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.

 

 

If I only had wind chimes, I’d know

As an upstate South Carolina resident, I don’t have first hand knowledge of the force and destruction of a hurricane making landfall.  I’m about 4 hours from the coast, figuring in bathroom breaks, and this is the second time in my adult life that such a storm has gotten my attention.

Today and tonight, we are dealing with Irma, certainly on a lesser scale than the folks in Florida and the Caribbean.  The wind has been up most of the day and light rain has been falling since early morning.  During the morning, it was unusual, after lunch it was more than noticeable.

At this moment, Irma is bearing down on the state of Georgia as a tropical storm.  That’s timid by comparison to the havoc wreaked on Barbuda, Cuba and Key West.  As darkness has settled in, the winds in upstate South Carolina have intensified and the rainfall continues to pelt the ground in a horizontal motion that I haven’t seen for awhile.

The thought that strikes me tonight, is Irma for real or is she just a reincarnation of Hurricane Hugo in drag?  We’re about 10 days short of the 28th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo making landfall directly on South Carolina and I remember that like it was yesterday.  Hugo landed with a fierceness not seen in South Carolina in a generation.

Hugo was a monstrosity that made land fall somewhere around Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and McClellanville, home to South Carolina’s shrimping industry.  Hugo came ashore, went far inland and made a turn towards Charlotte.  The devastation was remarkable at the time.

Hardwood and softwood forest were leveled by the force and fury of Hugo’s winds similar to what was seen after the eruption of Mt St. Helens in 1980.  The devastation and economic impact on the coast and the state in general were valued at $10 Billion, an enormous sum in 1989 dollars, but paling in comparison to Irma and Harvey in today’s dollars.

My earlier reference to Irma being Hugo in drag is because the conditions four hours from the coast are similar to that night 28 years ago.  In 1989, the Weather Channel was in its infancy, supported only by local news stations with in-studio weather folks repeating the facts that appeared on the AP/UPI wires.  Cable TV had a few basic channels and in larger communities, included The Weather Channel, CNN and WGN out of Chicago.

There was no internet yet, unless you wanted to log in to The Library of Congress to read the Declaration of Independence.  So, in 1989, without Facebook and Twitter, smartphones and an endless supply of “APPS”, there was basic cable, your local TV stations, community newspapers dependent upon the Associated Press or United Press International news stories.

Some of us had IBM or Compaq computers on our desk at work, most of us had dual 5 & 1/4 inch floppy disks and the higher ups had only one disk drive with an accompanying 5 MG hard rive.  Main frame computers communicated over phone lines at the blistering speed of 9,600 MB over dial up modems.  If you never used a dial up modem, stop by a pay phone on the sidewalk and it’ll give you and idea of what that was like.

Anyway, back to Hugo and Irma.  In October of 1989, my oldest daughter was a few months away from her 2nd birthday and my second daughter was a little over 5 years away from making her initial appearance.  At the time, we lived in a Victorian Cottage approaching 100 years of age, with soaring 11 foot ceilings, seven foot long windows and heart pine floors.

Needless to say, when you live in house like that you are appreciative of the woodwork, craftsmanship and ridiculous heating bills in the winter that come with owning a home with basically no insulation.  The winter heating bills coming on the heels of Christmas are something that they don’t talk about on “This Old House”.  Remember, there was no HGTV, Flip This House, or Property Brothers in 1989.  This Old House was available two ways:  SCETV or by magazine subscription.

OK., Hugo, right?  The night that Hugo came ashore everyone was tucked in tight and yours truly was watching out by watching The Weather Channel in a 100 year old house with no insulation and windows that rattled when the train went by a block away.  The thing I remember most that night were the wind chimes.  There was a set hanging on our front porch and another set on the neighbors side porch less than a few yards away from my rattling windows.

That night, I could measure the intensity of Hugo from 4 hours away from the coast by the music from the wind chimes.  The more melodious the sounds were, the calmer the storm seemed to be.  When the music became frantic, Hugo’s winds were roaring through a town 4 hours from the coast.

Tonight, in my apartment, I don’t hear the sound of wind chimes.  I’ve looked at several on my visits to Wal-Mart, Costco, Lowe’s and Home Depot over the 1st three years since I moved further inland.  I’ve always come up with a rationalization for not buying them and walked away.

As I sit here tonight, I wish I had bought a set at the very least, if not two, one for each end of the apartment, since I have two porches.  If I had bought wind chimes, then I would be able to compare Hugo to Irma.

The sounds from that night twenty eight years ago still ring in my head like it was last night.  If I had wind chimes tonight, I’d be able to compare the two sounds.  Was one louder than the other?  Almost four hours from the coastline, I’d know for sure what the people of the Caribbean, Cuba and Florida already know.  Is Irma really that much bigger, or is she just simply Hugo in drag twenty eight years later?  I’m buying a set of wind chimes tomorrow, the answer to that question is just too important to relegate to The Weather Channel.