Monday, May 24, 2010

Last Heart Attack Update

The above title sounds optimistic, and I hope it's true. I hope this, in fact, is the last time I'll be writing to tell you all about what my heart's up to.

Last week Thursday, I went to see the surgeon who did my bypass. He looked at the x-rays, the blood tests, and EKGs that were done the day before, and he said, "Everything's perfect. You look like the younger brother of the fellow I operated on last week."

Then he gave me more good news. He cleared me so that I could start Cardiac Rehab, and he also gave me the okay to do some mild aerobic exercise.

As you can imagine, I was pretty happy. On April 23, I had a cardiac incident that looked like a heart attack to the doctor on the cruise ship. Two weeks later, I failed my nuclear stress test because my blood pressure went balistic, and a week after that I was in the hospital having a cardiac catheterization and, a couple of days later, open heart surgery and a bypass. And now, a little more than a month after my troubles started, the doctor was telling me I could pretty much go back to what my life was like before all of this started.

I am pretty happy, and I'm thinking a lot about what my mom felt following her surgery for ovarian cancer.

Here's the poem I wrote about it:

My Mother's Optimism

When she was seventy-eight years old
and the angel of death called to her
and told her the vaginal bleeding
that had been starting and stopping
like a crazy menopausal period
was ovarian cancer, she said to him,
"Listen Doctor, I don't have to tell you
your job. If it's cancer it's cancer.
If you got to cut it out, you got to."

After surgery, in the convalescent home
among the old men crying for their mothers,
and the silent roommates waiting for death
she called me over to see her wound,
stapled and stitched, fourteen raw inches
from below her breasts to below her navel.
And when I said, "Mom, I don't want to see it,"
she said, "Johnny, don't be such a baby."

Six months later, at the end of her chemo,
my mother knows why the old men cry.
A few wiry strands of hair on head,
her hands so weak she couldn't hold a cup,
her legs swollen and blotched with blue lesions,
she says, "I'll get better. After his chemo,
Pauline's second husband had ten more years.
He was playing golf and breaking down doors
when he died of a heart attack at ninety."

Then my mom's eyes lock on mine, and she says,
"You know, optimism is a crazy man's mother."

And she laughs.


You can read my post "The Heart Attack Cruise" about how all this started by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Heart Attack Update: Riding the Iron Rooster

I was great yesterday--I walked around the house 3 times for about 6 minutes each time, did these breathing exercises on the hour like I was supposed to, took it easy all day watching the food channel and poker on TV, but the night was terrible.

I couldn't sleep and there was a lots of pain. I gave up around 3 am and took some oxycodone and started reading Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster, a book about traveling through China by train in the 1980s.

Theroux is always wonderful. Especially after open heart surgery. There's something about his prose rhythms and the rhythm of the train trips he's describing that inscribes itself on your heart rhythms, no matter how wild and vacillicious they are. And there's wisdom there too.

Here's what he says about traveling to China by railroad:

"Sometimes it seemed like real travel, full of those peculiar discoveries and satisfactions. But more often it was as if I had lost my footing in London and had fallen down a long flight of stairs, perhaps one of those endless staircases designed by a surrealist painter, and down I went, bump-bump-bump, and across the landing, and down again, bump-bump-bump, until I had fallen halfway around the world."

Theroux could be talking about the heart attack I had or didn't have on the ship and the world it opened me up to.

I read Riding the Iron Rooster till about 7 when it was time for my first 10 pills of the day. They almost knocked me out. I started sweating and couldn't stop. Linda helped me to the couch. I lay there for an hour till I stopped sweating finally.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I made it

Dear Friends,I made it through the open heart surgery. I'm weak and foggy but okay.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Heart Attack Cruise: Update 2

Yesterday, my catheterization hadn't gone the way the cardiologist thought. He figured the blockage in my artery would be minor, and he would be able to put a stent in the artery, but that's not what happened.

Instead, the blockage was severe (about 75%), and it hit at a place where the artery forked, and he knew it would be pointless to put a stent there.

He told me I would need open heart surgery to graft a vein around the blockage. I would need a by-pass.

So today, Linda and I spent most of the morning in the hospital seeing my cardiologist and another cardiologist and the open heart surgeon and his assistant. Individually, they came to tell me about his or her part of the story of the surgery they were going to do on me. Most of it, I couldn't understand. They talked about terms and procedures I didn't know a thing about and had never heard of. They showed me pictures of the heart and pictures of the arteries. They told me what would happen first and what I could expect a couple of weeks from today when I would start to feel better.

It was a lot to take in.

The last person I saw was the anesthesiologist. He was there to evaluate my condition before Thursday's surgery. He looked me up and down and took my medical history and asked me about my life style.

I told him about how I've been a vegetarian for 30 years and exercised every day and didn't smoke and limited my drinking to a glass of wine a night. I even told him about doing yoga and lifting weights.

That's when he shook his head and said, "You know, you're in great shape. You got the body of a 52-year old man."

I said, "Yeah? So how come I'm having open heart surgery at 530 Thursday morning."

He looked at me and said, "Shit happens."


Lillian will be posting updates at my facebook page about the operation.

By the way, the above tattoo of a dagger piercing a heart appeared at TattooSymbol.Com

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Heart Attack Cruise: Update

That's the EKG I got two weeks ago on the cruise ship showing the rhythms of my wayward heart. Since then, I’ve been grading papers for my online course and seeing the cardiologist.

Let me tell you, the former is less stressful than the latter.

Last week, Thursday, 8 days after my heart attack, I went to see the cardiologist my doctor here in Danville, Virginia, recommended. He looked at the EKG tests and blood word and cardiac enzyme counts I brought in and decided I hadn’t had a heart attack.

He felt that the elevated cardiac enzymes I was showing weren’t the significant ones.

This good news was immediately followed by the bad. My heart has some kind of arrhythmia that needs medication and further testing. He told me to start taking 10 milligrams of Coreg CR daily. He even gave me three weeks worth of free samples. I was feeling good about this guy.

We also set up a nuclear stress test and echocardiogram for this week Tuesday.

I was looking forward to the stress test.

I hadn’t had any exercise or even strenuous walking since my attack, and I was hoping that this would be a good workout. I dressed in some exercise shorts, T-shirt, and running shoes and was ready for anything.

First they gave me an echocardiogram (like a sonogram), and then they injected some kind of radioactive mineral into my blood stream. After waiting for a while to make sure it was moving around in my heart, they set me up on the treadmill.

I typically do about 45 minutes of aerobic exercise each day and expected this to be a piece of cake.

It was. It took me about 9 minutes to get my heart to the target rate (135 beats a minute), and I was feeling pretty good. Then,the nurse put a stop to the whole thing.

She had been monitoring my blood pressure, and she thought it was way too high, 190/100. My resting bp is about typically 120/60, and 190//100 was -- to use her word -- abnormal. She slowed the threadmill and asked me to take a seat until my blood pressure went down. It did, but very slowly, too slowly. This worried her too.

When the cardiologist stopped by and saw the blood pressure numbers, he reacted the way the nurse reacted. He immediately raised the Coreg CR dosage to 40 milligrams a day. A week ago I wasn't taking any meds, and suddenly I was doing mega-doses.

Although my blood pressure was high, I didn’t feel woozy, wonky, or dizzy. I did feel a little winded, but I figured that was because I hadn’t exercised in two weeks, and after all, the stress test had me marching up a 14 degree grade for 9 minutes.

Yesterday, Wednesday, the nurse called me with the results of the various tests. The good news was that I survived. Pretty much everything else was bad news. The cardiologist suspects I have a couple leaky heart valves and two blocked arteries. The valves aren’t a big deal, he said, but I needed to get the blocked arteries fixed.

He recommended he do a cardiac catheterization. That’s where he introduces a thin tube into one of my veins and works it up to my heart. He said that this would let him see how much blockage was in the arteries and whether I would need a stent or a by-pass.

At this point, I’m wondering “what’s going on?!?” Two weeks ago, I was living my normal life, exercising without a problem, eating peanuts and oranges (my favorite vegetarian foods), and now I’m listening to this cardiologist who I don’t know from Adam telling me I might need by-pass surgery and that, although he doesn’t do surgery, he could hook me up with somebody who’s really good.

Linda is of course going crazy, but I’m too drugged to notice.

PS--Linda just asked me to mention that the cardiologist wanted me to have the catheterization this coming Tuesday, but I told him that I couldn't because we're going to Las Vegas for a week with her parents Tony and Mabel. He shook his head and thought for a minute and said we could do it the following week.

I said, "Great."

Then he asked, "Didn't you have your last cardiac event on vacation?"