“Time’s a-wastin'” is a phrase I used during my “Ted Talk” at my 45th college reunion yesterday.
Before I gave my talk, all the speakers at the event received an email explaining what would happen if we were a-wastin’ too much time during our 5-minute talks.
To help you keep track of the time, we will be holding up a sign for: FIVE minutes. Then SIX minutes. Then a buzzer at 7 mins.
I wrote to the organizers:
You can count on me to do what’s right. Since I’ve got my speech pretty much memorized, please don’t rattle me with fingers or timers.
I also wrote this:
Mine is between 5 and 6 minutes. Okay?????
I was sure I wouldn’t be a-wastin’ people’s time by going over the limit because I had timed myself several times.
Because several people (including somebody with the same rare heart condition as mine) had asked me to record my speech, I left my phone running under my chair when I spoke, despite the no-taping request at the event. I also recorded the speech for all of you, because this blog was part of my “big finish” (as I’ve been spending much time discussing here, in previous posts).
Then I gave my speech, totally from memory.
When I checked the tape, I realized that I had slowly taken my time and taken up 10 minutes and 47 seconds! So much for expectations. I also realized that the organizers had respected my request and not held up signs or interrupted me with buzzers. If they had, it would have upset me so much, I know, that all my preparation would have been wasted.
Because I always try to keep my promises, I wasted some time feeling bad about going SO MUCH over the limit. I apologized to one of the organizers, and she said, “No worries.” (She said more, but I won’t be a-wastin’ your time with that.)
Without any further time-wastin’ ado, here is the “bootleg” of my speech yesterday:
In case any of that is difficult for you to hear, here’s the “5-minute” speech I had written:
I want to start out with a question to you. Raise your hand if you remember where you were on November 22, 1963. I’m different from all of you. I have no memory of that day because I was having heart surgery to get my first cardiac pacemaker. While you were being traumatized by the assassination of President Kennedy, my family and I were being traumatized by my unexpected surgery, by hospital rules preventing parents from staying with their kids, and by medical staff not knowing how to answer the questions of a confused and frightened l0-year-old girl like “What is that coffin on the TV screen?” and “What is this giant thing sticking out of my body?”
I’ll tell you how I got there. I was born with the rarest of congenital heart conditions. My heart is essentially backwards, with the ventricles, great vessels, and valves switched and doing jobs they weren’t designed to do. Plus, the electrical impulses that control a heart’s rhythm are completely blocked in mine, which means I need a pacemaker to survive. However, pacemakers hadn’t been invented yet.
Luckily, I did well enough until I was 9, when my heart rate got slower and slower. You can see it in photographs from that time: I look like a ghost child in a family of mortals. The doctors tried speeding up my heart with yucky medicine that made me sick. Pacemakers were too new, too untested, and way too big for children to be even mentioned as an option.
Which brings us to November 1963. I was in the hospital for observation when my heart stopped and then started up again. That changed everything. The doctors told my parents they’d have to put in a pacemaker immediately, which would “stick out like a sore thumb.” When my mother expressed doubts about this new plan, the surgeon asked, “Do you want to lose your daughter?”
They didn’t lose me, but I had to struggle not to lose myself, as the pacemakers kept breaking down in every conceivable way. Once, when we were back in the hospital because my pacemaker had failed just two weeks after the latest operation, the surgeon called another one of my doctors on the phone and said, “The Koplows are here with their lawyer” — as a joke. My father and I used our senses of humor to mix things up — that December I went into the operating room wearing a sign that said, “Do not open until Christmas.”
Despite my many absences from school, I excelled academically, ran for class office, read voraciously, and appreciated the few benefits of being so different from my classmates, like getting out of gym class, which all my friends hated. I read a book about Helen Keller who had also overcome physical differences with a palpable appreciation for being alive. Right then, I decided I wanted to go to Radcliffe, just like her.
When I was at Harvard, pacemakers had improved enough that I needed far fewer visits to the hospital. And just as I had avoided gym class, I managed to graduate without passing the swimming test. That’s another way I’m different from you.
Before, during, and after Harvard, I’ve lived my life with a deep sense of my own mortality — there’s no telling how long my very unusual heart will last. This makes me pretty impatient —time’s a-wastin’ and too precious to spend on small talk or on anything I don’t love. That’s why I changed careers until I found my soul’s best work as a wounded healer. I’m a group therapist who specializes in trauma.
And while I got enough personal training in trauma when I was young, I’ve had major heart-related crises in the latter part of my life. My poor, overworked tricuspid valve leaked badly, causing several bouts of endocarditis and also weakening my heart. Some doctors said I needed that leaky valve replaced, another doctor said that valve replacement would change the pressure in my heart to a catastrophic effect. Nobody seemed to know, because of the rarity of my condition.
In May, 2016, I met with the experts on hearts like mine at the Mayo Clinic. They said, “You must have that valve replaced immediately.“ Because my only child — a son with a fabulously normal heart — was about to enter his first year at the University of Edinburgh and we had plans to spend August together in Scotland, I asked for an extension. Well, I made it to Scotland, made it through my son leaving the nest, and made it through open heart surgery to get a new mechanical valve, exactly three years ago today.
So as I tell my story to you today, I wonder, perhaps along with you, what has allowed me to survive, so intact, through all this? What has helped me pick up the pieces, over and over again? As when I was a child — the love of my family and friends sustain me. Also, seven years ago I expanded my network of friends by starting a daily blog. Every morning, including today, I’ve written about my heart, my son, my passion for the healing power of groups, my song-writing, my cats, my hopes, my fears, this speech — whatever helps gird me and prepare me for the day ahead. The day after my heart valve surgery was the only day I needed a substitute blogger — my boyfriend Michael let my thousands of followers know I had survived the complicated procedure. Their comments included “Fantastic news! I’m in public but I’m dancing all the same,” and “She’s going to be alright guys’ is the best line ever!”
As a group therapist, I know that community is essential for survival. Perhaps because of all the traumas I’ve been through, I need a bigger group than most to keep me going. Thanks for being part of my group, here and now.
After I gave my speech, many people told me that they
- were inspired,
- thought I was very brave,
- had an amazingly polished and effective delivery,
- never knew any of this about me, even though we were good friends in college, and
- were struggling with heart issues.
I guess people didn’t believe that I had been a-wastin’ time with my speech.
Let’s see if I was a-wastin’ time yesterday with the photos I took during the day:
If you leave any comments, that will be time well spent for me.
Time’s a-wastin’, so I will express my gratitude to all those who help me make it through every day, including YOU.