BY MIKI MARKOVICH
I was 23 when I died. It was brief but impactful.
Even in college, I knew something was wrong, but chose not to share. I was on my own with no parental figures to speak of, no insurance and no idea what to do: I didn’t see the point in voicing my concerns. However, it wasn’t long before one of my professors noticed my trouble breathing and occasional black outs when my heart would speed up, then dramatically pause.
Although my instructor and employer Professor Holmes offered to pay for a doctor’s visit, I declined as I had a feeling things were going to get expensive fast. Boy did they. I promised him that as soon as I graduated, found a job and received a shiny health insurance card, I would make my way to the doctor.
I started with a visit to a general practitioner in Memphis, Tenn. After conducting an initial examination, he told me that there wasn’t anything wrong with my heart. He went on to say that my problem was that I was a woman, therefore BELIEVED I had a heart condition. After an awkward back-and-forth, he finally relented saying that he would send me to a specialist for testing, if I would just “shut up.” Score!
Later that week, I received a call at work. The woman on the line asked me to report to the doctor’s office immediately. I explained that because the apartment complex I worked for was short staffed that week, I was currently running a large maintenance department and wouldn’t be able to get away. I insisted they tell me on the phone. To my surprise, the doctor came on the line and said I had some problematic heart defects and an aneurysm and was, in fact, dying. I listened for a few seconds and then, even though the doctor was still talking, slowly lowered the phone until the handset was resting back in its cradle. I then laid my head on the desk and began to cry at the reality of it all.
I soon drove to Mississippi to meet with one of the country’s top cardiologists. Although initial testing indicated I had no more than three years to live in my current condition, the doctor said he wanted to conduct one more test before scheduling my open-heart surgery a heart catheterization. I agreed and we set the date for later that week.
My loving and eccentric grandmother drove me to the hospital that very early morning. Her driving 35 mph on city expressways made me thankful just to get to the hospital in one piece amid the raucous honking and enthusiastic hand gestures.
Lying on the chilly metal bed in the overly bright room filled with sterile and confusing equipment was terrifying. As the procedure began, I felt the tubing snake and stretch its way through my veins from my crotch up to my heart; the pain was excruciating. My back arched in an unnatural form as I shrieked in pain, something reminiscent of a graphic exorcism movie. After the test was complete, I was left to rest.
Suddenly, I was hot, like burst-into-flames or melt-like-a-wax-voodoo doll hot. Machines began beeping, bells started ringing and alarms started sounding as I went into shock. Next I went blind, then I became deaf. Finally, I died.
I woke up to a crowd of bustling professionals around me. After the room cleared, I was told it was time to schedule my open-heart surgery. I was hesitant. Until that point, I had naively believed that doctors could cure anything with a pill or simple procedure. However, I now had a different point of reference than the books and movies I devoured with their canned happy endings. The holidays were fast approaching and I didn’t want to miss them due to being dead and all, so I pressed for a date into the New Year.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were wonderfully imperfect and festive. When January 3rd came around, I threw myself into enjoying the best possible potential last meal. Don’t judge me, but with my young and unrefined palate, I took the task seriously. I had shrimp cocktail, a chili cheese coney, onion rings, Cocoa Puffs, cherry limeade, scrambled eggs with chili and so much more. I ate, watched some favorite shows, wrote a will and visited with friends.
The next morning I reported for surgery. I’d love to say it went smoothly, however I woke up paralyzed during the procedure. Dying and waking probably sounds awful, but truthfully, the experience gave me a great gift at a very young age: the freedom to live life unapologetically on my terms. I’d like to think I would have gotten to this place on my own eventually, but what a wonderful crash course.
Dying will change an attitude; it changed my perspective on everything. I learned is that it’s OK to be me: eccentric, shy, nerdy and too idealistic for real life. I learned it’s absolutely acceptable to take a chance on love and to speak my mind, whether it be to a friend, co-worker or the U.S. Attorney General. Sure, my personality and attitude aren’t always embraced by others it can definitely prove challenging. But this is my life and, as far as I know, it’s the only one I have. No day is guaranteed and I want to drink in every moment with verve and gusto. No matter if you’ve momentarily met your maker or have lived a healthy life without so much as a sneeze, embrace your true self, celebrate your strengths, share your foibles and enjoy everything that make you, well, you. Your authentic self is amazing and enough take my word for it.
Miki Markovich is a seeker of beauty and truth, traveler of interesting roads, saver of furry souls, typer of words, iPhone lover and mac head. You can find her on Twitter at @mikimarkovich and @fiveminutezen. If you’re looking to go from pissed to blissed in five minutes flat, find balance or improve the quality of your life through self care, check out her website at fiveminutezen.com.