man with heart failure holding a membership card with an anatomical heart on it

Welcome to the Club

A little pressure. A little tightness. A deep breath that seems problematic. Likely too much running. Too much of something to eat. Some antacids may help.

Too much running

Tuesday, Oct. 5, 1999 was the day. I was coming off a bit of muscle soreness from a 13-mile marathon training run the previous weekend. I was looking forward to my lunch of a turkey sandwich and some chips and some juice after my next class (Ok, yeah, there were cookies in the lunchbox too). And it happened again. And then after lunch once again.

Yeah, too much running.

Medical business

But then I thought beyond the running and eating business, and found myself thinking, well, medical business. There was a long and distinguished history of “a little pressure” and ‘a little tightness’ in my family: a grandfather that keeled over from a massive heart attack in his 50’s, my uncle with enough cardiac arterial balloons to go around the world in 80 days, and my father with a cardiac warehouse full of angioplasties and stents.

Off to the ER

So I took off to the ER after school on that Tuesday with some mild concern.

“Can we help you?”

“A little chest pain, some tightness.”

They don’t mess around with that complaint in an ER. I was whisked away to a small room and given an immediate EKG. A nurse took my family history. A doctor quickly arrived and read the scribbles and lines created by the tick-tacking machine...

And then: “We’re admitting you immediately,” which I now understand was the medical terminology for “don’t move dude.”

Welcome to the club

Welcome to the club.

One angiogram later, I was wheeled into a bright OR with some kind of rock and roll playing in the background for an evidently 70’s focused surgeon and the journey began as three blocked arteries were sidestepped using other vessels from my body, much like a stream finds a new path around a boulder-strewn meadow. This introductory part of my journey was lengthened a bit as--coming out of the anesthesia, a bit of consciousness returning-- I heard the words, “This isn’t working. We have to open him up again.”

Later, I wondered if that was just my mind playing tricks on me, but no. That was what they said and that was what they did. Some bleeding, something undone or too done. But it was fixed. And I came to a second time.

And 20 years later, here I am.

Very little was off the table

I was 44 years old then. Healthy, good food for the most part. Active, a marathon runner, married, a lovely home, a good family and close friends. Before going in for the surgery I had wondered if I would still be able to do all the things I had been doing before: teaching and running and hiking and biking and eating and some “active” aspects of married life.I was hoping I wouldn’t be reduced to handfuls of roots and berries and twin beds in the bedroom like a modern-day Ozzie and Harriet.

I learned very quickly that very little was off the table. There would be some alterations, sure, but for the most part, my doctor told me that not only could I continue with the life I had led but would be able to do so with more certainty now. A disease that had both killed and vexed my family for generations had been discovered, treated, and now would be closely monitored for the rest of my natural life, which, looking at the longevity of both my father and uncle after their treatments, would likely stroll on confidently for many years to come.

Relieving my mind of some fears

To be sure, cardiovascular disease is not something that is “cured” forever like a honey-baked ham (irony of ironies). But knowing I have it and knowing that my doctors know I have it, and knowing that my doctors know that I know I have it and am taking optimal steps to treat it relieves my mind of some of the fears I have, especially knowing my family history. To be sure, there are still some fears and concerns and ongoing treatment, and I will address those in future articles.

I feel blessed

But I’m here (still) to say that I feel blessed. Many who have this disease are not so fortunate. Sometimes it isn’t caught, and that leads to all kinds of complications, some solvable, and some, unfortunately, not. The good news, however, is that we live in a world of powerful and constantly expanding medical knowledge. And that knowledge allows those of us with heart disease many years of work and play and powerful relationships with our friends and families. It also allows us to share our survival with others who are new to this club.

The pressure and tightness are gone now. And I still eat healthy--mostly. I was told that I can certainly enjoy what may be considered unhealthy foods from time to time. And I’m happy to report that, thanks to the heavenly scent of applewood smoked bacon from the cafe down the street, I do man, I do.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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