Gone in a Heartbeat

In April Paul saw the cardiologist for a check-up. He had an electrocardiogram done and for extra measure a nuclear stress test (A radioactive tracer is injected to identify areas of decreased blood flow.) Both tests were normal. His mind at ease, he looked forward to a relaxing summer.

9 weeks later he was dead from a heart attack. He grabbed his chest, told his wife he was having pain, and collapsed. He was gone before he reached the hospital.

His death is a stark reminder of both the fragility of life and the inadequacy of medical science. Death remains certain and our ability to see it coming woefully inept. People like Paul die when we think they will live while others live far longer than expected. (I currently have a patient with widespread cancer. He was told he had less than 6 months to live, so he enrolled in hospice. That was 14 months ago.)

The certainty of death and the uncertainty of its timing seem to have little impact on how many of us go about our lives. We live in denial, planning to live to be 100 and die in our sleep. We put off vacations or delay retirement, focusing on financial goals. We ignore damaged relationships, telling ourselves we will reach out to estranged family and friends “eventually.” Many spend no time at all pondering what happens in the next life presuming eternity is either non-existent or blindly hoping that if it does exist we have been good enough to qualify for a good after-life.

Paul reminds us of the foolishness of this attitude. Tomorrow may never come, the remainder of our lives may be measured in days or hours instead of years. Now is the time to pay attention to our loved ones, mend relationships, and consider eternity, for “now” may be all the time we have left.

- Bart

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