Frank Mundo’s near-death experience saw no angels or ancestors with pleasant messages and gifts.
Less than two weeks ago I had a heart attack, an acute myocardial infarction. It was during the Kelly Clarkson concert my wife and I (almost) attended at the Nokia Theater, downtown LA. The heart attack struck during the concert’s opening act, so Nancy and I didn’t actually see Kelly Clarkson perform.
The onset was slow, a kind of hot flash followed by cold sweat; I thought it was probably just nausea, perhaps from the heat or all of the stupid people jumping around—or maybe it was something I’d eaten earlier in the day. After all, I’m only 38 years old; a heart attack wasn’t even on my mind. “I’m not feeling too well,” I told Nancy, yelling over the music. “I think I need to get some air.” I wasn’t sure if she’d heard me or not, so I yelled it again, making an overly dramatic “sick” face and rubbing my stomach to help demonstrate the problem. Then I pointed where I wanted to go. “Okay,” she mouthed. “Let’s go.” We headed slowly back up the aisle toward the main lobby where it was much quieter and cooler; it seemed to help, but only for a few seconds. “How are you feeling now?” Nancy asked. A horrible and relentless pain in my chest answered, suddenly stealing my breath and breaking my will. Thirty-eight years old or not, I was actually having a heart attack! I managed to say, “We’ve gotta go to the hospital,”
Nancy definitely knew something was wrong now. Over thirteen years of romance, three of loving marriage, I’d never once asked her to take me anywhere near a hospital. “Can you walk?” Nancy asked. “I think so,” I whispered, and she slipped one arm underneath mine, her other arm over the top, and we slowly walked to the exit.
This gesture, her arms sandwiching mine, had me recall the time her father had given Nancy away to me, and we were about to get married. Our wedding was the most important day of my life. I loved Nancy from the very first day I saw her at work almost 13 years before.
I was a security guard, and she was a PBX Operator in charge of my keys. I fell for her the very first time I ever signed for those keys, and I knew, right then and there, that one day we’d be married. Because of this weird and unfounded confidence I felt about our future together, I pursued her for the next eight years and talked to her a lot. We became close. I learned about the kind of man she wanted to be with, and then I did everything to become that man. I went to college for her. I got a real job—a career—for her. I bought her weekly flowers that I couldn’t afford , and I wrote her daily love poems and stories that I couldn’t keep to myself. I was her best friend, applauded her victories, and I when I found out her regrets and failures, I tried to fix them. Many times I suffered painfully through long talks about her boyfriends and, when it was appropriate, I even gave her sound advice that was the right thing to do but didn’t necessarily benefit me or my cause—it almost led her to marry another man. Most importantly I told her to be herself, to follow her dreams, and never asked her to change a single thing about herself.
When we were finally together, I continued to work on myself and our future, one that, at the time, was clear to me. I converted to Catholicism because that’s what she needed. I asked her father for his permission to marry her, because that’s what she expected. And I wrote my vows in English and in Spanish because that’s what she had wanted.
But now, outside the Nokia theater, I was telling her, “I can’t do it, Nancy.” The pain in my chest tightened, and my knees buckled. “I can’t walk anymore.” We were almost at the intersection, but there was no way I could cross the street or make it to the car. I couldn’t breathe anymore, and I started to get truly frightening tunnel vision. “Okay,” Nancy said. “Just wait here. I’ll go get the car. I’ll be right back.” She took off running as fast as I’ve ever seen her run.
I sat on the sidewalk and waited for her. There was no relief to the pain, so bad now that I kept trying to lift up my arms, untangle the tight fist in my chest. I started shaking with panic. Sweat was dripping like tears down my face. This is it, I thought. This is how I’m going to die. I wish I could tell you about bright lights or angels calling me to the other side. None of my ancestors were waiting for me with a skateboard and some comic books. There weren’t any voices or visions or peace, and I didn’t leave my body and follow Nancy one last time to tell her that I loved her. There was a definite focus or clarity, however, and a weird silence, like being underwater in a swimming pool. People were talking as they walked by, but I had no idea what they were saying, and they had no idea that I was dying. To them I was probably just some moron with his arms straight up in the air.
I started thinking about Nancy and what would happen when she returned to find me dead. What would she do? Where would she live? How would she pay the mortgage? Did I still have health insurance and life insurance? I wondered if I’d been a good husband after all, if I had kept my vows. Had I lived up to my promises to support her dreams and make her happy? Did I tell her that I loved her and appreciated her every day like I said I would? And if not, had it been evident in my behavior?
When I ask her now, Nancy says yes, I told her every day. She knew I loved her and appreciated her. I suppose I’ll never know for sure if it was 100% true that night. But I do love and appreciate my wife. You can bet that next time, hopefully many years in the future, there will be no doubt. I have a second chance now, a do-over, and that makes me a very lucky man.