Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Life's Course Correction

I usually don't have a good excuse for neglecting this goofy blog, but I've an excuse for at least the past week. It's a good one! So stay tuned.

I'm pretty sure I've written in the past reflecting on our own mortality and all this stuff that we collect. My collection is quite modest when compared to others out there in the world, but it's enough that often gives me pause to consider what would happen to it all if I wasn't around anymore.

Well, that mortality almost came true for me last week. Maybe not, but the events of the past couple of weeks brought my mortality right square in front of my face. 

Gather up close, kids, it's story time!

I'm a 53 average white male in decent health with moderate to little exercise. I've generally been overweight most of my life, not hugely so, but I could always stand to lose 20-25 lbs. My cholesterol has been out of whack for several years, with the bad numbers up and the good numbers down.

This past February, I went to my yearly physical and my doctor asks about any changes in my family medical history. "Yeah, my sister had a heart attack last summer." Pause... Hold up, wait a minute... What? My 55 year old sister had a mild heart attack last summer that resulted in no damage to her heart tissue, but it caused her to have a stent placed in one of the arteries of her heart. She's in much better health and may eventually need additional stents in the years ahead. 

So my doctor quickly recommended that I have a Cardiac CT for Calcium Scoring test done. And like the fanatical health nut that I am, I did the most obvious thing and put it off for several months.

Flash forward into late spring/early summer, I get a little sick and email my doctor for some advice. "Well, if you took that test that I recommended, maybe we could rule some things out." #smartass Okay, fine, I'll have it done! It's a real easy non-invasive test. It's generally not covered by insurance and only costs $95. If you want to pay by cash, bring correct change because the frikkin' hospital might not have change! 

June 2nd, I get my results. My doctor calls me with the results. When the doctor calls you with test results, they probably aren't that great. "Brace for Impact!"

An average too-high score is generally at around 500. My number shoots past 1300! What this means is that I have significant indicators of coronary arterial blockage and the artery with the highest number has a cute little nickname - the Widow-Maker. Fun, right? Time to go see a cardiologist.

I get this news on June 2nd and the earliest that I can get into a cardiologist's office is July 5th. Swell. So now the story starts to gain some speed.

July 5th - Cardiologist's office. Mainly a consult while we review options. My wife, an RN, is also present. The cardiologist recommends two options. A nuclear stress test or a cardiac cath. After some discussion, the cardiac cath is chosen for the better results. By the time I'm leaving the hospital for the day, I'm scheduled for a cardiac cath on Monday, July 11th. 

July 11th - Cardiac Cath lab. Procedure gets done with a very skilled doctor and the result are in! Significant coronary blockage with the best course of action being OPEN HEART SURGERY! A double bypass is recommended. 

Okay, yeah, but when? I'm starting a new teaching position in a few weeks... "I would not put this off until next summer." All indications are that my heart muscle is healthy; I've just got some clogging arteries. I could have easily been one of those guys that just suddenly drops dead of a heart attack while out doing yard work. So when?

How about tomorrow?

What? Seriously? Yes, quite seriously. Okay... Let's do it. "Tomorrow" isn't really possible, but two days from now is! Holy shit! I'm getting my chest cracked open in two days. The rest of Monday is spent on pre-admission testing with respiratory testing planned for Tuesday. Fortunately, I'm going to be in the hands of one of the best cardio-thoracic surgeons at the hospital.

Testing complete. Wednesday morning rolls in and we're off to surgery. Once I'm into surgery and the initial ICU. I'm pretty much out of it. Wednesday rolls into Thursday with no real grasp of the passage of time.

Oh yeah, the doctor didn't do a double bypass on my heart. How about a QUADRUPLE bypass? I know, right? Go big! The rest of the week is spent in a haze of pain medication and just starting to heal. My body is one giant bruise. I've got holes in my left leg where the vein was harvested for my heart. Three chest drain lines. A huge IV into my neck for possible emergency use during surgery.

Finally, late Sunday night, I can pee on my own and I'm cleared to go home and start home recovery. I'm discharged on Monday afternoon for home recovery.

So what's the point of this long drawn out narrative of Tom's quadruple bypass? Get your shit checked out. Your life may depend on it.

I never knew noted GI Joe enthusiast Gary "Goggles" Head, but I heard of his sudden death by heart attack back in February 2015 at the young age of 35. Did he have a family history? Did he get his shit checked out? I don't have any answers for that.

My heart was basically a ticking time bomb and if one person reads this and gets the needed testing and their life is saved? It's all been worth it. My family history, my sister's heart attack, saved my life. I'll walk my daughter down the aisle October of 2017 and for that alone, I am grateful.  


Oreobuilder said...

Glad to have you back Tom. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm turning 40 and your post has me realize that I can no longer take my health for granted. Feel better soon :)


Fred Meyer said...

Wow Tom-- that was one of the most completely honest accounts I've read of this type of procedure. No hype. No BS. Just the real and honest facts.

I turned 43 this year and I'm starting to notice that things just aren't what they used to be. Like you, I've got some extra pounds around the middle that I could stand to lose and, like you, I get little to no exercise outside of daily life function. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Stage 2 hypertension but, since I was "young-ish" and meds were proving expensive once I was unemployed I stopped taking them.

This past week, two of my online Joe friends have had open heart surgery. (One was for a genetic defect but still...) The point is that, none of us are as invincible as we like to thing we are and I think most of us take this incredible machine we have called the human body for granted. We eat crap, exercise little, and then wake up one day to find out that we've been abusing the crap out of the very thing that keeps us going. No machine can withstand neglect and abuse and function be expected to always function in tip top shape. To assume otherwise is to live in denial.

Time to do something... I don't know what yet... but something to ensure that, like you, I'm still here years down the road.

Thanks man for sharing this and glad to hear that you're on the road to recovery.

Warzonemerc said...

Tom im glad your on the mend and thanks for sharing the story. After reading that article really opened my eyes. I hope the best you and your family and get healed up and dont go back to work early.