Half a heart, part 2

Part 2 of the day I had a heart attack. Part 1 can be found here. I’m not sure why I can’t ever do these in one shot, I guess I miss having an editor.

*****

So I ended with me being ready for surgery, but I wanted to talk about the leads for a minute. You remember those, right? The paramedics hooking them up to my body, to take readings, measure my heart rate, make sure I wasn’t dying? Pretty cool.

So these leads were on basically the whole time I was in the hospital. As I made my various stops on the way to the CICU, it seemed like they added more leads with every person or nurse that saw me. Sometimes they’d have to shave an area of my chest before applying, sometimes not, and it seemed arbitrary when they shaved or didn’t. The hum of a razor became an oddly comforting noise, despite it meaning I was about to get another sticker with a metal piece attached on me.

When I first got to the hospital, the nurses were going to replace the leads the paramedics had put on with more permanent ones. Any time a lead was switched or replaced, they had to pull the sticky part off, and replace it with sometime equally (or more) sticky. The first time, I remember thinking it was going to be like that scene in the 40 Year Old Virgin when Steve Carrell’s character got waxed.

The nurse who was replacing them apologized, and then, as if reading my mind, said, “This is going to be like- have you seen the 40 Year Old Virgin?”

“When Steve Carrell’s character got waxed!”

She smiled. “Yeah, kind of like that.”

“Alright, just yank it off.”

I had it easier than Carrell (who is as hairy as a bear, and had to deal with wax and not stickers), but it was nice to chuckle at that memory when they were swapping leads out. The nurses would usually do it, though when I was discharged, I ended up doing it myself, which was a worse process.

At some point, I think I had eight of those leads on my chest, strewn about in various places around my heart, and four just hanging out, two on either side of my stomach. ‘What, are those spares?’ I thought to myself, being a smart-ass in my own head.

And during a rare alone time in the CICU, a nurse came in, looked at me, looked at those ‘spare’ leads, and arranged them in a line with the others, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, barely saying a word before leaving. I now had around a dozen wires hooked up to me, most of them in a line near my heart, and a couple up near my shoulders.

I kind of deserved that for my smart-ass-ery.

Anyway, I told that story to tell this story better, now that they were about to wheel me out for the operation.

So they were ready for me, and had some prep to do. Now came the hum of the razor again. They were going in through my leg, and that required a clean surgical area. They always asked permission before doing it, which was amusing: this was something they needed to do. What happens if I say no? I don’t get the operation because they can’t Bic me? Whatever the nurses- cheerful, professional, relentless, underpaid, and soon, even more overworked- asked of me, I did.

And now, some more lead movement to make room for some large, square defibrillator pads on my chest. “Just in case,” they said. They hoped not to need them. I had similar hopes.

I remember thinking I should use the bathroom before the operation, and not doing it, which was one of my few regrets from that day. Someone commented that there was a lot of useful information in my post about heart attacks, and while that wasn’t the aim, I’m glad to help any way I can. But if there’s one takeaway you get from this, friends- one takeaway beyond “Call 911 if you have chest pains” or “keep baby aspirin around for heart attacks”- it’s to use the bathroom in a hospital when you have the chance. Turns out I wasn’t going to be able to for a while.

So I was wheeled just outside my room, around a corner near a nurse’s station, where I was left for a few minutes while a second person came to help wheel me up. I was given very specific instructions to have my hands inside the stretcher as they wheeled me to the operating room. While this made all kinds of sense, it tested my resolve as we steered close to mobile workstations, other stretchers, and a bin we sideswiped coming around a corner.

The operating room was abuzz with activity when I got there. Everyone had something to do, and every set of two people seemed to be having conversations, some having to do with me, and a few that had less to do with me. Someone was talking about trouble with plane tickets through Air Canada, which got me a semi-serious query of “Do you work for Air Canada?” once I mentioned working at the airport. I did not, which increased the chance of me getting the operation I needed. I assume.

There were two doctors in the room, theirs was the conversation that had the most to do with me. One of them stepped out, as the other explained the procedure. I was getting an angiogram: they were going to put a catheter in an artery in my leg, and then they were going to inject some ink to find the blockage. Once they did, they were going to go in the same way to put a stent in to cut through the blockage. Easy peasy.

He had me sign a form (“There is a 1 in 1000 chance something goes wrong”), which amused me. What if I couldn’t sign? What if I didn’t? But as with most everything else asked of me so far, it wasn’t a hard choice.

The second doctor came back in, I got some anaesthetic (and a hilarious amount of blood thinners), and they got to work. I listened to the beeps and hums of the equipment, conversations dropping out for the one or two that had to do with me. I felt the occasional twinge, the ink going in, but otherwise, stared straight up as they did their work.

I heard words, but didn’t understand their context. I wasn’t expecting to, but it was odd, being unable to do anything. The nurses would check in and make sure I was okay, which I was grateful for- even when it was me on the table, it felt very much like I wasn’t there. It probably helped them work. The ink went in, they looked around, and found the problem.

I heard them talk about when the stent was going in, and felt… excitement? anxiety? were they going to fix me? Was this it? They showed it to me first- a tiny spool of aluminum, barely as large as a needle. They’d put it in, expand it where the blockage was. That tiny thing was going to fix me.

I felt the chest pains return after they went back into me: mild, but coming back. A moment of panic as they got worse, and I was about to tell them when the nurse said, “You might feel the chest pains for a few moments.”

“I was about to say…” I quipped, my first words that weren’t yes or no in quite a while. A doctor called for an injection, and a breath later, the pains were gone. And they got back to putting the stent in.

When they got close, they asked me if I could hold my breath for a few seconds, which gave me some pause. Why did they need that? Was it going fine? But I didn’t think too long, just agreed.

I held my breath. It was only a few seconds, but those seconds felt like ages, until they said I could exhale.

The nurse called it: the stent was in, and they were done. They got to pulling everything out, and stitching me back up. Once the doctors pulled away, one of them mentioned about me having a wicked bruise, and free of the restraints, I started to sit up to look.

Several voices all at once told me to lay down. A nurse mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to sit up or move that leg for several hours. I COULD move both of those things, but they didn’t want me to. Apparently the aforementioned hilarious amount of blood thinners I was on meant that blood would pool at the spot on the leg they cut open if I moved it too much. This was information that would have been helpful to me several seconds prior, when somebody mentioned a wicked bruise that piqued my curiosity, but there we were.

I was wheeled back to my room in the CICU, and I slowly realized how annoying it was going to be not being able to sit up or move that leg. I could look side to side, stare up at a phone or the ceiling, but no adjusting the bed, no sitting up, no pivoting or turning. Lunch came shortly thereafter, and soup was a cruel addition to the plate in the circumstances. At least the sandwich was manageable.

The operation was a success, so I was back under observation for the afternoon. Nurses checked on my vitals, I got the leads hooked back up, a dozen wires through the front of my gown to various places on my chest and shoulders. The places they went behind the bed, I was worried they might tangle up like behind the television if I went anywhere (not that I could at that point). I got a blood pressure monitor on one arm, that took readings every fifteen minutes. I could deal with needles all day, but honestly, if I could go the rest of my life without having my blood pressure taken ever again, I’d die happy.

The cardiologist came by to check in on me, but he continued his streak of being remarkably unhelpful when he passed by after the operation. The first words out of his mouth were “Do you have any questions?” rather than… (deep breath)  …giving me a summary of what had happened to me, what the operation had found, what the surgeons had ended up doing, how long I could expect to be in the hospital, what medications I would be taking, and other useful tidbits like that. On the one hand, he did get me the operation quickly, and seemed smart, but on the other hand, he had zero presentation skills, and equal sense of what his patient was wanting to hear. He was surprised I asked questions.

(The day they discharged me, he was positively bubbly compared to post-op: “We’re letting you go home. Do you have any questions?” Settle down, bud, maybe switch to decaf. Thank goodness I had a folder full of things to read, I learned more in sixty seconds of reading that than anything I pulled kicking and screaming out of him asking perfectly reasonable questions)

After the cardiologist left, my visitors were much better. My parents came again, my brother, a friend, and finally later in the afternoon, Kari, with someone at home to watch the girls. She thought about bringing them up, but didn’t. She arrived at an awkward time, when the nurse was doing a final check on where they’d cut me open, and see if my readings were good enough that I could sit up and move the leg again.

I asked about the day, and how the girls were. She mentioned that they seemed to notice I was gone, that they were more stressed.

I feel like I get emotional at strange times. It’s not that it doesn’t make sense when I feel sad or cry or do any of that, because being emotional and expressing that is perfectly normal and fine and healthy. I guess it’s more that I don’t get emotional at times when it makes sense.

Kari said that Elise especially seemed stressed, and I felt tears for the first time that day. “I didn’t want to worry her,” I said, voice cracking, only then feeling the weight of the day, really stopping to think about everything that happened. It was strange that this was the first time, right? That it took this long to feel that way?

The whole day, I’d held it together, cracking wise and pretending everything was fine, when it definitely wasn’t. It wasn’t until Kari and I talked with the nurse that I realized how bad it had been. I’d had a heart attack- a “significant” one. And if I’d called a few minutes later, “the outcome could have been much different”.

When Kari was there, I felt the emotion wash over me, as if being with her or being alone gave me permission to feel that way. I didn’t need to pretend it was fine. So I didn’t. Neither of us did.

I wasn’t fine. But I was here, and would be for a couple days at least while they made sure there were no complications. Everyone was cagey about how long I’d have to stay when I asked, which made some sense: they didn’t want to tell me a couple days and have it be much longer. Even if it did end up being a couple days. I got moved out of the CICU at midnight the day before I was discharged, but that’s another story for another time.

The evening got me sleepy, and with no one around (save for my nurse who kept popping in to check my vitals), I relaxed. Listening to the beeps of the monitors, feeling the blood pressure monitor clench around my arm every fifteen minutes, nurses popping in to make sure I was fine, occasionally give me some pills. The clock, the familiar red on black, was a comfort in an uncomfortable place.

I had my heart. And I was going to do what I could to keep it.

 

 

 

Half a heart, part 1

I wanted to write about having our kids in the NICU, and hopefully still will, but it turns out you don’t get a lot of thinking time when you have newborn twins and want to be a decent parent. And some other things came up.

On October 24th, at 3:50 AM, I had just managed to get Camille back to bed after a night feed.

By roughly 8:30 AM, I was on the operating table at the Foothills Hospital, about to get cut open so they could put a stent in a valve in my heart. Two parts, which I seem to like to do.

****

So, the night feed. Kari and I had just fed our girls. They usually feed once at night, though they’ve been sleeping longer, which had been a kindness for us. This particular night feed had been tough, taking a while, with Camille not wanting to settle back to sleep afterwards.

Kari’s usually the first one to take a run at getting the girls down, mostly because she’s better at it. She’d taken a couple of cracks already, and had fed Camille, so when I heard Camille wail, I pushed myself out of bed to try.

I took Camille out to the mostly dark living room, paced around, trying to hold and soothe her. She was tired, but also worked up, which is a tough combination when you’re a baby. Late at night, it’s sometimes hard to be patient, fatigue and frustration tugging at you. But time was what it took, and a few minutes of rocking had her breathing quietly against me. I was satisfied, the kind that only a parent understands, when you can help your child.

Back into the bedroom, I set her down in her bassinet, enjoying the few moments of glorious quiet, no babies or adults making noise as I crawled back into bed.

I was just pulling the covers back over me when I felt it- the first, stabbing pain in my chest. Like someone was trying to crush my heart from the inside. I’d never felt anything like it.

I shifted, stretched, tried to suss out what exactly this was. I didn’t know, and that concerned me. And it was getting worse. What was this? Why was it happening? Sure, I hadn’t slept well, worked a lot, wasn’t eating great, had newborn twins, but I was healthy, skinny, mostly fine. Right?

The pain kept at me, growing, beyond a point I could ignore it and go to bed. I started to sweat a little. I felt a moment’s hesitation, the quiet sitting in the room. Everyone else was asleep. We’d finally gotten the girls down, nearly two hours after waking them up. Could I drive myself to the ER, just let Kari know something was wrong and duck out?

And then it got worse.

I shook Kari awake. “Kari,” I said, trying to be calm, “Something’s wrong. Call 911. I’m having chest pains.”

*****

Kari got on the phone, and I flexed my arms and legs. I could still move, breathe, think, when my chest didn’t feel like it was about to burst. Somewhere in my mind, I wondered if I would lose consciousness at some point, but I ignored it. Somehow, I didn’t panic- there would be plenty of time for that later.

I grabbed a pair of jeans (because I wasn’t going to the hospital without pants, dammit), my wallet (for the ID/health care card, which ended up coming back with my parents almost right away), and my phone (so I could keep in touch), and took the thirty-ish steps down the hall to the front door.

At the landing near our split level front door (the one time I didn’t mind that, because it was close to the entrance), I sat down, promptly assuming the fetal position as the pain got worse. I could hear my wife’s voice talking on the phone, and the cat, who seemed to think humans being up meant she could get cuddles, rubbing against my semi-prone form.

Kari collected Pippy to put somewhere safe (didn’t want her dashing out while the paramedics were around), and put the phone on speaker so I could talk directly to the operator.

“Is the pain a stabbing one, or a crushing one?” the operator asked.

“Crushing, like someone’s pushing hard on my heart.”

“How much pain are you in, on a scale of 1 to 10?”

I grimaced, as much from the question as the pain. I hated that question, because I didn’t have a frame of reference for what 10 would feel like, and didn’t particularly want to. “7, 8,” I said, thinking it could get a BIT worse, somehow.

“All right, help is on the way.”

It wasn’t long before I felt my breathing get shallow. I felt cold, and when Kari put her hand on my head, I was clammy. I felt my hands tingling, and related that to the operator, feeling the control I’d wanted to assert earlier slipping. Now it was time to panic.

Kari stayed with me, comforting, seconds feeling like minutes, an eternity waiting for the paramedics to arrive. Even in that time, shuddering, it didn’t really occur to me that something bad might be happening, that this could be awful. Maybe I was in denial, or maybe the pain blocked it out.

“It hurts,” I said, obviously, as she comforted me, unable to do anything but be there, tell me help was coming. I didn’t want this, to come apart now. I had kids, a wife, a family that needed me, and my body decided to do this. I wasn’t mad at fate, I was mad at myself, at some perceived weakness that had led to this.

The ambulance pulled up, and I was ready to get loaded up onto the stretcher and out the door. But no- first, the paramedics needed to do an assessment on me. Fair enough. I was still here, could still think, as my heart thundered away inside me.

I struggled onto a kitchen chair, letting them put leads on my chest. The first paramedic was a middle-aged man with a calming voice, telling me to slow my breathing. His partner, a younger woman, set up a monitor, and they made sure it was all working. He was the kind uncle, keeping me there in the moment, even as my body failed around me. She kept moving, responded to him, having done this a number of times before (I assume). He gave me two aspirin to chew, and told me to open my mouth, and he sprayed something in, that I later learned was nitroglycerin. The nitro felt really good, and the pain was almost gone. I told him that when he asked.

Could they go, I wondered. Could I just go back to bed, pretend this wasn’t happening?

I remember him looking at a readout, something flashing across his face- concern?- before telling his partner, “Send this up to the Foothills.” That’s where they were taking me. The same place my kids were born. Turned out they have the best cardiac care in the city. I was glad they told me that.

And then, they loaded me up. Jacket, jeans, wallet and all, onto a stretcher, strapping me in. Kari had to stay with the kids, but she’d try and reach my parents, my brother, get someone there with me. She seemed calm, but her voice had the stress that I hadn’t quite internalized yet. She told me she loved me- at least, I remember her saying that, and me saying it back.

I shivered as I was wheeled out to the ambulance, as much from the cold as anything else. It still seemed weird, distant, as if it wasn’t happening.

*****

The inside of the ambulance brought back memories, from a few months prior, when I’d ridden to the Foothills with my wife. It looked and felt different on my back, as the kind uncle paramedic talked to his partner, and they got ready to cart me off. They did a three-point turn to spin around on the street, which was oddly comforting.

The clock on the inside of the ambulance was familiar, red on black, much like the NICU at the Foothills, when we’d gone to see our kids. No siren. That was also good- right?

Another shot of nitro, my third, and another question about the pain. It was gone by now, and I told him so. He commented that he’d never seen anyone stabilize that quickly after a “cardiac event”. He asked about my work, what I did.

We talked about that, talked about how it happened, talked about my kids. I went through that sequence with a lot of different people that day.

“How old are you?”

“37.”

“What were you doing when it happened?”

“Putting my girls to bed. We’d just finished feeding them. They’re just over five months old.”

“Wow. Has this happened to you before? Any family history of heart trouble?”

“No, and no.”

“What do you do for work?”

And so on.

That grounded me, gave me something to hold onto. I wasn’t going to the hospital, I was making small talk with him, someone who’d just happened to come into my living room and make sure my heart was working.

I looked at the clock as we drove, sirenless, told him on a normal day, I’d have been at work for a while by this point. He had the decency to seem impressed, though his work was likely a lot harder than mine.

We were at the hospital shortly, me continuing to chat and wisecrack as I was wheeled off, the cold biting for a moment until we were indoors. “I recognize this entrance,” I said to my escorts, though the view was different from my back, much like inside the ambulance. A few corridors, an elevator, and I was wheeled into the first waiting room.

I met a bunch of new friends, cheery nurses for the most part, who asked the same, familiar sequence of questions. They all commented on how I had new kids, and one nurse cracked, “Oh, so this is how you get out of caring for your newborns.” I liked her. I hope I told her that.

The chest pain was gone, but the ghost of it remained, a worry that stayed. My phone was in my pocket as I stayed motionless, letting them work on me until they left. The cardiologist would be by shortly, they said, and left. But they did say I was no longer an emergency, even as they puzzled over how it had gone down.

My parents arrived shortly thereafter, and I was impressed at their speed. A few texts to Kari to update her as I kept on working the room, which had a less ample audience than a few minutes prior. I felt okay at that point: If not for the god-awful chest pains, it might as well be a workday, and I felt the familiar early-morning rush of energy. I was used to being awake at this time.

None of us seemed to know what to do, and I wanted to assure them I was fine, that it wasn’t anything. I’d be out of here soon, and it was all a big mistake. I couldn’t imagine what my parents were feeling, one of their sons on the table. I knew what I’d feel, were it one of my daughters.

The kind paramedic had filed his report and stopped by to wish me well, moving onto whatever would come next for him. I thanked his indulgence of my one-liners, and he and his partner for helping me out.

They moved me from one waiting room to another, me making sure my jacket and shirt were coming with me, to a less private area that seemed like a temporary holding spot until the cardiologist came by. I heard a lot of other patients close by. There was a lot of poop talk. I told the nurses that as a father of two babies, poop talk didn’t really faze me. I’d seen poop, man.

The cardiologist finally came by, an expressionless man, with the same monotone nearly every doctor I’ve ever had possessed. He asked the same questions, puzzled over the same problem everyone else had. He looked at a readout, and something flashed across his face- I didn’t realize it then, but it was the same reaction the paramedic had. It disappeared quickly, but it made me pause.

He mentioned that I’d had a “cardiac event” (there it is again), that I was going to get an angiogram, where they’d go inside me and take a look, see where the problem with my heart was. I asked if it was less urgent, because the pain had gone away, and he assured me that no, it was definitely urgent- it wasn’t an emergency situation, but it was urgent from what he’d seen, and they wanted to operate on me today.

I couldn’t imagine what my parents were thinking, but his delivery was… sub-optimal, as I like to say. Definitely took the air out of the room,

Soon after, I was on the move up to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), where I’d be holding for the operation. My third waiting area, and the one I’d see the most over the next couple of days. There were two beds in the room, and I’d drawn the far one. This was similar to a lot of hospitals I’d seen (and I’d seen a lot of hospitals over the last few months), and I felt a little respite, finally being in a place that wasn’t waiting to get rid of me.

It was just past 7 am by this point, and I told my parents they could go. Kari was going to need help with the kids later, and my condition had stabilized. I was waiting for my operation. I was going to be fine. Really.

They hugged me and left, and I was alone for the first time in hours. Even then, it still seemed like it wasn’t happening, like I was watching someone else do it. It wasn’t me, even when the evidence overwhelmingly suggested it was. But waiting was peaceful, and even the red-on-black clock and familiar sights and sounds of a hospital didn’t bring me here.

It wasn’t long after my parents left that a nurse came in. They were ready for me, and I was going to go into surgery now.

More to come.

Waiting rooms and coffeespoons, part 1

What I remember from the day my daughters were born, with assorted thoughts. Getting long, so it’s now going to be two parts.

******

The one consistent piece of advice on fatherhood I got from men I asked, men I didn’t ask, men who took an interest, is that you’ll never truly be ready. This was a comfort to me in some ways. I’m not a planner by nature, trusting instinct and intelligence to figure out how to do things as much as researching it ahead of time. Still, some latent anxiety was unavoidable: I and my wife were about to become responsible for two little girls, guiding and shepherding them as best we could. I was not, by any reasonable measurement, ready for this.

I’d managed to stow the anxiety on the Sunday before, when my wife called and said we needed to go to the hospital, and I left work in a flurry, not even waiting for her to tell me why I was leaving work when I hung up the phone and started moving. I wasn’t even supposed to be at work that day, but the risk of snow meant I was, though the lack of weather meant I could leave without much guilt.

I did call her as I started my car, and she assured me she probably wasn’t going into labor then, but she needed to go in, and I needed to be there. I rushed home, looking at the clock, feeling the anxiety, but keeping it down, having a task and a goal to keep my mind busy.

So we got to the hospital and heard it officially: Kari wasn’t in labor, but did need to take it easy. The doctor told Kari she was now done working, and at risk for early labor. Rest and relaxation was now the order of every day. She prescribed one medicine, said they might put Kari on steroids to reduce the risk of our kids coming early, hoping to drag them out to at least 32 weeks, and said Kari should see her doctor as soon as possible to follow up.

As we drove home, I kept thinking about the symmetry of it all. I was a twin, and having twins. Dennis and I came early (as twins often do), and now our kids might come early too. It was too perfect. I felt the anxiety then, in the quiet moments, without anything to do, anything to keep my mind off impending fatherhood, now closer than I had anticipated. I thought we had more time. I thought I had more time.

*****

I was at work on Friday the tenth too, though not terribly busy. The wintry weather had finally broken, and we were starting to ease into summer. I’d worked an eleven hour day as recently as the prior Saturday, Calgary weather flipping the bird at our planning for warmer weather.

Kari had already asked me to pick up some groceries on the way home, then texted me about something else. Ten minutes later, the call came. It was (might be) go time.

I was on my way out of work again, quickly tossing the proverbial keys to someone else, the rush similar to Sunday, but it felt different. Once was a coincidence. Twice in a week, well, that seemed less likely.

I got a speeding ticket on the way home, though I didn’t know that until a couple weeks later. This felt more urgent, and my movement reflected that. The same anxiety, kept at bay by the moment, willing myself to be calm, needing that lifeline in a stretch that was likely to change our lives forever.

We had an overnight bag ready (credit my prepared wife for that), and it and she were quickly in the car, and we were on our way. Construction on the route was perfect, and frustrating, the last light before the hospital seeming to take forever. The contractions were getting worse.

Parking seemed like a nightmare, and we turned ourselves around getting in, questioning every decision, whether this was an ER situation or just plain old labor and delivery. L&D turned out to be the right call, even if a short wait seemed long, worrying that the babies might just pop out as Kari sat there, waiting to be admitted.

Once she was on a bed and had a nurse with her, I relaxed a little. In a reprieve, we gameplanned and got the word out: she called her parents, I called mine, amused that no one seemed to have their phone with them. Follow up texts (“Call when you can, we’re at the hospital”) made that easier. I became the point man for information, which was something. A task, something to keep my mind occupied, away from the questions I kept asking myself. Even if it was mostly cut and paste the same info to a new contact: tell my parents what was going on, tell her parents I was now relaying info, ask my brother to look in on the cat because we might not be home for a while, tell my boss that hey remember when I left work on Sunday and said everything’s fine…

A doctor and a nurse took a look, confirmed what we were already thinking: the kids were coming, and probably soon. But because they were early, we were getting transferred to the Foothills, which was better equipped to handle premature babies.

Even as they started talking about an ambulance ride there, I almost burst out laughing. Our plan was already going awry: My car was here, with our overnight bag, so someone would have to get that if we were going to stay anywhere…

We waited a bit for the ambulance, minutes seeming like hours, the silence giving me more room to be anxious. Eventually they asked me if I was hungry, and I almost said no: I wasn’t the priority here, I was fine. The nurse and my wife quickly insisted I say yes, and the nurse went off to get a sandwich. My stomach agreed with them, as the rest of my brain kicked in. Eat, dummy, you might not get the chance later.

She came back with a sandwich, and I was a couple bites into the second part when the EMTs came through the door. I was going to finish on the way.

******

The EMTs were contrasting: He was quiet and professional, setting the pace as we weaved through the hospital, my wife on a stretcher, me munching on the last bit of my sandwich. She was more chatty, though it was him who I talked more with, complaining about traffic and construction, the universal gripes of any Calgarian. That last turn into the hospital, we’d both smirk, a shared dislike of what seemed like perpetual irritation.

I felt my anxiety pushing as we got loaded into the ambulance, me getting into the back with my wife, him setting out and weaving through traffic as she chatted with us in the back. It was our first, it was twins, congratulations, the same conversational beats I’d repeated a few times over the last few weeks.

I texted a coworker, the one who’d most likely be affected by my absence, needing something to ground my mind, blinded by a closed ambulance as we made our way north. It was my first ambulance ride, and it wasn’t something he needed to know, but it was something I wanted to say, as if telling him that would soothe my nerves.

We were at the hospital in good time, though I didn’t really notice, head down as we weaved through another unfamiliar set of corridors. I wondered absently how many times they’d done this, their routine seeming calm and practiced, even as she almost made a wrong turn but he quickly put them back on the right path.

We got up to the delivery room, met by what I could only describe as a fleet of doctors and nurses. They needed a doctor and three nurses for each baby (which I didn’t know at the time), and they were moving incubators into the room. There were several conversations happening, and I marveled at their calm. Of course they were calm, though- they’d done this hundreds of times.

I remember a moment where there was no one else in the room, and I took a picture of the incubators. You could put kids in there! Our kids. Two of them. Coming today.

Losing the high ground

Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States. It’s weird to type those words and have them be real, but such is life and people. The people voted, and by hook or by crook, he came out on top. There have been enough post-mortems and people trying to figure out how it happened. I have a lot of different thoughts, but one in particular that’s sticking in my craw, so I wanted to get it out there. I used to keep this space free of politics, but I don’t think that’s a luxury I should continue to indulge.

I’m disappointed at Christians in the U.S. (and a few up here) who supported Trump, somehow ignoring Trump’s entire history of stomping on the principles of our faith, and a campaign that continued to do likewise. His offenses are numerous and clear, and any single one of them should have been disqualifying, but somehow they weren’t important enough for voters to consider.

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy– two people who, to my knowledge, have no connection with organized religion- put it very plainly in their rants (Steve Kerr is a little more thoughtful, if you prefer that). As Christians, we’re supposed to be the moral compass. That evangelicals came out overwhemingly for Trump, and white evangelicals especially, was bizarre. I’m baffled. I don’t get it. No amount of pastoral thinkpieces lacking moral courage and muttering “Supreme Court” could justify that choice, given who and what we claim to be. Trump was an awful candidate, an awful person without moral quality or any relevant experience who conned almost half the voters into supporting him. Good for him, I guess.

One of the most popular topics of recent vintage in churches- I would know, I go to one- is why ‘young people’ (I no longer qualify, sadly) leave the church. If I had the platform, I would point to how Christians voted in this election. We’re seen as hypocrites, and I get why. People see us preach on the transformative power of faith in Jesus, on morality and doing the right thing, on supporting the downtrodden, and see actions that don’t match up with what’s said. Help the poor, feed the hungry, reach out to the lost, but 78% of us supported a millionaire who was born on third base and thought he hit a home run, who degrades women, hates minorities, and has spent his life stepping on anyone who prevents him from making money. Sure, that fits. Jesus would have been all over that, right?

There’s a lot of good that’s done in Jesus’ name, and that sometimes gets lost in the sound and fury of things, when louder, more shocking voices get airplay. People love hearing about how Westboro Baptist screwed up today, mission trips to Guatemala several years running don’t get the clicks. But it’s hard to hold the charity and grace up as indicative of who we are when we screw up on the most visible choices. This was an open layup, and we dribbled it off our foot and the ball went out of bounds and the coach is mad and he’s getting someone off the bench to come in for us (alright, two convoluted sports metaphors is enough for one post).

I’m not having a crisis in my own faith, more a sense of disappointment with some who are in the family. I’ve been through enough, seen enough, that I know what I believe. I hoped that our neighbours to the south would come to their senses, and that Christians would be at the vanguard of those clear-eyed people who saw Trump for the charlatan he is. But neither of those things happened.

As Christians, we’re called to reach the lost, and this choice has built another metaphorical wall (appropriate, given Trump’s fondness for them), another hurdle for us to clear in that mission. There are people in the United States who are genuinely afraid of the next four years, women, minorities, people of different genders and orientations who saw the hate and fear that Trump played on, and see his election as an endorsement of those things. My heart breaks for them. As Christians, we failed them, and I don’t know how we can reconcile that. There are real consequences for the choice that was made, and there should be a lot of Christians doing some soul searching, and seeing if the choice they made actually squares with what they claim to believe.

Escaping the echo chamber

This week, I watched John Oliver deliver a thorough and thoughtful presentation on Donald Trump. I like Oliver. He’s entertaining, he’s sharp, and he’s not above laughing at himself when the situation calls for it. As a graduate of the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert school of political satire, you can see where he took his cues from, and can usually say where he’ll fall on most issues. While Oliver is, again, usually very smart and thoughtful, it’s rare that I’m surprised by anything I see from him.

So when he talked at length about Trump, it went as I expected it would. It wasn’t anything that shocked or surprised me, really.  It was entertaining, it was concise, and it delivered hammer after hammer of depressing truth, interspersed with enough laughs that he could still call himself a comedian. While he’s been mentioned a lot in the opening paragraphs, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here opining on Trump, because that’s not the point of this post. I wanted to talk about something else that bothered me.

Someone I follow on Twitter made what I thought was an excellent point when he mused that people like Stewart, Colbert, and Oliver and their culture of political satire probably contributed to the rise of someone like Trump. Trump has done an excellent job tapping into an underlying resentment against certain political elements, and exploiting the immediate, reactive nature of this age of social media. He’s also done a great job being the centre of attention, but again, that’s a different post (that I probably won’t write, because others have done it much, much better). But it got me thinking about how we consume media, how we present it, and how we often let it divide us.

While I’ve probably seen a shift in my values as I’ve had my political identity crisis over the last several years, I think some soul searching generally does one a lot of good. So my train of thought started here: it’s easy to watch someone like Oliver do his comedic commentary, and point and laugh at Trump, and shake our heads at people who would support him.

From that, I had a few questions about the Oliver diatribe. What was the point, really? Who was watching it that doesn’t already agree with him? What does it accomplish other than making us who do agree with him feel better about ourselves? We’re entertained, sure. But Oliver himself would admit that Trump has evolved well beyond a joke, into someone who will more than likely win his party’s nomination to run for president.

Again, I like Oliver. I think he’s usually good, and more truthful than those of opposite minds would admit. It’s clear from the presentation that Oliver was trying to reach people and change minds, but he can’t possibly do that because of who he is, and the reputation he’s established. Because of his reputation, he was only preaching to his own choir. I don’t think anyone who supports Trump watched it and changed their mind because of it. So I wondered about the value of what Oliver did.

This isn’t really Oliver’s fault, he’s a just a product of a media that’s more concerned about entertaining than engaging, or elevating the conversation, or addressing actual issues that exist. His show is designed for people who would probably already agree with it. In an age where we have more choice than ever about what we consume, we can ignore everything we don’t agree with, and that’s not necessarily healthy. So we stay in our lanes, never thinking, and never being challenged on what we think.

I see this happening more and more, as opinions and information are reduced to soundbites and quips that make for easy points scored in a debate (something Trump himself is also a master of), and a quick sense of smug superiority that we can compress into 140 characters. We put up a picture with a snappy quote, get the likes, and score points with people who already agree with us. But nothing of substance has really happened. All we’ve done is dig the trenches deeper.

It’s far too easy to lump people who have certain viewpoints into a comfortable box, and dismiss them to the fringes. I know I’ve done it, often without really realizing I have. That’s the easy thing to do, to let ourselves be entertained, have a laugh, and bask in our own sense of superiority over other people. Not that we shouldn’t laugh or have fun, or think critically about things, but I struggle with how reductive and smug political discussions have become, and how we so often stay in the comfortable bubbles we’ve established.

I’m not sure how to change that, but I want it to be better. I want us to have better conversations. When I see someone who thinks differently, I want to find a way to understand them, rather than dismiss them because they think differently than me. Some of the best learning I’ve had was from people who had much different opinions that I do, and I think that by opening ourselves up to hearing those opinions we can (sometimes) learn a lot.

The seventh inning

Bottom 7th, 6-3 Blue Jays – Jose Bautista hits a home run, Ryan Goins scores, Josh Donaldson scores.

I gripped the arm of the couch, impossibly tense. One more inning, I’d told myself. Then I would go see my girlfriend. Yeah, that went well.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling like this. At home, in my living room, my brother watching with me, I was gripped by this game, this dumb sport that I’d followed and enjoyed for years. I was anxious. But the good kind of anxious. The anxiety that comes from being certain something good was going to happen, and wanting it so bad. Of being invested in something with so many other people, and knowing you’ll share it with them when it goes well.

I wanted the Jays to win. I needed it to happen. The season, the excitement, everything that I’d seen and experienced as a fan, had led up to this. So close to it all ending a couple days before, and even forty minutes prior, when the Jays had gone down on a bizarre play.

I didn’t know it then, but I’d seen so many things that inning that I’d never seen before, and would likely never see again. But I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about dinner, with my girlfriend- I was already late because of this inning, this wonderful inning, with so many ups and downs, elation and heartbreak, everything that makes being a sports fan exhilarating and depressing all rolled into one. I was on the edge, wrung out. But I still needed *more*.

Jose Bautista swung, the Rogers Centre erupted in a deafening roar, the cameras shaking as he circled the bases because it was so loud in the stadium. I jump up off the couch, almost screaming as I pump my fist. I enjoy the moment. I relish in it. The culmination of so many moments I’d had as a fan, and the build-up of that incredibly long, impossible to describe seventh inning.

But I had to go. I had dinner plans with my girlfriend, and I’d already mentioned I was going to be late. I loved the Jays, but she was more important. “Ballgame,” I say to Dennis, confident and certain of a Jays win, smiling as I pulled on my coat haphazardly. “See you later.”

End 6th, 2-2

I haven’t worked for a while. It’s a problem, sometimes. People say, “What do you do?” or “How’s work?” and I have to find a right way to say that I quit my job because I didn’t like it. I didn’t have a plan. Maybe I should have. Maybe that would have helped.

I felt like I didn’t have a lot going for me, back in October. Baseball helped. It was an escape, something fun, somewhere I could go and not have to dwell on how much I felt like I’d failed, or how frightened I was about an uncertain future, or how much I’d been defined by being a banker, and how not having that definition made even the slightest conversation incredibly awkward.

My family, my girlfriend, they stood behind me, even when I couldn’t quite figure out why. I’m always anxious, always unsure of myself, and they wouldn’t let it happen. So when I got excited about the Blue Jays, about them having success for the first time in twenty years, they indulged me. They let me have it, let me enjoy it, let me escape to it.

Top 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Roughned Odor scores on an error.

This wasn’t in the plan. In life, as in baseball, you see things you’d never seen before. And I’d brought that to my doorstep, by leaving a job I’d been at for several years. I brought it on myself, without a net, without knowing what would happen next.

It was Odor that scored the run. Of course it was Odor. He’d been torturing the Jays the whole series, and scored on the most bizarre play I’d ever seen. Aaron Sanchez makes the pitch, Martin casually throws it back, it bounces off Shin-Soo Choo’s bat, and he alertly comes home from third.

I was in a dark place as the umps tried to figure it all out, each minute of them in a headset making the inevitable result agonizing. It can’t end like this. Not on a fluke play, something that no one on either team knew quite how to handle. Don’t let them lose here. It was dumb to be that invested in it as a fan (really, it’s dumb to be that invested in anything as a fan), but in the moment, I was. I needed this.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Russell Martin reaches on an error.

Karma isn’t a thing in life. You don’t get or deserve anything because of something you did in the past. There’s no cosmic balance, nothing to tip the scales in your favor. You do good for good’s sake.

The idea of starting over somewhere else is inevitable now. I’ll have to prove myself to new people, demonstrate how capable I am of doing the job. And I can do it, really. I know that, somewhere deep in my heart. But I get anxious in showing people that. Maybe the fear’s good, though. Maybe I’ll learn something new. That’s the exciting part.

It was Russell Martin who bore the primary blame for Odor scoring, so him reaching on the error by Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus was somewhat karmic. Martin said after the game that he hoped he’d get another chance, and he made the most of it. The Rogers Centre woke up, cheering mightily as Martin crossed the base.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Kevin Pillar reaches on an error, Russell Martin to second base. Dalton Pompey in to pinch-run for Russell Martin.

There was no logical or rational reason why I quit. I didn’t love the job, sure, but no one likes their job all the time. That’s not a thing that happens. But I needed to. It was the right thing to do, in my mind. I can’t justify it or explain it. I had to take that chance, and now, I just need to keep plugging away, putting my name out there until I get one break.

The Jays quickly got another break, with a ground ball going to Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland. His throw to second bounced, and Andrus (remember him?) couldn’t handle it. I had a hard time blaming the shortstop for that one- he was culpable on the Martin play, but this one, it was on Moreland.

The Rogers Centre got louder. I’d never heard it that loud, in all the Jays games I’d watched. Something special was happening. We were all sure of it. The Canadian, Dalton Pompey, came in to pinch-run for the catcher, drawing even more cheers.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Ryan Goins reaches on an error, Dalton Pompey to third base, Kevin Pillar to second base.

I thought it was loud when Pillar got one base. It got louder when Goins got on too. He bunted down the third base line, and I felt my heart sink as Adrian Beltre fielded it, turned, and threw to third to get the lead runner- it was perfect. He’d made the right play.

And then Andrus dropped it.

Even in the moment, as the elated fan in me lost his mind and jumped and cheered in the house, I felt bad for Andrus. He was normally a great defensive player, and had been involved in all three gaffes by the Rangers that inning. Two of them he just flat-out dropped.

That had been a problem, at work- I felt things too keenly, couldn’t separate what I needed to do from what I wanted to do. I’d sell, and feel terrible about it, and then not sell as much as I needed to. I wasn’t a salesman. Not as good as they wanted me to be, and not good enough to avoid feeling anxious about the work when I left the office.

Right then, I was glad I wasn’t Elvis Andrus, surrounded by disappointed teammates, and fifty thousand fans in a deafening dome, failures right in front of me. I’d dwelled enough on mine already.

Bottom 7th, 3-2 Rangers – Ben Revere to first on fielder’s choice, Kevin Pillar to third base, Ryan Goins to second base. Dalton Pompey out at home.

Another heart-stopping moment when Ben Revere slashed a one-hopper right to the first baseman. Double play, I think to myself, already feeling despair at the Jays not scoring a run.

The throw went home, and Pompey took the legs out from under the catcher as he slid in, preventing a throw to first. While the hope was the Jays would score, this was not the worst outcome, given what Revere had done.

Rangers manager Brian Bannister emerged from the dugout, and I felt my heart blacken again, recalling the agonizing seventh inning. Was he really going to try and say Pompey had prevented the double play? If the umpires overturned this, they were probably going to need a police escort to get to the airport, I joked to Dennis at the time, darkly.

The play stood, and the Jays still had the bases loaded, and still hadn’t scored a run. The doubts started to come back: maybe something special wasn’t happening. They could still lose the game.

Bottom 7th, 3-3 – Josh Donaldson singles to right field. Kevin Pillar scores, Ryan Goins to third base. Ben Revere out at second.

I doubted myself enough, I didn’t need to be unemployed to have THAT particular problem. But when you don’t have that thing that defines you, they creep in, taking up residence in a mind that doesn’t have anything else to occupy it.

I’ve found that I feel better when I’m connecting with people: girlfriend, family, friends, people I hadn’t seen in a while. I haven’t been good at that while I’ve not been working. I need to be better. I need to keep at it. I’ll get there. I’ll contribute, be the man everyone else thinks I am. And it’s okay to ask for help from others to get there.

Baseball is weird, in that it’s both an individual sport, and a team one. You need a team to be successful, but it’s individual skills that make a team great. The Jays had many great players, but it was the players being great together that drove them as far as they’d gotten. Get on base, and let others drive you in. You needed both of those things.

Even with the bases loaded, and the American League MVP at the plate, I was nervous. What if it didn’t happen? What if Josh Donaldson grounded into a double play, and snuffed the rally? I couldn’t bear the thought. But the cynical fan, the one who’d seen Jays teams fail repeatedly, nagged at the back of my mind and wouldn’t let go.

Donaldson hit a soft liner, and I was sure it was going to be caught. But it wasn’t. It landed just past the outstretched glove of Odor, and the Rogers Centre again became deafening. The TV guys had to yell to be heard as Pillar crossed the plate, tying the game.

It’s a process: you can’t skip a step. You can’t stop working at it. And you shouldn’t give up hope. Because sometimes, something amazing would happen. I need to remember that, as I keep searching, keep trying to find my place.

Top 9th, 6-3 Blue Jays – Will Venable strikes out. Blue Jays win 6-3.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house with the game still going, profusely apologizing for being late. And there she was, with her sister, trying to find the game on their TV, so I could watch the end.

It’s hard for a man who gets stuck in his own head to talk about how he feels, but that moment, for whatever reason, really affected me. That she, who honestly wouldn’t care about baseball save for my interest in it, was indulging it, encouraging me in it. Letting me enjoy it, in a time I didn’t feel like I had much else.

But in that moment, I knew what I felt was incredibly wrong. I don’t have a job, sure. I have my brother, who let me exult and despair in the turmoil of the seventh inning, and encourages me as I seek out my place. I had my friends, some of whom I’d put off, embarrassed by my situation. I needed to be a better friend myself. I’m working on it.

I have my family, unwavering and supportive, letting me search and discover, continually reminding me that yes, I’m good at things. And I have my girlfriend, the invisible rock behind the snarky writer you see here. She didn’t care that I was late, or distracted, or emotionally wrung out after “one more inning” turned into 40 minutes and being late for dinner. She cared enough to try and find the end of the game, to let me have this stupid, wonderful, fanatical interest, even share it with me.

So I don’t give up. I won’t give up. I’ll be down sometimes, sure, but I’ll keep plugging, keep finding what I’m meant to do. Because I’ll see something I haven’t seen before, do something I haven’t done, and it will be great.