Hi Everyone. I Had An Aortic Aneurysm Last Weekend, Which Is As Deadly And Fucking Scary As It Sounds

Damon Young
Damon Young

If you would have been on Centre Avenue in Pittsburgh this past Sunday afternoon at approximately 5pm, and just so happened to be on the stretch of Centre that runs from UPMC Shadyside to Patron Mexican Grill on the corner of Centre and Highland, you might have seen me driving past. And if you saw me, you definitely would have heard me, as the unseasonably mild weather allowed for my windows to be down, which subsequently allowed the song blasting through my speakers ("Glory" — the first track off of Cam'ron's 1998 Confessions of Fire) to escape from the car; effectively transmuting it into 4,000 pound mobile boombox.


Listening to "Glory" was not intentional. When retrieving my car from the emergency room parking lot it had been sitting in since Thursday night, it happened to be the first song to play on the Spotify playlist that connects from my phone to the car. But after a frightening and depressing and unnerving and confusing 72 hour span — where, after experiencing a moderate bit of discomfort in my chest most of the day Thursday, I drove myself to the emergency room after playing basketball that evening and anticipated discovering that I had some sort of muscle strain but learned that my aortic vein was inflamed and in danger of possibly tearing — hearing that triumphant and boastful and bombastic (and remarkably offensive) track upon my release from the hospital Sunday afternoon was cathartic. Even (hopefully) serendipitous. A chill coursed through me as Noreaga's chorus began, and I sang it like I needed it to fill the void left from all the sureness and certainty that disengaged themselves from me that weekend.

Where my up north niggas at?? Wha What!!! Now where my down south niggas at?? Wha What!!!

It feels silly to say that I didn't anticipate spending Thursday night, Friday, Saturday, and most of the day Sunday in the hospital. Because, aside from people with chronic illness or recently traumatic injuries, who the fuck does? Complaining about that feels reductive and self-obsessed, like complaining about standing in lines or attending funerals — shit no one actually enjoys. Still, I spent much of the first half of my stay there thinking about all the things I was supposed to be doing that weekend but was now unable to. Much of that Thursday was spent in preparation for a speaking engagement at Yale University Friday afternoon. Thursday morning I spoke to my contact at Yale, who gave me a rough outline of how the event would go. Thursday afternoon, I went to my barber for a shape-up. And after leaving the shop, I drove to the Ross Park Mall to shop for bookbags. (I've had many trips like this recently — one day ventures to different cities and universities to speak or sit on panels — and I concluded that a bookbag would be much more practical and cause much less TSA-related headaches than the larger carrying bag I usually take.) At 5pm, I found some space in the mall to complete a Reddit AMA I was scheduled for. That ended at 6:30, and I raced home, changed clothes, and ran back out the door for basketball. That ended around 9, and I ran to Target to grab a pack of Old Spice and a package of Beneful for my dog before stopping in the ER. This was roughly 10pm.

I had an x-ray on my chest at 11:30pm. By 1:00am I realized, by both the increasing number of nurses and physician's assistants coming to see me and the subtle change in countenance of the attending doctor, that I probably wasn't going to make my 6am flight. And after he told me exactly what was happening — that my aortic vein was swollen and they didn't know why — continuing to think about what I was supposed to be doing that night and the following morning (the clothes I planned to wear on the plane and during my event, the food I planned to eat at the airport, the quick workout I planned to run through at the hotel gym before my talk, etc) helped distract me from the fear that was beginning to overcome me. I have never been more scared in my adult life than I was from 3am early Friday morning to perhaps 1pm Sunday afternoon.

As Panama articulated quite kindly a couple months ago, 2016 was quite a good year for me. My family is healthy and (generally) happy. My wife and I have found our optimal rhythm as parents and partners. My daughter is a fucking blast. And many of things I've been working towards, visualizing, sacrificing for, and dreaming about over the past decade began to come to fruition. Most notably the book deal, which effectively changed my life. For various reasons, I've been intentional with not publicly sharing any financials of it. Which gives my work now a level of surreality, as these unrevealed details are so OMFG! that it looms over and permeates everything I do now. I'm a guy who writes about pretty much everything — including how masturbation might have jacked up my back — but the single most dominant thing in my life over the past six months has gone largely unexplored.

This surreality has also been accompanied by another feeling I can't quite place but will just call embarrassment because that's the closest thing to it. I, in absolutely no way, believe I'm undeserving of the success I've had. Nor am I experiencing any sort of imposter syndrome. I do however occasionally feel a sense of shame. Particularly when comparing my new circumstances with those of my friends and family members. Perhaps it'll disappear eventually, when I'm more settled with this new reality. But now it has attached itself to my conscience and I can't shake it off. It is persistent, resourceful, and clever. And I'm sharing this because this self-flagellating melange of anxiety and reflexive contrition allowed me, when first hearing why they wanted to keep me overnight, to entertain the thought that I was going to die. That, instead of eventually writing this story, this weekend would be the end of my story. That all the things I've dreamed about and anticipated doing — things so fucking close now that I can smell the salt on them — would just never get done. That this shame was a premonition; a foreboding indicator that I really didn't deserve to experience what I've wished to (and now plan to) experience.


I am (obviously) not dead. Which I am (obviously) very happy about. But this happiness came with a cost. I am not the same person I was before entering the ER Thursday night. I was released Sunday afternoon after a weekend of test showed my vitals to be stable and the rest of my body aside from my aorta to be in good health. I still feel the same slight discomfort in my chest that encouraged me to choose to go to the ER, but that is likely due to a muscle or bone strain. Everything else around that area — my lungs and my esophagus specifically — seem to be fine. It's quite possible that my aorta is just naturally larger than most people's, and that it's not a problem for me, and this stay was a bout of overprecaution. It's also possible that it is a serious problem, and I was lucky to discover it and treat it now before it got worse. It's also possible that it's somehow related to the virus I haven't really been able to rid myself of since the beginning of the year

Until those questions are answered, I will continue to see doctors and take tests. I have two follow-up appointments scheduled in the next week, and I'm sure more will follow. I will take the medicines prescribed to me, including Lisinopril, which is to treat high blood pressure that I've never actually had a problem with in my life but now need to keep even lower than it usually is because an extended spike could fuck my shit all the way up now. (And I'll check it daily with this home blood pressure monitor I bought yesterday.) I (sadly) won't play basketball or even lift a weight until there's some sort of resolution. I'll also take measures to reduce my stress. But between being a parent of a toddler, writing a book, running a blog, being a Black man, and being a Black man in Trump's America, stress reduction seems, well, difficult.


And most vitally, for me, I will attempt to find the wind last weekend stole from me. I've never felt less in control and more, for lack of a better term, mortal than I do now. Which, as I'm re-reading that last sentence, feels silly and even somewhat blasphemous. Because I never was in complete control. And I've always been mortal. Nothing has changed on that end. But the abstract conception of the tenuousness of mortality has been replaced by something more concrete. Something present. Something so fucking scary that I planned on not writing about it at all until realizing today that I wouldn't be able to write about anything else unless I addressed this first.

It's still unseasonably mild. Maybe 60 or 65 degrees. Perhaps I'll drive around town with my windows down and blast some more Cam'ron today. Maybe even the Dipset Anthem. That might help.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


AKA The Sauce

Random question for the VSB's…did any of you get baby fever? Like at random times? I'm slick worried.