Like most people, I've always hated going to the doctor in fear of finding out something was truly wrong with me. Well, I'm hear to tell you that you're probably right.
In 2005, as my primary physician checked me out and placed his ice-cold stethoscope on my back to routinely listen to my heart and lungs, it was easy to notice my doc listening for a few extra beats. Pun intended.
In his thick Armenian accent, he said, "Your heart sounds strange and I want you to see a cardiologist immediately." I said, "What?" Mainly because I generally could not understand his accent but also because I was hoping I heard him wrong. Turns out I heard him perfectly fine.
Since 2003, I've suffered from something called atrial fibrillation. It's a defect in the electrical wiring of the heart that brings it out of rhythm. It first occurred while I was in surgery getting my ankle repaired after I broke it in a street fight. Yes, I broke my ankle in a fight. It was the only time I've ever gotten into a physical altercation with someone as an adult and I regretted it the moment his fist firmly landed in my face. He was drunk. I was drunker. And we were both morons in our early 20s who should've been home sleeping. Take a moment to laugh at me, as it's well deserved.
When I woke up from surgery, the surgeon told me my heart went into a-fib and asked if that was something that has happened before. I told him I didn't think so and he assumed it was just a fluke occurrence. Flash-forward to my doctor's office two years later and I realized this is something that might not have been a fluke thing after all.
But I was young, living in Los Angeles and more consumed with nightlife, friends and spur-of-the-moment trips to Tijuana than I was about my health. When you are that young, you feel invincible. Well, until someone lands a solid right hook to your face that somehow snaps your ankle. Either way, I didn't have time to be bothered by something as silly as a "heart condition," so I ignored it. Feel free to laugh at me again.
When your heart is in a-fib it means that not all of the four chambers of the heart are pumping correctly. One of them is simply quivering. And when a chamber in your heart doesn't pump fresh blood, it can allow for blood to settle and clot, which puts you at high risk of aneurisms, strokes and a laundry list of things that can end your day in a coffin.
Against my own desires, I went to a cardiologist to have them listen to my heart. I made the bad decision of letting my Jewish mother know what the physician told me about my ticker so I really had no option but to get it checked out or be stalked by her via voicemail for the rest of my life. (She still does that, anyway.)
The cardiologist confirmed what the surgeon told me a few years back and what my doctor heard at his office. My heart was in atrial fibrillation. Still unsure if this was random occurrence, he put me on blood thinners for three months and then performed something called a cardioversion, which is a fancy way of saying "electrocuting my heart back into rhythm." Problem solved, or so I thought.
Over the next few years, this heart irregularity happened two more times. Once during a bachelor party in Vegas and another while at home watching TV. Both times I was pissed once I realized that my heart was giving me issues but amazingly neither occurrence motivated me to do anything serious about it. I just thought I could get the ol' shock treatment each time and be on my way. Obviously, I was full of smart decisions in my youth.
I wanted someone to tell me not to worry about it so I visited a few different cardiologists. No one told me what I wanted to hear. They all recommended various invasive procedures but in the end I just opted to simply get the cardioversion against their much, much better judgment.
Before getting married and having kids, the thought of heart surgery sounded absurd. That's what old people get done, not young, hip dudes who lose horribly in street fights, right? The thought of something like this interrupting my social life was unthinkable. There was a pattern building here and it was simply that I was an idiot.
The reality is, over the past decade my heart has slipped out of rhythm a total of six times since the first time it happened in 2003, including two months before my wedding and, most recently, last May, before I was slated to head out on the road for four months to film a show for Animal Planet.
Every time it happened, I opted for the quick fix. My soon-to-be wife wasn't aware how frequent a thing this was for me so she didn't force the issue. She just assumed she was marrying an intelligent man who made good decisions. Boy, was she wrong.
However, a few years after my wife and I got married, we started the process of having kids—aka having a lot of sex. And when that didn't work, we used all our savings and did IVF. Luckily that did work and nine months later, the idiot I once was suddenly disappeared. I had finally become a man. Well, maybe more of a man-boy but definitely more man than boy. I no longer felt like it wasn't a big deal to have a bad heart. The mere thought of not being around for my little girl was terrifying. I no longer wanted a quick fix but a long-term solution.
Up until the birth of my first child, I had built up a pretty significant career producing and directing reality TV shows. My work life revolved around extreme activities like being catapulted off of aircraft carriers or filming inside lion cages or simply dealing with dance moms. The thought of having heart surgery was always out of the question but now I was open to having a full-on heart transplant if need be. Luckily, that was not needed—at least, not yet.
In the past, each time it occurred, I desperately hoped it would be the last time. Of course, it never was. So after it happened in May of last year, while my wife was pregnant with our second child, my cardiologist insisted I go through with a procedure called an ablation. The meds I had been on obviously weren't doing the job as good as we all hoped. The ablation would give me a chance to finally fix the issue for good without the need for medicine.
So last year, with a perfectly healthy 2-year-old daughter and a newborn son on his way, it no longer seemed fair to keep avoiding my health issues. It only took a decade, but I was no longer in love with myself but rather in love with my beautiful family. So I planned to have this procedure done in late December after our son was born.
But when December came around something unexpected happened. Our children's nanny hurt our son in unthinkable terms. It was devastating and I once again put my health concerns aside—but now the reason wasn't selfish but rather to focus on my son's recovery.
Now, almost a year removed from my son's injury, I decided it was time to take care of myself once and for all. More than ever it was apparent that I needed to be here for them. I especially need to be available and healthy for my son who might spend the rest of his life under our care.
So last week, I finally went under the knife and fixed something that was long overdue. I pretended I wasn't to my family but I was beyond nervous. I checked in at the hospital at six in the morning and was immediately escorted to the pre-op area. I put on the always fashionable hospital gown and laid down on the bed as instructed.
Within minutes, two elderly Mexican women busted in and lifted up my gown without much thought. My junk was now in their face and they seemed OK with that, although—sadly—unimpressed. They came armed with clippers and instantly started giving me one of the worst haircuts imaginable. I mean, is a slight fade too much to ask? And it tickled something fierce, causing it to almost move. Almost.
Soon, I was being carted down to the operating table looking like a freshman who was just hazed the night before. They slid me onto the table and started attaching wires and sticky pads all over my back, chest and upper legs.
The anesthesiologist asked me about my job and I told him that I ... Zzzzzzzz. I was out.
When I awoke, my wife was standing there, smiling. I had survived but the rest of the day would prove to be rather intense. It felt like a gorilla was squeezing my heart with all its might.
I can't tell you exactly what they did because I'm not that smart but I know they entered my body through arteries in my groin and slowly snaked their way up to my heart like two thieves sneaking into a bank after-hours. They explored all the nooks and crannies of my beat box and zapped away any problem areas that seemed to be causing my heart to misfire at times.
The fact is, if I never had kids, I'd still be putting off getting my health in order because I just wouldn't care. It's crazy how you can spend your whole life with an improperly beating heart but not understand its importance until you love something so much it finally makes it truly hurt.
My kids, without a doubt, saved my life. Now, I'll spend the rest of my days returning that favor. The first thing I'm going to do is teach them both how to dodge a punch to the face as that might save them a lot of heartache one day. Literally.
Oh, and if you'd like to learn more about my son as he fights to overcome TBI, you can follow him on Facebook at The Incredible Holt – Road to Recovery.