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Like many people in a world where we grew up with loud music and headphones, I have tinnitus – ringing in the ears. Unlike some people for whom the condition is painful and debilitating, mine is usually pretty tolerable.

Over the past four to five weeks, I’ve had something new and different develop – pulsatile tinnitus. I can actually feel the beating of my heart and hear the swoosh of blood flow in my left ear. It’s not at all painful or annoying. It’s actually sort of soothing, like sitting on a beach or by the side of a lake listening to the waves roll in.

It’s also quite motivating.

Over the course of an average lifetime the human heart will beat approximately 2.5 billion times. Once every single second, give or take, more reliable than Old Faithful. That, of course, is an average – not a guarantee.

Now, thanks to this new development, I can literally hear and feel my life passing by, one pulse at a time, right inside my left ear. If I watch a two-hour movie, I’ll feel/hear that swoosh 7,200 times. If my math is right (no guarantee on that either), during those two hours I will have listened to 2.88 x 10-6 percent of my life flow by.

That percentage is an infinitesimally miniscule number but those hours, and those heartbeats, add up. And the flow is irrevocably one way – you only experience each hour’s heartbeats once. No exceptions.

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence that my pulsatile tinnitus began at almost exactly the same time I began my 6-month sabbatical, which itself was inspired by my near-drowning experience in late May. It actually feels providential. Like a reminder that I’m taking this sabbatical for a reason and I best not run out of time, or heartbeats, before I figure it out.

I have several substantial writing projects to complete during my sabbatical including, with my friend and colleague Dr. Bob Dent, a third edition of our Sigma book Building a Culture of Ownership in Healthcare (the first two editions were AJN Book of the Year Awardees so we have placed high expectations on ourselves for the third).

God willing, I will have 15 million or so heartbeats during this next six months. I anticipate that my part of BCOH3 will require about 900,000 heartbeats. Creating this post took something like 2,750 heartbeats.

The next time you are deciding how to spend your time, listen to your heart. With each ephemeral beat it might be telling you to turn off the TV and pick up a book, to say goodbye to your Facebook friends and go spend time with real friends, to start living your own life and stop living the life you think others expect you to live.