First, my apologies for not being, well, as present and active as I would have liked over the past five months. When it comes to blogging, most of my material has flowed from what I scheduled before the end of last year. I haven’t added fresh dispatches or participation much at other sites, and it’s showing.
It’s not what I intended.
Let me explain.
Shortly after the release of the Advanced Reading Copy of my newest novel, What’s Left, back in the first week of January, I found myself in the emergency room for what I thought would be more inconclusive tests, but, well, my real-life plot thickened. We’d just had a big snow, and I was hoping to be out in it on my cross-country skis for the first time that winter. But I was having what I thought was a breathing problem, one that several buddies in the medical profession had informally thought might be a walking pneumonia arising in a bug that made the rounds last fall.
The previous week, though, I’d finally gone in to have my primary care physician check that out. The good news, he said, was that my lungs sounded clear. But he also ordered X-rays, scheduled a stress test, and then, instead of his usual droll humor, said very firmly if this happened again I was to go straight to the ER to have it checked out while the symptoms were still present.
Six days later – and two days before my scheduled stress test – we had that big snow. The symptoms were back. Despite my reluctance to go to the ER, my wife and elder daughter insisted otherwise, and since said daughter had just driven into town, her car was already cleared off and warm. She dropped me off at the hospital.
Fortunately, I brought along a fat, juicy Richard Avedon biography that my younger daughter had given me for Christmas. This was going to take longer than I’d planned. At least I had that fun read to occupy my time. But then, I should have also been suspicious when they asked if I had a living will (“That’s routine, isn’t it?” I told myself) even before other medicos said my EKG didn’t match the last one they had, from nine years earlier, but that wasn’t definitive. And then the physician on duty essentially said she wasn’t releasing me till I had a stress test, likely the next morning. “Could you get it in today?” Well, she managed, and I was wheeled off through the corridors. Remember, the earliest date that had been available the previous week is still coming up the day after tomorrow.
By this point I figured I might as well just lean back and enjoy the trip. Don’t ask too many questions, and don’t worry. Talk show host Larry King had the advice of not giving yourself too much time to read too many things that could go wrong.
Had I ever been on a treadmill before? Not that I can remember, and probably not with all the EKG tabs connected, but it was kind of fun, especially with the big video in front of me projecting souped-up color shots of wilderness scenes. Nearly complacent, I felt in great shape as I stepped off the machine and stretched out on the examination table for the follow-up echocardiology round. And that’s when the breathing problem kicked in. I heard whispering behind me, “No, it’s bigger than that,” and was introduced to the cardiologist, who told me he wanted to insert a probe into my wrist so he could check out my artery … and, as I learned afterward, my heart itself.
So I was whisked off again, to the cath lab and a couple of great nurses who prepped me and kept me amused while we waited for Unit 2 to be available.
Next thing I knew, as I regained full consciousness, I was being informed I now have a stent in my heart. What they found was a 99 percent blockage of the left anterior descending artery from my lung to my heart – what used to be called a widow maker.
They were keeping me over and the hospital was full-up. Still, my attitude was one of feeling blessed, as it had been from entering the ER earlier in the day. I’ve had a full life, after all, and am alive in faith – or in the Spirit, as we say.
What became clear in the following weeks is just how close I’d come to having a heart attack in the previous months, and just how lucky I was. The wife of a fellow swimmer is a nurse who thinks my active swimming and choral singing probably gave me a big edge in keeping the blood to my heart flowing over the previous months. A tenor in our choir, a thoracic surgeon, remarked, “Classic signs of angina.”
“But there was no pain,” I’ve been insisting. “Only a kind of pressure, if that.”
OK, note the shortness-of-breath part of the warning. I have a ton of allergies. Somewhere in there, I did have a two-hour battery of pulmonary tests, another wild trip, where my singing and swimming had my lungs performing at the 98 and 99 percent efficiency level. The tech was impressed. I was relieved.
In the months following, I’ve been on the mend. Done ten weeks of cardio rehab, my introduction to exercise machines, only with a trainer and nurses present to monitor the EKG connections and set a pace for me. Getting adjusted to the meds, with the side effect of dizziness and the need to stay hydrated has been a challenge, especially since that latter aggravates another situation. Ahem.
And then a very nasty bug and cough in the past month have taken a toll.
So all in all, I’ve been largely AWOL or missing in action when it comes to my normal activities.
It’s feeling great, though, to be inching back. Just need to take it gently, as they’ve all told me.