Am I making you uncomfortable?

A sideways glance.

A concerned smile.

Gentle questions about my well-being.

Subtle distancing.

These are some of the reactions I have experienced lately. People appear to be watching me more closely (no, it is not my paranoia). I have found that others’ discomfort actually creates some discomfort for me. I asked my boyfriend about this the other day. I explained my perceptions and asked for his feedback. His response, “People are uncomfortable facing mortality”.

Even though I have no intention of dying at any point in the near future, evidently my cardio-vascular issues are causing others to think about my mortality, theirs, or both. And apparently it makes them uncomfortable. Some more so than others.

I don’t spend much time thinking about death. I cannot say that I have ever thought about or considered suicide.  In 1991, when, while going into shock, I was transported to the ER via ambulance and spent a few days in ICU having lost 4 units of blood, I did not consider dying. In 2003 when I stopped breathing (briefly) coming out of anesthesia (yes, I was awake and knew that I could not breathe), I never panicked. I just thought to myself, “I can’t breathe, they need to do something about that.” And aside from two days in May, I have not seriously considered that I might not survive this surgery. 

So what is it about all of this that makes people so uncomfortable? Some believe death is permanent. Others believe in reincarnation or some variation. And still others believe in life after death in heaven. Theoretically, the second two groups should not really have an issue with death because there is a “something after this”. It should only be the first group who dread the end of life. However, that is apparently not the case.

I could probably write for days about theories of death, reactions, ways to get past those responses, etc. However, I believe that everyone must get to that place on their own. I believe it is a part of what we learn throughout our lives. So I will leave death and talk a bit about my odds, as  I see them.

From what I have read and been told by physicians/surgeon, someone with an untreated Thoracic Aortic Aneurysm (TAA) at 5cm or greater (my current measurement) faces a 6 to 10% mortality rate. This goes up to 14% or greater if the aneurysm grows to 6cm or more. (Note – 5cm = 1.97 inches/6cm = 2.36 inches) I have been told that the risk of death associated with my surgery is about 1%. Risk factors appear to include: smoking (I don’t), being overweight (I’m not), not having a strong heart (mine is quite strong thanks to hours at the gym), and a positive outlook (continuing to work on that one).

Let’s look at some more statistics. What are the odds of getting into a serious car accident? In 2004, some estimate a 1.45% risk of being killed in a car accident.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association: “In 2000, poor diet including obesity and physical inactivity caused 400,000 U.S. deaths — more than 16 percent of all deaths and the No. 2 killer. That compares with 435,000 for tobacco, or 18 percent, as the top underlying killer.”

My risks appear higher without surgery, in a car, being obese, and/or smoking. It seems pretty clear that the lowest risk route is surgery. 

So, if you see me on the street, in the office, at the store, on Facebook, or here blogging, please help me work on that one last thing – positive outlook. I have no intention of becoming any statistic other than the one that measures a very long life post surgical repair! 

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