Writers love irony.
Congestive Heart Failure on Valentine’s Day might be pushing the concept a bit.
In December I developed a cough that wouldn’t go away. My doctor diagnosed bronchitis and prescribed antibiotics. A week later, I felt a bit better, but as my doctor warned, the cough lingered.
I went about my business. I worked, I wrote, I checked items off my Christmastime to-do list, but I also craved comfort food and didn’t have much energy to work out.
Two years ago, through diet and exercise, I lost 45 pounds.
Subsequently, I ran on the treadmill almost every night. I rode my bike. I swam at the YMCA at least once a week.
Over the last months of 2013 the weight crept back. I was busy and had a bad case of the ‘ehs’. I packed on about 20 pounds in just over two months.
That should’ve been a sign something wasn’t right.
I thought I was just getting fat again. Turns out I was retaining a lot of fluid.
The bronchitis got better then got worse. My doctor prescribed another round of antibiotics along with a heaping helping of steroids for good measure.
New Year’s came and went and I was doing just okay. January was the same.
By the week of February 3rd I felt like myself for about five days. On Friday the 7th I had lunch with a friend, and then my wife Peggy and I went to the movies. Afterwards, we met my daughter and her boyfriend for dinner.
I didn’t sleep well Saturday night. Sunday either.
Monday there was a pressure on my chest that hadn’t been before. I got winded doing the simplest physical activity.
Tuesday my doctor sent me to get X-rays and an EKG. The technician was not allowed to tell me anything but did say if I was in danger she would not allow me to leave.
By Thursday I’d been sleeping one, maybe two hours a night. I was prescribed Ambien. I had a terrible reaction. I asked my Facebook friends about insomnia in general, and Ambien in specific. I got almost 100 answers.
Insomnia? I got every recommendation from tea to massage to booze. Some folks had good results with Ambien. Most said I should throw that stuff out. They’d experienced everything from nightmares and memory loss to sleep-cooking, sleep-driving, and tripping balls.
One of my funniest friends suggested Propofol. “Of course,” he wrote, “it killed Michael Jackson. But maybe you will have better luck.”
On Friday, Peg took me to an emergency care facility. My heart rate was 120. The doctor there suggested I go to the hospital, but they called around and no nearby facility had room for me. The other option was to get a prescription to slow my heart rate down and for something else to help me sleep. After six hours I wanted to go home.
We picked up food, went home and ate, and I took my new meds.
When I lay down around 10 p.m. I broke out into an immediate sweat. I told Peg we needed to call the ambulance.
The driver headed to the hospital in Annapolis.
The ride was scary, I could feel myself starting to panic, but I kept saying to myself we’re almost there, we’re almost there. Looking out the rear window, I checked landmarks off the map – the light at Rt.213, The Royal Farms in Queenstown, the Kent Narrows Bridge. The paramedic provided nebulizers and comfort.
My focused calm was blown as we neared the Bay Bridge. I heard chatter over the radio and between the driver and paramedic, and then the paramedic said, “We’re being rerouted. Anne Arundel emergency has no room.” This meant we had to turn around and drive to Easton, 20 plus miles in the opposite direction. I freaked. My dinner came up.
The paramedic noted I’d had spaghetti.
For me the emergency room was a mirage of action and emotion. Caregivers circled. One nurse wore wiggly Valentine hearts on her head like antennae. I liked that.
I didn’t like when the doctor on duty stated bluntly that I was in congestive heart failure. To me that meant game over. My mom suffered decades of heart problems. Congestive heart failure is what finally ended her lifelong ordeal.
Peggy liked the diagnosis even less. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” she said. “He’s very active. He’s never even been in the hospital before. How can that be?”
It would take a few days to get much of an answer to her question.
Medicine is like detective work. Sometimes doctors have to eliminate what it isn’t before they know what it is. I didn’t have a heart attack, there was no blockage, and there wasn’t diabetes, thyroid or kidney disease.
I wasn’t a pregnant woman.
We still don’t have a definitive answer as to what caused my CHF, but everyone seems to be leaning towards some sort of viral infection.
Turns out that’s positive news, my chances of getting mostly back to normal are good.
We’ve seen the cardiologist twice since my release from the hospital and all the numbers that count keep getting better. I’ve been killing that low-sodium diet they put me on. With the help of a constantly monitored and changing drug regimen, I’ve lost many pounds of fluid.
I’ve always been a determined person.
I will recover as well as my body will let me.
PRAYERS, ADVICE AND A SENSE OF HUMOR
It’s time like these we find out who we are.
I am not a religious person. I think I have, however, in my life, proven myself to be a good person. In those moments on Valentine’s Day when I was pretty certain I wouldn’t see another, I did not cry “why me?” I did not pray for another chance or make deals with God. I thought about the people I love. I tried to make those helping me laugh.
I do pray and always have. It’s just that I pray in a general, throw-it-to-the-higher- power-cosmos sense. I rarely pray for anything. I almost always pray thanks. I still do.
That’s not to say your prayers for me aren’t appreciated. I may not believe in the doctrines of any particular theology, but I have a strong sense of positivity, karma, and goodwill. Your caring benevolence and thoughtful compassion cannot help but help.
Advice is less well taken.
Lots of advice is off the top of one’s head. Lose weight. Low sodium. Exercise. Don’t start smoking cigarettes. I got that. I know it’s all well-meaning, but it doesn’t help.
And in my current condition I’m less likely to smile and say thanks than I am to say “no shit, Sherlock.”
What does help is specifics. Here’s the best heart doctor you should see about a second opinion. Here’s a great low-sodium recipe for a tasty meal. Here’s a website with a recovery exercise plan. That’s real advice, the stuff that will make a difference.
WHERE WE ARE
This is going to take some time, but I will bounce back.
My wife is an amazing person who has always made me look good. Now she’s helped save my life in a very real way. My daughter remains an inspiration. My family and friends who knew what was going on are so supportive, I get emotional sometimes just thinking of them.
I’ll be using my blog on occasion to update my progress, but my writing has rarely been about me. We’ll get back to oral histories, folklore, and storytelling.
Until the end does finally come, we’re gonna’ have some low-sodium laughs.
And for my readers unfamiliar with the Wu-Tang Clan and what they might have to do with congestive heart failure, they’re an old school hip-hop group influenced by comic books, kung fu movies, and street life.
And as noted below:
Or for my more refined readers:
Either way, neither is health.
Thanks for your love and support.
Ya’ll are just the best.