Just a few weeks ago – I had lots to blog about – I had just come back from the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting with a friend to hear wisdom and opinions from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. I have blogged each year about this trip (and yes, the below is what the Qwest Center in Omaha looks like during the world’s largest shareholder meeting). Its crazy and still fun.
But before I could blog on this and other topics – life surprised me with a curveball…….
You see, 3 weeks ago on May 10th as I was just waking up, my wife noticed something odd with my speech and face – she had been planning to leave for Sioux Falls and was running late – she got concerned even though I felt totally fine – she called my mother to stop by as well and see what she thought (many have since asked – why? Is your mom a nurse? The answer – No – but she knows what her son looks like better than most) and immediately they decided we had to get to the hospital – a quick run to the emergency room, a quick consultation and they had me have a CT scan of my head – found a blood clot in my right half of the brain – they sent me to McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls where more detailed MRI revealed the size and location of the clot and even let them conjecture that the clot had reached my brain somewhere around 1 AM that morning – from Saturday morning until I was released Monday night, I was pushed blood thinners thru an IV and had blood taken every 2 hours day and throughout the night …..and yet I can honestly tell you that the entire event was extremely positive and a terrific experience (except for one time where I accidentally ripped the IV out of my arm – that wasn’t fun) , even the food was good and that this experience is one that my family views as a tremendous gift, a gift that cannot be repaid – I’ll explain why in a second.
But first – the whole experience brought to mind a book I had read at college – The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (a book which I can say did actually change me – and I did need changing.)
A parable from this book sums it up well…..
An old Zen story goes like this: An old Chinese farmer had a mare that broke through the fence and ran away. When his neighbors learned of it, they came to the farmer and said, “What bad luck this is. You don’t have a horse during planting season.” The farmer listened and then replied, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”
A few days later, the mare returned with two stallions. When the neighbors learned of it, they visited the farmer. “You are now a rich man. What good fortune this is,” they said. The farmer listened and again replied, “Good fortune, bad fortune. Who knows?”
Later that day, the farmer’s only son was thrown from one of the stallions and broke his leg. When the neighbors heard about it, they came to the farmer. “It is planting season and now there is no one to help you,” they said. “This is truly bad luck.” The farmer listened, and once more he said, “Bad luck, good luck. Who knows?”
The very next day, the emperor’s army rode into the town and conscripted the eldest son in every family. Only the farmer’s son with his broken leg remained behind. Soon the neighbors arrived. Tearfully, they said, “Yours is the only son who was not taken from his family and sent to war. What good fortune this is…”
So – why was all of this a huge gift? Apparently I have a small hole in my heart between my 2 upper chambers (about 3 mm wide) that I have had since birth –1 in every 5 people have them so its not uncommon – it’s a natural born birth defect as all babies start with this hole in the heart and for 80% of all people – it closes – but for some of us it does not – its called a PVO (patent foramen ovale) or an atrial septal defect. This is not normally a problem because PFO’s are typically very small and the amount of blood crossing the PFO does not place the heart under strain.
A PFO can however be a problem in young(er) patients who present with a stroke or stroke like symptoms because this can mean that the PFO is enabling clots to travel from the right to the left side of the heart. And this is what happened to me – they figure a tiny clot (which normally would get filtered by the lungs) was able to jump thru that hole and get into my brain – and then its just a matter of chance of how much damage a clot in the brain can cause
So let me count the blessings:
- I was dead tired that morning and planned on sleeping in while my wife was already about 20 minutes late in leaving for Sioux Falls that very morning – a few more minutes, and my wife would have been out of the house and I would not have noticed anything
- My symptoms were very slight except for about a very narrow window (only a few minutes) where my speech was messed up – the only reason this was caught was because at the exact moment that my speech was hosed, my sister had called on the phone (and she never calls early on a Saturday morning) and I was trying to relay a message to my wife and could not recite the phone number.
- My speech quickly came back – but the entire time I just thought I was over-tired and was going back to bed, but my wife noticed something odd about my smile – which is a feat in itself, anytime I have just woken up and not yet showered – I don’t think I ever look “normal”.
- By the time we got to the hospital, my symptoms were almost invisible and I still felt totally fine.
- At the hospital in Sioux Falls, they located the hole in my heart quickly with ultrasounds (which they suspected immediately since I did not have any other stroke factors…ie..I don’t smoke, I have low blood pressure, etc)
- Bottom line – it was an extremely lucky catch that someone (my beautiful wife) saw my symptoms while I was presenting, I was extremely fortunate that the clot that did reveal the hole in my heart that I have had my entire life was so tiny as to not cause ANY permanent damage and yet the clot caused just enough symptoms to be noticed, and I could go on and on about the sheer fortunate events that happened that weekend
- And 2 weeks from now I’ll undergo a fairly simple process to repair my heart will get me off blood thinners – and meanwhile I am cleared for all physical activity and I even started the tennis season with a win this week over an individual that started varsity for the Kernels last year. (not bad for a 45-year old man with a hole in his heart :) – and what could have been a ticking time-bomb ready to go off sometime in the future with potentially catastrophic capabilities will be defused …….and I spent 3 days in a hospital with some of the coolest and most charming nurses ever.
So while gratitude is something that I strive to practice more on a daily basis – this experience certainly pushed it front and center in my thoughts.
There is no greater difference between men than between grateful and ungrateful people. ~R.H. Blyth
And I choose to be one of the grateful ones – have a great weekend.