Greeting Mortality

Thirty days ago, I came face to face with my mortality.  It probably wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time I realized what was happening.  I wasn’t afraid, but I certainly was paying attention.

I was having a heart attack and spent the day telling myself that my symptoms were something else and if I just sat still a while longer, I would get better.  It was a Friday and finally around 10:00 pm I accepted the truth and dialed the dreaded three numbers – 911.

Within moments I was under the care of a voice on the phone and soon the flashing lights were outside and my living room was home to three paramedics.  Endless questions, sensors and wires and I was getting an EKG in front of my flat screen TV sitting in my old comfortable chair.

Minutes later I’m in the back of the ambulance looking out the back window at the streets that I travel every day. I was grateful for the oxygen lines that made my breathing easier although I had them in my mouth.

I told the paramedics I was a mouth breather and laughed.  After thirty days I understand that being a mouth breather is a result of being a pack a day smoker for forty-five years.  I haven’t smoked in these thirty days and pretty much I breathe through my nose again, amazing.

I was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Friday night, spending several days in ICU and then discharged on Wednesday afternoon. I was given an external defibrillator to wear at all times.  I’ve nicknamed it “Sparky” and it’s either around my waist or slung over my shoulder.

“Sparky” is by my bedside overnight and is only away when I’m in the shower. “Sparky is plugged into my “mansierre” which contains sensors and three paddles that will restart my heart if needed.  Yes the “mansierre”.  That’s from Seinfeld if you’re struggling with the term.

The “mansierre” has about all the sex appeal as my mother’s Playtex bras that she would hand wash and line dry on the shower rod.  And yes, that’s exactly where my spare hangs.  There is limited sex appeal since it is a front closure garment as two of the paddles are between my shoulder blades.

Back to the serious stuff.  Congestive Heart Failure (CFH) is my diagnosis.  I actually had a heart attack back around Thanksgiving but didn’t realize it. But the amount of damage showing in my heart indicated that to be the case.  Currently I have what I think they call about a 15% “pump out rate”.

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a cardiologist to figure out what that means.  Eighty five percent of my heart is currently not working. I was not a candidate for stents, bypasses or any type of surgery during my stay.  I am currently taking about every kind of heart medicine, blood thinner and what ever else that you see on TV every day all day long.

My cardiologist referred me to a “specializing cardiologist” in another city and that was somewhat unsettling, initially.  You see this guy works in a clinic that has a part of its title “Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic”.   Now those are words that get your attention, right?

Of course, I only had a couple of weeks to dread the drive to find out what other life changes I would be confronted with.    To say that I was filled with apprehension and dread would be an understatement.

But things turned out better than I thought.  My new friend, Dr. Gulatti, and I got along fabulously.  He was full of knowledge, confidence and clarity.  Those are the kind of characteristics that you would want in a heart failure cardiologist, right?

He was one of these guys that you see take charge. You know the one, the guy that steps forward and tells the less bold  “Here, hold my beer, I’ve got this!”.  Within minutes he explained to me his version of the next 30, 60 and 90 days and where we may or may not windup.

I don’t know exactly how this is all going to wind up, but I do know what the options are and how we are going to progress.  One of medicines was doubled at that visit and will be doubled again in another couple of weeks.  Four days later, I can tell a difference and yep, I’m feeling better.

I’m not out of the woods yet and I can’t even see where the woods stop and the clearing begins, but I do know a couple of things.  After forty five years I’m done with tobacco and most likely alcohol as well.  I have no intention of becoming a crusader trying to reform all remaining smokers.  I made my decisions, including the one to stop and that’s the end of my responsibility, as I see it.

If someone seeks my help, I’ll be happy to help.  That is what I hope to do as I write about my journey.  I tried to write about this when I first got out the hospital but I just didn’t understand my feelings.  After 30 days, my sense of humor has returned.  I’ve greeted mortality and I hope to be able to write about my journey for some time to come.