Well, seems like you guys liked chapter one, so I'm going to play my joker and get a bit dramatic here.
Unfortunately I don't have many photos to document what I'm about to reveal (most went lost in a computer crash back then, only a few were saved thanks to an online library), but you guys showed me that you can read. So grab a cold one, kick back and do so again.
This is a secret that I've been carrying for quite a few years now. Only a few close friends and my family know about it and, quite understandably, it's never been my favorite discussion topic. But I think that sharing it might help people who had similar experiences.
Let's go back to my arrival in Maui.
Put yourself in my shoes. After dreaming about it for all your life, here you are, in Maui, enough money in the bank, free as a dog, finally tasting at age 38 what life really tastes like...
What would you do? You would have a blast! Right. That's what I did. But I pushed it too much...
Too much sailing, too much partying, not enough rest (who wanted to rest? I was finally alive!!)... I over did it.
On the morning of August 20th 2001, six intense months after I arrived in Maui, I was sitting on a boat in the Maalaea harbor.
It was the last day of the three months vacation of my Danish buddy Sune and he had been given two tickets for one of those snorkeling cruises.
Here's Sune. Even though he was quite a lot younger than me, he was a really cool dude with the extra benefit that with him it was easy to pick up girls... they absolutely loved him!
Notice the shitty Top tobacco we were smoking...
Back to the boat at Maalaea.
It was a Monday and, needless to say, I had been partying the night before at Little Beach.
A few minutes before the boat left the docks, I started feeling uncomfortable. I felt weak, a little dizzy, a little cold with a slight sense of oppression in my chest.
Pretty quickly I realized that snorkeling was not going to be a good idea and, just in time, I got off the boat.
I thought it was just a bit of hangover and tiredeness and that I would have been allright.
"Sune, don't worry. You enjoy your last day, I'll hitch hike or call a taxi."
"Are you sure? I can take you home!"
"Go, I'll be fine"
By the time I got to the beginning of the pier, with Sune's boat already out of the harbor and not a single soul in sight (it was 8am and all the other boats had left already), the sense of oppression became an intense pain.
I managed to climb the stairs of the Buzz's Wharf restaurant to ask for help.
The door was locked, but there was a philippino guy washing the windows on the inside. I knocked on the door. The guy came to the door, but he didn't open it.
"I need you to call an ambulance"
"Payphone. Downstairs.", he replied.
"Listen, I don't have coins (I didn't know that you don't need coins to call 911), plus I don't think I can make it to the phone. I need you to call an ambulance now!"
It was clear that the guy didn't know what to do. Either he didn't understand me or it was afraid to do something wrong... He nodded something with his head and left.
At this point the pain became so bad that I had to sit down.
There I was. Sitting on a deck on a peaceful morning in front of a gorgeous ocean and a cloudless and majestic Haleakala. Not a single sound. Surreal.
Convinced that the guy was not going to call the ambulance, I thought:
"This is it... I'm gonna die."
That didn't feel exactly good. I remember thinking:"Well this sucks, but at least I did it. I realized my dream to come to Maui. Imagine how much worse this would feel had it happened in my car, stuck in the Rome traffic while talking on the phone with the clients...". It still sucked though.
Eventually another guy showed up (probably called by the other guy) and he called the ambulance. At the hospital I was diagnosed with a heart attack and kept at rest for five days.
They did an angiogram and found out that I had a 30% blockage on a coronary artery (which by itself is rather common and doesn't give any symptoms) and assumed that a clog had formed there due to detached fragments of unstable plaque (the stuff that makes the inside walls of the blood vessels).
My father and my brother came to see me and, more specifically, to bring me back to Italy. Ironically they're both cardiologists...
I promised to take it very easy and convinced them to let me stay a little longer. A hot German friend had planned to come see me in September and I didn't want to miss out on that...
Well, the hot German friend was a disaster (she fell in love with a guy just before leaving for Maui...), the medicines they gave me didn't seem to be working particularly well, the twin towers went down... I had to go back.
On the evening before the departure, I was alone at Paia Bay. The sky was gloomy and seemed the mirror of my soul.
All of a sudden, the most dramatic sunset went off. The clouds became so red that reminded me of the flames in the intro of Apocalypse Now. The notes of "The end" were playing in the back of my brain.
"this is the end... my only friend, the end..."
Now, put yourself in my shoes again. You had it for six months. All your craziest fantasies had become true and you were living your life at the fullest when all of sudden everything seemed to go up in smoke. How would you feel on that beach?
Time stamps says September 17 2001.
In Italy they put me five more days in an hospital, did another angiogram and this time found out that the heart attack was probably caused by a spasm insisting on that blockage (or somewhere else).
What causes spasms on arteries is still generally unknown. I know perfectly what caused mine: living too intensely, not resting enough and too much emotional stress.
They gave me anti-spasms medications and those worked much better. No more palpitation, no more weird beats. The damage (a little piece of my heart died because no blood could get to its cells) and the blockage (hence the risk of another one) were still there, but I had no more symptoms.
Wait. I forgot to mention the most important detail! As you can imagine, my most common question for the doctors was:"when do you think I can windsurf again?"
ALL the doctors replied:"well, you'll be able to do a mild aerobic physical exercise, but forget about strenuous activities! And windsurfing is not even aerobic, so that is out of discussion."
"Are you sure?"
"What about surfing?"
"Maybe small and mellow waves on a longboard, but taking it very easy..."
With this lovely thought in mind, I spent the worse three months of my life. I was in Naples and I hated it, didn't know what to do, didn't want to go back to my old life. I was taking very long walks as a rehab activity. First slowly, then, upon doctors approval, at a faster pace. I must have walked the whole fucking city a hundred times.
Rage was the feeling inside me. I was so pissed off!
I refused to accept what happened. And I confess that I was crying almost every night in bed.
Slowly the walks turned into runs and after three months I was fit, full of energy, no symptons whatsoever, but still extremely pissed off.
Then I ran into a small book called De brevitate vitae, written (for me) by Seneca 2000 years ago.
He told me:"optima quaeque dies miseris mortalibus aevi prima fugit..."
"The best days of the mortals are the first ones to go... what are you waiting for? If you don't live them, they'll be gone"... something like that.
In January 2002 I was back in Maui. I was still taking 6 pills a day, I still had no permission to windsurf... but I was in Maui and I was allowed to surf the south shore...
Well, let's try to cut this story short.
Thanks to a great book by Doctor Dean Ornish (here's a great speech at TED's and here's a shorter one), I started paying much more attention at what I ate and thanks to a more moderate lifestyle, in a couple of years I was able to go back to doing exactly everything I used to do.
9 years later, at 47 years old, I'm as healthy as ever, I ride a 6.6 shortboard and I don't take any single pill anymore.
My brother can't even detect the heart damage anymore when he looks at my echo.
And I'd like to dedicate this photo (recently taken by Francky) to all the doctors who said that I was never going to sail again.
I might not be the most radical sailor at Hookipa, but I bet I'm the only one who survived a heart attack... am I?
Hey, how about a new rule that guys who had a heart attack have priority on the wave? :))
I'm going to conclude this post with a brief list of positive side effects of the fact that I had a heart attack:
- I became very familiar with the concept of impermanence. I am now stoked every single morning I wake up. I go like:"hey, once again I didn't die during the sleep! Hopefully I got another whole day ahead of me. I'm going to do my best to enjoy it and be as happy and as nice as I can be"
- I quit smoking
- I eat mostly vegetarian
- I got hooked to surfing (since then I was only mostly windsurfing...)
- I learned to listen to my body and how important it is for it to rest
- I go to parties and I drink at most one beer
- I go to sleep early, I wake up early and I surf the best waves before the wind gets on it
In other words, I can now say that having (and surviving) a heart attack was - hands down - the best thing ever happened to me.
How's that as an example of attitude of gratitude?
Couple of messages:
- there's always something positive in everything that happens. You only have to see it.
- doctors are doctors and do their job of telling you what they think based on what they studied and their experience. Nonetheless, they can be wrong and everything is possible.
I promise that the next chapter (coming up on Monday) will be a lot less intense than this. Keep the guesses coming for the revelation of the final chapter six.
PS. Due a short spell of light offshore winds and the combination of perfect size, direction and tide, the waves yesterday afternoon were unreal. I cruised up the coast on the standup and caught some AMAZING uncrowded rights.