Healthy Heart: Rehab and Diet

Before you ask; no, no-one looked like that at my session.
Before you ask; no, no-one looked like that at my session.

Today was my first rehabilitation session with the Cardio group. I think that I was the youngest,  but there was one other chap (a foreigner like me) who may have been a year or two younger. Either way, he and I were the “youngsters” of the group.

Having to wait for over seven and a half months to do my rehab, I was a little excited and a bit worried. I got there way too early and felt awkward as hell sitting in the hallway while waiting for the Physiotherapist to call me and the other “heart” patients in.

When I first got there a chap with a goatee who was being wheeled into an operating theatre waved to me and said, “Oh, hi Mike.” I nodded back and then spent the next twenty minutes wondering, ‘Who in the hell was that?’ It is at times like these that my idiotic vanity about wearing my glasses frustrates me almost enough to start wearing them.

But not quite.

In the interim, more folks gathered in the hallway and we were all called in together. I and two other folks were the “noob’s” of the group and got special attention. I do not know about the other two (a chap and a woman) but I felt stupid and clumsy. Not to mention the fact that I had to slow myself down.

At first, I felt that all the exercises were too easy. I was annoyed that I’d had to spit out my nicotine gum and I was beginning to think that all this had been a complete waste of time.

Then we got to the “sitting” exercise. It’s simple. You sit on a small stool (bench) and stand up. You then repeat this process for two whole minutes. At the midway point the first time we did this exercise, I looked at the chap next to me and said, “This one is going to be the killer.”

He nodded and grinned. The second time we had to do the exercise, he looked at me and said, “Did you say this was going to be a killer?” It was my turn to grin and nod. “You’re right, ” he said, “It’s a killer.”

This will give you an idea of this "killer" exercise. Again, none of my session mates looked like this.
This will give you an idea of this “killer” exercise. Again, none of my session mates looked like this.

At the end of the session we had tea or coffee (lovely touch, that) and a fifteen minute “cool-down” period. We all chatted and asked the odd question of the three ladies who ran the rehab group. When our time was up, I grabbed my hat and jacket and  said to the group, “see you later ladies.”

My stool sitting chum grinned and said, “See you next week!”

A good start to my eight week program and one that I expect to benefit greatly from as well as enjoy as the ladies running it make this whole thing a fun experience.

My new diet is another matter entirely. My first session last week with the Cardio specialist was an exercise of a different sort. I sat there dumbfounded for most of it. The reason?


Tuna fish in a tin (can) has no Omega 3. Zero. Zip. It’s something to do with the canning process. If it isn’t fresh (and who can afford that on a regular basis, I ask you) it isn’t healthy.

Salmon, mackerel, sardines, pilchards and kippers all are chock-a-block (full) of the stuff; tinned or otherwise. Now the only thing wrong with this list is that I only really like sardines and pilchards. So it’s going to be the Omega 3 supplements for me I’m afraid. Everything else is too damned fishy and oily.

Salad for my main meal (tea in this country, dinner in the US) is okay, but, it needs to be full of peppers, onions, carrots, et al, for it to be of any real benefit. This new fad of “5 a day” that is being almost literally shoved down our throats dictates that even loaded with the maximum of goodies, salad does not even equal one of that five.

Okay! I heard you the first time!
Okay! I heard you the first time!

I did explain that after my heart attack and surgeries that I did not eat that much. It is pretty much impossible for me to have five of anything per day! I also pointed out that if I increased my food intake, my “measurements” for the healthy zone were going to be shot.

On the positive side, I was told that my occasional ingestion of eggs and low-salt, low-fat bacon was okay. That my move away from meat as my main staple, while not necessary, was nonetheless helpful. I was also told that low-salt was a misnomer because no matter how high the salt content is, it is still salt.

I was also told to stop eating the fancy (spelled expensive) margarine since to get it to actually lower my cholesterol I’d have to eat gallons of it. A good old olive oil based margarine was just as efficient and cheaper.

As I sit here feeling comfortably healthy and full from my mackerel and toast snack, I am looking forward to my next week’s session and my salad for tea.

Perhaps I can work up to this “5-a-day” requirement, but, I’m not holding my breath.

Photo on 26-04-2013 at 10.10

My Near Death Experience Six Months On


It’s been just over six months since my close brush with the grim reaper in the form of a heart attack. I have referred to it as a life changing event and it was. It’s amazing how quickly your life can change so much in such an incredibly short span of time. If I owned a crystal ball, I don’t think even then I’d have believed what was in store for me.

In case you missed the event (or the blog-post I wrote about it) I’ll do a recap of what transpired last year. Don’t worry it won’t take long.

February of last year, the thirteenth to be exact, I was injured at work. I sustained nerve damage in my lower back and was off work just under six months. I had just started back to work (in a return-to-work scheme that allowed me to gradually increase my hours) and had taken two weeks leave to get a steroidal injection in my lower back.

On the 24th of August I had my injections (they gave me two) and on the 27th I got Freshly Pressed. On the 30th, I had a heart attack. I actually had the “attack” for over five hours. I was rushed to one Hospital Emergency Room where they verified that, yes indeed, I was having a heart attack. The ambulance then rushed me to another Hospital for surgery.

While having stents put in, the surgeons realised that my aorta was shot and had to stop mid-surgery, bring me back to full consciousness to tell me that they were going to have to perform an emergency aortic dissection. My daughter was told (and so was I but I do not remember it) that things were going to be very “dicey” and that I might not make it, but, if I did not have it I was going to die.

I almost did anyway.

After my surgeries, I recovered incredibly fast. I was out of the Hospital after only four days. I then started the very slow process of recovery that I am still in, truth be told. Despite my quick recovery, the second surgery kicked my ass. On top of that, the surgeons tore my aorta in the arch close to the heart and it is so damaged that they can’t repair it.

Well, to be more accurate, they could try, but they think that it would cause more damage than what they could fix.

In the preceding time period between the heart attack and now, I’ve been ill-health retired from my Prison Officer job and I still haven’t been assessed for rehabilitation because the folks who do the test are concerned that they could kill me, or at the very least, mess my aorta up considerably and hasten the damage along considerably.

With the absence of proper rehabilitation, I’ve been walking. When I first got out of the hospital, I could literally take about 10 to 15 steps and then I had to stop. Not so much because of my heart, but because of the combination of my surgery and my back which was still playing up. As I got better, the rest stops got further and further apart. I can now walk a fairly good distance without stopping and at quite a snappy pace.

I received my pension “payout” and my last ever pay check from the Prison Service. I also got my first pension payment.

I will admit to being a bit lost during these last six months. The payout, the pay check and the pension payment helped me find my way. At least, it made the whole thing real. I was bordering on depression and the reality of the money and my avenues of options suddenly became clear.

I didn't really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.
I didn’t really need a signpost to tell me I was lost.

Before I left the Hospital, they told me that I would have a moment where the enormity of what happened to me would sink in. My too close for comfort brush with death would, in essence, overwhelm me. I was urged to seek help when that pivotal “epiphany” occurred.

It still hasn’t happened. I have come close I think. One night as I lay in bed just starting to doze off, I could hear and feel my heart beating. Everything stopped for a split-second and then as I became aware of the silence my heart started pounding 90 beats to the bar. My chest muscles loosened and tightened in an instant. I had a flash of a thought about almost dying and for that split second I was scared.

But as quickly as all that happened (in the blink of an eye, really) it was over. Everything went back to what passes for normal every night now as I approach sleep. I lay there and feel my heart thudding against my chest and think, ever so briefly, I hope it doesn’t stop just yet.

It is only now, just over six months after the event, that I have realised my own mortality fully. Before, even in the ambulance on the way to the Hospitals, I never thought once of dying. If I could think at all (and it was difficult to think of anything but the pain) I thought of getting to the Hospital and the doctors fixing me up and sending me home. Death did not feel close or even real.

Even after the doctors told me how close it really was and how lucky I was to pull through, it didn’t seem real.

It does now.

And as I said in a previous post about second chances, I acknowledge that Ive been given a second chance at living. God or whoever (if anyone) is in charge of things, has given me another go on the merry-go-round.

So while I decide which carousel horse to ride, I’ll make sure that I try like hell to appreciate this little bit of longevity that’s been passed my way. I think that I’ve had my “epiphany” that they warned me about or at least I hope I have. I don’t want to waste any more time pondering the why’s and where-for’s of my continued existence.

I just hope that the second time that I come face-to-face with my own mortality, I can do it as calmly as I did the first time.

Death (Photo credit: tanakawho)

Tunnel Vision: Making Time Stand Still

On the day I had my heart attack and my long ambulance ride to two different hospitals, time stopped for me. I don’t mean in a fanciful or allegorical sense, I mean that for me, time had stopped.

I got up that morning a bit earlier than usual in preparation for the meter replacement guy. I turned on my laptop and had my first coffee and cigarette of the morning while waiting for it to power up.

I had put my now empty cup back in the kitchen and sat down to open up my WordPress site when the first pain hit.

It was completely unlike any pain I had experienced in my life so far. I had cracked a bone in my hand when I was 17 years old. Thinking it was a sprain, I continued working (which in this case involved nailing sheet rock [gypsum board) to the ceiling) and as I went on it became increasingly difficult to hold the loose nails in my hand. The pain I felt in my hand and arm suddenly went off the scale and entered into excruciating territory.

I had continued moving the cracked bone until it broke and lodged against a nerve in my hand. I have always judged pain by that old threshold. Nothing has ever come close. Nothing, that is, until the 30th of August this year.

As I sat in front of my laptop, my hands suddenly felt as though they had been inflated. Inflated to the point of bursting. I sat looking at my hands, they didn’t look any bigger. This inflated feeling then moved into my forearms and stopped around my elbow area. The feeling then began to slowly dissipate.

I wasn’t concerned. I decided to have another smoke and put the kettle on for another coffee afterwards. I went into the back garden and had my second fag (cigarette) and pondered this strange pain that I’d gotten in my forearms and hands. It was while I was making my second ‘cuppa’ that the feeling hit again.

This time it felt as though my forearms and hands were trying to explode from within and the pain reached sneakily up into my chest and back. I sat helpless in the grip of this new development and waited for everything to calm down. I crawled up the stairs to my daughter’s room and after pushing her door open told her she ‘might’ want to dial 999.

The rest you’ve heard (or more accurately, read) and I won’t punish you by taking you down that road again.

What I noticed about the whole day, from the moment of the phone call for the ambulance to the eventual admittance to a cardiological  hospital miles away, was how time…just…stopped.

Tunnel vision and stopping time, what a combo.

For me there was no movement of time at all. The pain, which intensified proportionately, insulated me from everything.  Nothing else seemed to exist. The ambulance men, my daughter, the hospital staff at the  A&E we first stopped at and the staff at the hospital where I was eventually admitted, were there, but they weren’t as real as the pain.

At one point my daughter told me (I don’t remember saying it) that I looked at her and said, “I’d give anything to make this pain stop.” I don’t remember saying it, but as we were driving to the cardiological hospital, I would have gladly sold my soul to make the pain go away. Luckily for me, it didn’t come to that, the ambulance guys gave me some type of  ‘happy’ gas and I was in nirvana.

I have heard and used the phrase ‘tunnel vision’ all of my adult life. I also thought I knew what this phrase meant. It wasn’t until the day of my heart attack that I truly understood the meaning. In my world of pain, nothing existed outside the periphery of me and my misery.

The only time my brain could acknowledge the outside world was when the gas was introduced. I was answering questions during the whole sequence of events, but in a sort of shorthand. Words, when I could get them out, grunts, nods and head shakes when I could not.

Not only had time stopped for me, but when I later tried to remember what had happened, I got sequences mixed up or combined. Some things I completely forgot. The only constant throughout the entire ordeal was the pain. Yet as bad as it got, it never panicked me or caused me to stop ‘trying’ to think  logically.

When the ambulance men came to my house to treat and transport me, I was sitting on the floor. They asked me a couple of times if I wouldn’t be more comfortable on a chair. Each time I said, “No thanks. I’m fine right here.”

The ambulance guy looked at me oddly, “Why is that, exactly?”

“Well, if I pass out from the pain, the floor is a lot closer if I’m sitting on it.”

Because time had ‘stopped’ I never had for one moment the fear that I might be dying or might die as a result of what was happening. In my little world of pain, the only thing I could concentrate on was relief. Death was not an option. Even after the two surgeries to ‘save’ my life, I didn’t feel death was an issue. Mainly because it was not on my radar at all.

The shocking thing about all this was my assumption that this was not ‘heart’ related at all. In my mind since I had all the cardio tests in the world done two years previously my heart was fine. Absolutely peachy keen and clear as a bell.

I know now that I was wrong. You can’t expect things to not change in your body after two years. Two years full of stress, a lifetime of bad habits and a decreasing level of exercise.

I had (still do as far as I know) a very physical job. As a Prison Officer working in the Juvenile Estate, your job is nothing but physical. Lads from the age of 15 to 18 are testosterone and fury on legs. They will fight at the drop of a carefully planned insult. Enter into this already hormonally charged atmosphere gang culture and it is one of the most challenging places you can think of to work.

I had decided that all this activity was more than enough exercise to keep me fit.

It wasn’t.

I should have done as a colleague suggested and had an annual check up after my first heart ‘scare’ over two years ago. I had decided in the depths of my ignorance that I did not need one. Let the hypercondriacs rush to their doctor’s office yearly to see if everything was all right. I didn’t need it.

I was of course wrong. Once you pass the age of 50 you need to keep a wary eye on your health. Especially if you have 50 years worth of bad habits behind you. Even more so if you are still actively participating in those bad habits.

If you haven’t had a ‘check-up’ this year and you are over 50, I strongly urge you to do so. Take it from me, you are never too active, too busy, or too healthy for a check-up. Besides the peace of mind it will bring your family and loved ones is worth it.

So don’t pass ‘GO’ or collect 200 dollars, go now and make an appointment. Don’t wait until ‘time stands still’ for you. It might not start up again.  

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