A Few Things That Make Life Worth Living

sunsetWe have a Thanksgiving tradition in our family that I’m sure many of you share — we go around the table before dinner and we each say what we are thankful for. It’s pretty corny I know, but we do it anyway and truth be told I never really put much thought into it. I suspect this year my entire family is going to look to me for some sort of sage advice now that I am a heart attack survivor (still seems weird to say that). But who the hell knows if any of us are going to still be here on Nov. 24 so I figure why not do it today (I have always been one of the world’s worst procrastinators but somehow now that seems like a bad way to go through life).

There’s a great scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where he talks into a tape recorder and lists the things that, to him, make life worth living.

There are certain things I guess that make it worthwhile. uh… Like what… okay… um… For me, uh… ooh… I would say… what, Groucho Marx, to name one thing… uh… um… and Willie Mays… and um… the 2nd movement of the Jupiter Symphony… and um… Louis Armstrong, recording of Potato Head Blues… um… Swedish movies, naturally… Sentimental Education by Flaubert… uh… Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra… um… those incredible Apples and Pears by Cezanne… uh… the crabs at Sam Wo’s… uh… Tracy’s face…

In that spirit, here goes:

  • My wife Leslie Gutman and our son Connor Gutman
  • My family (especially my sister Jodi!)
  • Arizona sunrises
  • Tom Wolfe novels
  • Walking along the beach in Coronado
  • Every song ever recorded by Joe Jackson
  • A grande nonfat latte at Starbucks
  • A gorgeous pair of legs
  • Field of Dreams
  • Baseball
  • College basketball
  • Driving alone with the radio blaring and no particular place to go
  • An ice cold craft beer
  • Dexter
  • Conversations with friends
  • My iPhone
  • A Love Supreme by John Coltrane
  • Pedro Almódovar movies
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Introducing Connor to new films, television shows and music
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
  • Wasting an hour browsing for nothing in particular at a good bookstore
  • Dean KamenShai Agassi, and Elon Musk
  • Hearing One Shining Moment on the night of the NCAA basketball final
  • Chilling by a pool…any pool…with a novel and a beer
  • Seeing Connor’s excitement over the latest technology news
  • Quoting Seinfeld
  • Spotify
  • Teaching
  • My Barnes & Noble nook
  • Staying in touch with friends, new and old, on Facebook
  • ESPN SportsCenter
  • Honeycrisp apples

Well, that’s a start. What makes your life worth living?

Workin’ Too Hard Can Give You a Heart Attackackackackackack

photo-on-10-25-11-at-8-23-pm-2It’s Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011 and I am lucky to be alive. I don’t mean that in some symbolic sense, but rather in the real, honest-to-goodness medical sense. Let me say it again so there is no confusion — I am lucky to be alive.

Ten days ago I had a heart attack. I can’t tell you if it was a big heart attack or a little heart attack because my cardiologist said there is no such thing as a little heart attack. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. I am 45 year’s old, I jog about three miles, three days per week. I eat very little meat (some fish) and the occasional grass-fed burger. I do not have a stressful job (or life for that matter). I am relatively thin (prior to last Saturday I was 5–9, 158 pounds). Yet I had an 80–90 percent blockage in my left inter-ventricular artery.

Author Len Gutman in the hospital following a heart attack in 2011.

The fact is we cannot escape family history. My father had a heart attack, his father had a heart attack, and his father before him probably had a heart attack as well. After my father had his open-heart surgery about 8 years ago I went to the cardiologist for the first time and he told me to take a baby aspirin every day and come back to see him in five years (I did not). My cholesterol has been high for years, but I have been dutifully taking statins along with my aspirin and I figured with my lifestyle I was doing all the right things. Clearly I was not.

But this blog post is not about looking back, but rather it’s about looking toward the future. Thanks to the good folks at Medtronic I have three capable stents propping open my newly cleared artery and I’m taking a host of drugs to nudge my heart back into solid working order. My cardiologist says I can run a marathon one day (though I will not, thank you) and as long as I take my meds and eat right I should die of something other than a heart attack. I will follow his instructions to the tee and am fortunate to have a wonderful life partner for this journey who has already proven in these past few days that she is a more than capable low-fat, low-sodium chef!

But I have some fucking things to say!

  • First and foremost, I love my wife Leslie and my son Connor more than life itself. This too is not a symbolic statement — I mean it. I am no longer afraid to die, but rather my only fear is leaving my family too soon. I promise to take care of myself even more than I did in the past to ensure my family has the pleasure of having me around for all of life’s amazing events going forward.
  • Colors seem brighter to me now and food tastes better. This may be psychological or may be a result of the sinus surgery that may or may not have had a role to play in my condition. I don’t really care.
  • I am no longer going to find excuses (time, money, etc.) for not doing the things I want to do. We are planning a trip to Europe next summer and not only are these plans still on, you can bet we are not going to skimp on the hotel rooms. Expect to hear about my kayak trip someday soon. I imagine my 2005 Honda Accord is not going to be my primary form of transportation much longer. Life is just too damn short.
  • Aside from family, the most important thing in the world is friendship. I have nearly 600 “friends” on Facebook, and many of them have checked in on me over the past week. My close friends have called or come to see me. You can’t put a price on that. If you haven’t called or come to see me yet, please do. My “door” is ALWAYS open. I love you all and am lucky to have you in my life.
  • Despite my near death experience, I am sorry to report to my religious friends that the old adage that there are no atheists in foxholes is not true in my case. I believe even more now that life is random and that there is no god. I’m great with this and will continue to live a moral life because it’s the right thing to do.
  • If you are over 40, get yourself checked out by a cardiologist. I did so many right things, but because I did not follow up with my cardiologist I have permanent damage to my heart which would have been prevented had they found and corrected the blockage prior to my “event.” By the way, my “event” didn’t hurt. I had all the signs (radiating heat, pain down both arms, cold sweat, indigestion and anxiety). I worked through it, denied it was a heart attack, and waited two days to go see a doctor and only then because Leslie insisted. She saved my life, as did my primary care physician for calling 9–1–1 last Monday morning. The nurses at the hospital told me lots of men ignore the tell-tale signs of a heart attack so I am not alone, but my cardiologist said 50 percent of men who have a heart attack at my age die immediately or within six hours. I played Russian roulette and I will never forgive myself, but I am not going to dwell on it. Stay present my friends.

That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll have lots more to say going forward. I will be taking about six weeks off work per doctor’s orders, and during this time I will eat right, go to cardiac rehab to strengthen my heart, catch up on reading and films (I still have 75 films on the AFI list to get through and no damn heart attack is going to keep me from this ridiculous quest). I expect after a little while I will be able to meet up with friends for lunch or coffee and I will cherish every moment of those meetings.

What I’m looking forward to today: sleeping next to my wife, watching Arrested Development on Netflix with Connor, reading the stack of magazines piled on my end table, resting, visiting with friends…and of course…being ALIVE.