Those were the sounds of a painful epiphany I had about being invincible: I am not. Before that moment, a safe path was laid out for me, but I didn't follow it. I even knew people who suffered or died from not following the path, but I ignored their tales. After that moment, you bet I took the precautions and stories more seriously.
Rewind: in 2006, my parents got a stomach-dropping phone call, and with little explanation, they sped away from our home on Long Island to upstate New York. My brother, who was attending college there at the time, wobbled on the edge of death for two weeks, fighting off a tsunami of bodily malfunctions at the hospital, triggered by what was later identified as Prolonged QT Syndrome.
Basically, Prolonged QT Syndrome, or LQTS for short, is an electrical issue with the heart, where out of nowhere, the heart can say "hey, I don't feel like working anymore," and completely shutdown. Luckily for my brother, when his heart took a dump, he was surrounded by a college fraternity full of EMTs. Who knew joining a fraternity could save your life?
On the brighter side of things, it turns out LQTS is genetic, which means who else has it? You guessed it: moi! And you know who didn't take it seriously? You guessed it again! (“Brighter” was sarcastic, in case that wasn’t abundantly clear… 😂)
The good news is, there are some measures that can be taken to prevent LQTS from triggering. For starters, after learning of our genetic condition, everyone in my family with it got a defibrillator implanted in our chest. I'm basically Iron Man, which is pretty cool.
But the defibrillator was meant to be a back-up plan; a last resort, if you will, and it doesn't one hundred percent guarantee survival of an LQTS episode. After it was implanted, the doctor ordered a laundry list of rules. Here were a few of them:
Take your meds every day. They keep your heart calm.
Don't work out your chest. You'll break the wire connecting the defibrillator to your heart.
Actually, just generally avoid exercise. Higher heart rate = higher chance of LQTS attack.
Avoid caffeine or alcohol. They also mess with heart rate.
Avoid doing anything too scary. Hello again, heart rate.
Avoid magnets. Your defibrillator could misfire.
Never put your cell phone up to your left ear, it's too close to your defibrillator.
Try not to catch a cold, you basically can't take any medication.
Don't go on roller coasters. Extreme forces + scary things = nope.
The list goes on, but I'm sure you get the point. However, I was quite the stubborn kid (...and maybe I still am...), so of course I believed "this will never happen to me." I cut corners, occasionally skipping meds, partying hard with friends, working out, the whole nine.
Let me tell you, when I say that my family takes ping pong seriously, I mean deadly serious. One day, I "forgot" to take my meds. That same day, I challenged my brother for the ping pong household champion title. I was losing, so of course I tried extra hard, zooming around the table, swinging at full power; it was a workout!
My heart wasn't too happy about that, apparently. I stopped for a second to catch my breath, my vision blurred, and right before fainting, my defibrillator kicked in, leaving me practically paralyzed on the floor with a heart rate of 300 beats per minute. Can't imagine that speed? Here's a youtube video of a metronome set to 300 BPM, just for your reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FbxFBR-hsQ
Needless to say, I was very lucky to have survived, and I've taken my doctors' orders very seriously since then. As of writing this post, it's been 10 years since that incident, and being a good boy has led to no more close calls.
I'm sharing this not as a sob story, but as a lesson on stubbornness. Depending on who's reading, the lesson is slightly different.
To my teacher friends, let this be an empowering example. Sometimes we lay out a golden path to success for our students, bending over backwards to ensure positive experiences. Yet, despite our best efforts, we still have students who never practice, who slouch when we tell them to sit tall, who look down when we tell them to look up; the list goes on.
What happens with these stubborn students? At some point, they crash and burn, failing an exam, embarrassing themselves in performance, or even just getting frustrated with their progress. Let my story be a way of saying: don't stress about the inevitable! If your student is anything like I was, nothing can change their mind except such events. Yes, positive experiences are ideal for motivation, but negative ones can be just as well.
When a stubborn student trips and falls, they'll need your help getting back up. If you point fingers, laugh, and say "I told you so," they'll quit and stay on the ground. When I nearly died, my doctors showed genuine concern and gently reminded me of the rules I needed to follow. Reach your metaphorical hand out, pull them up, and there's a good chance they'll let down their walls, listen more carefully, and trust your words.
To my student readers, let this be an enlightening example. If you crash and burn, you're frustrated, or you feel like you're stuck, instead of quitting and saying "I must not be good enough," you may need to put more trust in the resources you have. Take a moment to reflect on all you've learned, and heavily consider whether you've really put words 100 percent into action. Then, listen carefully, moving forward.
Also, although a little less related to my story, look for more resources. Books, teachers, apps, podcasts, whatever floats your boat! As a stubborn student myself, I find that getting multiple perspectives heavily influences my opinions and actions. I believe something more, when more than one person says it to be true. If the only person you're really taking advice from is yourself, you bet your progress is going to be mighty slow.
As my wife, queen of the idiomatic phrases, likes to say, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." In other words, some horsies need to decide for themselves whether or not they want aid from their caretaker. However, when those horsies start to die from dehydration, there's a pretty good chance they'll take the aid.
In other words, teachers, give water to your horses, but don't bother shoving the water down their throat. Students, when you're feeling dehydrated, find the water that was given to you and drink it. Nobody wants to be a dehydrated horse.
Also, if you're reading this, I accept your ping pong challenge, but if you win, it's only because I'm going easy on you. Doctor's orders.