The End Game

Since April the University Hospital Heart & Vascular Institute in Augusta, Georgia has been my home away from home. On Monday my cardiologist told me I’m doing great and he wants to see me in a year. Today, I graduated from Cardiac Rehab! God willing, no more visits to the hospital for quite a while now.

Dealing with knowing I needed a triple bypass and then waiting several weeks before I actually had it wasn’t easy. The surgery definitely wasn’t easy. Recovery after CABG surgery wasn’t easy. Rehab has had its ups and downs but thankfully, mostly ups. Everyone I’ve worked with at University Hospital has been great. The doctors, nurses, specialists, therapists, and admin staff have all been professional, helpful and caring. I don’t think you could ask for better care than what I received in the past few months. Just awesome.

I want to thank my surgeon Dr. Beecher, my cardiologist, Dr. Rahman, my primary care doctor, Dr. Fischer and of course their support staff. They have been great. I want to especially thank the Cardiac Rehab Team at University: Norma, Joy, Bob, Kit, Lauren, Jeff, Mary Kay, and Lorraine. I’m really going to miss them all. That group is a perfect example of teamwork. Their guidance, encouragement, and smiles really helped making the rehabilitation process so much easier.

Ok then, rehab is officially over. I retired on the 1st of August and honestly with all the rehab and doctors appointments I haven’t felt like I was retired. It’s just felt like a continuation of the convalescence. Now it’s time to start another chapter of my life and I’m looking forward to it. Time to get into retirment mode and I’m excited I can start running again. I really miss it. It’s going to be kinda like starting all over again but that’s OK. In time, I know this will pass and I’m hoping the end game will be I’m a better runner than before my bypass.

14 Days of Retirement

IMG_4287The day after my 62nd birthday, I officially retired. Has it really been 14 days since my first day of retirement? Where has all the time gone? Honestly, with cardio rehab three times a week and at least one doctors appointment every week I really don’t feel like I’m retired yet.

The first five days all the family celebrated by going to a cabin in the North Georgia Mountains. It was great to have the kids and grandkids all together for a few days. The cabin was awesome. And the view! Oh my, it was gorgeous. It rained a lot the first day and a half but by the weekend we had enough sun to sit out at the infinty pool to soak up the sun and enjoy the view.

Next week is my final week of rehab so things will change a bit once that is off my plate. I believe after next week the frequency of my doctors appointments will reduce too. Yeah!

I haven’t felt the need to post much right now because it’s the same old, same old. Three rehab sessions each week and on non-rehab days I walk five miles. I will say I’m feeling better and stronger. The use of the rowing machine and weight machines at rehab have been a big help. Oh! and NO FEVERS in over two weeks now! The doctors never could figure out the cause but they are gone so I don’t really care anymore.

In the past week I have added a little bit of running to my walks. Just short 30 second sprints and each day I add one or two more. I’m up to six sprints now. Once I get up to twelve I’ll probably start trying one minute sprints. On my last walk I placed all six sprints within the same one mile split. My split time for the mile was 14:39. Just before I found out I needed a triple bypass, at times I was logging running mile splits slower than this. How did I not know something was wrong back then? Well… I guess I did realize it but never would have guessed it was a heart problem. A mile split of 14:39 with only three minutes of running included is pretty impressive to me right now.

On Labor Day weekend I plan to consider rehab officially over and will begin training to run a 10K in December. Registration for the local Jingle Jam 10K opens right after Labor Day and I plan to sign up. It’s a course with quite a few hills so I’m not sure how ready I will be, but it’s a goal. Hey, if I can’t run the whole thing–so what! At least I’ll plan to be there.

I’m considering a gym membership too. We have a small gym in the clubhouse of my neighborhood but the equipment is somewhat limited. I’m really going to miss the Concept 2 rowing machine and the muscle specific weight machines available at rehab. We have an Anytime Fitness gym within walking distance of my house so I plan to go check it out next week and then decide.

So far, retirement has been great. Super busy right now and so far I’m not really getting much done that I thought I would. Where does all the time go and how did I get anything done before? Crazy! Unless there is a drastic change of some sort this will likely be my last post concerning my recovery from open heart surgery. The next time you see something from me it will be about my preparation for my next 10K!

 

Last Two Weeks of Work

I had to think about what I wanted to title this post. I could have picked, “First Two Weeks Back to Work” since its the first two weeks back after having a triple bypass but instead, I went with the title above because it’s my last two weeks of work before I retire!

Officially my last day is July 31st but since I do work for the federal government you have to deal with red tape before you can do anything. Friday was my last work day. Monday (my 62nd birthday) and Tuesday I’ll be out-processing.

I must say the past two weeks have been difficult. I had 60 mL of fluid removed from my chest cavity in the hopes it would stop my frequent fevers. But nope, that didn’t do it. I was put back on 400 mg of Motrin twice a day to help but it wasn’t really working. Granted, no fevers but I still had headaches and flu like bodyaches as if I had a fever. So for much of the past two weeks I’ve felt down right awful.

The doctors have pretty muched ruled out infection. I did see a infectious disease doctor since my last post and I’ll see him again in a few weeks. He was honest with me from the start and said since it had been eight weeks since surgery it was highly unlikely an infection was involved with my fever. In the past two weeks I’ve also seen my surgeon who had released me from his care and has given me the go ahead to do anything I feel physically able to do. Saw my Cardiologist and I’ll see him again in a few weeks and he’s in agreement with the surgeon, do whatever you feel capable to do. He’s sticking with this advice to go ahead and sign up for a race around the end of the year because I’ll be ready. My goal is to begin running again in September. It will be just like starting over once I do and at this point I’m not sure if I’ll start at the beginning of September or late in September or somewhere in between.

For the most part all the Doctors are telling me they don’t understand the cause of the fevers but they all seem to be saying this is something I will need to work through and eventually it will go away. I get it but when you feel like crap its not very comforting.

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On Thursday I decided to change things up a bit. I stopped taking the Motrin. It didn’t take long before I saw the low grade fever return. I decided to take only Tylenol or aspirin but if I can get through the fever without it I’ll do it. Thurday afternoon: fever. I sweated it out through the night but the fever broke and I felt better. I was little tired because I’m not sleeping all that well but overall once the fever breaks I don’t feel too bad. Friday afternoon: ditto, fever again. Sweated it out again and discovered using ice packs on my head seem to help just about as well as Tylenol or aspirin. On Saturday morning I actually went out for a four mile walk! For the past two weeks, other than my Cardio Rehab sessions I haven’t done anything so this is an improvement.

At the time of this writing it is late Saturday afternoon, early evening. I do have a low grade fever again. I’ve used ice packs twice and lowered my fever by one degree anyway. At this very moment, I have sweat rolling down from my forehead. Right now I’d rather have to deal with a night of fever so I can have at least eight to twelve hours of feeling almost normal during the day.

I’m not sure where this is leading but sometimes you have to listen to your body and do what you think is right. I can only hope this will pass very soon because it is beginning to wear me down. I feel like another phase of my life is about to close and another exciting adventure is about to begin. I can’t but wonder where this will go.

I Was So Wrong!

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Just take a moment and compare the results of a run I had just before I found out I needed triple bypass heart surgery and a walk about two and a half weeks after my surgery. Notice there isn’t that much difference between the walking and running pace.

SPOILER ALERT: Just this morning, I went on a brisk walk of about 2.5 miles and my pace was 15:29 per mile. Not running–walking!

I’m trying to figure out when the signs of heart disease first appeared and honestly, I’m starting to think I never will figure it out. I’ll take a stab at it and say it was maybe the fall of 2015 but I really can’t explain to you why that might be the case. Maybe after a few more months or years even things will become clearer. Until recently, I attributed any slowdown in my running performace as just a sign of old age.

Backing off my mileage last summer and then pretty much coming to a complete halt to my running while I fought off a three month respiratory ailment spell certainly confused things. I blamed the layoff, respiratory ailments and some weight gain for the poor performance this year. Now that I’ve had some time to evaluate things with some passage of time it seems to me I WAS SO WRONG!

Yes, all the above contributed to my poorer performance but I can see clearly now it was much more than that. Hindsight is truly 20/20! I should have gone to the doctor much sooner than I did. Thankfully, nothing serious happened before I finally went to the doctor. I wish I had some sage advice for anyone wondering if they are having heart ailments but I can’t. Because of my active lifestyle my body created collateral arteries around my heart to supply blood so the symptoms just were not the same as someone with a sedentary lifestyle. I’m blessed that those extra arteries helped me continue to live a normal active life. The other side of this is had I continued to run without some sort of medical attention I might not be here today posting on this blog.

I’m a survivor! My progress after just three weeks post surgery has really been amazing. The active lifestyle before surgery and after have both allowed me to achieve great results so far. I’m not 100% yet and will be many more weeks from now before I am. People ask me if I feel better now but honestly, I feel about the same as before. I’m not sure when I can run again but I’m expecting some speed boost once I get 8-12 weeks of running behind me. This is when I’ll know if the bypass surgery made a difference. I’m expecting it will!

Keeping Busy

The past two weeks have been very busy. My daughter and two grandsons living in Okinawa came to visit before my scheduled surgery and my wife and I flew to Indiana to see our first grandson graduate from high school. Thankfully, no anxiety for this trip. Changing the dose of the beta blocker has worked great.

IMG_4187We had a wonderful time and I’m so proud of my grandson. While we were there we got to see him run hurdles for his track team in the sectional and he has qualified for the regionals next Thursday. Wish I could be there but I’ll probably still be in intensive care and it will probably a day later before my mind is clear enough to know how he does.

All of the extra visitors in the house and travelling have me feeling a bit tired. The advantage is it has also kept me busy enough I’m not sitting around thinking about the open heart surgery scheduled for this week.

Speaking of open heart surgery: I got a call from my surgeon this morning to tell me I had been bumped back to Wednesday afternoon but there was also a chance I could get bumped again for Thursday morning. Guess what? I’ve been bumped to Thursday morning now.

I’m Ok with it really. I am ready to get this over with but I also realize there are others needing the same surgery and in much worse shape than me. I’m gratful I am otherwise healthy and I will be praying for those who are the reason I’ve been bumped back. I had hoped to be home on Sunday. I knew it was a long shot but I was hoping I’d be home in time to watch the Indy 500 from the comfort of my home. With the delay it looks like Monday (Memorial Day) will be the soonest I’ll be home.

Another plus is my daughter (the mother of my graduating grandson) is flying here tomorrow and with the delay this will give us some extra bonding time before my surgery. We tried over the weekend but with the graduation activities going on there wasn’t alot of opportunity. We did what we could.

I’m not sure when I’ll post to the blog again. I don’t think it will be before the surgery so it will depend on how I feel afterwards. We’ll just have to wait and see but I hope to post again over the weekend.

I Think it was the Meds

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A week ago I was going crazy with feelings of anxiety that would just come out of nowhere. I really hated missing my trip to Indiana for the Mini Marathon and getting to see alot of my family members but I wasn’t sure how I could control the anxiety so I bailed on the trip.

Really, the only thing that has changed recently was my medication for high blood pressure. About two weeks ago my cardiologist prescribed a beta blocker and it wasn’t too long after that I started having the anxiety.

Anyway, I decided on my own to cut my beta blocker medication in half to see what would happen. Yep, without my doctors permission. I’m already watching my heart rate and blood pressure closely so if this change would have a significant effect I would know pretty quickly. On the very first day I noticed the feelings of anxiety weren’t as bad. Now, this was on Saturday, the day of the Mini Marathon. By Wednesday, I was feeling more like myself again and the anxiety was pretty much gone. My heart rate and blood pressure did go up slightly but not at a level to be terribly concerned anyway.

I’m not going to speculate why this worked. I Googled and Binged all over the place trying to find information. All I found was a posting on some website from 2010 from a guy who was having the same thing happening once he started taking beta blockers. The post didn’t say if he did anything to correct it. It just so happens he was a runner too! All I can figure is the dosage was causing my pulse to go too low and then my body started reacting to tell me something wasn’t right. I did record HR’s in the very low 50’s several times. If I had been in top physical shape when all of this started, maybe low 50’s would be fine for me. I know I’m in decent physical shape but no where near top form. From what I read, low 50’s are very low. So maybe that is it?

That’s when I shot off an email to my cardiologist to tell him what I had done. I don’t know what I would have done if he told me I was crazy and get my dose back up to the prescribed level but thankfully, he didn’t. He gave me the OK to continue at the reduced dosage. Yeah!!!

I’m still having nervous reactions to any little ache or pain I get. Especially in the chest, neck, arm but I guess that’s probably normal for most people knowing they will be going through open heart surgery in a few weeks. For the most part, I don’t feel any different than I did two weeks ago or even two months ago. I’m a little bored because I can’t do much other than sit around. That probably doesn’t help with keeping the bad stuff off my mind either. I’m hangin’ tough and just living on day at a time.

I guess the moral of this story is, it’s good to know your body and to listen to what your body is telling you. Even more important, follow your body’s orders!

Anxiety: You Suck!

IMG_4035For the past few days, I’ve been getting what I would call minor anxiety attacks. They seem to really come out of nowhere and for no reason. Well, that’s not quite right. There is a reason: coronary artery disease.

The attacks started the first part of the week and have become more frequent as the week goes by. I mentioned them to my doctor the other day and he told me it’s natural and he didn’t seem overly concerned about. The worse attacks have happened in the middle of the night and have been keeping me up for an hour or two.

Yesterday, I got two attacks at work. One at lunch time and another as I was leaving work to go home. By yesterday afternoon I was having doubts about going to Indiana for the Indy 500 mini marathon and then going on to visit family in Muncie Indiana. On my drive home from work I called my wife to talk about it with her. Of course, she was supportive but in the end it was my decision. Once I got home, I called my son-in-law to talk to him about it. My daughter and he are meeting me in Indy because the original intention was all three of us would run the mini marathon. He too was supportive. It wasn’t too much longer after that I got a call from my daughter and we talked about it some more. She told me to go with your gut. Before the end of our conversation I did just that and decided to cancel the trip.

I went online to start canceling as many reservations as I could. I was able to cancel the motel reservations in Indianapolis and the car rental for the trip, but I couldn’t cancel the motel reservation in Muncie. And of course there was no way to cancel the flight reservation.

At this very moment, my clock says it’s 7 AM on Friday morning. The exact time my flight was to take off on its first leg to Indianapolis. I slept through the night without a single anxiety attack. I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to hanging out with my daughter and her family, visiting my family in Muncie and seeing a few friends from my high school days. Oh, and eating Pizza King pizza. If you ever lived in the Muncie Indiana area you know what I’m talking about. But…  once I get through the surgery I will have other opportunities. I know that but it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s not easy but I have to take this one day at a time. This too shall pass.