Posted in: Lawyers › None, Wellness
As American Heart Month wraps up today, we are pleased to share the following personal insight from Wellness Committee Chair John Hearn of Rogers Townsend. Hearn, a yoga teacher, had a heart attack seven years ago while taking a class. In this piece, he reflects on the experience and encourages others to look out for signs and remember the importance of self-care.
Here Lies a Captive Heart Busted?
The end of a long week in late 2016, and I still had something to do: teach a yoga class at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Great. What the heck was I thinking when I agreed to sub? Stupid karma. Fortunately, the studio’s Warm Detox class was just before—one of my favorites—so I zipped over in time to make the 6 p.m. start.
About 6:30, flowing and pig-sweating as usual, I felt a little sick. My chest hurt. I completed the class with some difficulty, but nothing terrible. The pain didn’t seem to be getting worse. I reported my distress to the instructor, who was concerned. Could I teach my class? Did I need to go get checked out?
“Nah, I’ll be OK.” I was teaching a yin-style class, mostly passive stretches. “I’ll be fine, really. Get on home to your kids.”
A few minutes later, my class was settled in, and I taught through steadily-decreasing pain. I got home about 9:30 p.m. and felt fine.
“You know, honey, I was worried something was wrong in class. I thought I was having a heart attack but I think it was just a pulled muscle combined with a small panic attack.”
“Glad you are OK.”
The next morning, bright and early, I hopped on a plane for Palm Springs, California. It was mostly a work trip with a play day on the front end. No stress there: unfamiliar city, a bunch of people I didn’t know, left my credit cards on the plane—you know, just another day in the life of a road warrior.
And Palm Springs was great. I took the tram up the side of the mountain and hiked a bit. I hit the pool. I pondered the inherent paradox that somehow allowed for the intersection of Bob Hope Drive and Doris Day Way. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday—all by my lonesome. Good trip.
Getting home Tuesday night was rough.
I eventually dragged in about 1 a.m. Was it only Tuesday/Wednesday? It seemed like a long week already. No matter—gotta make the doughnuts. So it was up with the dawn, work a full day, and maybe a double-dip yoga night. The studio owner taught both classes and she invariably perked up my mood.
Thirty minutes into the first class that evening, and there was that pain again from the Friday before. I pushed back to child’s pose for a bit, and then tried to rejoin the class. After a few minutes of struggle, I bailed for the lobby. I’d never left a class in progress before. My yoga buddy Kacie was there, and I told her I was hurting.
“Do you want me to take you to the hospital?”
“No. Yes. Maybe. I dunno.”
We went outside to snag some of the brisk night air. The pain lessened. It must have been another panic attack. We headed back in, and the pain returns. After way too much dithering on my part, the pain grew steadily worse. My yoga instructor Nicole drove me to the urgent care. After all, why waste an $800 ER visit, right?
The pain grew to “oh no super scary mode” as we drove over, cussing the endless red light at a major intersection that must have lasted seven minutes. When we arrived, I didn’t check in—I just headed straight for the nearest exam room and promptly vomited. They hooked up the EKG and immediately called the ambulance to take to me to the ER. (So much for pennywise.)
“Mr. Hearn, you are having a major heart attack.” Thanks. I’m aware of that fact.
Less than three hours later, I’m in the ICU, two shiny new stents in my LAD-1, aka the widowmaker. Like miniature springs akin to those one finds in ballpoint pens, albeit at 50 Franklins apiece. A week later, I was back in the same yoga class after my doctor cleared it.
“How is that possible?” I asked.
“Welcome to modern medicine,” she said.
Fast forward five years or so. Right after the heart attack, I embraced cardiac rehab, dropping a little more weight. Heart attacks are great for weight loss short-term, but I can’t really recommend that strategy. I went back to work. I did yoga. Like Jack Spratt, I ate no fat.
For a while, anyway.
Then the frozen yogurt mysteriously returned to our freezer at home. A little butter here and there, maybe. Nabs in the afternoon. The weight came back as the cardio went away. The pants are uncomfortable again. And frankly, I’m rattled. At least four of my local barrister brethren had their turn at the myocardial infarction wheel of fortune since my turn. They didn’t make it, and I will never understand why.
So for today, this column is therapy. It is a reminder that the gym is still there at lunch even after hitting the snooze button at 4:45 a.m. and rolling over earlier this morning. It is the knowledge that I have choices, and the realization that those daily choices—those small decisions that confront me all day—accrue and amalgamate and ultimately define me.
In yoga teacher training, we studied various yogic philosophies and concepts. High on the list of those principles is ahimsa, or roughly translated, compassion—non-harm to others and especially to oneself. After all, I will continue to stumble on the path, but I don’t have to berate myself endlessly when I falter. Likewise, during those rare moments when I am atop the mountain instead of the valley, I need to turn my attention and ahimsa outward, where it is most needed. Not with brute force, not with social media self-shaming and blaming, but with compassion. With non-injury. With self-care. And ultimately, with acceptance.
John can be found staring at the freezers in area supermarkets, because that Cool Mint Cookie froyo is calling him by name. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn the signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke here.