Thursday, March 18, 2010

everything is possible: chapter 2

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.


Adi said...

GP - you are just great!
I love your story!!!
Can't wait for the next chapter...

Hessel said...

carpe diem!

Anonymous said...

Again, thank you for sharing your story with all of us. Glad you were able to make it back to Maui healthy and are doing all of the things you love.
I am a 47 year old woman who moved here in Nov. 2009. I had just lost twenty five pounds and due to my more active lifesyle here have since lost another ten. I am running the beach several times a week and just ran my first 5k. I just started paddling and my next goal is to learn to surf.
I am living by your moto, "everything is possible".

My guess, you're going to be a father??? I just don't see marriage based on many of your previous posts! LOL!

NICO said...

my picks: you'll organize/involved into the first windsurf webcasted event in history. from maui , of course..
Ciao GP e complimenti ANCORA!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, it is great you recovered completly. Not clamimng the sympthoms is the best way to get over most illnesses.
I have a comment on your use of "a few".
You said your hearth attack was in 2001, 9 years ago. That is not a few, is more like "a number of years ago", or "several years ago".
I noticed you use "a few" often in your blog and sometimes it does not make sense.
Keep up the good job and my guess is "you wrote a book and it's going to be published."

Lano said...

Bloody Hell GP, that story was intense alright! I am so in awe at the way you live your life, it makes so much sense, looking forward to the next chapter.

Jamin said...

Bravo GP! Healthy living is one of the keys to happiness. If everyone followed that there would be no health plan issue in this crazy country. In fact, they should pay us to surf and windsurf just to reduce the medical costs. PS - I'm 52 and the more I push it the better I feel.

JM said...

I'm speechless...

One word that keeps coming to my mind after reading that is RESPECT!

Timo said...

Hi GP, that did not come as a such a big surprise, my friend here in guincho told me about it a while ago as we were talking about you, were you checked before that potentially fatal day for those symptoms and were they diagnosed correctly or at all???
My quess is somewhere like - enough of good life... going back to..., anyway thanx for the great posts and keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

caro giampaolo, leggo sempre con passione i tuoi post, e quelli della saga "everything is possible" ancora di più ovviamente, a questo punto devo dire che qualcosa in questo senso me l'aspettavo , non l'infarto, quello no ma un cambiamento di stile quello lo immaginavo per un qualche motivo...anche io come te sono diventato vegetariano ma per fortuna senza nessuno infarto eppure la persona che mi ha "iniziato"(io penso che siamo portati e quindi destinati) al vegetarianesimo ha avuto anche lui un infarto, vedi un pò!!..sono comunque contento che è la tua storia ha avuto un lieto fine e ancora continua su di un windsurf ;-)...spero tanto un giorno di poterti venire a trovare nel paradis che le Hawaii mi immagino siano...continuerò a leggere la storia, ma non farò nessuna ipotesi di quello che può essere il tuo segreto, aspetterò l'ultimo capitolo!;-)

NC Paddle Surfer said...

You are my hero! Heart disease runs in my family.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hey GP! Last thing I want is a wake-up call through a disease. Sharing your experience is a wake up call enough for anyone who cares to listen. Thanks for sharing.

Altough, I must admit,I am still trying very hard to have fun - which actually by this very statement, is some kind of an oxymoron. (If I had to try hard, it can't be fun anymore) =)

Nonetheless... I shall explore further to find the possibilities in everything.

Muchos Gracias,
Jo Lim
PS: Roger sends his regards =)

downundergeoff said...

Yea good for you GP. My elder brother had a heart attack at 40 and has done zip about his health or diet since and now looks15 years older than me, actually only two........Even talks about his own mortality. I on the other hand live for my sports and am now liking enough to have two beautiful little girls. I,m 48 ski, mtb, roadcycle, ski, windsurf, paddle board and live every day. work part time. Life is good, when I get back to Maui next I will pat your back for the insperation you give. Oh yea I now have a full set of SF UL thanks to you..... best sails around. Keep up the good work Buddy.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am glad you are doing well. I fear you are sharing all of this as you are leaving Maui and going back to Italy.

This is closure for you.

ramsnake said...

Excellent read! Thank you!!

Sergey Menshikov said...

Great perspective.
Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

The changes in your life are so extreme that it's hard to imagine where this ends in part 6.

Marriage? Monogamy? US Citizenship?

I can't wait to find out!

Anonymous said...

great persevrance! Agree on the fact that doctors have to follow medicine wich is not a perfect sience!


Anonymous said...

Inspiring story GP but I do wonder whether you would have come out "the other end" if you had remained in Italy? Don't you think the beautiful island of Maui also had some part in your healing process? Just imagine those poor souls living in a land of cold and rain trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps after such an experience?
Super story, my guess is you're waiting to introduce a second generation GP produced in your wild, youthful days!!!!! The only trouble is can Maui cope with TWO GPs??????


joel said...

what a story !
try to sell it to Hollywood

flying_frenchman said...

Keep up the good stuff GP, this is great and touching. Best wishes for today, and tomorrow, and the next...


Nelisblog said...

Very insperational and gives me a better look on your life and mine as well. Thanks for sharing!

cryx said...

come ti ho già detto ... raccogli la tua storia in un bel libro e pubblicalo ... cryx

eric said...

Really interesting stories!


Anonymous said...

This stuff would make a great book and a movie... ah, the suspense of what's coming!

Dave said...

G, I have a good guess.Knowing you and what would now be your dream. You have found someone through your blog readers to sponsor your lifestyle! Someone,a company or person is going to pay you handsomely to travel and sail/surf your way around the globe.A endless winter type of situation.If it is not so, now you have another dream to chase!

cammar said...

Thanks everyone for all the great comments. I'm having a ball at reading all the different guesses...

A few replies.
Anon, that's a great feedback about my use of "a few". Would you be so kind and tell me what's the range of a few? How many are a few before they become several? 3-4? Don't forget I'm an engineer...
I just changed it into "quite a few"? That's more isn't it?

Scrouto, obrigado/gracias.

Hi Jo, regards back to Roger.

Anne, abso-fucking-lutely! Maui had and has a huge part in the pursue of my happiness. But do you think that if for some whatever reason I would have been forced to remain in Italy I would be still so pissed off as I was in those three months? I don't think so. It's distinctively possible that by now I'd probably be just as happy...
I just watched yet another amazing speech on TED that I will link soon that is very apro-pos...
Maybe I wouldn't have a blog, or maybe I would but without all those great surfing and winsurfing photos... maybe I would have all photos of pizzas and mozzarellas instead!

Dave, what a disappoint sesh I had yesterday. Small waves, high tide
and light sideon... not a good combo!

Everyone else, thanks again for taking the time of writing a comment. Keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

It's fairly subjective.

I'd just say something like:

A few: More than one but less than maybe three to five.

Several: More than two but less than seven or so.

A number of: More than two or three. I don't know if there's an upper limit on this. One could say "I have a number of options." could be ten, could be a hundred.

A lot: A large number, maybe like 25 or more (very very subjective)

Many: Same as a lot.
But for example if in a stadium there are 100 people we can say "a few", this because is much less than what expected.
A Hui Ho

Anonymous said...

Ok, I post my wild guess about the end of your story:
Cammar is getting the greencard in chapter 6. That's my bet.
Thanks for the blog, it reminds me of my 18 months stay on Maui and makes me wonder why I haven't been back in 10 years, still living in old Europe.... You always make me think and wonder, what if...?


Anonymous said...

Will you be the next TED speaker, is that the announcement?

Great memoire! Itchy for more!


jeff E of the Great White North said...

great stuff, living the "dream" ! your health issues and how you dealt with them, was a kind of soul cleaning. The old Gimapaolo burned away to the new over a few months. Maui was the inspiration and the cleansing fire. burned up were old atitudes, biases and preconcived notions about what the right way to live life was..for you.
i had health issues when i was 30, the big C , cancer. It changed me and screwed me up for a bit trying to figure things out.Some thing you can never figure out. Now my convictions and the rationale of my life are clearer now ..cleaner I would say . I dont have all the answers but now that is OK too.
One thing i did say when I was sick was , if I get through this I have to go back to Maui.I am lucky enough to say I did both.
Many do not get that chance.

pat said...

waiting for the next episade, an amazing story which proves that a healthy stressless life is one of the most important things people need
keep blogging GP

Tony said...

Bravo Giampaolo

Ramblings of a single woman on Maui said...

Aloha Giampaolo,
I have left a couple of comments for you on your story, but now have a question for you. I am a 47year old woman who wants to learn to SUP and surf. Is it better to learn one of those first and then move on to the other? If so, which to learn first? Also, can recommend someone to learn from?

Nord_Roi said...

Hey, I will give you priority on the wave and out of the water! Great one!