Second Chances: Investing in Your Life

Approximately one year ago, shortly after getting in bed for the night, I felt this intense pain in my sternum.

Was I having a heart attack?  Should I get up and take some Aleve?  Would that mask symptoms?  The thoughts began to rush at me, nearly working me into a frenzied panic, a feeling of which I was unaccustomed to.

I did not want to alarm my wife, Shari, so I began to reason with myself and finally concluded that if it was indeed, immediately life-threatening, there was not much I could do but accept my fate.  At 52, my life was full of blessings and I was fairly certain that my faith in Jesus Christ would be rewarded in the afterlife.  With that, a warm calm overtook me and I fell fast asleep.

Two weeks later, I was in the cardiologist’s office and he was having a discussion with the electrophysiologist, discussing calibration.

“He was out for nearly a minute,” I heard him say to her.  I quickly chimed in, “Who was out for a minute?”

My cardiologist replied, “You.”

I said, “My wife told me I was only out for about ten seconds.”

He responded, wryly, with a smile.

“I was just trying to keep her assured while I worked – I was doing intense compressions on your chest for a long time.”

I thought for a brief moment, remembering my pain and said, “Is that why my sternum ached so badly?”

“Yes. Sometimes, I break ribs too,” he chuckled.

One year ago today, I experienced (“suffered” is an overstatement) sudden cardiac death.  After revival, I was wheeled into surgery, where the team of doctors implanted a pacemaker; a device that another cardiologist friend refers to as the “guardian angel”, which uses electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.

My first quest was to figure out what happened, as both my internist and cardiologist were at a loss to provide an explanation.  My internist told me that I was the last guy on his patient list that he ever expected this from.

Just months earlier, I had qualified for the preferred rate – reserved for the healthiest people – for a very large, key-man, life insurance policy.  I exercised, watched my diet (mostly), and took precautions.

It was a mystery.

What I concluded, after much internet research and albeit contested by my doctor, was that my daily regimen of Prilosec®, used for the treatment of heartburn, caused the problem.  Indeed, shortly after my incident, and at my request, my physician took me off of Prilosec® and put me instead on low-dosage Pepcid®.  In my subsequent visits to the cardiologist, it was confirmed that my heart rhythm had returned to normal, and at the last appointment my pacemaker was “turned down” to preserve battery life.

It took me a few months of reflection to fully comprehend how fortunate and blessed I was.  Since then, I have had no dramatic conversions, or brilliant insights revealed.

However, I have made some slight adjustments in my life.

I “schedule”, if you will, and unconditionally enjoy the time that I am able to spend with my best friend, Shari.  We work together, cycle 25-50 miles per week, workout together daily with a trainer, and savor our glasses of red wine in the evenings, as we soak in the forest that is our back yard.

I take my time conversing with my three adult daughters, Amanda, Ashley and Megan.  I want to know what is going on in their lives, and to be a part of them.

I go four-wheeling, play in the pool, and walk (sometimes searching for “swamp monkeys”) with my darling granddaughters, Ava and Natalie.  I steal extra kisses and hugs.  Every now and then, I magically find coins in their ears!  Their affection, and my role as “their Papa”, is truly a joy.

I increasingly drop-in on my nearly 90-year-old father, and I rib him and we joke, and this gets him smiling.  He misses my mom, who died eight years ago after 50+ years of marriage.  I do not rush our visits.  I bring him over to our home for outdoor barbecues, where he can take in the company of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  We dissect the preceding day’s Detroit Tigers’ game, and discuss the players.  He does not miss many of their contests, and occasionally, albeit accidentally, may catch a re-run or two as well. It is a shared passion, mine learned from him.

My co-workers are like my family, and I stop by their workspaces to hear the stories of their activities, families, and goings-on.  We have all been sensitized to the blessing, and sometimes fleeting nature, of good health.

Many of my friends are clients, and many clients have become close friends.  They trust me – confide in me – and I do not take that confidence lightly.  I know that they depend upon me and my colleagues here at Sigma Investment Counselors for their financial livelihoods. We do our best to be dutifully prepared to meet the challenges that this uncertain world throws at us on a daily basis, as we steward their investments.

In short:

I try to live well.  I try to love well.  And most important…I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Sometimes we get second chances, and sometimes we don’t.  Fate is funny that way.  Consider investing in your life – this is the only one that you’ve been given.

Bob Bilkie, CFA®