Al Alborn

Al Alborn

March 5, is my 73rd birthday. I don’t feel 73.

Technically, I am a senior citizen. I get the senior discount on everything, but I don’t feel like a senior citizen. I may have a pacemaker, an artificial right hip, intraocular lens implants for my cataracts and hearing aids and take a few pills, but I still get around OK.

Maybe I walk a little slower, miss a few words in a conversation now and then, occasionally forget a name, and have a few aches and pains, but that’s a small price for enjoying the luxury of still being alive. Some of my friends are older than I. Most share their own symptoms of surviving a long time. Those I served with in uniform who never made it home to enjoy the pleasures of old age are always in the back of my mind.

I believe we are all born with a genetic expiration date. Mine was Sept. 13, 2006. That was the day I died. Twice. My experience might save your life.

Some of us are born with an electrical problem that manifests itself as a “heart block.” For years, I occasionally had symptoms of heartburn that doctors misinterpreted as acid reflux. Emergency rooms checked for a heart attack and found nothing. They sent me home with antacids.

When a “heart block” passes, it doesn't leave the tell-tale markers like a heart attack or stroke does. In 2006, I sat in my living room’s easy chair experiencing the most serious set of symptoms wondering whether to call 911. It’s a good thing I did. I made it to the hospital in time. My heart stopped a couple of times; however, the emergency room got things going again. I was diagnosed as having a Type 3 heart block, the worst kind.

I had a pacemaker inserted the next day and am on medication to manage this problem. The good news is that they performed every kind of test on my heart and told me it’s in great shape physically. My problem was electrical. With modern technology, I’ll probably live a long time.

The takeaway is if you have occasional heartburn or acid reflux symptoms for no reason, take them seriously. Tell your doctor. Mention the possibility of a heart block. Doctors can only identify a heart block if they put a monitor on you for a while.

Dying a couple of times changed my approach to life. I started spending a lot more time in the Blue Ridge backcountry with my fly rod, took my “bucket list” trip to Montana to fish Yellowstone National Park’s many rivers and discretely support a few causes in which I believe. I also made sure my estate planning is in order when my new “expiration date” arrives.

I’m just glad that they have parts and pills to keep me alive and moving. Without modern medicine, I would be blind, deaf, lame and dead. Trust me, death is highly overrated.

Take care of yourself. If you have chest pains, don’t ponder whether you should call 911 for too long. I am truly glad to be alive, and I keep my flatlined EKG on the wall to remind me how lucky I am. If I had blown off my chest pain as heartburn, as I had many times in the past, I wouldn’t be writing this column. 

I guess I am a senior citizen. I’m OK with that. It beats the alternative.

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week. You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.