Right now I am two days shy of the heart attack being four weeks behind me. While I knew I was in trouble when I kept coding/blacking out, and after rquiring so many procedures within a short amount of time, I was still in denial about the gravity of my situation. Just minutes before being discharged I was informed, “Your diagnosis is congestive heart failure” (CHF). Whatever denial I had left was shattered. The words landed hard, and in anticipation of this, the nurse tried to play it off by saying that it was a big sounding name that implied my condition is worse than it is. – Not true.
No amount of sugar-coating the diagnosis would have made me forget the intensity of the experience: having a long needle shoved in my groin for 20+ hours, the placement of a stent, having a pacemaker installed, having it fail, and finally being ripped open in the same spot twice within hours in order to correct a broken wire. Even so, there was something about being told my diagnosis that seemed worse than what I had experienced, which was that I kept bouncing back. However, the diagnosis sounded fatal/permanent.
My entire left anterior descending artery is fried. I saw this myself while I was having the stent placed, and again for my first follow-up appointment with my surgeon/cardiologist. It is a given that more invasive procedures will be required. Exactly what and when are mysteries, but it makes sense to me that if they need to do a bypass, the sooner, the better.
It may sound like overstating the obvious, but having my heart stop several times (“coding”) and losing consciousness almost instantly has shifted my outlook on life, my attitude, and my peace at mind.
Working on my attitude and making dietary changes are things that are within my control. After the six-week marker, I can push myself and start getting some exercise to strengthen my heart, and shed a few pounds. I am looking forward to this, because I tend to shed weight quickly when I walk every day.
What challenges me today is looking at the scar. It is deep, ugly, and far from healed. And since it is from the pacemaker, they will have to open it back up again. It is just a matter of time. If I need open-heart surgery, I have no idea where they may cut.
Another big challenge brought itself to my attention right after I drifted off to sleep last night. I am not sure how long I was out. It could have been instant, and it did not seem I had been in a deep sleep. I woke up in a panic, feeling like I had just fallen back into my body – it’s like falling downward until I get to my body, then it feels like an upward fall. Weird.
The scary part was that I had the feeling that my heart had stopped, and I lost consciousness. Considering each time this happened in the past it took other people/interventions to snap me out of it, it is unlikely that my heart stopped in this case. Most likely I had a nightmare about it. Of course, it made my heart race, so it took a moment to calm myself.
When the human heart stops, the brain goes into sleep mode. As I noted elsewhere, it is like being asleep, without remembering the point at which I drifted off. So now I have this imprint of death in my psyche as being like drifting off to sleep. How much is trauma from the condition itself and/or trauma from the invasive procedures, I do not know. Most likely, it is a combination of both. My concern is that it made the thought of going back to sleep quite uncomfortable, as I lay there wondering if I died in my sleep, I could be living what might be my last moments.
This is a sword with a double-edge, for sure. On the one hand, I feel more at peace with being dead, because being unconscious seemed peaceful. My brain activity had not stopped, but at least I know if such a thing happens again, I will not be awake to experience it. On the other hand, associating sleep with dying is not fun.
The dietary changes are difficult, but not insurmountable. I have eliminated all canned goods at this point, and as much of any other processed foods as possible. The main thing I was told to avoid is sodium, and even with products that have small amounts per serving, it does not take long to reach daily maximums. Items promoted as low in fat and calories often have ridiculous amounts of sodium in them. I am also avoiding foods that are high in fat and cholesterol.
To my regret, I was told to reduce my sodium intake, nearly ten years ago. Since I was able to get my blood pressure stabilized, I told myself that I was part of the 2/3 of the population where this did not apply. While it seems I was destined to have heart problems sooner than later, the problem with the sodium is not just blood pressure – it is the retention of water/stress on the heart and kidneys that takes its toll.
All of this to say that CHF is a mind-fuck, and I am going to have to learn how to adjust to it. There are the practical adjustments, like afore mentioned dietary changes, then there are the deeper, sub-conscious challenges of the psyche.
3. Mental Health
4. More surgery?
Ugh! More surgery does not sound like a good way to adjust, but if my artery is shot, having in repaired, if possible, will feel better. Knowing I have done all I can do is a better place to be in than knowing that more needs to be done.
tbc … ?