Well it happened. In the very vein of the way life lends itself to peaks and valleys of pleasure and pain, the unexpected and uncontrollable happened. My heart stopped and I had a cardiac arrest. Ventricular fibrillation. A long QT syndrome. Which makes sense, because I can be quite the QT at times. Here is my story;
You think you know life, like, really know it. My life consists of following the rules worth following and breaking the rules worth breaking--a constant dance of analysis dictated by my parents instilling a free spirited mindset. My health was not a dance, or a rule I typically broke in a sense that I always broke the rules, because breaking rules means you are balanced and never totally in control. Not being in control has always been my comfort zone--a warm blanket on a cold day looking out my window as it snows, not knowing what it's going to be like tomorrow, is the fun of staying in bed today just watching the world float by. It's that perfect. Yes, I'd allow myself to have the occasional slip up of smoking a cigarette after a full night of drinking and having fun. Sometimes I'd come home and be hungry and have nothing left to eat but my desert island last resort emergency brownie chips (they are flat crispy brownie crusts that are every bit delectable as they sound). And yes, I had relationships that did not benefit me, except that I would learn from them after the fact and know that I was certainly better off than that guy who proudly wasted his time working for a large corporation, publicly vying for a membership in the admirals club at O'hare. I prided myself on daily meditation, fun, hard work, prose and humor. I rode hard on my cross bike--pedaling across the city, harassing SUV's that dared to enter into my personal space. I hiked 18,500 ft on Everest with Nepali's and thanked god for life at Macchu Picchu's Moon Temple. I regularly ate kale which I used to detest, and now adore. I tried all kinds of seeds and researched roots with vigor. I journaled how I was feeling, I connected to my mind and my body everyday and I didn't let the past dictate who I was today or who I would be tomorrow.
And then, on Tuesday January 27th, I was training my client Barbara. We were catching up on her own injury that she was dealing with. I had been helping her arduosly recover from a serious accident for the last 5 months. Everyday was a struggle and we talked about it in depth. But that day would be different. That day, I would have my first broken heart party.
Not a pity party, like I was sad and needed a hug. No, nothing like that. As we did our upper body weight warm up, I started to lose consciousness and fell to the ground. One minute chatting about life and the future, the next on the floor sleeping. That's how I put it, because death is a hard word to say or even write in this context. My dear little heart, that I held so close yet open to life, started to malfunction. The tiny electrical impulses piercing me in deliberate rhythm, went into a frenzy and my heart stopped. Carrie jumped down on the floor (and this was a feat in and of itself given her own injury) and proceeded to give me CPR for the next 12 minutes.
When your heart stops, you can only pray that you are in a place with someone who really cares about you. The chances that you will be lucky enough to have someone who knows you and wants you to live are slim. Think about daily life and how many times we walk down the street amongst strangers, how many times we fall asleep alone in our bed, or in my case, how many times I had biked down the lakefront path, in solitary silence at 5:30am, too early to see anyone.
In those solitary moments I had thrived. In truth, I enjoy my alone time and the space I create, often gifts me mindful thoughts. I think more clearly about my decisions, I can be more thoughtful about my relationships and my work. I have a dialogue with myself and being alone keeps me healthy. But that Tuesday being together, with someone I had been taking care of and keeping healthy for 10 years, was what saved me.
It brings to mind the idea that no matter what you do, healthy or not, there is always a moment where you need help and you are so unaware (unconscious even) you don't have the ability to ask. Sometimes I see that in people I help--the things they need, I anticipate, even if they can't connect with themselves enough to ask, I make it a mission to connect with them everyday because I know in the future, it could save us both. And if and when that time comes, and they need me, I am always there. If you know me, you know I am loyal and true to this word.
But getting back to my story, Carrie gave me CPR as the ambulance arrived and they defibrillated me three times. Three times to restart my wild little heart.
When I got to the hospital, I was obviously unconscious, so my memory comes from stitched together pieces of information from doctors I'd never met and friends and family whom I hold dear. I was induced into a coma and came to sooner than expected. As the cardiologist was standing over me speaking to my family, I opened my eyes. My aunt had been praying over me and the doctor was startled. He explained very quickly thereafter that I had a bad arrhythmia and I needed a pacemaker in order to control my heart in the future. This would never happen again because I would become bionic. Shayna, the energizer bunny.
I think these moments were beautiful. A lot of people look at me with wonderment when I say it out loud. Maybe they don't think that these types of things in life make you stronger and give you a zest for life. I already had a zest for life to begin with. It was less than a year ago that I climbed Everest to base camp 2, elevating myself to 18,500 ft in the atmosphere. But I think the most beautiful thing about this moment was that so many of my friends and family showed up in support. And I truly believe in the power of numbers and support. People caring means something when it comes to recuperating.
Fast forward to Valentines day, and Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, and it turns out the best things in life sometimes come from the hardest moments. I'm grateful for today. Grateful for my wild heart. Grateful for unpredictability. Grateful for another chance to live and to help people and to love.