People ask me how I’m feeling, mindful I have a heart problem. I feel healthier and luckier, largely because people help me when I share my health status. My hope is this story helps everyone become healthier and luckier as well as me. I need lots of help.
My last report was the help I got after blacking out on Saddle Rock at Christmas 2011 having stretched medical advice to exercise until I got too winded.
Doctors had been treating me since they diagnosed heart failure along with a minor A-fib during my annual physical in fall 2010. My heart was pumping 35 to 40 percent of available blood instead of a normal range of 55 to 65 percent. My cardiologist said one-third of his patients’ hearts failed, one-third stabilized, and one-third improved. I stated, and never wavered, that my goal was to follow advice to heal it. I may push their advice too much.
My health team swelled as I shared, studied and followed their advice. They didn’t all agree with what I did, but they monitored, adjusted and monitored again. Karen accepted drops in my exercise levels. My general physician coordinated medical treatments. My cardiologist prescribed medications and a trip to a pulmonary sleep specialist who prescribed an auto-bipap sleep machine that has allowed me to sleep longer and better.
Certified, holistic physicians guided me in my choices of supplements. A physician’s assistant kept my coagulation rate within an acceptable range as I added medications, supplements and a better diet with leafy greens. Nurses and medical assistants supported me.
A golf instructor taught me to practice golf swings and stay mellow. We adopted a small dog, Haley, who hovers daily until I pet her while exercising, walk her 1.2 miles and let her in my lap. I’m lucky they’re lovable, available and affordable with my Medicare and health insurance.
I lowered stress levels with less involvement. I lowered anger levels, especially after recording the increased blood pressure over a journalist’s egregious comments. I need help just using common sense.
Yet my heart efficiency stayed the same through 2011. I said that wasn’t progress. My doctors said it was — the heart failure stopped declining. They told me to keep exercising unless I became short of breath.
Hiking Saddle Rock didn’t leave me too short of breath, I explained, trivializing the black out as dehydration, over-exertion and standing too quickly. Unimpressed doctors ordered a daily heart monitor to get better information as I exercised more cautiously. Lucky me.
I taped two probes to my chest and phoned in daily electronic results. After shoveling snow cautiously, a doctor phoned to tell me to stop shoveling and report that afternoon to a dual-certified cardiologist/physiologist. The dual-doctor explained my A-fib was now so rapid my heart was unable to pump oxygen and blood, leading him to recommend a palm sized Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) to slow down my A-fib, regulate it and jump start a failed heart to avoid such events as black outs. Lucky me.
The dual-doctor and his physician’s assistant joined my medical team while Karen shoveled snow. The ICD bulging on my chest allows the maximum dosage of carvedilol, a medication linked with progress in healing hearts.
We all got optimistic. Monthly ICD reports said my heart was resting more. My physician listened and said it was stronger. Karen and I exercised for five hours one day and she said, “You’re recovered.” I rode my bike over to my six-month echogram to challenge my heart. Two days later staff said, “Are you the guy who rode his bike to an echogram?” My cardiologist said, “I don’t have any other patients who ride their bikes to see their cardiologist.” Yes, but they probably don’t black out on Saddle Rock either. Had I once again pushed myself too much?
My cardiologist said the echogram results were judged by another cardiologist. My heart’s efficiency had risen to 45 to 50 percent. My heart is healing.
I feel healthier and luckier. And I still need help.