Archive for December, 2010

Visions of death are engraved in my memory. At the hospital; in the restaurant; at my apartment, and other places too. The feeling of the defibrillator thrusting 32 joules of electricity through my heart. It is a mental barrier I may never be able to overcome. I am doing well in the cardiac rehab. Well that is, for a man with a very sick heart. The last three days have brought periods of great chest pain. Enough pain to take a nitro and endure the subsequent headaches. Will this be the minute I hit the floor? As ghoulish as that seems to the 5 or 6 people who read these blog entries, thoughts like that float in and out of my mind often. Not every waking moment, but in times of exercise. At times when chest pain overwhelms me, and sometimes for no particular reason whatsoever.

You must be wondering by now why I am ranting on about such a morbid topic. Well, it’s my blog. It is a journal of sorts intended to recap my fight with heart and lung disease. It is a diary, of sorts that will hopefully one day be read by my grandchildren. Perhaps they will get to know their grandpa better. Perhaps my own children will one day read it and understand what has happened to me through my eyes. They have an idea of what has happened to me through their eyes only. I know how the journey affected me, but I wonder: how did the journey affect the members of my family? For now, I can only guess. My immediate family is too scarred with the reality of what has happened to re-live the events through this blog. As far as I can tell, neither my son, daughter or wife has read this blog.

Let’s divert our attention to something a bit more uplifting this morning. My therapy. I went there early this morning: as usual. Did my warm ups and move quickly to the tread mill. Last time we talked I did 10 minutes on the tread mill and had it set for 2.3 miles per hour. Today we will begin at 2.5 miles per hour. AND they’re off! I begin the exercise with no problem. Two minutes fly by. Then three minutes and four minutes. I get to the five-minute mark and feel pretty good. It’s going to be another great exercise day. As I approached the seven minute mark I realized I was having some chest pain. Not too bad. I can work through it. 7:03, 7:04, 7:05 and the pain began to radiate to my left arm. 7:10, 7:11, 7:12. The chest pain is getting worse and I am beginning to feel nauseated. “Should I stop?”, I ask myself. 7:22,, 7:23….7:32.

I stopped the tread mill and asked for assistance. I sat down, took a nitro and slowed my breathing. “Relax” I repeat to myself. The nitro head ache was in full bloom and the chest pain had subsided. No more exercises for today. Tomorrow is near, and so is 2011. It’ll be better tomorrow. I am sure. It’ll be better then.


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I felt great as I walked into the cardiac rehab office this morning at 7:15. I had visions of running for miles and miles. I just knew enough time had passed that my lungs no longer held me hostage. I got settled in. Warm up exercises and stretching went fine. So far; so good. I told the therapist that I wanted to graduate to the tread mill and forgo the stationary bike, which is reserved for sick and feeble patients. Carefully, she set the tread mill at the same setting as last time. 1.8 miles per hour. She said we will try this for ten minutes.

It took roughly ten seconds for me to realize that the setting was too low. Sometimes walking too slow is harder. Don’t ask me why. It just is. I asked if we could set the speed higher. I was given the green light. Slowly, I touched the button. 1.9 miles per hour. Then 2.0. Lets keep it there for a bit. I felt good while walking. Too good, if that is possible. At the seven minute mark I decided to speed up again. Getting permission I touched the button. 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 miles per hour. That felt good. I finished the last three minutes at 2.3 miles per hour! As I got off the treadmill, I felt my legs begin to falter. I stopped, regrouped and headed for the next exercise.

The arm crank is a formidable piece of equipment. It was set at “50” for 7 minutes. In the past, it had been set at 30 for 5 minutes. I do not know what the numbers mean. It is a level of resistance. I begin. I have my eyes closed and envisioned myself in front of a speed bag. The motion is similar. The resistance is high though and after just a couple of minutes, my arms and shoulders are on fire. I clinched my jaw and fought through to the end. I couldn’t raise my hand to scratch my nose, but I finished.

My legs got the rest they needed, so I went to the steps, and breezed through them. At the end, my legs were shaking, but again, I did it. I did however realize that my legs had had enough. They went on strike and refused to hold my weight any more. I really had to find a chair. The therapist brought two sets of weights over. Five pound, and three-pound. I began with the five pounders. Fifteen repetitions of a couple exercises. My arms were shaking. Ahhh. She knew that would happen. That’s why she brought over the three pounders. Twenty-five repetitions with these. I struggled to finish. I was grunting, and hurting. I finished though. When it was over, I felt like Rocky in the first movie. Do you remember when he ran up the stairs and started jumping around with his arms in the air. Well, I was sitting with my arms on my lap. That was all I could muster at the time. But…I did it..

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The day before the night before Christmas. The end of 2010 is upon us. Is there anyone who thinks the year 2010 went by too slowly? Strange how something can be so finite, yet perceived so many different ways. There is always sixty seconds in a minute-sixty minutes in and hour and twenty-four hours in the day. Why is it then that for some people those days move past us with light speed. Others perceive time to be dragging on and on.

I think that the speed of time is relative to its importance to the perceiver. (not sure that’s a word). The more important time is to a person, the faster time seems to travel.

For me, time is precious. Will I ever see another Christmas with my family and friends? WIll I see that Christmas tomorrow? Maybe. Time will reveal that outcome. As long as the answer is unknown, the time I have to spend is very precious indeed.

However you perceive time, take the time to enjoy family, friends and life. Find the time to enjoy life, because tomorrow is promised to nobody.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah (belated) and happy new years to all of you. My wish for you is to have all the good time you can find, and to slow time long enough to enjoy it.

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Ever had a good feeling? Then, as you settled in with that good feeling, an uncomfortable, almost indescribable feeling hovered over you: taking that fuzzy warm feeling and extinguishing it. Well I don’t have that. I do, however have a mixed bag of feeling regarding the recent hurdles I’ve jumped over in my rehabilitation program. I am excited about the advances I’ve made. For example: I am transitioning to the treadmill. It is more difficult that the stationary bike. I walked for five minutes, followed by five minutes on the stationary bike. I also graduated to using the steps. You know up and down. Up and down. They have little steps and big steps. I am now using the big steps. All the things they want me to do, I do. I am getting stronger, and my endurance is improving every week. Today Denise and I took a walk around the track at our neighborhood park. It is a one-third mile track. I walked it!

Why then, you ask am I so apprehensive? Do you remember last year when I began this blog? There was a defining moment in 2005. I was living in Brooklyn. My office was three blocks from my apartment. Every weekend I would go into Manhattan and walk. I loved to walk and I walked sixty or more blocks every week end. Slowly but surely though I was losing my strength, until a moment came when I could no longer walk those three short blocks to work. Despite my physical fitness efforts, my heart failure overcame my exercise and forced me into retirement.

What if that happens now? I am progressing now, but is that imaginary wall just around the corner. Sitting there, waiting for me to turn a corner and run smack into it? I know I shouldn’t worry about things I have no control over, but sometimes a guy just has to worry. I think about stuff like that while I am exercising. Is this the day I will get so tired, my body will give out? I can’t help thinking like that. It’s happened before. Why shouldn’t it happen again?

I don’t know. And it’s because I don’t know that I have to press on. I think of my wife, my children and grandchildren, I grit what teeth I have left and I forge forward, hoping that wall is not just ahead. I can’t not think about it, but I won’t let it stop me either. In my mind I tell myself I am training for a 5 K run. In my heart I know I am training for a pain-free walk to the bathroom.

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I was at home by myself today. My wife went to a luncheon with some of her friends. So there I was. All nice and quiet. I was bored. Just the catalyst one needs to do some exercise. It’s cool out. Barely 70 degrees. Ok, lets go out back and ride the stationary bike. I did well yesterday. And my physical therapist wants me to exercise at home. Remember. That muscle memory thing.

I need to do this the right way. Warm up and stretch first. Check! Now, hop on that stationary bike and go for an imaginary ride. Ahhhh. The sun feels nice. Warm to my skin, blended nicely with the cool air. As I proceed, I imagine riding through the small bumpy roads of rural England. Brush growing tall on both sides of the road. Praying that no other vehicle comes your way because there simply isn’t any extra space for that action.

Well, at least that’s how I had envisioned y ride to be. In truth, the ride began at noon, Texas time. It is just after 2 pm now. It took me nearly 2 hours to recover enough to sit at the computer and write this. You see, the way it happened: I began my stretching exercises. As usual, I got through them without a hitch. All stretched and warmed up. Now it’s time for the bike ride. I get on the stationary bike and begin peddling. Less than one minute into the ride, I began having chest pain. I ignore it. Talking to myself, “I get chest pain all the time. Let’s just press on a bit longer”. ten seconds pass since that last syllable leaves my mouth. BAM! Crushing chest pain. The pain takes my breath away. I get off the bike and struggle to get back in the house. Clumsily, I reach for my nitro’s. I manage somehow to get one under my tounge. I close my eyes and concentrate on breathing slowly, allowing the nitro to work.

Nothing. It still hurts and I am having trouble breathing . The pain is radiating up my neck and into my jaw. I pop another nitro. Slowly, the pain dissipates. I am beginning to get that famous nitro head ache. I’ll take that over the chest pain any day. By 1 pm the pain had left me, but my body was tired. I need to rest a bit.

It is now 2 pm and, except for being tired, I am back to normal. I will go take a nap in a few minutes, but I wanted to share with you some of the adventures Denise and I deal with nearly every day. This episode was worse than normal. I guess I need to be carefull when I exercise. I probably shouldn’t do it while I am by myself. I guess after yesterday’s success at the therapy, I shouldn’t get too excited because the gains can be taken back as quickly as they arrived. I am going to take a nap now. I just wanted to share with you.

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Yea. I don’t know. I spent my morning at the office of Social Security and my afternoon at the Rhumatologist office. The goals for today were to get signed up for Medicare part “B”, and get my steroid shot in my right wrist. You will be mildly satisfied to know that I accomplished only one of those goals. Can you guess which? That’s right. I got the shot in my wrist, but we’ll get back to that later. For those of you who are not privy to my Facebook wall, let me fill you in. I did not get what I needed from the Social Security Office.

Not surprised? I was. The last time I went to them for help…THEY HELPED! Not this time. Every time I moved to the right – they were there to block me. Move to the left: pow!! Another tackle. Not only did I not get anywhere with them, they enraged me to such a degree that I ranted on my Facebook wall, wrote a letter to Senator Hutchison and wrote a letter to a local news anchor. I am preparing to do battle my friends. I will not step slowly into the darkness, hoping MY government changes their mind and does the right thing. I am going to wrestle these bastards untill I get what I need. I am no stranger to bureaucracies. I can’t spell it, but I know how to work within it.

It is one of the most difficult things a citizen can do. Fighting the government is frustrating. Yell into the wind, or ten feet under the water and more people will here you. I will be heard, and am prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the word out. Oh, the system IS broken. Politicians need to fix it. I will feed it to them on a platter. I will feed them ’till their fatter. I will stuff it down their throats. I will throw it on their coats. I am fed up with the way things are and will not take it anymore!!

On the lighter side, my doctor told me the protocol for the shot I am getting dictates that I can only have ten shots in my lifetime in the same joint. Luckily I am dying so the doctor said I can have as many shots as I want to control the pain. I guess there are benefits to catching a terminal illness.

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In my pursuit to stay alive, I must fight this other culprit called “De-conditioning”. Apparently, when a person is sick, and unable to stay active, they get de-conditioned. Muscles atrophy, bones weaken and a feeling of general malaise sets in. The doctors felt it would be in my best interest to attend the cardiac rehabilitation program. It is a physical training program custom fit for the individual. For some, they can re-coup their lost strength after a heart attack. For others it is re-building to be the best they can be. Still, for others like myself, it is an effort to preserve what strength remains:hopefully increasing stamina and endurance. As a measure for safety, all of my exercises were monitored closely by nurses.

At my first visit, the nurse carefully evaluates my level of conditioning. Turns out I have no level of conditioning. I must start from the beginning. We’ll use the one-pound dumb bells. Add to it some stretching exercises, a 5 minute stationary bike ride and an arm crank thing, and well you can see I am in for a work out.

I start all good programs with a comprehensive warm up and stretching routine. One completed, I needed a rest. This work out regime is tough! Then it’s off to the bike. Low resistance, of course. I made it through the 5 minutes, but my legs are quite wobbly. Once off the bike, I scootch over to the arm crank. Again, 5 minutes on low resistance. My circuit training is nearly finished. I sit down and the nurse brings me these small one-pound weights. You would think this is embarrassing enough, but wait: they’re pink. So there I am. 6 ft 1 inch tall and 240 pounds, sitting with two teeny tiny pink one-pound dumb bells. I didn’t let that visual shake me. I pounded through my exercises. Then the cool down.

I finished my first work out. I could barely walk and my arms were still shaking from the heavy load the nurses made me lift. But I finished it. I will return twice a week for the next 12 weeks. On top of that, the program requires I stay active 3 other days at home. Something about muscle memory. I don’t recall.

This past week I worked out with the 3 pound dumb bells. And they were not pink!! I did the exercises they required me to do. The bike was difficult. They began using some resistance and set the timer for eight minutes. I made it six and a half minutes before my legs gave out. But I am improving. It seems a trifle to think that a big man like myself can say he is improving, when the work out is with just 3 pounds. It is three times as much as when I started! I am looking forward to discovering what milestones I might achieve next week. I will keep you posted.

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