I have been writing my newsletter, Pop Culture Mondays, since November 2019 and I have to say, each Sunday night I get sort of panicked as I never know what I am going to write until I sit down Monday morning (SO SO SO EARLY) with a MASSIVE pot of coffee and just start writing. I take notes all week about the pop cultural moments (Brad and Jen 4ever) but I only write about 20% of the topics I have in my weekly notes.
People have asked me how I write it and some think I dictate it because I write like I talk, WHICH apparently isn’t always how people write but alas…I have the carpal tunnel to prove that I type each and every word.
And weirdly, carpal tunnel is where this new story begins..WEIRDLY because in some ways PCM has saved my life…both figuratively (a creative outlet I have just fallen in love with) and LITERALLY. HUH? OK so here goes…
On Thursday, October 1st I am checking into the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to have open heart surgery. I am getting my aortic valve replaced with a cow’s valve and my aorta replaced with this thing called a Dacron Graft.
It’s super sci-fi and cool and I will be part cow and part robot JUST LIKE I HAVE ALWAYS DREAMED OF. But I digress….
How did I get here? Well I thought I would share this whole experience because that’s what I do:
- I have found by voice thru platforms like Twitter and Medium (um THANK YOU Ev Williams) and so I feel it would be inauthentic at this point not to write about it.
- But I also HOPE it can have an impact on even just ONE person and that is to BE PROACTIVE WITH YOUR HEALTH. Don’t wait until something comes up that is concerning or don’t make excuses like you are too busy or you will get to it at a better time. There are a lot of times we just don’t get 2nd chances. That could have been me.
I was diagnosed with Severe Aortic Stenosis when I was a kid. It was really one of those “I CANNOT BELIEVE IT” stories as my parents were close friends with a world famous heart surgeon named Wayne Isom. He and his first wife were neighbors and I was madly in love with their son who was a couple of years older than me(I was 6 or 8 or something). AND true to form, I chased that boy everywhere I could, much to his horror. I CHASED HIM. And one day while chasing him I fell and Wayne was near by and checked on me and because he’s like the most famous heart surgeon ever, he instinctively listened to my heart and VOILA…the most incredible heart surgeon in the world happened to be there and found BY EAR, my crazy heart defect.
So, after many many many tests, I was told this was something they would monitor closely and I would in fact eventually need a new heart valve but they just couldn’t tell me when. Maybe soon. Maybe in a few years. But back then in the ’80s, open heart surgery meant cracking open your sternum and well let me tell you it was a shit show. But the good news was, I LITERALLY had a doctor’s note preventing me from doing isometric exercises.
What are those?
Well imagine gym class when the coach would blow her whistle and tell everyone to line up and start doing pushups.
Then imagine me, as a bratty AF kid, standing there smacking my contraband gum saying, “UM Coach? Sorry yeah ..BUT LIKE..UM..NOPE..NOT ME. My doctor says I can’t!!” and wave my note proudly for all to see. I had that sucker LAMINATED (I had a laminating machine guys…it was the ‘80s!) Anyway so from that point forward I was prohibited from doing this including:
- Rope Climbs
- Wall Sits
- Side Bridges
Also, this includes shoveling snow, lifting/moving heavy things. I also usually included washing dishes, picking up my clothes, making my bed on this list whenever I could. Basically, I just sat on my ass and ate Mallomars while everyone else worked out around me. This began my lifelong fear/avoidance of exercise.
I admit, my 20s and early 30s were not my best years in terms of self care. I admit, I missed an echocardiogram a few years in a row — when my parents died when I was 22, I just could deal with SO much so I ignored my health issues and instead focused entirely on building a career…and…partying…and boys but really that’s another story entirely. But I admit I did stupid things for a short time — I smoked cigarettes, I did party drugs on occasion. I drank Red Bulls and Vodkas with the same passion and frequency reserved for millennials and their matchas.
But somewhere along the way I woke up and pulled it together and found a cardiologist. Well, let me be clear. NOT entirely on my own. Jeff Swisher, an incredible anesthesiologist (the BEST!!) in the Bay Area and also the brother of one of my squad, Kara, listened to my heart one day while sitting with me at lunch at Kara’s All Things D — only after I told him about my condition. It took him less than a minute to tell me it was serious and to get it checked ASAP. And I did and I credit Jeff with giving me the electric shock I needed to take back control of my life. And so with that, I got a cardiologist and understood what was happening and what I needed to do…and NOT do. I have not been perfect, but I have been attentive since then.
The thing with my heart condition that every cardiologist told me was that I would have symptoms. While I did MY part every year and got an echocardiogram and an EKG and saw my cardiologist sometimes twice a year, I was told by everyone that I would start feeling symptoms as my valve wore down. Like being unable to walk up a flight of stairs without feeling winded. Getting exhausted early in the day. Have crazy swelling. It’s the warning system we are built with to indicate at least for this particular thing that something is wrong. So, each day as I rode my Peloton and pushed myself further and further, I assumed I was A OK. I moved to the Hills of West Hollywood where a 3 mile walk is different than in NYC as I am walking straight up hill for large parts of it. Each day I pushed myself to go farther or go faster. Again, I felt nothing.
It turns out that I am of the small percent that has no warning system.
I went to see a cardiologist here in LA as I needed cardiac clearance for my carpal tunnel surgery…see, I am FINALLY closing the loop on that one so this SORT of comes together. And also, because it was time for me to get my annual Echo which I had let slide a few months because…well..COVID. And the cardiologist called me on a Friday night at 6:30PM to tell me that I could not have surgery on my hand on Monday and in fact my heart was a “ticking time bomb” and that I needed surgery ASAP.
I drank a SHIT ton of tequila that night.
ANYWAY….here we are. I will be in the hospital for like a week and because it’s COVID I cannot make all my friends come and hang with me and sneak in Nobu or french fries or tequila. And I will have an awesome scar. AND I WILL HAVE CONTENT FOR WEEKS.
But the thing is…I am so fucking lucky and grateful.
We do not always get warning signs…or if we get a sign it can be too late. I just want everyone to know it is SO normal to be afraid and we are really good as humans at compartmentalizing and forgetting things that make us uncomfortable…like getting that annual check. But it is SO much better to fight something early and on your terms as much as possible which is less easy to do when things have escalated.
I don’t have enough gratitude for Dr. Wayne Isom, Dr. Holly Andersen, Dr. Richard Shemin — who is doing my heart surgery at UCLA — and Dr. David Agus who has saved my life MORE than once and who’s multiple books I cannot recommend ENOUGH:
A Short Guide to a Long Life
A good (and short) book to get yourself motivated. Some of his advice isn't the best (for example: new guidelines…
The Lucky Years
Bestselling author David Agus unveils the brave new world of medicine, one in which we can take control of our health…
And with that my darling ones…I will have an adventure to tell for the rest of my long life. And I am so fucking happy that it is this outcome — a big surgery, a big recovery, a BIG reward…vs the alternative.
❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️ ❤️❤️ ❤️