Jon Johnston

When Faced With Uncertainty, Remember The Serenity Prayer

Dirt track race wreck

I recently had an echocardiogram since I hadn’t had one in a couple years. I went in feeling pretty decent, but came out feeling like holy hell, which is weird because echoes aren’t intrusive. They inject a cool liquid into your body to make the echo show up more. As that was happening, I asked the nurse if it was a dye.

“No, it’s not a dye.”

“Is it communism? You’re injecting me with communism, aren’t you?”

“Yes, it’s communism.”

This is how I typically handle things; I stick the weird and unexpected into it, hoping someone else plays along. I was happy with the nurse.

As I left, I turned to her and said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses!”

Clearly more Marxism had set in.

Next was my follow up appointment with my cardiologist, Dr. Kohl. We always give each other a lot of crap because that’s what I do and we’ve seen each other enough to be comfortable being blunt.

He pulls up an echo, and he says, “Look, your EF improved to 49!”
EF is ejection fraction, basically a measure of how well your heart pumps. Normal is 55.
I am elated. It’s gone up since the last measure a couple years ago!
Then he says, “Sorry that’s not your heart”. He pulls up my echo, and it’s 39, which is what it was before.
So Yay! I am elated, then smashed into the ground, just like some guy in professional wrestling has landed on me from the top ropes. I lay there in a daze. But wait, there’s more to come!
We’re looking at my echo, and he points out some part of it that looks sketchy. Dodgy. Blurry. I don’t know. It all looks like I have an “Alien” in my chest that’s about to burst out.

He tells me, we think you might have a blood clot. This is shittier news than the EF.

He explains my artery is like a river flow. The two banks are the sides of my artery. The heart pumps, the two sides squish in, and the blood flows. Unfortunately, part of my heart is dead, so that part doesn’t squish as well because it is scar tissue. That creates an eddy in the current, and just like you see in a river, in the eddy the water swirls around. Refuse gets caught instead of flowing down the river. In my case, the blood might be getting caught there and forming a clot, just like a dead carp floating in an eddy.

It’s shocking news. It’s upsetting. I feel like I’ve failed. I have done a decent job of staying in shape. I quit drinking more than a year ago. I suddenly feel like it’s all for naught. I try to keep from crying, and I do, but I want to scream.

It’s not the prospect of dying that worries me. Dying would be pretty easy. Based on experience, it was pretty peaceful. What bothers me is dying in front of someone else and then they have to deal with it. The idea of my wife finding me cold in the morning or my son finding me dead on the floor when he comes home from work. I don’t want to do that to anybody. I wonder if dying in the woods would be better. It’s a stupid thought. If they did not find me, the uncertainty would be terrible for those who love me.

I am told I need to get a heart MRI. A MRI takes a 3D picture of the heart, so then we’ll know for sure. Maybe. This is all about probabilities.

Perhaps I have a time bomb in my chest. Perhaps I don’t. The uncertainty is maddening. The problem with this kind of uncertainty is getting sucked into pity – “Why me? Why did this happen to me?”. No good comes from that.
I have done my best to teach myself to stay away from anxiety. I will try like hell to not worry about it because worry is only an energy suck. From experience, I know it is exhausting. Worry can consume you, keep you from doing what you love.

I tell myself, “What is the difference between right now and before my exam? I have more information. Nothing else has changed.”

Why worry, then? It does no good.
I keep repeating this to tell myself it’s true, and it is, but you have to re-affirm yourself. It is how you train your brain.
I lived an active, mostly healthy life until one day when I fell over dead while sitting in a chair. I have done so many stupid things in my life, the number of times I’ve nearly gotten myself killed is ridiculous. I am not going to make a list as it would only make me appear as an incredibly stupid person. After all that, I died sitting in a chair.
It convinced me it doesn’t matter what you do, when your time is up, you’re done. You might think you control what happens to you, but you don’t. Tell this to people and you can wind up in an argument worse than any caused by religion or politics.

When faced with uncertainty, I rely on the Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I cannot change whether I have a clot in my heart.
I can can change the attitude I have about the uncertainty of whether it exists. I can fall into the trap of self-pity or I can live my life with the understanding it can end at any time, whether from a blood clot, an accident, or any other calamity which may befall me.
I chose to live.