We met in the airport. I was so hung-over it was almost impossible to stand and talk without getting queasy. Her plane was cancelled. So was mine. It was going to be a several hour delay, a reroute via Puerto Rico and then our flights home. She was chain-smoking and walking back and forth to the airport bar. It was obvious she wasn’t happy with the delays. Personally, I didn’t care if my flight was cancelled. For me it was just a short trip back to the casinos and the girls. She had me enamored the first time I saw her. She was intelligent, laughed at every one of my jokes, had a beautiful accent, and most of all, seemed to have be sculptured by some great Nordic artist. She was perfect.
Eventually, she got her flight to Connecticut, where she was living and I flew to Long Island. We immediately were on the phone and talked for hours. The Saturday after we returned, she took the train from Boston to New York. It was not much longer than two weeks and we were engaged. We eloped a few months later.
I barely had time to check with the women from Saint Maarten to make sure none were pregnant. Prior to all of this, upon my return from Saint Maarten, my former fiancé came to see me. She had lost a lot of weight and was looking incredible. We had sex a few times, but I couldn’t see her again. I didn’t want to go back to a woman I knew was not ready for marriage and a family. I was also falling hard for the girl from the airport. I had already been diagnosed with the terminal disease. The doctors at the hospital didn’t know which variety of the disease I had, only that it would kill me. I never told my now unofficial fiancé about my diagnosis because I thought I could exercise my way through it and beat it. More likely I was still traumatized by my diagnosis and obsessed with having a child.
We decided to elope. Immigration wouldn’t let her out of the country to actually get married without waiting six months to come back in minimum. She was not a citizen and her student visa had elapsed. We planned a traditional Swedish wedding in her hometown. Eventually she received her permanent Visa. We bought a house together, before we were even married. I had managed to save a great deal of money while working at AT&T as well as by providing private consulting and telecom analysis to my clients. She sold her condo in France. It had been a gift from her father. During the mortgage process, they would not consider her credit, but I was approved. She chipped-in, and upheld her part of the bargain for closing. I signed half of the house over to her, without even adding her name to the mortgage. It was a strategic move. If I was as sick as the doctors thought and something happened to me, I thought she would get the house free and clear because of that and the mortgage insurance I purchased privately.
She wanted to have a child as much as I did and we never did anything to prevent it. After I asked her to marry me, I learned that she came from one of the wealthiest families in Sweden. I was trying hard not to worry, even though I was terrified I would leave her a widow before my child was born. But at least I knew she would be ok financially. When you are young and get diagnosed with a disease that no one could pronounce never mind even heard of, you simply are traumatized, at least I was.
When she was six months pregnant I was rushed to the emergency room. Despite my complete denial of my condition, the doctor’s predictions of “do not make any long-term plans,” started to seem more and more accurate. I was in denial the entire time we courted and was obsessed with giving my parents a grandchild. Now, my wife was pregnant. I was crazy worried she would lose our child when she developed diabetes early on. Now, my health was deteriorating rapidly.
I told her I was having problems breathing. We went to so many doctors. All they ever did was give me nitro pills and say there was nothing they could do. Neither I, nor the doctors, told her how serious it really was. They could see she was pregnant and knew it would be dangerous to tell her. At one point, I was having heart pain every day, almost hourly. We went to Syosset Community Hospital when it was so bad I could not take the pain in my chest. I truly believed I would die that day never getting to see my unborn son. The emergency room cardiologist could not find anything and he asked me when I felt the worst. I told him after I eat anything. So he had me eat a bologna and cheese sandwich. Within minutes I was starting to have an actual heart attack. I was not even thirty years old and my life was going to end.
They caught it just as it started. It turned out that it was a good thing that they had me eat. As we later learned, every time I ate anything with salt or fat, my clogged arteries and newly formed capillaries were put to a test. Often the collateral circulation as they called it would fail when I as eating from the fat that would clog the network of capillaries that were enough to barely keep me alive, but not nearly developed enough even to eat or walk up a small flight of stairs. Eating a fatty sandwich was putting me in the ideal condition for a life ending first heart attack. Just after I had the sandwich, I felt my chest tighten and it became hard to breathe. The bells and monitors all started to flash with a CODE SOMETHING coming out of the loud speakers. It all happened so fast. It was a blur. The nurses came running and hooked me up to an intravenous system. By radio, a doctor instructed them to give me nitro and God knows what else. Out of desperation, one of the nurses slapped a nitro patch right onto my chest. They had the paddles at the ready, to jump start my heart, just in case. It happened so fast, yet, it seemed to take forever. The EKG machine was ringing and all kinds of alarms were going off. I saw my wife the entire time. She was looking on from a distance, in shock. Despite the fact I was having a heart attack, all I could think about was her and my unborn son.
My heart did not stop. But, as the we later found out during surgery I did have a mild heart attack. The nurses saved my life. I guess it was not my time to die, but I believed that these were to be my last few minutes on earth. The nurses and the doctors were in shock that a guy in my condition, at my age, was having a heart attack. Prior to this, my BP and EKG were taken, time and time again, at the HIP Centers. The HIP Centers were a new concept of managed care. In reality, it was inferior rationed health care. Clearly, HMO’s were not working, at least not for me. The insurance companies forced the doctors to quota out procedures and base decisions more on profitability than what the patients needed.
No one knew about capillary circulation back then and how limited it was. It was terrifying. My poor wife sat there by herself, six months pregnant and watched the entire episode. I could have died right in front of her, never to see my unborn son or her again. My entire life flashed before my eyes. The guilt of marrying a woman in my condition started to haunt me. It later became my personal emotional plague.
She was tough, a true Viking. But, this was more than she was prepared for. I knew at that moment, that no matter what I did, she would never look at me the same way again. It would be replaced with fear and sorrow and coldness. The doctors sent me, by ambulance, to North Shore Hospital for a catheterization. I purposely distanced myself from the rest of my family. I knew my parents would be a mess and I didn’t need any extra stress. Frankly, I didn’t think that my heart could withstand the pressure of seeing them from a surgical room; I simply loved them too much to tell them. I went through the heart surgery with only my wife at the hospital. She was so alone and I was sad for her. I wasn’t thinking about my life or death, just my wife and unborn son. Going into that surgery, I had no idea if I would ever see her again. They opened all the arteries in my heart. They learned that every major artery in my heart was blocked, either completely, or over 95%.
We left the hospital and I tried very hard to minimize the event. She was never the same. Neither was I. I was more worried about her and my son than I was about myself. It was only a few months afterwards, at that same hospital, that my son was born. It was the most incredible moment of my life. I had a son and I was alive. Life was going to work itself out. But, even while she was in labor, my heart was missing beats. I was chewing on nitro pills to prevent another heart attack. I knew the surgery had was not going to be a permanent solution.
I had my second failed heart surgery not long after my son was born. They put stents into my collapsed arteries. This was at Saint Francis Hospital. The hospital was known for pioneering this procedure and was supposed to be among the best in the world. Dr. Shlofmitz was kind as well as being incredibly talented. Dr. Shlofmitz made the surgery (then a completely new procedure) seem routine. They put me in a stainless steel, mission control style, surgical room. I had to stay awake for the procedure. It was terrifying but Dr. Shlofmitz was amazing choosing to listen to loud rock and roll during the surgery did give me some relief from my fear as did the tranquilizers.
It was not long after the second surgery that the stents failed. I had to go back for drug eluding stents that eventually were recalled. They failed almost as fast. On the bright side, I was a father. I had an amazing wife and my bloodline was intact. For a few years, I thought I might be ok, but as time went on, all the symptoms came back. I was even worse as the blood thinners caused me to bleed extensively and the statins were raging havoc on my system. The pain was unbearable. Even though they fixed my heart the “cure” was not a cure. All it did was buy me time. I knew it was just a matter of time before I died, or she left me. I wasn’t sure who was in worse shape, my newlywed wife, or me. I couldn’t believe she stayed with me. After all, I never told her about my condition, or at least the extent of it. She found out after we were married for a few years and my health deteriorated exponentially.
I loved her more than anyone or anything in my life. We had a magical relationship. We traveled to France, Italy, Switzerland, and Sweden. We spent months at a time in Europe. I was smoking a lot of weed. For some reason, it not only helped control the pain, but also the growth of the xanthomas, the cholesterol bumps, that were growing all over my joints as well as throughout my arteries and organs. I was extremely handicapped, but always tried to hide it from her. I was buying nitros on the black market from pharmaceutical salespeople. Often, I was chomping on them right in front of her to avoid another heart attack. She never knew what I was doing to survive. I certainly did not tell her. She encouraged me to walk but just did not realize that walking was like being under water for way too long and not being able to get to the surface. I tried but I just could not keep up.
Eventually the pain of claudication in my legs and the side effects from the medications were too much for me. I could barely walk. I knew she thought it was all in my head, or at least that was her way of coping. She was a terrific mother and an incredible wife. She was everything I ever dreamed of in a soul mate and more. But she was extremely depressed. Eventually I couldn’t go on walks with her or do much more than take photographs. We were together for several years at that point and I had lived with her longer than anyone but my parents. She was everything to me, as was my son. We spent many years together trying to recover from all we had been through. Despite the fact my condition was getting worse, my bloodline was intact.
At this point I was earning a living through telecom analysis. I put the camera aside, other than to photograph my family. I was a wreck. Shortly after we met I had a water skiing accident and fractured some vertebra. Then, when for the first time, I went snow skiing with her; I almost had a heart attack on the slopes and crashed into dozens of skiers. The adrenaline from any event like that was simply too much for my now fragile heart and I lost control when I nearly fainted. I wanted to be the athlete I was most of my life, but I couldn’t even walk to the ski lift without fear. I was making very good money as an analyst, but I never knew if I would wake up the next day and it got to both of us.
When my son was about three years old, I found out I was going to be a father again. This time we were going to have a daughter. I was amazed and happy. We both went through major depressions due to my surgeries and inability to live a non-handicapped life, even though I did my best to hide my pain from her. As soon as she told me, I knew I had to get my heart checked again. Shortly afterwards I had many more stents put in by Doctor Shlofmitz. He couldn’t believe the rate the xanthomas were growing all over my body and how fast the stents were failing.
About the time my wife was pregnant with my daughter, my analysis and software company was also failing. I couldn’t tell her. I changed my career from photography to technology and became an expert at analyzing data and generating designs for voice and data networks. But, I was having severe memory issues, from either the medications or the incredible pain the xanthomas were causing throughout my body. They were not only growing in my heart, but in every artery of my body as well as in many joints in my legs, elbows, and in my abdomen. Later as they found out even some the size of golf balls.
Although I had been earning significant dollars, we were spending money faster than I could make it. Our family income was supplemented by advances from her inheritance. For several years, I found new clients, just when it looked like we would run out of money. We were living well, but the house we bought in Centerport was starting to fall apart and my health was getting much worse. She was only too willing to contribute, by becoming the data entry administrator at my software company. I started that software project so she would be able to do the analysis without me. I even recruited her genius brother to architect the software. As we later found out, software development was an extremely risky and expensive undertaking. Eventually, we ran out of money. Sprint killed my business when they introduced a flat rate program. That program allowed callers to call anywhere, anytime, for a dime a minute, so no one needed an analysis anymore. Every telecom manager and consultant I knew was out of business within six month.
How could I tell my wife that I was about to die and my plan of leaving her my consulting and software company was failing? I attempted to start a business building e-commerce sites for electronic shopping malls, but someone and something was working against me. Everything got to her. I was sure that if she didn’t have a nervous breakdown, I was going to have one. Although I didn’t truly know her when we got engaged and eventually married, I grew to love her more deeply than anyone I ever loved.
As the truck pulled up to our home, to move her out, my heart started to miss beats so frequently I didn’t think I would live long enough to try to convince her to stay, nor did I think it was fair of me to ask. I cried a lot over my lost rock star. It paled in comparison to the utter anguish and feeling of loss I experienced when my wife left. I was on the Grim Reaper’s short list and almost didn’t care. Without her, I thought I deserved to die. I hit rock bottom.
When she left, she told me I didn’t matter anymore. She said she had to do what was best for her and our children and that it didn’t matter, as I was dying anyway. She said that I simply did not make enough money any longer and she had other choices that were promising her country clubs and life of luxury. Those were the last words she said to me as she left with all our furniture. I was alone in an empty house with just a bed, my computers and my old cameras. I hated life at that point and wanted to punish myself for marrying her in the first place. If I did not die from a heart attack, I was going to die from pure misery and depression. I pulled as much cash out of the house as the mortgage banks would allow, gave it to her, paid off the company debts we accumulated after Sprint’s program put us out of business, and signed a divorce agreement without even reading it. What did it matter anyway? I was in no position to support her and she didn’t want to draw on her inheritance to support us both. I was screwed financially and had gambled every relationship and every dollar I ever earned on our consulting business. She was no longer the free spirited, beautiful, European princess I fell in love with. She had toughened herself and made logical decisions, closing her heart to everything but herself.
I would be a single father from that point on. Our marriage counselor told me she was so far gone that there was no way to fix the relationship and that she was in a worse mental condition than I was physically, despite the fact I was suffering and about to die. Watching that moving truck pull away was one of the worst moments of my life. I didn’t leave my bed for several weeks. The following day I went on antidepressants, tranquilizers and sleeping pills, on top of all the heart medications. The stress nearly killed me right there. For weeks all I did was sleep, barely eating a thing. At times, I thought I would be better off taking all the pills at once. The pain in my chest and arms was nothing compared to the pain in my heart. No longer was life about my obsession with sex or having children. It was about survival for my children. I had to carry on, despite how deeply sad I was, filled with gut-wrenching guilt for bringing children into a world where they would soon have no father with a mother so distraught over my health she could barely function herself.