#10. 3rd Re-Birth-Day and Happy Yom Kippur!

Stop. Breathe deep. Appreciate this day.

36 months ago today I survived a successful quadruple bypass surgery. Operating time:  7.5 hours. Diane took an exceptionally long flight over the Atlantic from TLV-JFK and nursed me back to health. I want to share with you how happy I am to be here today and every day. I thank God each morning for the miracle of waking up.

Aging

Aging is great. I wish you many years of it, in good health. I know how you might feel about the aches, wrinkles, and creeping forgetfulness. But it’s better to age than to not! Ideally, surrounded by family and friends.

As we grow older, years grow shorter. That’s because they represent a shrinking percentage of our life’s memory. I’m down to 1.5%. This morning I looked through Picasa and gathered a few images. (You should try this, too.) What’s funny is the human recollection of many ages and experiences “like they were yesterday”. At least inside   your brain. I remember that guy, perhaps disbelievingly in the mirror, but comprehend what he looks like to others.

The message remains — embrace each day of your life.

Counting Your Blessings

Take a moment and think about the near-misses that you and your family have survived this past year. It might be an illness, dozing at the wheel,  a fall down steps, violent crime, accidents, or a hundred other bullets dodged. Most, you haven’t noticed — because you never thought about them — and assume they wouldn’t happen.

We humans are the only species conscious of our finite time on this earth. Thankfully, we do not dwell on it too much — in fact, we live in thoughtful, blissful, healthy denial of all the things that might go wrong. Otherwise, we’d never make it through a day.

We’re more proficient at comprehending the past than the future. Very possible things we never imagined are, well, unimaginable… in the vernacular, “unbelievable”.

The trick is to confront the future with the balance of choice over what you control/influence — and a healthy respect for what you cannot.

Yom Kippur 5777

Today is Yom Kippur Eve. According to Jewish tradition, we face the scales of justice and mercy, as we look forward to a better year. The High Holidays are both celebration and a thoughtful view towards the challenges of the coming year. There’s a beautiful prayer we say, of which I find myself more in awe each year.

בראש השנה

And here is an audio recording of Yossele Rosenblatt (1882-1933) singing it.

%d7%a1%d7%9c%d7%99%d7%97%d7%94My wish for you is to find your own peace with yourself, as you consider your personal and professional goals for the coming year. At this time of year, we ask others for forgiveness. But it’s just as hard to ask ourselves to forgive — to let go of the angers, envies, grudges, I-told-you-so’s, Schadenfreude, and pettinesses.

From Jerusalem, wishing you a peaceful year of good health and nachat. And enjoy Yom Kippur! If you’re fasting… have an easy one.


 

#7: My Happy 2nd Re-Birth-Day

2nd-birthdayNow I don’t think that I talk too much about surviving my heart attack and emergency surgery, but Diane says I talk about it all the time, so you can guess who’s right. Two years ago today. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t  sure that cloudy morning when they wheeled me into the O.R. exactly where I would end up next!

So I’m happy to tell you that I’m still here — eating / breathing / sleeping / working better, walking 10K steps a day, and feeling overall healthier than I have in several decades.

But I do want to tell you something about superlatives and denial — and how they connect.

Mentions-unbelievableThe English language is rich in exaggerated words that once meant something else, such as awesome, awful, terrible, and fantastic. My personal favorite is un·be·liev·a·ble, defined as “not able to be believed; unlikely to be true” or “so great or extreme as to be difficult to believe; extraordinary”. (Here is a graph of usage of the term over the past two centuries.)

Connected to unbelievable is another phrase which we all love to use: “Can you believe that… [fill in the blank]?” We use this gut phrase when we know that we are right about something or wronged by someone else, which is roughly 100% of the time. Robert Wright put it best in his book, “The Moral Animal“:

“One might think that, being rational creatures, we would eventually grow suspicious of our uncannily long string of rectitude, our unerring knack for being on the right side of any dispute over credit, or money, or manners, or anything else. Nope. Time and again–whether arguing over a place in line, a promotion we never got, or which car hit which–we are shocked at the blindness of people who dare suggest that our outrage is not warranted.”

The trouble with unbelievable or incredible is, well,  that they’re not. If the human race learned nothing in the 20th century, it’s that the unthinkable isn’t.

Jan-KarskiHere’s a story which speaks volumes about this problem. In 1942, a Polish resistance fighter named Jan Karski escaped Europe with documentary evidence about the vast extent of Nazi war crimes and mechanized death camps. He made his way to Washington D.C., where he was received by the (Jewish) U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter. Upon disclosing his horrific discoveries, Justice Frankfurter replied, “I don’t believe you. . . . I do not mean that you are lying. I simply said that I cannot believe you.”

Which brings us back to the cannot-believable. Daniel Kahneman has written, “We are blind, and we are blind to our blindness.” You see, there ain’t no deception like self-deception!

Of the untold things to which we’re blind, the biggest are the everyday dangers. Reasonable caution notwithstanding, it’s better not to spend all day thinking about the car crashes, bankruptcies, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, violent crime, and a long list of horrible diseases and catastrophes. Not that they’re unthinkable — just that it really won’t help to dwell on them. It’s healthier to live with a limited denial of the real world. Not only does it not help to wallow in the negative, it leads to damaging stress and incapacitation.

No, you shouldn’t stay indoors your whole life; it entails other adverse effects, and it won’t eliminate those dangers anyway. For example, helicopter parents don’t realize that their overprotectiveness actually damages their children’s capacity for independent growth, just as over-dieters suffer from their own eating-disorders. But we are all naturally blind to our blind spots.

We deny the unbelievable (1) because it’s too painful and (2) because we’re human! This is not a bad thing. We need to find the right balance between optimism, pessimism, realism, and naïveté.

joy1So my random connection of a level of healthy denial, our relentless use of superlatives, and my outstanding mood on the 2nd anniversary of surviving come together. Enjoy — appreciate — your loved ones. Never fall into the trap of being too inhibited to tell them you love them.

We live in troubled times, but you must keep fighting, keep going. Grab life and never let go.

Here’s a short video on the subject of Music and Life (thanks, Mort Meyerson).

One last quote: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breaths away.” (Maya Angelou 1928-2014)

 

 

#1: Surviving a heart attack

To all of you who sent get-well wishes, thank you from the bottom of my repaired heart!

Upon turning 60 in June, I remember morbidly if briefly wondering to myself whether I was entering the final ⅓, ¼, ⅕ or maybe tenth of my life. Little did I imagine that October 10, 2013, might be my last day.

Logically, most of us conscientiously avoid the thought of what might really happen tomorrow. Without some healthy denial, we’d never make it through the day — or go crazy first. So I’d like to share with you a very personal view of my recent crisis. It’s neither unique nor sad, but one from which I’ve learned to treasure both breathing and loved ones. I’ll leave out the gore and TMI parts, concentrating on what ran through my head and heart.

The Choice

I had come to NY representing Curiyo for a great 3-day Israel to NYC program. We were a 15-startup delegation, meeting with business partners, marketers, and investors, and an event Wednesday evening at the new WTC. Afterward, by Thursday 7:30AM morning, I checked out and ran off to the first two of six meetings before heading to JFK and home to Israel.

But I started feeling strong pains in the middle of my chest.

Now here was the moment of truth. Should I tough it out, get on the plane and deal with it all upon landing home? Or maybe admit the pain and walk into a NY emergency room.
Choice

What would you do?

In a rare smart moment, I took a cab to Beth Israel Medical Center on First Ave. & 16th. The ER doctor did a simple CPK blood test and EKG and said I had suffered a minor heart attack. A catheterization, however, would determine arterial blockage and treatment options: medication, stent, or surgery.

First, call Diane. Cancel my appointments via smartphone email. Cancel the flight via our great travel agent, Mark Feldman and Esther Salomon at Zion Tours (and extend medical insurance!) Our most amazing friend Martha came over to sit with me before the procedure. I gave her my hotel suitcase receipt and a few key passwords. At a moment like this, you find yourself thinking some pretty morbid thoughts and wondering whom you will ever see again. Will my children know how much I loved them?
Dr-H-R

Thursday evening was the “Cath-Lab”. I was treated by the wonderful Dr. Hugo Rosero. When I was awake enough to understand, he said, “Mr. Rosenschein, you must have done something good in your life, because the Lord has given you a second chance to live! It would have been a big mistake to get on that plane. You have 95% blockage in your main arteries and we need to operate on you tomorrow morning.”

Called Diane again: “The good news is that I’m alive! The bad news is that I need surgery in the morning.”

Birthday

They prepped and wheeled me into the operating room by 8AM. The anesthesiologist introduced himself. That’s all I remember.

But poor Diane, besides her sleepless night and long ride to Ben-Gurion, flew 12 hours with no status report. She’s not usually one of those fliers who turns on her cell phone the second the wheels touch down, but made an exception.

DarrylMHMeanwhile, back on the OR, my lifesaving cardiac surgeon Dr. Darryl Hoffman. “harvested” lengths of artery from both arms, opened up my chest, sawed open my sternum, and grafted arterial material to bypass my blocked arteries. Total time = 7.5 hours.

My new 2nd birthday is October 11, 2013, which is my 60th birthday + exactly 128 (2^7) days.

Diane, Martha, Elan, and Adam saw me asleep at my weakest, respirator down my throat, out of it.

I woke up late Friday night in the cardiac ICU. It was very quiet, and I was pretty sure I was alive. I was in pain and couldn’t breathe well, or even make a squeak. The nurses told me I was ok. Fell back asleep.

ICU

Diane arrived and stayed with Martha for the week. She is my strength, and we didn’t even need to talk much. The looks and hands and love were enough. God knows what I looked like!

The first few days after surgery, you may feel thankful to be alive, but they’re also depressing days. You’re really out of it, tubes, wires, and sensors coming out of you in a half-dozen directions. Swollen feet, hands. Pills, blood pressures, blood tests, stomach shots. Beeping monitors. Hard to fill your lungs. Can’t sit, can’t lie there. Everything hurts, because they just did a “reboot” on your body!

But getting the respirator tube out of my throat was cool, as was the very thought I survived, even if not out of the woods yet.

One morning, I asked the nurses if I could sit in a chair, just to move around, thinking I could move back to the bed when I wanted. Hah, what a mistake! They wouldn’t let me, saying it was good to sit for 30-45 minutes. Clears the lungs of fluids. After 45 minutes, they upped it to 2 hours. By the time the doctor did his rounds and said, sure I could go back to bed, it was 2 hours and 34 minutes…

Of course, they were right, and my care was top-notch, warm and pleasant at Beth Israel. I’m just mentioning how you feel when you’re going through it.

Room 28

BalloonsOn Monday, they released me from ICU to the recuperation ward on the 10th floor, to a single room, perfect #28. A whole new set of great professional care, specialized and working 12-hour shifts.

Hospital privacy BTW is an oxymoron; enough said.

I was hallucinating from the painkiller Percocet. In the middle of one night, on an imaginary screen on the wall, I dreamed a killer product. In the morning, I remember thinking, nah. I also changed painkillers and then weaned myself.

Can’t say I was impressed by the 99 channel-TV. First, the political discourse in America has become so shrill over the last decade. Lots of shouting, minimum compromise. Now, living in Israel, you see much polarization, little empathy. But this is America. The other thing is, at least in the middle of the night, it’s half commercials, with those delightful legalisms, “This medicine may help you, if you do not suffer the following 8 side effects…”

Within a few days, I was tubeless and able to put on my own socks and walk around the ward, assisted. And showered (mulțumesc, Drago from Romania)!

Every day I felt stronger, able to breathe, talk and move around better. And I couldn’t get the realization and smile of being alive off my face!

Dr. Hoffman knew how much better I would be released. Thursday morning, they wanted to give me a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine. I asked if they could do it right before leaving… I didn’t want anything to prevent my release.

At 11:15, one week to the hour after walking in, I left Beth Israel Hospital, grateful and happy. My cousin Rita and Barry drove Diane and me to Harrisburg. I slept most of the way.

Harrisburg

MomVisiting my dear mother, who is 92, has been a delight. Diane and she are sharing the caretaking burden. We have also been doing a lot of resting, walking around the block (the smell of autumn leaves and rain in Pennsylvania), eating heart-healthy, and just gathering our strength.

We had a pleasant surprise Monday night. Our friend Meir was driving from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and stopped by for dinner and a visit. What the doctor ordered.
Meir-Bob

I’m told my voice and color have improved. I’m breathing much better. I’ve lost 15 pounds (=6.5kg) and Diane 5 (=2kg). Diane calls this the “high-anxiety diet”.

We’ve had a few visitors and many warm wishes from afar.

Conclusion(s)

That you take it all for granted is obvious, normal, but…
DO take a moment to fill your lungs, relishing each breath.
DO slow down, you move too fast.” (Simon & Garfunkel)
DO NOT think this cannot happen to you, whether now or in 10 years. Our health is a hard-to-fathom complex of genetics and environment. Whether stress, diet, sleep or exercise, improve what you can.
DO grasp that your family and loved ones are not the most important thing, they’re your only thing. Tell them you love them, every day, in word and deed.

Tomorrow

So what’s next? Well, we hope to land in Israel Tuesday afternoon, to start to getting back into our lives at home. I know it will be neither immediate nor 100%, but we are ready.

I’m ready to get back to work at Curiyo, too. First, the team, Akiva, Asher, Daniel, Ruthie, Gil, Jay and Liz, have really risen to the occasion, getting everything that needed to be done done. Second, I’m more excited than ever about the publishing platform we are building. With our first big partnership about to launch, we’re in good shape.

Now you might think that this is not the ideal time to raise money, post heart-attack. But I’m encouraged by what two investors told me recently. One said, “Bob, besides your accomplishments, you were broken and now you’re fixed.” The other said it just wouldn’t be smart-investing to bet against me. Thanks, both, I guess it’s not about falling down, but about how you get up.

In short, I’m excited about tomorrow!

Credits

No matter whom I thank, it won’t be enough, and I’ll miss some, but I need to make a few mentions.

To the team and staff of Beth Israel Medical Center, how do you find the words of gratitude to express keeping you alive?

Thank you to Dov & Julia for your visit, to Meir, Akiva, and Avi & Yedida for your calls. And to Tzvi & Adi for those great get-well-Sabba cards and stickers.

Lee, also Amy, thank you for offering to Diane to drop everything and get on the plane with her!

Pamela & Marshall, thank you for offering to open your home to Diane in NY.

Thank you for the balloons (picture above), Amy & Jonathan. And flowers, Cedar Fund (Curiyo investor) and Answers Corp.

Thank you for the visits, Elan, Adam & Shari, Alan & Steven, Nancy, Shiye, Martin, Dinah, Rita & Barry, Eddie & Sherri, Viv & Haim, Freda, Arthur,  Steve & Enid, Bert & Myrna.

And calls: Mom, Stan, Jeff, Lee, Laurel, Lynn, Michael, Amy & Jonathan, Sasson & Tami, Sigi!, Ari, Sara, Rhea, Koby & Dina, Judi & Shmuel, Tsivie, Volvi & Pesi, Leonard & Deanna, Tsivia, Sam, Steve, Cali, Bruce, Faigie & Norm, Donna & Jacob, Martin & Maris, and Serl. And special encouragement: Motti, Mark, Jon, Michael (your post that week, exaggerated though it be, was a kindness I’ll never forget).

Thank you everyone for your cards, e-mails, Facebook messages, and warm thoughts.

Rita & Barry, thank you for taking the time and care to transport us safely to Pennsylvania and cook us several meals and generally take care of us.

Judy, the baskets were enough, the visit was enough, but driving us back to New York next week is over and above.

Martha, we will never forget your taking care of Diane and me that challenging week, opening your home, your schedule and heart, and being there for us.

Mom, you shouldn’t have to nurse your golden-ager son! But you do it with a unique love that we’ll never forget.

Diane, my brown-eyed girl, there are no words! Let’s grow old together, enjoying our families and friends in nachat and good health. You are simply my life.

Diane-Bobby