = 7.5 hours.
My new 2nd birthday is October 11, 2013, which is my 60th birthday + exactly 128 (2⁷) days.
Diane, Martha, Elan, and Adam saw me asleep at my weakest, respirator down my throat, out of it.
I woke up late Friday night in the cardiac ICU. It was very quiet, and I was pretty sure I was alive. I was in pain and couldn’t breathe well, or even make a squeak. The nurses told me I was ok. Fell back asleep.
Diane arrived and stayed with Martha for the week. She is my strength, and we didn’t even need to talk much. The looks and hands and love were enough. God knows what I looked like!
The first few days after surgery, you may feel thankful to be alive, but they’re also depressing days. You’re really out of it, tubes, wires, and sensors coming out of you in a half-dozen directions. Swollen feet, hands. Pills, blood pressures, blood tests, stomach shots. Beeping monitors. Hard to fill your lungs. Can’t sit, can’t lie there. Everything hurts, because they just did a “reboot” on your body!
But getting the respirator tube out of my throat was cool, as was the very thought I survived, even if not out of the woods yet.
One morning, I asked the nurses if I could sit in a chair, just to move around, thinking I could move back to the bed when I wanted. Hah, what a mistake! They wouldn’t let me, saying it was good to sit for 30–45 minutes. Clears the lungs of fluids. After 45 minutes, they upped it to 2 hours. By the time the doctor did his rounds and said, sure I could go back to bed, it was 2 hours and 34 minutes…
Of course, they were right, and my care was top-notch, warm and pleasant at Beth Israel. I’m just mentioning how you feel when you’re going through it.
On Monday, they released me from ICU to the recuperation ward on the 10th floor, to a single room, perfect #28. A whole new set of great professional care, specialized and working 12-hour shifts.
Hospital privacy BTW is an oxymoron; enough said.
I was hallucinating from the painkiller Percocet. In the middle of one night, on an imaginary screen on the wall, I dreamed a killer product. In the morning, I remember thinking, nah. I also changed painkillers and then weaned myself.
Can’t say I was impressed by the 99 channel-TV. First, the political discourse in America has become so shrill over the last decade. Lots of shouting, minimum compromise. Now, living in Israel, you see much polarization, little empathy. But this is America. The other thing is, at least in the middle of the night, it’s half commercials, with those delightful legalisms, “This medicine may help you, if you do not suffer the following 8 side effects…”
Within a few days, I was tubeless and able to put on my own socks and walk around the ward, assisted. And showered (mulțumesc, Drago from Romania)!
Every day I felt stronger, able to breathe, talk and move around better. And I couldn’t get the realization and smile of being alive off my face!
Dr. Hoffman knew how much better I would be released. Thursday morning, they wanted to give me a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine. I asked if they could do it right before leaving… I didn’t want anything to prevent my release.
At 11:15, one week to the hour after walking in, I left Beth Israel Hospital, grateful and happy. My cousin Rita and Barry drove Diane and me to Harrisburg. I slept most of the way.
Visiting my dear mother, who is 92, has been a delight. Diane and she are sharing the caretaking burden. We have also been doing a lot of resting, walking around the block (the smell of autumn leaves and rain in Pennsylvania), eating heart-healthy, and just gathering our strength.
We had a pleasant surprise Monday night. Our friend Meir was driving from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and stopped by for dinner and a visit. What the doctor ordered.
I’m told my voice and color have improved. I’m breathing much better. I’ve lost 15 pounds (=6.5kg) and Diane 5 (=2kg). Diane calls this the “high-anxiety diet”.
We’ve had a few visitors and many warm wishes from afar.
That you take it all for granted is obvious, normal, but…
• DO take a moment to fill your lungs, relishing each breath.
• DO “slow down, you move too fast.” (Simon & Garfunkel)
• DO NOT think this cannot happen to you, whether now or in 10 years. Our health is a hard-to-fathom complex of genetics and environment. Whether stress, diet, sleep or exercise, improve what you can.
• DO grasp that your family and loved ones are not the most important thing, they’re your only thing. Tell them you love them, every day, in word and deed.
So what’s next? Well, we hope to land in Israel Tuesday afternoon, to start to getting back into our lives at home. I know it will be neither immediate nor 100%, but we are ready.
I’m ready to get back to work at Curiyo, too. First, the team, Akiva, Asher, Daniel, Ruthie, Gil, Jay and Liz, have really risen to the occasion, getting everything that needed to be done done. Second, I’m more excited than ever about the publishing platform we are building. With our first big partnership about to launch, we’re in good shape.
Now you might think that this is not the ideal time to raise money, post heart-attack. But I’m encouraged by what two investors told me recently. One said, “Bob, besides your accomplishments, you were broken and now you’re fixed.” The other said it just wouldn’t be smart-investing to bet against me. Thanks, both, I guess it’s not about falling down, but about how you get up.
In short, I’m excited about tomorrow!
No matter whom I thank, it won’t be enough, and I’ll miss some, but I need to make a few mentions.
To the team and staff of Beth Israel Medical Center, how do you find the words of gratitude to express keeping you alive?
Thank you to Dov & Julia for your visit, to Meir, Akiva, and Avi & Yedida for your calls. And to Tzvi & Adi for those great get-well-Sabba cards and stickers.
Lee, also Amy, thank you for offering to Diane to drop everything and get on the plane with her!
Pamela & Marshall, thank you for offering to open your home to Diane in NY.
Thank you for the balloons (picture above), Amy & Jonathan. And flowers, Cedar Fund (Curiyo investor) and Answers Corp.
Thank you for the visits, Elan, Adam & Shari, Alan & Steven, Nancy, Shiye, Martin, Dinah, Rita & Barry, Eddie & Sherri, Viv & Haim, Freda, Arthur, Steve & Enid, Bert & Myrna.
And calls: Mom, Stan, Jeff, Lee, Laurel, Lynn, Michael, Amy & Jonathan, Sasson & Tami, Sigi!, Ari, Sara, Rhea, Koby & Dina, Judi & Shmuel, Tsivie, Volvi & Pesi, Leonard & Deanna, Tsivia, Sam, Steve, Cali, Bruce, Faigie & Norm, Donna & Jacob, Martin & Maris, and Serl. And special encouragement: Motti, Mark, Jon, Michael (your post that week, exaggerated though it be, was a kindness I’ll never forget).
Thank you everyone for your cards, e-mails, Facebook messages, and warm thoughts.
Rita & Barry, thank you for taking the time and care to transport us safely to Pennsylvania and cook us several meals and generally take care of us.
Judy, the baskets were enough, the visit was enough, but driving us back to New York next week is over and above.
Martha, we will never forget your taking care of Diane and me that challenging week, opening your home, your schedule and heart, and being there for us.
Mom, you shouldn’t have to nurse your golden-ager son! But you do it with a unique love that we’ll never forget.
Diane, my brown-eyed girl, there are no words! Let’s grow old together, enjoying our families and friends in nachat and good health. You are simply my life.
Originally published at BobR.com.