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

Weeble’s, wobble…

Scary Weeble.

In the last few months, I’ve taken so many hits that I’m beginning to feel like a “Weeble” and just in case you’ve forgotten what a Weeble is or you’ve never heard of one, they are little oval (egg shaped) toys with rounded heavy bottoms. They are made to look sort of like people and the advert used to be, “Weeble’s wobble, but, they don’t fall down.”

So okay, the heart attack and the resultant surgeries could technically count as “falling down.” But (and a very big one) I did get right back up as quickly as six days later, when I was released from the hospital under my own recognisance. Which in my mind makes me a…

Weeble.

Unfortunately, since the heart attack I feel like all I’ve been doing is wobbling. Getting knocked around and over and getting back up again for another Weeble style pounding.

I can’t say that I really enjoy this pounding. And although I am still getting back up after each and every hit, it is getting harder. I don’t know if that’s because as I lose more weight I am becoming less bottom heavy or if I am just getting disoriented from all this wobbling.

My daughter and I used to love playing with the Weebles. They really did not fall down. You could smack one across the room. Bounce one off of a wall. Or even kick the little Weeble around the place like a tiny bottom heavy football. They would wobble wildly, but they did not fall down.

But to be honest, I’ve been taking Weeble hits since February this year.

SMACK!

13 February this year, I hurt my back at work.

WAP!

Mid March I go see my personal banker (lower caps because she couldn’t help me) and she says sorry, we can’t help your debt problem.

PUNCH!

24 August I go in to get two steroidal injections in my lower back for the pain. The last one hurts clear through the local anaesthesia.

KICK!

30 August I have my heart attack and then two surgeries. After the second emergency surgery I am told that they made a booboo in my aorta.

SLAP!

24 October I see the specialist who saved my life and find out I’ve got a “man-made” aneurism in my aortic arch. I will have it till I either die or it kills me. Surgery for this problem has such a low percentage of success, it is not an option.

STOMP!

23 November I get a letter from the medical organisation that determines my fitness for work and recommends me for a lower tier ill health retirement. This equals a poverty pay out. Oh and I could be declared as disabled.

K.O!

This would make the financial plans that have been worked out for me null and void and I won’t be making anywhere near the amount of money that the company based my plan on.

Now as a Weeble, the K.O. will not put me down, just out. I know that I will wobble about for a bit and then once movement has subsided, I’ll brace myself for the next assault. Unfortunately, I’m starting to flinch somewhat uncontrollably.

When I hear the letter flap go on the front door, I wince. As I look at each envelope to see what address is on the back of it, I hold my breath. If it is just junk mail, I let out a sigh of relief that would blow out a fifty candle cake. If, however, it is another Weeble type assault, the air rushes out of me like a punctured tyre.

Now I have not seen a Weeble advert in years on television. I had to Google Weebles on the internet to see if they still made them. To my surprise they still do make them, although they look a bit fancier than the ones my daughter and I played with. I did look at several images of Weebles, but I could not find one that looked like me.

So despite the fact that I feel like a battered and bruised Weeble, I don’t look like one.

Yet.

As I sit here, wobbling from this last attack on my existence, I think I might market a new toy, “The Meeble.” It would be a combination of a Weeble and a Timex watch. It will never fall down and it can take, “A licking and keep on ticking.”

Or at least it will as long as the battery doesn’t run out.

PLUS

EQUALS

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!

Why the Hell is this Taking so Long?

It has now been exactly one month to the day that I experienced my ‘life changing’ day of pain and two (count em, two!) surgeries. One which  is often referred to as the ‘lunch hour op’ and the second which was emergency surgery and pretty damned serious.

*Although to be honest, the seriousness of the second surgery still has not really kicked in. I still keep looking around to see who the doctor is talking about when they get to the serious part. In my mind if it was that serious, I’d still be bed-ridden and hooked up to about a trillion tubes.*

I do have to keep reminding myself that is has been just one month since my ‘new life’ started. The parting words of my cardiologist were, “Get ready for your new life.” I still cannot figure out if she was being facetious or not. But new it most certainly is.

2012 has been a year of recovery for me. An accident in February caused so much nerve damage to my lower back that I still had not returned to work full-time when the heart attack decided to ‘kick me while I was already down.’  Of course the recovery for a heart attack and two surgeries is a lot different from recovering from lower back nerve damage.

As frustrating and painful as the nerve damage was, it was never going to kill me. Oh it might aggravate the living hell out of me but it definitely would not put my life directly in danger.

*Unless of course, my back decided to freeze while I was crossing a busy motorway. In that case I think all bets would be off.*

The other parting words from the cardiologist was that, “You need to completely rethink your life style and your attitude.” I was a little insulted. While in the hospital, I was so grateful to everyone who had made the galvanizing pain disappear that I had a permanent grin pasted on my face. Of course they may have misconstrued that as a grimace which, in all fairness, does look an awful lot like a grin.

But I got her point. I am by very nature, a little grumpy (A little grumpy?? I hear some of my colleagues say. That’s like saying Hitler is a little dead! I maintain, in my defense, that applies only to work. Not all the time.) and very impatient. Living in England I have always been able to pass this off as a less than attractive American trait. But to be completely honest, I am so impatient that even my fellow Americans disown me.

Mr Fredrickson from Pixar’s Up…Even he’s not as grumpy as I am.

I know that I have to slow down, chill out and be more cheerful. Unfortunately, knowing that I have to do this does not make it happen spontaneously. I still get impatient at the amount of time everything takes.

For example: I will walk to the post box, which is about 100 yards from my back door. I take my time and still have to stop halfway there. Not because I am winded or tired. No the reason I stop is because of my damned back! This pain in the buttocks ailment that I have been recovering from since February this year! It seizes up and I have to stop and stretch and rest it for ten minutes before I can resume my slow snail-like crawl to the post box.

Then, because of the seizure, I have to stop several times on the way back. Embarrassingly, the first stop is after I have posted what I needed posted and I limp slowly  to the fence right by the post box. I always wear a floppy hat and sunglasses in case someone I know is driving by.

I know that I am getting better though. Yesterday I cut the grass in my back garden. Now before you get too excited, I need to explain that my back garden is not that big and my mower is not that heavy. I also really took my time and besides dragging my right leg a bit, finished pretty much pain-free. I am having to wait to cut the grass in my front garden, which is considerably smaller than the back garden. I’m waiting because I don’t want to over do it.

I have gotten used to my right calf looking like an over-ripe banana and finding the odd bruise in places that don’t make sense. *The oddest one is right in the middle of my right foot’s instep.* I am also learning to walk that very fine line between hypochondriac and really knowing when something isn’t right.

I have learned not to panic when I get pains in my hands or forearms (both of which hurt beyond belief during the heart attack) and I’ve learned to stop worrying about getting fit for work, although that one is a bit harder.

We run a fitness test for my job. It is called a ‘bleep test‘ and it was obviously invented by a sadist. I have never really had too much of a problem passing it in the past. Not too shabby for a smoker of too many years to count. But now? I’ve quit the nasty weed and I am on the mend, but, the idea of running that test makes me feel nauseous.

Invented by the Marquis De Sade
Buzz Lightyear and Meg. My two guardians.

But the one thing I have learned from my recent ‘life changing’ experience is this: While I sit here and roll my eyes to the heavens and shout, “Why the hell is this taking so long!” I am, mentally at least, accepting that this is going to take a while and that I’m pretty damn lucky to still be here and if I ever forget this fact, my daughter will remind me.