When I left the hospital, I could barely walk. The surgeons did what I asked against their better judgment. I had many arteries in my body that were failing or that had failed. I wanted them to fix them all. I didn’t want to go back to walking in severe pain. I wanted the pain to finally end. That was what I pleading with the doctors to help me do. If it were not for my primary physician, Dr. Paul, they would never have given me all the tests. I needed head to toe MRI’s to determine why I was in so much pain. Dr. Paul fought with the insurance companies and suffered through countless peer reviews. I owe my life to his determination and loyalty. He is one of the many people I owe my life to. There is a long list. It has finally stopped growing and I am doing my best to pay it forward to as many people as I possibly can. Sometimes that means not accepting payment from those who can’t afford to pay me for my services. Unfortunately, that is one method I can no longer afford. After years of surgeries and recovery, finances become as much a concern as health.
Despite all the surgeries, they could still not fix the arteries in my heart. I had gone through over ten years of surgeries yet my arteries were still closing down. This was despite the numerous times they put stents in. In 2012 I left the hospital almost a bionic man. I had many new stents, the one artery in my heart they were able to fix and a massive bypass surgery in my right leg. My iliac artery had a new stent the size of my thumb and index finger. It had a golf ball sized growth, comprised of rock hard cholesterol, in it. The bleeding arteries in my rectum were surgically repaired as well. When they cut through my rectum they damaged me. They thought I would heal quickly, but it took over three years. Probably, because I never stopped walking, even when I had over a hundred and seventy-five staples in my leg. For over three years, I would be predominantly celibate and focus all my attention on healing.
While I was in healing mode, I spent the time driving all over the country, from Naples, Florida to Hollywood, California. I was avoiding cold weather as it made my circulation much worse. My Ford Flex became my locker room and the Trailmanor RV became my portable hospital bed and production studio. I had Wi-Fi inside the vehicle and Mac servers installed in the RV, so I could edit video from bed. I started filming documentaries about street and honky tonk musicians in Nashville, extreme athletes in the sand dunes, the Grand Canyon, Vegas, funny cars racing, even American bald eagles nesting. Anything to keep my mind occupied, while I was walking alone for hours upon hours every day. I was also writing Chapters of Love on my smart phone. At the time, it was called Chasing Sunrise. That was my therapy. I was also trying to save my software company. My angel investors who funded the effort were trying to help, but after a while we determined that I was too sick. The company was undercapitalized anyway; so, we sold it for a note to two corporate power CEO’s. Unfortunately, they didn’t get funding and left the company without a working product and with no cash. By the time we took it back, the technology was outdated as Adobe abandoned its battle to hold onto the mobile market with the Flash Player when Apple refused to support it on its iPhones. I couldn’t manage the company in my condition, so the board took it over, to close it. I gave the company to them to recover whatever funds they could. They were right. I was too sick to even attempt to rejuvenate the company. It broke my heart. I was holding a five million dollar note that was not worth the paper it was written on.
At that point I was basically broke. I started my tour of the country organizing flash mobs, but the concept was at the back end of its’ popularity. Obtaining budgets through crowd funding was near impossible. I made a few, but not enough to survive financially. If it were not for the generosity of some of the participants, who wrote me checks for as much as ten grand, I would have been completely bankrupt. My ANGELS, as I call them, are several of the most humble and generous people on this earth. They bought me food and supplies for over two years while I recuperating. They are my dearest friends and my mentors. They virtually adopted me, when I hit rock bottom. I, of course, adopted them as well.
I thought I was tough and could get through anything and still come out in one piece. When I came out of the leg bypass surgery with my heart still broken, I was in more pain than I had ever been and I was bleeding daily. It got to the point I stopped eating. After a year, I was skinny, but not healthy. I was back on painkillers. More of them than ever. This was mostly because of all the walking. The pain and bleeding was a deadly combination. But then, I came up with an idea. I would walk in the ocean to get my heart rate up. I would surf cast as I walked. I did this for nearly nine months. In time, the salt water, organic vegetables and raw fish diet helped my digestive system heal. I caught fish every day in Florida. That’s how I managed to survive and eat an expensive fish diet. I was diagnosed with more diseases than you could imagine. In the end, when I stopped taking all the medications, I started getting better. But, I didn’t know how long I could go on walking. I was so lonely and it was difficult to deal with all the bleeding.
That was about the time I got a life changing phone call. It was mid-two thousand thirteen. My heart surgeon told me there was a new procedure that might fix my heart. He said, using new technology a surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian would have a fifty fifty chance of finally tunneling through the two remaining one hundred percent blocked arteries in my heart. They would have to cut through rock hard cholesterol, scar tissue and failed stents from years and years of surgeries. I would either get my life back, or die. Each blockage was over four inches long, so I was not a candidate for bypass surgery. They had to drill through the scar tissue and the failed stents. If they poked a tiny whole in my heart, I would have a stroke and die right on the operating room table. I drove back to New York, parked my RV in a RV park and went in for the surgeries. Anyone who has gone in for stents knows that as much as they call it a procedure, one percent of angioplasties and catheterizations fail and people die. “The procedures are not as routine as you might believe them to be. There is a lot of truth to the saying, the only minor surgery is the surgery to someone else. Now when you take a guy who had over twenty-five failed stents, heart arteries that were completely blocked and was living on collateral circulation, it was even more risky. It was a major risk. Never-the-less, I signed the waivers. This time my children drove me to the hospital. I promised them I would never go in for another surgery without telling them, as I had done so many times prior.
The RV was impossible to live in for any length of time and driving around the country was tougher than I thought. I put almost forty thousand miles on that car and RV and several thousand more walking. I calculated that I walked from New York to California and back at least twice. By the time I was ready to go to the hospital and face my mortality again, I was completely shell shocked. My prior bypass surgeries traumatized me. I cried when I thought about those surgeries and never knew why. I would get panic attacks so often I lost count. My heart would race and beat irregularly and my blood pressure would spike. It felt exactly the same as when I had a heart attack, but as I recently found out it was post-traumatic stress disorder, not my heart condition. I was told after my heart surgery that when I felt my heart missing beats and my blood pressure spiking that it was no longer caused by blockages. It was an emotional reaction.
Finally, I went for the surgery. I turned in the lease on my car and RV and sublet a small room in the city, from a retired nurse. Being back in New York was a nice change. They fixed both of my arteries and by July of 2013 I was looking for a place in South Florida, knowing winter was coming and my surgeons said, just to be safe I should consider a warmer climate. I wouldn’t know if the new stents were going to hold for at least a year. Or would it be like every stent they put in before and scar over and fail. I could breathe again, but I would never be able to run or participate in sports. They fixed me just enough to have a functional life. I was still suffering panic attacks though and I never knew whether it was a panic attack or another physical heart issue. They stayed with me for years. I was completely rebuilt but, I still had a lot of walking to do, to ensure the arteries stayed open and the collateral circulation I built, stayed viable.
I moved to Florida and stayed until 2015. While I was there, I walked ten miles every day. I pushed it until I was walking a marathon, 26.2 miles, every two days. When I was up to a marathon daily, I called my surgeon. It was about eighteen months after my surgery. The first thing he said to me was, “you’re still alive?” I told him I used painkillers to walk my marathons. He was very happy to hear that. For a surgeon, he had a great sense of humor. Dr. Moses was the surgeon who gave me my life back. He was also the surgeon who took me off the mega doses of statins. Once I went off them, a great deal of the pain went away. I called my primary care physician and told him. He said to throw out the rest of the painkillers and to start walking shorter distances without them. He wanted me off them. He knew I would go through withdrawal and wanted me to do so prior to seeing him in New York. Withdrawal was intense and exactly like the nightmares you see in movies. It took months. That’s when I went to Europe to test my body in the cold. I vowed that I was not going to spend the rest of my life addicted to pain killers, after beating everything I endured. So, I went cold Turkey after the bleeding stopped and the pain seemed to be dissipating, even when I skipped dosages of pain killers for a few days at a time.
I spent years without any sexual contact. That finally ended my life long obsession with sex and the search for my soul mate. I came back to New York and started an alternative currency trade network and used barter to get it going. My magazines were a success creatively even though they were not financially. It didn’t take long before some of my business associates, who were reading my social networking posts, suggested that I write a book. So, I searched for this manuscript. I had written over eight hundred pages, of Chapters Of Love while walking all over the world and recovering. As I edited them, I started to post a few of them on Facebook.
I wanted to share my story. I realized that I was not defined by my health, my failed marriage, or my financial situation. I was defined by the love I shared and the way in which I have always paid it forward to any one in need. My partners were defined, at least in part, by the chapters they shared with me. Through the entire recovery, I meditated and prayed. Every time I did, that angel was right there, telling me to breath. I always kept her around as the guardian angel of my heart. And no…I never did see her again even though I wish I had.
I contemplated becoming a minister and dedicating my life to helping others. I thought I might possibly perform wedding ceremonies like my old director friend, who went from working at Playboy, to wearing a robe and a cross. But I knew that I couldn’t live the rest of my life watching others fall in love and getting married. I knew that as I healed, I was now rebuilding my life. I wanted to do so with love. But where would I find my soul mate? I decided that I would not look for her. I would wait and let her come to me, just like my angel had. Today, I’m living with a heart that might be somewhat bionic, but it is no longer broken. I am no longer in extreme pain. It took almost thirty years of walking, suffering and countless surgeries to keep me alive. It took a medical breakthrough, caring nurses and amazing surgeons to give me a future and a reason to live. I am now a Trade Broker. I still take photographs whenever my battered, but not broken body, permits. I am passionately writing additional Chapters Of Love. I have had several since my return to New York. While none of them was with my soul mate, there was this one girl. I’ll save that for a future chapter.
I still get panic attacks that are terrifyingly similar to heart attacks. I take medication for PTSD that helps keep them at bay. Living as an entrepreneur, without capital, is challenging. But, I am grateful for every second, of every minute, of every day. Nothing beats the feeling of being home with my children, family and friends. I’m back to being a Strong Islander, giving my clients as much value as I possibly can and of course taking every opportunity to meet my next and final chapter of love.