Berry’s Love, Hate and getting scared straight

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Updated: October 12, 2017

3:30 PM ET

“Oh, s—,” I thought. “I’m having a heart attack.”

It is three weeks ago today, at 1:17 p.m. ET, and I am standing behind the host desk in Studio B. We are taping an episode of The Fantasy Show, and there is a man kneeling behind me, holding a puppet.

Week 6 fantasy football rankings

Fantasy football rankings from Matthew Berry, Field Yates, Mike Clay, Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft for Week 6 of the NFL season.

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  • And that’s when I feel tightness around my heart. You know how sometimes you get heartburn and after a moment or two, it just subsides? That’s what I initially think it is, but then it keeps going and gets more painful. I’m being told in my ear that we need to set up for the next thing we’re doing, a complicated dream sequence.

    “Uh, gimme a minute here,” I manage to get out.

    I try to walk away from the desk and, after a few steps, I stumble. My producer Ed catches me, and suddenly everyone in the studio realizes this just got real. I am quickly ushered to a chair. Ed takes my suit jacket off and recoils as he puts his hand on the back of my shirt. It’s soaked. I have broken out in a cold sweat.

    I feel dizzy. Someone brings me an aspirin. And I, uh, I can’t keep it down. I start dry heaving. There is basically nothing in my stomach (I didn’t eat that morning), so I’m dry heaving. Over and over again. I can’t stop. I can’t control it. I look up to see some of my producers, surrounding me, looking worried as I keep heaving into a trash bag I’ve been brought. I see the studio crew in the background, staring at me. Because the only thing better than dry heaving repeatedly is dry heaving repeatedly in front of a bunch of co-workers. I feel dumb and humiliated, like some sick animal on the side of the road as there are people in the back, just staring, but there’s nothing I can do because it’s at this point I lose consciousness.

    Soon after I come around, I am surrounded by campus EMTs and they are telling me an ambulance is on its way. I am mumbling to Ed asking whether he can contact NFL Live and the meetings I have after that (I am supposed to do all that after this show) and he is smiling in a kind, fatherly way. “Stop it. We’ll handle. Don’t worry about it.” Suddenly the ambulance is there. With a stretcher.

    Instead of letting me climb onto it, they lift me onto it (more embarrassment) and I am quickly wheeled out of the studio into an ambulance, followed by Ed. He is told to sit in the front, and now I’m in the back of an ambulance all alone but for someone I just met two minutes ago. Mike the EMT, he tells me, all business and gruff as he starts shoving and pasting things into and onto my arms and chest, hooking me into I don’t know what. I am half out of it at this point as Mike the EMT is peppering me with questions. “How old are you?” “Where do you live?” “How many kids do you have?” “What are their names?”

    I am dozy and in pain, and the last thing I want to do is make small talk. Can’t he leave me in peace? I answer all his questions because something in my haze seeps through to realize he doesn’t care about any of this; he’s probably just trying to keep me alert and talking and this is his job. I answer him, but my mind drifts.

    Is this how it ends? In an ambulance, alone, driving through the streets of Bristol, Connecticut, with Mike the EMT?

    I’ve never been in that moment before, where I actually thought about mortality in a real, present way, and I have just one thought.

    I wonder if my daughters will remember me?

    I have quick, fleeting thoughts as I consider this. I know it would be awful for my wife and the boys, for my parents, my brother and his family and my longtime friends. They love me as I do them. They would remember me. And I am comfortable with how I and my career would be remembered by everyone else.

    But my daughters are 5.

    I spend as much time with them as I can, but it’s not enough, especially during football season when I am in the office Sunday through Friday every week. I think about what their life would be like without me, growing up and going to various life events. They’d know they had a father at some point, of course — but would they remember me? Us? The time we spent together?

    I quickly try to remember something from when I was 5. I draw a blank. I am filled with tremendous sadness at this point.

    I don’t have time to linger on that as we get to the hospital. I’m sure most of you have been to an emergency room at some point, for a broken arm or if your kids swallowed something or whatever? Well, you know how they make you wait forever? Like, you sit there, fill out a billion insurance forms and it’s three hours before you get seen?

    We get to the ER, we pull right up to the back, and they wheel my stretcher right in. As I’m wheeled straight in from the ambulance to a (private!) room, I think “Oh man. I must be in bad shape.”

    Meanwhile, back on campus, my podcast producer and TV show co-host Daniel Dopp has called my wife. “Beth? It’s Daniel Dopp. Something’s happened to Matthew. You need to get to the hospital ASAP.” Beth, naturally, asks a bunch of questions, to which Daniel doesn’t have a lot of answers. Last he saw me, I was being wheeled into an ambulance. So all he can say is that she should get to the hospital as soon as possible.

    Beth was doing an errand about an hour from the hospital when she got the call. The 13-year-old can stay with a friend, but she has to go home, get the kids off the bus and drive them to our good friends’ house, as Beth (correctly) figured I wouldn’t want my kids to see me like this.

    She told me later that, as she’s doing this and trying to get to me, she was seriously wondering whether I was dead. As you might imagine, when you go unconscious in front of a bunch of people and suddenly have to cancel a bunch of other appearances, word spreads. My wife worked at ESPN for a long time, so she starts getting texts.

    “Just heard about Matthew. Let me know if there’s anything you need.”

    “OMG I’m so sorry about Matthew. Are you OK?”

    And so on. Daniel had since been able to tell her more about what happened on follow-up calls and texts, and she had been assured that I was still alive, but as she told me later, “If you were dead, your co-workers weren’t going to tell me over the phone. They would make a doctor do it at the hospital.”

    So you can imagine what she must have been going through during the two hours it took for her to get to me, all the while wondering whether I was dead and what that might mean for her and our five kids.

    I’ve been there for about an hour now, still in my suit, still lying in the original gurney, hooked up to who knows what, when finally, there is some good news. Original tests came back negative. Does not look like it was a heart attack or cardiac-related. And color is starting to come back into my face, I am told, after being pretty pale and weak looking.

    Ed and Daniel were with me pretty much when I got there, and soon they were joined by Pierre Becquey, my longtime friend who runs fantasy editorial for us, and Beth, of course. Field Yates and Stephania Bell also came, with Stephania grilling all the doctors and asking all the questions I’m too dumb to know to ask. If you ever get put into the hospital, I highly recommend you bring Stephania with you.

    More waiting, more tests, more good signs. Pierre ran to a nearby store to get me some sweats and a T-shirt, as a suit is not the most comfortable thing to wear for eight hours in a gurney. By the way, trying to get out the suit and into the sweats while still hooked up to a billion machines was high comedy.

    And then I got texts. So many texts. As word spread throughout ESPN, I can’t tell you how many kind texts, DMs and emails of concern I received. It meant so much, as did the many tweets and posts from fans during the next few days who noticed I wasn’t on various shows and hoped everything was OK. My bosses, to the very top of ESPN management, all said the same thing: Let us know if there’s anything we can do. Take as much time as you need.

    And so I did, missing some podcasts, the Sunday show and a couple of episodes of the daily show. Thank you to all who filled in for me and carried the load, especially Field, who did the bulk of it. And to the rest of ESPN who, well, respected my privacy. Things have a weird way of escaping this place and finding their ways to the public, so I was happy that I could tell this story my way instead of having to respond to a story written elsewhere. Or maybe outside places knew about it and just didn’t care. Either way, thank you.

    It was a weird and scary thing to go through, but ultimately I’m glad I did.

    It is an unfortunate reality that we often have to go through something massive to make change, both personally, and, too often, globally, but I have made some changes in my life and am working on making more. After many tests at the ER and a bunch of follow-ups later with my doctor, a cardiologist and other specialists, the consensus is that my heart is in great shape. “If this were gym class, you got an A. At your age, I would be very happy with these results,” my cardiologist said after a stress test. So it officially was not a heart attack.

    Apparently it was something called a vasovagal syncope. According to Mayoclinic.org, this “occurs when the part of your nervous system that regulates heart rate and blood pressure malfunctions in response to a trigger, such as the sight of blood.” I still have a few more tests to take, but I feel great and my trigger, best we can figure out, was lack of sleep, stress and diet.

    It happened on a Thursday. After getting to work at 7 the previous morning, I had stayed up until about 4:30 that morning finishing that week’s Love/Hate. This is typical for me, as I have a crazy schedule with the pod, the daily TV show, the rankings, the various other shows and of course all the research, so writing is an all-night affair. You’d be amazed at how long it takes me to write mediocre fantasy advice that is often grammatically incorrect. I had gotten back up at 8 a.m. to come in for the TV show that day and, other than a diet soda to wake up, I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything. Smooth, Berry.

    So I am now eating breakfast every day, with a healthy dose of fruit, and am eating more healthily in general. I am drinking much less soda and much more water these days. ESPN is working with me on my schedule, trying to find both areas and additional help to ease the burden. We’ve already started, as I no longer am on the Thursday podcast, and as you’re about to see, I am changing the format of Love/Hate to be a still sizable but less mammoth undertaking each week. I am sleeping more, but mostly, I’m just trying to eliminate stress in my life.

    I’m choosing to be happy and not sweat the small stuff. I’m not 100 percent there — baby steps, don’t you know? — but I have started on my way and that’s big for me.

    Mostly I am making sure I no longer have to worry about who will one day be at a graduation or walk my daughters down the aisle.

    Let’s get to it.

    As noted above, you’ll see the format is a little different this week. There are still the same number of names; it’s just presented a bit differently. I’m going to write more about one or two guys I feel strongest about and then share general thoughts I had while ranking some others. If you want to know who I recommend playing of two options, I urge you to always check my rankings. I keep them updated throughout the week and into Saturday night.

    Thank you for still being here. I would have missed you guys.

    Quarterbacks I love in Week 6

    Kirk Cousins, Redskins: You’ve seen that meme with the guy, right? The one where he’s walking with a girl but looking back at another? Well, Cousins is the guy; the girl he’s with is the Redskins; and the girl he’s looking at is San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan.