Andrew Carlson writes about being a young man living with heart disease, and what it has taught him about manhood.
There are numerous circumstances in a person’s life that will test you to see if your character is true. There will be times when your patience is tested, when your courage is tested, and when your strength gets tested. But then there are circumstances that you would never believe would happen to you. The scenes that are so dramatic, they would be fantastic in a film (or an episode of Grey’s Anatomy), but how do you react when they happen in real life?
Before I dive in, I need to tell you that at the age of 22, I received the news that I have congenital heart disease. When I first found out, doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on with my heart. They knew there were issues but they couldn’t exactly pinpoint what it was. Once they figured it out, they simply said there was no cure. All that they could really do was implant a defibrillator to prevent any fatal event.
But at 22 years of age, no one wants to hear that they could potentially die without getting surgery to have this device implanted in your chest forever. That they would have to continuously go back into surgery every 8-10 years to replace batteries, leads, and other nonsense with a 6-8 week recovery time. No one wants to realize that at any moment, they could have a terrifying, heart-shocking (literally), life-altering experience.
It was a normal night in Southern California, almost 2 weeks before Halloween. Everyone was preparing for a spectacular party or heading off to Universal Studios for their Halloween extravaganza. I had planned a special night with my girlfriend; we would make dinner together, enjoy a glass of wine, and watched a movie before turning in.
Romantic evenings lead to romantic late night rendezvous; it’s science! So as I was sharing an intimate moment with my girlfriend, in the middle of the deed, a jolt hit me like running into an invisible brick wall. In that moment of shock, I really didn’t know what happened. I had just gotten my defibrillator implanted and it was the first day I was able to dabble back into sexual activity.
I even waited 3 extra weeks to make sure I was fully healed.
I had never been shocked before so I really didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that something was wrong. I felt the second shock a couple seconds after the first one. My heart was racing, I went into panic mode, my adrenaline was pumping, but I knew I had to calm down to get my heart rate back to normal. After the second shock, I remember sheer terror was on my face and told my girlfriend to call 911. She instantly replied back with, “Are you sure?”
I make fun of her for this all of the time. She’s never going to live it down. It was basically a slap in the face on top of the shocks, even though she didn’t mean it like that. We were both in panic mode, but she had to also go into survival mode because there was absolutely nothing I could do.
As she was on the phone with 911; I was getting continuously shocked. Shock by shock, I could feel my life fading before my eyes. I had never felt pain like this, panic like this, and I simply wanted the whole event to be over. Of coursem it only happened over the course of 60-90 seconds, but I would like to challenge anyone to be continuously kicked in the chest by a horse every 3-5 seconds for 60-90 seconds. You’ll see just how fun it is.
I finally got my heart to a normal rhythm as the ambulance was showing up to my house. I had to quickly find some pants to put on while I was shaking uncontrollably. I could barely stand up straight due to the traumatic experience I had just gone through. But the fight wasn’t over there. As the firemen hooked me up to a heart monitor where they could see what was going on, my heart wasn’t getting back into a normal rhythm. While I was getting rushed to the hospital, it continued to shock me. Not as intense as the horse kick, but enough to wonder if I was even going to make it out alive.
While I was in the hospital, they said had never seen anything like this before, so they kept me in the hospital for a little over a week.
I went through 3 different surgeries to correct what was wrong with my heart. It’s not 100% fixed nor will it ever be, but it’s stable and that’s all I care about right now. Although it was the most terrifying night of my life, the reason I made it out alive was because of the love my girlfriend provided for me. It was deep, unconditional love that truly inspired me to look within myself. I had absolutely no family that had the means to come visit me in the hospital, which meant that I couldn’t hide from her.
But within this experience, I found out what being a man truly means.
1. The Ability to Be Vulnerable.
I was never really good at being vulnerable. That would mean having to show emotions, letting someone in 100% where they could literally destroy everything you stand for, and having to surrender your every being to another person. I saw the way my girlfriend cared for me while I was in the hospital, never once showing her own fear due to the fact I wasn’t sure if I would even survive the whole experience.
Having the ability to lay your emotions on the table without any hidden agenda is a terrifying thing. Most people don’t even live their life in such a way, there’s always a barrier of protection people have that no one can really cross. That boundary was demolished in 5 minutes but it has definitely brought us closer. Not only that, I had to give up my need to be in control and trust that the doctors would be able to figure out some sort of solution.
2. Taking Responsibility For Your Actions
I could write out a list of a million reasons why I am not to blame for the experience that happened above. I could also write out a million reasons why I’m not to blame when someone rear ends me or when I lose my job due to a recession, but how I respond definitely has to define who I am. The instant I was hooked up in the hospital after my heart stabilized to where I wasn’t getting shocked (but it wasn’t in a healthy rhythm), I saw life through a different light.
I could have easily gone onto Facebook to let my friends and family know what an awful whirlwind night it was. But instead, I took this as a teaching lesson to show my clients and the world how there was an upside to every down. I simply stated how beautiful life was due to the fact that I had an amazing girlfriend that responded to the situation instead of reacting in panic, and the weather was truly fantastic outside. Sunrises are incredibly beautiful, even from a hospital bed.
I could have been incredibly upset but instead, I saw the beauty in it all. To this day, I still take full responsibility for ending up in the hospital. Although it wasn’t my fault my defibrillator wasn’t set correctly, which resulted in being wrongfully shocked, I should have initiated a stress test with my doctor before testing the waters.
3. Allow Yourself to Experience the Human Experience.
I cannot stress this last lesson enough. Don’t be so guarded in life that you don’t take any risks. I made the mistake of only giving 75% of myself to my relationship where she was giving 100%. Relationships aren’t about being 50%-50% to create 100%; life should be about giving 100% of yourself and your partner gives you 100% for the full 200%.
Don’t cheat yourself out of experiencing all that there is to experience. From falling in love to heartbreak, to being on cloud 9, to experiencing the thrill of traveling, to stand up for what is right in your world. People live through experiences to learn something about themselves and/or about the world that they may not have been aware of before. I learned how to love unconditionally, trust that everything will be okay, and that it was okay to allow yourself to live a life without regrets. Lastly, don’t let an experience get in the way of experiencing more experiences. Life is incredibly short, don’t let the past cloud your present and future.
We have a beautiful chance here to reshape the image of manhood. It’s time that someone stands up and says that it’s okay to be vulnerable, sensitive, and even insanely happy. It’s time to unite as humans, not genders, and say discrimination as a whole is enough. We are all just humans trying to get by and figure out this experience we call life.
Why complicate it by placing stereotypes of what an image of what a man or a woman should be? We should be able to define our own manhood (or womanhood) by who we are as people, not by certain standards created by society.
Being a man simply means being human. Allow yourself to experience all life has to offer before it’s too late.
—Photo Eva Blue/Flickr
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