When my heart gave out mid-pandemic, I had to make some grown-up decisions.
Spoiler alert: I’m alive. But a few weeks ago, I wasn’t so sure that would be the case. After three months of quarantine and fear of contracting Covid-19, I was being attacked from within.
The pandemic, up to that point, had been a strangely productive time. I kept telling friends — well, some friends — that I had never been busier. Given the troubles everyone else was experiencing, I also felt that I should maybe keep it to myself. I was working sixty hours a week from home, cooking my own meals, taking online boxing classes several times a week, and I had even signed up for an online certification in BoxingYoga. On Wednesday nights, I gathered virtually with a group of old friends to watch and text about old, trashy movies. I felt increasingly tired, but who wouldn’t? I had left some projects unfinished — my home gym had half-migrated from one room to another, my long-unhung wall art had picked its new spots without actually getting hung. I also found myself wondering about the end of life, about the limits of my time here, and what I might be able to get done before it was all over. I attributed this last bit to the isolation, and to having perhaps too much time in my own head, but it may have been that my head and my body were trying to tell me something.
I had a history of heart disease. As an adolescent, doctors detected a slight murmur that seemed to come and go, but wasn’t even strong enough to rate on the scale. Years later, when I turned forty, I was hit with an abrupt fatigue — but I was taking a full load of classes in a doctoral program, finishing my memoir, and teaching. This must be what it feels like to be forty, I thought. When I finally went to the doctor, my pulse was a steady thirty-four beats per minute, and within a few hours I received my first pacemaker.
Sixteen years later, I was feeling tired again. When I rose from afternoon nap and felt struck by an invisible ball of electricity, it took a few minutes for me to realize what had happened. The jolt made me jump up, throwing my laptop on the floor. I wondered where it had come from. It was like something out of the Avengers movies — and I had even written before about my identification with the pacemaker-powered Iron Man. Over a video office call, my cardiologist told me…