‘Heart Attack’ by Jeff Schmidt

Good Fortune at the Heart of a Heart Attack

It turns out that we really are ‘the sum total of our experiences.’ Had I known then the impact of many of my decisions, I may have made changes earlier, but it turns out that we must live life to truly understand it. ‘That’ evening, the one that irreversibly shook up my life, Thursday 3 December, I found myself staring eternity squarely in the face. I had returned home from work with my two girls. It had been a stressful day capped by a suitably heated, hard-hitting quarrel that left me trembling. I would not generally consider my life stressful, and yet I know that I run at a pretty high-octane pace. But that’s OK, because, despite warnings from others, I am, or believed I was, bulletproof.  I wore my intensity like a shiny badge of honour. On that evening, however, the engine said ‘no more’; you can’t drive even the most brilliantly engineered sports cars at 5000 RPM indefinitely. It took my mum, who spotted me bent over, clutching my chest, rubbing my arms on FaceTime and my daughter’s subsequent fear-filled plea to get help for me to make the medical call. Reluctantly, in a haze of pain, I did make the call. In minutes an ambulance was there. Pride masking the danger, I couldn’t help but feel that all this commotion was quite unnecessary. The seasoned paramedics quickly assessed my traumatised frame, blood pressure surging through my veins like a blocked firehose. They looked me straight in the eyes, piercing my vanity, and said, “We are taking you to hospital. Now.” 

‘That’ evening marked the beginning of a myriad of journeys.  Naturally, and most significantly was my health journey, but also, running neatly alongside, compelling me, almost without choice, was my documentary journey. Being in hospital forced me to slow down and rest, my senses sharpened and my eyes opened to the subtleties in the world around me, to things I had not previously noticed before.  I was acutely aware of nuances in conversation, of the sacrifices of those around me and of the delicacy of relationships. I felt a duty to immortalise these profound observations.  So I pulled out my pen and began to write, draw and paint.

Each little snippet of life was shared on social media and, to my surprise, people responded.  They found it “refreshing” and “uplifting” and “hope-filled”…and they asked for more.  So I continued, through my recovery and beyond, putting to record what felt like my journey to renewal. It wasn’t long before that little collection of musings and vignettes grew into a substantial work.  

The encouragement from others was overwhelming and humbling, and when the repeated suggestions called for putting the journey together into a book, it seemed a natural next step.

But having the material and creating a neatly published end product are two entirely different beasts.  So I went on a hunt.  Searching for guidance.  Podcasts were a wealth of knowledge as were a myriad of blogs on publishing. I put together a plan, hired an editor and put my creativity to work on the layout. Once the skeleton of the book was in a relatively happy place, I searched for a publisher who might like to support the project. I tried several companies who, for one reason or another, did not work out.  However, when I stumbled upon Brown Dog Books and the Self Publishing Partnership(SPP) I felt I had found a magnificent fit.  Having previously experienced disappointing leads, I knew that it was important to connect in person.  I made my way to their headquarters in a charming stone croft in Bath and, to my delight, they were marvellous- warm, experienced and encouraging. Granted my illustrated book was, by its very nature, tricky, but over the course of several months, with their help, I was able to triumphantly declare myself a published author and illustrator. 

Happily, the SPP continues to walk alongside me. I feel that, if indeed we are ‘the sum total of our experiences,’ I have had the good fortune to have had encounters that have positively and marvellously influenced the person I am, and will become.


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