Author’s note: The following passage from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life is the first of nine parts that details June 7, 2010, the day that a massive heart attack forever changed my life.
On Monday morning, June 7th, my weekly routine got off to its usual start with countless issues racing through my mind, a churn in my stomach, and heaviness in my shoulders. After taking Erica to school, I drove to the gym to meet Sandra and Jerry hoping a good workout would release the stress that seemed to be taking over my body.
When I got to the gym, Sandra was already there warming up on the treadmill. I began a brisk walk, then a light jog, on the machine next to her as we talked about our respective schedules for the day. Her day would be filled with the usual steady demands on her time as a school principal being pulled in numerous directions like a ball of Silly Putty – parents, teachers, students, and district administrators all seeking a few minutes with her.
My schedule was a typical day for a political chief of staff and school board president: staff meeting at 10:00 AM, meeting with the deputy county executive at 11:00 AM, work through lunch returning e-mails and phone calls, team meeting at 1:00 PM with George to prepare for the next day’s county board meeting, managing follow-up action items from the George meeting, and finally, presiding over the 6:00 PM graduation ceremonies at one of the district high schools I represented on the board.
Once Sandra and I were done warming up and stretching, we joined Jerry for what was sure to be an hour of vigorous strength and aerobic training. We started off with sets of squats, lunges, and burpees, an intense aerobic workout that includes squats, push-ups, and jumping all in one motion. At this point, sweat usually starts pouring over me and the stress and tension in my body begins to subside.
My sweat glands responded as usual, but the tension, the heavy shoulders, the churn, and pressure on my throat and upper chest only intensified. Between exercise sets, I used the breathing techniques I learned in the anxiety classes hoping to relieve the pressure that was slowly building up in my body.
The tension in my shoulders, the upset stomach, the discomfort around my neck and throat, the difficulty catching my breath continued through sets of bench presses, legs presses, and dumbbell exercises.
Sandra and Jerry kept asking if I was okay and I responded that it was stress and my anxiety acting up, and I just needed to work through it. Finally, while doing a set of push-ups with a medicine ball on my back, Sandra, with a worried look on her face, demanded that I stop. After a few minutes needed to regain my composure on a gym bench, I went into the locker room to shower and dress for the day.
The hot water from the steamy shower rained over my head and body. My mind raced thinking about all of the challenges before me: the county and school board budgets, the fraying relationship with one of my siblings, the coming tsunami of political rhetoric from an opponent with an axe to grind during the upcoming fall election. The stream blanketed my body trying to soothe the pressure while the thoughts in my mind swirled. But, my anxious body responded the same way it did after my mom and Patty died seven years before, just more intensely.
After toweling off, I had to sit and catch my breath as I continued with the anxiety breathing exercises. Once I calmed down, I put on my trousers, buttoned my shirt, tied the necktie around the shirt’s collar, and sat in front of a row of metal lockers to tie my shoes. Again, I stopped to relieve the anxiety by taking deep breaths through the nose and slowly exhaling through the mouth in a steady rhythm.
I left the locker room and wound my way through the gym floor through the lobby and out to the parking lot as the anxious feelings intensified and my mind swirled with ever-changing thoughts. In my car, I sat trying to relax, trying to catch my breath, trying to mentally prepare for the long day ahead. I don’t know how long I sat in the car, but I was startled by Sandra pulling into the parking space next to my car to ask if I was okay.
I mumbled that I was fine, started the car, and began driving to work. Once I started driving, I began to feel better and remembered that I wanted to buy a tie to match the school colors of the graduation I was scheduled to preside over later in the evening. I stopped at a Kohl’s department store and briskly walked to the men’s department while reading and returning e-mails on my Blackberry.
The churn in my stomach intensified, my shoulders grew heavier, and I had to stop to catch my breath a few times before finding the necktie section. I quickly picked out an orange and blue striped tie that matched the school colors and the navy blue suit I wore. I dragged myself to the cashier and labored my way to the car trying to fight back the anxiety I thought was taking over my mind.
Once in my car, I again sat for a while to compose myself not knowing that the blood gurgling though my veins and arteries was thickening, clotting, and preparing for battle.
To read previous excerpts click here: https://esereport.com/summer-in-the-waiting-room/
Next Wednesday: June 7, 2010 continues…