In the blink of an eye

I got a call this morning about a good friend of mine.

He was the best man at my wedding, and has been there for me though more hard times than I can remember. He’s the type of guy that if you’re feeling down for any reason, he’s got your back and will help you with whatever you need, or just sit and tell you stupid jokes until you laugh out of reflex.

He was my “boss” at my first programming job. I put boss in quotes because he never acted like that. I always felt like I was part of a team. He was the guy that got to get in between the programmers and the employees to really flesh out how we could best make the software we were writing work for the company.

Just last week I was helping him work out an issue where after the installation of a bunch of pieces of software all of a sudden DNS lookups started to to randomly fail. It just seems so surreal.

This morning the voice on the call was his father. He called to tell me that my friend was in the hospital with multiple blood clots. He’s stable, but they expect him to be in the hospital for a week in recovery.

All adults realize that stuff like this can happen at any time, but I don’t think we really let it sink in until it does. You always hear the stories and sayings that go something like “at some point if you live long enough, you get to a certain age where life starts taking away rather than giving”.

My friend has children, all girls, with a wife who is 7 months pregnant with his first boy. That’s all I could think about. For a good hour I was pretty frozen just thinking that in the blink of an eye, the provider becomes the one in need. Everything gets turned upside-down and everyone has to cope and try to make the best of what has happened. We lean on our friends and family.

I am grateful that the prognosis is good, and I’ll see him tomorrow, but obviously mortality was first and foremost on my mind, and selfishly, after thinking about his mortality, I thought about my own.

I’ve had an experience in my life that completely changed me. Many years ago, I experienced a period of approximately 2 months where I had constant heart rhythm issues. I got checked out by the doctor, and a cardiologist, was poked and prodded. It felt like any minute I might pass out, and my heart might stop. They found nothing structurally wrong with my heart, and there was no medication to stop the misfiring issues I was experiencing.

When I slept, my heart rate dropped to 30 and 40 beats per minute. When I tried to relax and have fun, the skipped beats, PVCs, PACs, and dizziness would take my sanity away. The awkward, unorchestrated pounding in my chest 10 – 20 times a minute reminded me that I was mortal. I couldn’t escape it. I’d lay awake worrying that my time would come that night.

I was ineffective at my job. I couldn’t pursue my dreams anymore. I started lashing out at the people who loved me because it felt like they were pulling away. I could think of nothing but this thing in my chest that is so important, but that was so broken. I shrunk into myself and ran away from everything, just trying find some relief from this constant reminder that as far as I was concerned, I was dying.

This cycle continued for a long time. Until one day, I just didn’t care anymore.

You read that right. I didn’t care if I lived or died on that day. I decided that whatever this was, it may have the power to take everything else from me, but it will no longer take my happiness. It will no longer control what time I have left. Fearing the unknown was a choice that I had made, and I was letting that fear destroy my life before whatever the problem was could take it. I could’ve died any other day just as easily as this one. Why the hell was I so damn concerned now?

This is my life. If I give fear power over my life, I have no one to blame but myself.

A couple weeks after I stopped the cycle of fear and adrenaline, my physical symptoms disappeared, and my EKG went back to normal. The problems had started in the middle of the night while I was sleeping, not triggered by fear, but they ended because I made a choice to not be afraid.

All we can do is make the best of the time we’re given. There are no guarantees. Make the best of your life. Use the time you were given to help others build their lives, their dreams. Be a friend to those that need you. Don’t be afraid.

Tomorrow during the day I’m going to work extra hard on some code. Then I’m going to visit some kids that could use a friendly face. They have a lot to be fearful of right now.

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