How confronting Mark Brown’s death reminded him to stop and enjoy everything

I have never been good at remembering the dates of important life events. The inevitable questions of “What year did so-and-so happen?” almost always trip me up.

But I will remember 2022. It made a lasting impression on me.

That’s because 2022 was the first time I was forced to seriously confront my own mortality—and the possibility of never seeing another day.

As you can see, I’m still here and doing well as far as I can tell, so don’t get the wrong idea. This is not to say that my previous concern was misplaced.

This happened back in July. It came out of nowhere.

The first sign was a sharp pain in the back of my left thigh in the middle of my daily morning 4-mile walk with my wife, Hanke Gratto. It lasted about five minutes and disappeared. The next day I went to the doctor and they sent me for tests which revealed blood clots in my leg.

The blood clots briefly migrated to my lungs, blocking my pulmonary artery. Things got worse from there. My racing heart turned into atrial fibrillation, which I learned was a potentially dangerous irregular heart rhythm.

It was the middle of the night at the hospital, after the nurse told me my blood pressure had dropped to 70/40, and the situation seemed out of the doctors’ control, I started trying to bargain with God to let me see another sunrise.

I don’t remember much about it except that I desperately wanted another chance to tell my wife and kids that I loved them, but I didn’t want to worry them unnecessarily by waking them up. Bargaining with God didn’t go so well because I didn’t see any bargaining power on my part. It also occurred to me somewhere in there that I was really hoping that the great Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell would be assigned to do my obit.

As it turned out, thankfully there was no need for an obituary just yet.

The next day, doctors performed a surgical procedure that removed one of the blood clots and stabilized my condition. After several failed attempts to remove the other clot, they decided that the blood thinner would eventually do the trick. After a week in the hospital, life is almost back to normal.

They still don’t know what caused the blood clots. The usual risk factors are not present, leaving COVID-19 as the prime suspect. I had a mild case a few months earlier and studies show an increased incidence of blood clots among people who have had COVID-19. But they don’t really know.

This is where I need to add some universality to this story, some wisdom that I have gained from experience and can now share with you.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. My little health scare didn’t make me any smarter or wiser.

I learned a long time ago that tomorrow is not promised to any man, but like everyone else, I still expect to be around for it.

Nor have I made any healthy lifestyle changes. I was already watching my weight and exercising before my blood clotted. Now it’s harder for me to say no to that piece of cake. I mean if I’m going to die anyway.

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t been writing much these days. This started before the health concerns. I actually officially retired in July 2021, but I continued to write part-time until I found it almost as stressful. My wife and I have been traveling a lot and figured we’d better squeeze it in while we could.

It occurred to me that the blood clots might be a sign that I should get back to work and use my remaining time and talents to achieve something more in life. Then I got over it and started planning the next trip with my wife.

I wrote at the beginning that my health scare in 2022 was the first time it occurred to me that death might be near. I imagine this could happen many more times before it does. Or maybe I won’t see it at all.

I don’t intend for this to be the last column I write for the Sun-Times. Still, just in case, I’m honored.

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