So… an interesting thing happened about two weeks ago. I suffered a heart attack after playing hockey. It wasn’t the dramatic « get the defribrilator and call an ambulance » type of heart attact that you think about, but rather a type of chest pain that resembled severe heartburn. I drove myself, and a teamate, home after the game. The next day I drove my mom to an appointment and spent the day as I usually do. Later in the evening, with the pain still there but much less severe, I decided to go to the hospital « just in case ». My wife came with me.
After an EKG that showed nothing was out of the ordinary, I was sure my chest pain was just some form of longer lasting heartburn. My wife and I were waiting for the results of my blood analysis both sure that we were heading home within the next few minutes.
We were wrong.
The doctor pulled us into a small room to tell us that they found elevated levels of the type of enzymes that are released when the heart has been damaged because of a lack of oxygen- in other words, a heart attack. My first thought was that there must have been a mistake. Maybe they analyzed another person’s blood and mistook it for mine. These things happen, right? I mean, I’m 38 years old, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink excessively, I’m not overweight, people that know me consider me in relatively good shape. This can’t have happenend to me…
I have been through most, and continue to go back and forth between a few, of the stages of the grieving process- denial, anger, sadness, remorse/guilt and acceptance. I never really considered going through a heart attack as a sort of grief, but I realize now that I am grieving the loss of how life was before and having to accept what life will be like from now on. Not that that is the end of the world. I was lucky. Any heart attack is serious, however, the damage to my heart was minimal to none. I had a stent put into a coronary artery as it was partially blocked. I should be able to recover fully and play hockey, wrestle with my son (and soon to be born second son), and pretty much lead a regular, active life. The difference now will be that eating healthy, sleeping well, exercising regularly and managing/reducing stress is no longer an option as it seemed it was prior to having a heart attack. Maybe that’s good thing. I was planning on doing all of those things that lead to a healthy lifestyle anyway- but don’t we all?
So why write about all of this? This is a question I asked myself. Maybe it is because people within the MTBOS math-ed community have been open and transparent with many of their own experiences in their « math lives » and also in their personal lives. Maybe it’s also because I would feel less than authentic with people by not sharing all of this- probably a reflection of my introverted nature. However, I think one of the main reasons I wanted to share my experience, without getting too preachy, is the following:
we as teachers can’t forget to take care of ourselves.
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably a lot like me- passionate about teaching and learning mathematics and dedicated to the well being of students. I tend to geek out on all of this stuff. I’m fascinated by student thinking, teacher thinking, the development and progression of mathematical concepts and reasoning. I love reading other people’s thoughts on teaching, coaching, leading and compare them to my own thinking. But there in lies the problem- I’ve neglected myself: sleep, a healthy diet, exercise, quality family time. As teachers, this can happen easily. There is always more work to be done and it’s for a good cause- the students. Right? What I forgot along the way, however, is that to be an effective coach/math lead for my school board, I actually have to be physically present (and alive for that matter) at my office, in a collaborative setting or in a classroom. I’m not saying that my work caused me to have a heart attack, but the heart attack has given me pause and has allowed me to reassess where I’m at with regard to my professional vs my personal life. Where was that prior to all of this? Out of balance. And as a very wise person shared with me…
« You have the very important job of being a dad to work on for a very long time. You don’t want to miss a minute of that… »
Sometimes, it’s not about not doing our job or forgetting our work, sometimes it’s simply remembering what is truly important without feeling guilty about it.
So please, take care.