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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.

1. Diet

2. Exercise

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.

Cheers!

tbc …  ?

Related: Scars, Immortality, Religion And Hospital Case Management

Cardiac arrest

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The Impetus

My first venture in to what I experienced at the time as the great-unknown of the blogosphere came about after waking up one morning with most of my right arm paralyzed, due to a broken neck. The lack of any seeming reason for my neck breaking, and the time I was afforded during a lengthy recovery, provided me with the inspiration to begin several blogs.

Exactly one week ago to the day, after having just re-entered the work force only a few months prior, both my world, and my worldview, were shaken to the core, once again: I had a nasty heart attack. I have a history of working with people who find themselves in life-challenging, and/or life-threatening situations, so I was able to identify what was happening, fairly quickly. Despite efforts by the paramedics to assure me that I was not having a heart attack, I knew better.

One of the things the paramedics said to me was that if I was really having a heart attack, I would know, because I would be on a helicopter, being flown to a hospital for treatment. I was asked a lot of questions about my anxiety levels, and, just as when my neck was broken, and my arm had atrophied to the point of it being visible through layers of clothing, I was told to calm down. Still dizzy from the pain, when they asked me if I really wanted to have someone take a look at things at the hospital, I said, “Yes”.

Within the hour, the local hospital informed me that the data was indeed indicating that I was having a heart attack, and that the REACH helicopter was on its way to fly me to a hospital that specialized in heart care. Shortly after, my heart stopped while they were putting in a stent, during an angioplasty procedure. I woke to my surgeon doing chest compressions on me. After the temporary pacemaker they put in was taken out, the next day, I lost consciousness again, as once more, my heart stopped long enough for me to lose consciousness.

They decided to put in a permanent pacemaker, and the painful procedure was completed, within a short amount of time. Not long after, on the same, day, my heart stopped, again. I did not breathe for 45 seconds. I woke to a team of concerned medical professionals, and instinctively continued to chew the food that I was eating before my heart stopped. A nurse yelled, “Spit it out”! By this point, I was fully conscious, and I knew instantly things were not right. It turned out that the pacemaker was defective. An important lead wire was broken, and it had failed to deliver the life-saving shock to my heart, at the moment when it needed it the most.

The Intent

As noted, I have other blogs. However, it is my intention with this blog to focus more on my personal experience, as well as incorporate my broader range of interests in one place. It may have been short, but technically, I just died three times this last week. Surely, I have more to offer, before death is permanent.

Background:

The following is taken from the “about” section of one of my other blogs, Social Work Unplugged. Feel free to stop by that site, but please know that my intention with this blog is to lean more toward the personal, while attempting to nurture my kinder, gentler qualities. No doubt, I am who I am, and trying to hide the less pleasant aspects of my character would just bring them out in dark ways, so I do not seek to repress parts of my self.

Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom.
― Michael Ellner

While the name implies looking at the field of social work from an “unplugged from The Matrix perspective, everything is connected. The field of social work certainly is rife with areas to be explored from an awakened point of view, but to attempt to make this the sole focus does not work and my own awakening process has been far too intense to keep out the personal.

As such, there is both an unplugged point of view that can be taken in regard to social work and the universe at large, as well as my own point of view as someone who worked as a “professional” social worker with an emerging, “awakened” perspective.

After growing up with social services as a part of my early years, I developed both a desire to get in to the field of social work and to do it by treating people with as much dignity as possible.

While I feel I was able to do this to the best of my ability with my clients, after more than two decades it became increasingly difficult to maintain a sunny disposition with my coworkers,  supervisors and the incredibly flawed systems that were providing our salaries.

My first and perhaps most profound experience was at the age of eighteen, when I began working for a residential program for eighteen adults living with a range of disabilities from Down Syndrome and autism to “mental health” issues. Most of them had just been exited from State Hospitals. I learned that regardless of the approach, I had a knack for the work. I was able to run programs that the writer was unable to execute and I was promoted to management when I was twenty.

After four years, I moved to another area. After moving around in miserable retail positions, I was able to get a job with a residential home for adults living with autism. I did this for the six-and-a-half years that it took for me to get my AA in Liberal Arts and my BA in Psychology.

While obtaining my Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW), I enjoyed a variety of both paid and volunteer positions assisting adults living with developmental disabilities to obtain community employment, as well as provided case management services to people who were homeless and living with mental health issues. The greatest challenge during this time was working as a Substance Abuse Counselor.

Throughout the years I have worked also as a certified nursing assistant, as well as helped out in the family business with a care home for the elderly, while working as an investigator for Adult Protective Services.

There was a time when I was extremely proud of these accomplishments. While I am not ashamed of them, I am surprised by my lack of awareness at the time in regard to how I had been programmed myself to provide services that would assist with programming others.

I did my best within systems that have failure built in to their mission statements, but there are some nights when I cannot sleep – when the faces of those who crossed my path – however long – remind of shortcomings.

After my last job as a case manager for low-income individuals living with HIV and Hep C, I could not stand the assault to my soul any longer. I walked off of my job.

Due to a serious physical injury I have been afforded the luxury of time to reflect on my life and my passions. This blog is both my attempt to continue to effect positive change in the world and to heal: knowledge IS power and I hope to shed light on some areas of concern for vulnerable populations.

I appreciate your company and I look forward to sharing the journey.

Interestingly, when I came home from the hospital, I discovered that February is “Hear Awareness” month. I will start with posts about signs and symptoms of a heart attack, and go forward from there (is there anywhere else one can go, but forward?). I will use this blog to outline my personal experiences, and journal my progress, as well as explore any/all areas of my life, and the world.

Thanks for stopping by, and being a witness to my evolution, and the evolution of this blog, while going through your own.

Troy M. Burnett, MSW

February 28, 2014