Happy Heart Attack Anniversary…Almost

English: Skull and crossbones
English: Skull and crossbones (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As it gets closer to the one year anniversary of my heart attack and near-death experience, I find myself  in that state of cautious anticipation at night before sleep. The one where any little twinge in the chest or forearms – it was agonising pain in my forearms and hands that presaged my heart attack – and I will lie awake for hours waiting to see if I am going to have a revisitation to the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life.

Another anniversary date is also approaching, it has almost been a year since my blog was Freshly Pressed. An event that occurred just four days before my heart attack. Interestingly enough, that anniversary has none of the wariness and fear that the other one has.

I was lucky in a sense that after my two emergency surgeries – that for the record, kicked my ass – I was in such an exhausted and doped up state that I had no problem sleeping. I was so messed up that I found that one night I had squashed a good sized spider to death by apparently rolling over it. When I found the poor critter’s carcass the next morning my only reaction was to dispose of its body.

The first few months of my recuperation are a blur of pain from a lower back injury sustained at my previous job as a prison officer and the subsequent steroidal injections just a week before the heart attack that made the pain worse instead of alleviating it.  Shambling to the bus stop that is only a 20 second walk from my front door, stopping no less than seven times, heart pounding and head swimming from the pain.

The slow process of increasing my walking distance each day and feeling like I had a sign on my back that said,  “Mug Me I am Helpless.”  During that time period I was given an early retirement from my job with Her Majesty’s Prison Service and was in financial dire straits. It was not a great time, but apart from the stresses from my life changing event, I was shocked to find out just how close to death I’d actually been.

I had come to grips with that a little while back. I was sleeping like a baby at night and had increased my “usual” sleeping time from four hours a night to eight and over. It is only recently that I have had problems dropping off and fighting the panic that these unknown twinges evoke.

In my old job, the mental health folks who dealt with the prisoners (aka psychiatric types) used to talk about triggers and anniversary dates as being a normal thing for people to experience and in-turn, these two things affected how people reacted to things. While not a prisoner, I’m finding myself back to the time when the terror of an unknown pain could keep me up for hours.

This trigger will pass, just as surely as the anniversary of my heart attack will come and then go.  While time rushes on in the greater scheme of things, the minutiae of our lives trudges along with all the intensity of a turtle trudging resolutely against that fast footed rabbit that is our life. I, like many others have to fight against that irrational fear of the grim reaper calling again so soon.

For as resilient as the human body is, like the old Timex adverts it can take a licking and keep on ticking, we all have a limited warranty in the area of the body’s  almost magical ability to heal itself. As we get older, besides the obligatory aches and pains that increased age brings about, the parts of our machine get worn, old defects that we never noticed before suddenly leap to the forefront screaming, “Look at me!”

As we all reach that age where our mortality is shoved, sometimes brutally, in our face we have to accept that, like everyone else in the world, we owe a death. It is a debt that we all must pay, as Katherine Hepburn used to say, “Of course life is hard, it kills you.” But I have not yet reached the age where I can look back over my life and say, “I’m okay with dying right now, I’ve lead a good life and won’t complain when it is time to pay my dues for a life lived.”

I do not think that such an age exists for the average person. I believe that none of us are ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. Most people fight the grim reaper with whatever strength they have left. Some, who have been in pain for so long that they welcome it, are of a different ilk. Suffering for any amount of time is tiring and soul destroying. I thank God, or whoever is in charge, that I have not had unbelievable pain for longer than the 5 hours  or so that I was conscious before my heart surgery.

I admit that it is only at night, in the quiet hours, that I’ve had a revisitation of the alarm that came once I’d gotten out of my exhausted stage of post surgery. The daytime is full of more things to do than I have time for and that is a blessing. This anniversary heart attack trigger, my almost one year anniversary, will pass soon enough. Until then, I’ll lay in bed at night listening to my body and sweating every time something feels “wrong” in the areas that my body remembers from the heart attack.   During the day, I’ll keep writing the articles for the paper, doing posts for my blog and trying to fit everything else in around the two.

Happy heart attack ‘almost’ anniversary to me.

Thumbs up!
Still here and damned glad! Self-photo

Michael Smith

United kingdom

22 August, 2013

Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control…

Unknown

I honestly believe that there is no other phrase in the English language that can so instil a sense of dread as the preface of “Due to circumstances beyond out control.”

It not quite “heart stopping” nor is it so alarming that visions of death and destruction immediately spring up full-blown in your imagination. But what it does instead is get your Spidey senses tingling.

Why?

Well, mainly because it signifies that something has gone wrong or at the very least not as expected. Of course the worry that this detour off into left field is somehow your fault also adds to the worry quotient that this phrase conjures up. What ever the reason or cause of this “change of events” it is a signal or signpost that the journey is not going to be as smooth as you originally expected.

Of course I use the term (or word) journey as a sort of “catch-all” metaphorical image of what ever this “due to…” effects. But whether the thing altered because of these circumstances is an appointment (which in this case was a surgery follow-on appointment) or an agreement or the cancellation of a favourite telly program; it generally evokes images of disaster.

I guess I’ve always found the phrase to be the precursor to an announcement of death. Almost every time I’ve seen this particular phrase it is immediately followed by information that the person you were scheduled to: see, talk to, meet with, or watch, has died. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly and certainly most inconveniently.

The only other phrase that will guarantee a rise of blood pressure is the “In memory of ‘insert name here’ at the closing credits of a film. Although the individual that the film-makers want to memorialise can sometime be so eclectic that you may never find out there connection to the film or if they died during the making of or whether their death was just while the film was awaiting distribution.

While writing this post – which, by the way, was prompted by a letter I received yesterday – I had a brief childhood memory jump up out of the recesses of my ageing brain.

See if this rings a chord or bell with any of you:

Now I don’t think I was the only kid whose heart-rate sped up along with his blood pressure rising to dangerous levels when this was broadcast. The second this came on the telly, my flight or fight mechanism kicked in. After watching this on YouTube, I found that it still does.

Walk down memory lane over…

So I am a little bit curious. What phrases or sounds (or sights for that matter) instantaneously cause your blood pressure to rise and your heart-rate to double. I am really only looking at the “fear factor” here; not the similar bodily reactions to a pleasure stimulus. Let me know.

Maybe you have a similar reaction to mine to this foreboding phrase. If you don’t come up with anything, I’ll assume that you were stopped by circumstances beyond your control.

121712_2256_BlamingViol2.jpg

For ‘Every Beat of My Heart’ Thanks

The King of the Hoodies.

It has now been 44 days or one month and two weeks since my heart attack and the two subsequent surgeries (one of which was an emergency surgery) that saved me from taking a prolonged vacation with that king of all ‘hoodies‘ the big Grim Reaper.

Wow.

In many ways it seems like a lifetime ago and in others ways it does seem like 44 days. I know that I am recovering incredibly well, everyone is telling me so. My scars (quite impressive if I do say so myself, 9 inches on my chest and 12 inches on my right calf) are fading quickly and no longer itch as much.

I can walk a little bit further each day without my traitorous back seizing up and today I actually went into the town centre and traipsed up and down the High Street. Although I was not able to do too much gallivanting about, I did have to stop occasionally and stretch my back and butt muscles. I only limped a little bit and in the area of breathing and heart rate, I don’t think I did too badly at all. No breathless episodes and my heart didn’t feel like it was going to come leaping out of my chest.

All in all, a good first shopping day out.

I am still learning to curb my natural inclination towards impatience and feel that I’m not doing too badly. My first ‘follow-on’ appointment with the surgeon is on the 17th and I will be driving the almost 2 hour drive to the hospital myself. On the first of November I’ll have my initial ‘fitness’ assessment and I will finally learn what I can and cannot do and how to get my self and my heart back into shape.

There are other tests and assessments scheduled as well, like cholesterol and the like, but everything is going pretty smoothly and I am not inclined to rush any part of the process. I’m even going to have a ‘flu jab‘ this year. I have never liked the flu shot. When I was in the USAF each year I had the damn thing (in the Air Force it was mandatory, you had to have it) I invariably got some sort of chest cold that lasted for months.

This nasty experience has led me to turn down all offers of flu jabs full stop. But in keeping with my new healthier mindset I’ve agreed to having the jab in two weeks time.

I am learning to make healthier meals. Meg and I made our first turkey mince chilli the other night. While it was not a blazing success, it was not inedible and as we cautiously picked our way through it, we saw how it could be improved with the addition of various spices and the odd herb or two.

Turkey chilli from leanonturkey.co.uk

It will never taste as good as the ‘real thing’ but it’ll do. I had thought very briefly about making chilli using Quorn. The moment I saw the price of this ‘meat substitute‘ I began to think the stuff had a solid gold base. Price prohibitive to the nth degree, I doubt that I’ll ever be using that stuff as a substitute for anything. I’m sure that some of the Quorn products aren’t that expensive, but the mince is obscenely overpriced.

We have a recipe for a winter vegetable lasagna that, despite having the horrible white sauce that the English insist on putting in every Italian dish instead of cheese, looks and sounds quite yummy. There are chilli recipes on websites that sound tasty, although the one I just looked at had celery in it and no mushrooms, but I will be adapting the ones that sound the best sans celery.

The lovely Marilyn over at Serendipity gave me some wonderful suggestions on food ideas after my blog post on the blandness of my new diet. She pointed out that spice is our friend and that sushi and sashimi were not only healthy but tasty as well. I do like sushi and although I never actually thought of preparing it at home, Meg (who also likes sushi) said we’d “give it a go” as soon as we find some recipes.

So there we go. It’s all stations full steam ahead. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I think. I was talking to my mother the other day and she told me that her father (my grandfather) had died age 52 of a massive coronary caused by his leaky aorta aka the  widow maker.

I still think I have a hard time realizing just how close I came to taking a “dirt nap” and not being part of this wonderfully exasperating world. When I left the hospital, they told me to expect it to all sink in later. “Most likely,” they said, “It will be when you least expect it. Some people go home and burst into tears when they walk through their front door. Just don’t be surprised when it happens.”

Well it hasn’t happened yet. I suppose I’ve still got too many plates spinning up in the air. Of course there is the possibility it will never ‘sink in’ as they put it. I might go through the remainder of my life blissfully unaware of just how close it was (and according to the experts it was very close) and that would suit me fine.

I’ve had my warning shot and I may not get another one. I consider myself very, very lucky. I just hope I can do something to justify this extra time I’ve been granted.

Your time starts…Now!

Handling Your Heart Attack? Well…You Don’t.

As you have all no doubt noticed, I haven’t been on old WordPress for a while. I have been AWOL for a specific reason though and not through some nefarious whim that took me toshores foreign and far. I have been on a journey of discovery though. Very personal, extremely painful and life changing. You are probably fed up now with my ‘gassing-on’ so, I’ll get to the point.

On 30 August 2012 I had a major heart attack. A real beaut, it was one that required not one but two stents, little balloons on sticks that go into your artery  and some bypassing went on as well.

I had gotten up early to answer some email and to be available for the Siemens Company. Theywere booked in the marvellously wide time of 08:00 – 18:00 aka all day. Working on the principle that if I did not drag myself out of bed early enough (yes, I have had workmen show up first thing in the morning) I’d miss them and I would: a. Probably be charged, or  b. Have to re-book.

*It might interest you to know that they did not show up that morning or even that day (as far as I know). I still have to track them down.*

So around 0900 I had my first “episode.” This consisted of both of my hands getting really hot. I mean, flaming hot, so hot that everything should be combusting or melting at my touch. They then felt like they were going to blow up from the inside out. I’ve never had a sensation like that  before and as soon as it had ended I went outside for a cigarette. I ran several ideas through my head and none of them  seemed likely.

“It cannot be heart related.” I told myself this with complete confidence. Two years before, I’d gotten the radioactive injections, rode the bicycle, and had pictures take inside and out. They also checked my lungs.  ** Note to self, still no super powers. I must find out who to complain to.**

At 10:00 I had my second episode. This took a little longer to ease and as soon as I could, I crawled up the stairs to ask my daughter to ring for the ambulance.  While she was talking to 999 (the UK version of 911) I had my third and most intense sensation of the already long morning. “What’s wrong with you?” She asked this out of the side of her mouth while holding the phone up to her ear.

“I think…I am…having…a heart attack.” As she gave them our address I slumped and ‘ass-crawled’ back down the stairs. It took quite a while for the ambulance men to arrive. They got there just as I went into my fourth episode, each episode had increased in intensity, severity and duration.

The two ambulance men did not fill us with confidence. They were nice and friendly enough, but between the two of them they could not find a vein if it jumped right up in front of them. Finally, after enough failed attempts had left a blood trail that would have given Freddy Kruger an orgasm, they located one and it was off into the ambulance.

On the way to the Ipswich A&E the symptoms kept repeating and growing so that by the time we reached A&E they took me into the emergency treatment area and  started pumping me full of pain killers and ‘prepping me for surgery at Basildon. This ‘prep’  consisted of them calling Basildon Cardiological Hospital while trying to remove every hair on my body.

I was given some gas by the ambulance guys and I immediately fell in love with it (for two full days after-ward I kept asking for this magical stuff.  But as great as that gas was?  The really  magical  event was just about to happen.

These two ordinary ambulance guys suddenly turned into race driver Lewis Hamilton and made the entire almost two hour journey in 41 minutes.

We all arrived at Basildon A & E in a flurry of activity, people and pain. I had a team of five surgeons and doctors who were going to working on me. They finally hit the medication point necessary for me to be able to talk to anyone. They revealed that my aorta was completely blocked. It would require clearing and it would have two ‘stents’ put in to keep it open.

A stent, for the uninitiated, is basically a balloon on a stick. This stick is pushed into the ‘blocked’ artery and then the balloon is blown up to allow room for a brace to hold your artery open. It was while they were doing this part of the operation that they discovered another problem or two and a bypass was also performed.

I was supposed to be blissfully sleeping while all this was happening, but, I was not. I remember opening my eyes and seeing a round magnifying glass type thing. I was focusing on this while I could feel things happening in my neck. I then heard, “What is this, I mean, seriously what is this?

I then heard mumbling going on between a couple of the people bent over my chest. I couldn’t make that out. But one had a questioning tone and the other slightly pissed off one. I then said, “Is there anything I can help with?” Everything got quiet and just a quickly I was off with the fairies again.

Later when I was in the Intensive care unit, the doctors told my daughter about me waking up in the middle of open heart surgery. They were amazed since they had to, at one point, stop my heart completely. It could have been nasty, although I’m not sure for who. But they were stunned that I’d attempted conversation  so calmly.

I was healing rapidly. I  had gotten so many glowing words about my complexion and my rate of recovery that I was starting to feel like a celebrity. I was getting up and walking around and ‘hawking’ lots of yucky stuff from my lungs. This last bit was a bit painful but necessary as I had to increase my lung capacity.

I found out a lot of things during my five my visit to that tremendous place.

Firstly, I discovered the magical gas the would make any pain go away just by inhaling it.

Secondly, I discovered that no one working in the entire hospital had heard anyone from the ‘real’ American south talk in person before. I had folks come from all over the hospital just to hear me talk.

Thirdly, with all the praise going around about my ‘incredibly fast’ healing rate, I was starting to feel a bit like Wolverine.

Fourth, I was definitely in love with almost all the nursing staff and not a few of the doctors. They were all beautiful, caring, and helpful.

Fifth and last, with all the drugs I had imbibed during my brief stay, I was convinced that all the staff, nursing and Doctoral, were in love with me.

I was released from the hospital after five days and they would be perfectly happy for me to stay longer if I wanted.

So, you want to know how to handle your heart attack? You don’t. You just grab onto whatever is handy and hold on. The heart attack is in charge and it will constantly remind you of that fact.

I can say that this has been the single most painful thing to ever happen to me. (in my head I hear Nick Frost from Hot Fuzzasking, “And what was the second?”)

Cover of "Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Bl...
Cover of Hot Fuzz (Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray]