I’ve had some time lately to sit around and do a lot of nothing. That was good for about two weeks, but then I started getting antsy. It all started about six weeks ago….
I am not one to complain, especially when it is health related. But, about six weeks ago, my body got my attention. I wasn’t doing anything stressful or physically challenging. I was simply walking down a sidewalk and noticed I was becoming winded and out of breath. After several days of the same symptoms, I realized something was wrong. Those of you who have followed me around in Europe realize I usually have no trouble walking, and believe me, this was not one of my European “10 minute walks.” I was just walking 200 meters between buildings. After a week of feeling the same each day, I called my doctor.
My doctor is very thorough, so at the mention of “shortness of breath” he ordered a stress test. The next day I was on a treadmill, hooked up to monitors. During the treadmill test, I was determined to run it to the max and finish. I did, but when I sat down afterwards, I almost passed out. I could tell, by the reaction of the staff, this was not normal. However, I recovered, there were no indication of anything wrong on the test results and I left and went on with my way.
Two days later, I received a call from my doctor telling me I needed to have a cardiac catheterization. He went on to say the stress test results are often wrong about 30% of the time. My almost passing out sent up a flag that something was not right. The cardiac catheterization would determine if there was a problem. So, I agreed.
Rewind to age 16… I was on the wrestling team at my high school and I went in for my regular sports physical. The doctor, looked in my ears, checked my eyes, knocked on my knees, made me cough and listen to my lungs and heart. Afterwards, he said I had a “heart mummer” and I needed to go get it thoroughly checked out by a specialist. To make a long story short I had a defective aortic heart valve and blood was slowly leaking back through it in the wrong direction. Consequently, over the past thirty years I have had this monitored ever year or so by my doctor.
The cardiac catheterization did not last very long. I was semi-conscience during the procedure so when the surgeon halted the procedure and pulled everything out I knew there was a problem. He told me matter-of-factly that I needed surgery. Wow, that was shocking news to me. However, it was even more shocking to family who was a lot more “conscience” than I was.
It seemed that my aortic valve had just worn out! There was a lot of calcium that had built up over the years and consequently the valve has lost elasticity. Additionally, because of the faulty valve, two of my arteries were clogged and needed by passing. I did not have much to say about it. The doctor just scheduled the surgery and I waited around the hospital for a day thinking about all that could go wrong!
I had my aortic valve replaced and two coronary arteries bypasses on March 11, 2009. I didn’t feel a thing. My family tells me that it took me a long time to come around and start breathing on my own. I am also told that in order to perform the surgery my heart had to be stopped, my blood pumped through a machine and I was kept alive by means of a ventilator. All I know is the hand of God was on the surgeons and me because all turned out OK.
For me, the worst part of the entire process was day 2, 3 and 4 after the surgery. I had to do breathing exercises and cough up the excess fluid in my lungs to prevent pneumonia from setting in. That was painful, especially considering my sternum had been split into during surgery. The simple act of coughing was almost unbearable. However, when I read that 50% of the people get pneumonia after surgery and of the 50%, 30% die from it… you better believe I got to breathing and coughing!
Now, it’s been almost four weeks since my surgery. I am recovering very well, following most of the doctor’s order and bumming around my house. I walk about 3-5 miles a day, eat three meals and sleep a lot. Even so, I‘ve still lots about ten pounds. They tell me the surgery was a traumatic experience for my body. I believe it! It is frustrating to feel drained and zapped of energy after just the slightest exertion. However, I am determined to get stronger and be in tip-top shape in a couple of months!
All that brings me to the point of this blog…”do it now while the doing’s good… you never know what’s up ahead.” Or, as the old saying goes, “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”