Five years. A half decade. To an individual, it could be defined as a personal era. A block of time that represents a series that significantly changes one’s personal landscape. For me, it has been five years since I had open heart surgery. Going through that experience was life-changing, both physically and emotionally. I’d never had any sort of health issue before and it was unsettling to be a father to a young daughter with another daughter on the way and then be told that doctors will be cracking you open and doing a tune-up on your heart. And, as my doctor casually put it the afternoon before my surgery, “of course, there is a chance you could die on the table.” I still remember the lead up to the event and the anxiousness of just wanting to get past it. And I did get past it. In these past five years, I’ve welcomed my second child into the world, got my dad to move to California, started a business, spent a couple of months living in Kansas City, and took a new job at Turner. I’ve even run 3500 miles since the surgery. Life never stopped. Hell, it never even hit pause.
And now here I am, five years later.
The reminder of the surgery is evident every time I look in the mirror without a shirt. The scar is still very apparent, serving as the inspiration for Robin Williams describing us survivors as “zipper chests”. But physically, I’m pretty much back to normal. I run, I swim, I workout, I walk from meeting to meeting in San Francisco whenever time allows. If I feel any sort of chest pain, I still get a little nervous even though it’s often just a sore muscle or the fact that my sternum will likely always be a little sore. But at the end of the day, I’m 100%.
I think what has really impacted me are the mental changes. I was reading the blog post that I wrote a week after the surgery and I think I’ve stayed true to the lessons I felt at that time. I’m definitely more grateful about the little things. I appreciate my family more. I appreciate the people around me. If I have a high opinion of someone, I share it with them. I’ve gained greater patience for my kids, but less patience for adults who should know better (I don’t have time for stupidity). While I’m fortunate that my malady was solvable, there’s no reason to assume it couldn’t have been worse. People my age get cancer, get hit by cars, whatever. No one is immune. The surgery was my invasive reminder of that fact.
Last week, my boss and I were chatting about something and started cracking joke after joke, relatively care-free about everything and laughing hysterically at our run of jokes. When my boss left the room, my colleague commented on how frivolous we were. “Geez, you guys are so happy.” It was an accusation, as if we were doing something wrong or were missing some pressure that we should have been feeling. I just started to laugh some more. I reminded him of the facts. I have a wife who loves me, two kids that are simply awesome, and a job that I find fulfilling. I wake up every morning with a purpose and gratitude. Another day to provide companionship and partnership to my wife. Another day to make my daughters better people. Another day to come up with cool ideas that could change TV. Another day to mentor others, especially students or entrepreneurs who struggle through the same things I once did. And another day to make myself a little bit better. I have every reason to laugh and expect to do so for the rest of my life. And if I ever stop, then I’m not paying attention to what’s really important. That’s what I learned five years ago. Open heart surgery may be an extreme way to learn that lesson, but sometimes, the hardest lessons are the most powerful.