Editor’s note: Mike Ashland loved running. But after he moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Oregon, and began working on a home renovation with his partner, he found himself more and more exhausted. Medical tests revealed that without his knowledge, he had suffered a massive heart attack that destroyed nearly half of his heart muscle. Within a month, Ashland went from being a marathon runner to a critically ill heart patient. With no job and no health insurance, he found himself facing the most serious crisis of his life. Ashland chronicles his perilous journey in this blog.
After three days of lying around, checking my heart monitor every few minutes because I changed rooms or crossed my legs, enduring hyper vigilance from my family and myself, and generally feeling like a bedridden loser, I walked outside with Judy in the sunshine and blue sky.
Just lying around — even though it’s necessary sometimes — seems so unhealthy. I feel like my muscles are preparing for a leave of absence and can almost feel the blood pooling in the chambers of my heart and in my buttocks. I’m getting perilously close to crossing under the 180-pound mark. So I’m determined to eat and move and get some of my conditioning back before I get a new heart. Okay, maybe just keep my legs from turning to toothpicks and my arms thick enough to hold a watch.
When I get up from the couch everyone in the room prompts, “What do you want? We can get it.” It seems bullheaded for me to press on into the kitchen and get a glass, fill it with ice and water from the refrigerator dispenser and walk back to the couch and lie down. But sometimes that’s the challenge to which your world has shrunk and you have to meet it.
My daughter and future son-in-law set their Just-in-Case-Dad-Dies wedding date for April 15. I am counting on being there. Sometimes the new angle from which I look at life has its benefits. Smaller things bring greater hope. Judy’s laughter, my daughter’s smile, a deep breath without pain or labor, an inch of snow, a short note from a friend — it all sounds so cliché, but it sure looks different from where I am today.
I’ve been teaching religion to young people my whole life and leading parents and adults in retreats, spiritual direction and self-discovery. Now, sometimes, I come face to face with what I believe. It’s no longer an intellectual exercise or a source of inspiration for a new program or class. It’s about what is just around the bend and who I really am. And there’s no place to hide.
In the meantime, I’m up and walking.