Monthly Archives: December 2013

It’s all about me

I originally wrote the majority of the following on 28th June, within two weeks of having my Heart Attack.  At the time I wasn’t comfortable publishing it.  A post I recently read, written by the wife of a Heart Attack Survivor (Wherein the Sh*tty-A$$ Heart prevails), reminded me of it.

Life is good for us now.  We’ve come a long way since June.  So, no particular reason for publishing this now, but I thought I’d share it to help complete the story.

***

It’s all about me

Actually it’s not.  Not even remotely.

When everything is going well and life is “tickety-boo”, it too easy (for me at least) to get caught up in my own world.  Oblivious to most of the goings on around me, at least those that don’t impact me directly.  I look after myself, deal with my business, and expect everyone else to deal with theirs.

Up until now, this is how I’ve tended to operate.  It’s how I am.

I don’t feel so independent any more.  My bubble has been burst.  The whole Heart Attack episode has given me a heightened awareness of the many personal dependencies, connections and influences there are in my life.

Of course, there are the children; totally dependent, innocent, scared.  There’s never a good age, but my girls are too young to see their Dad in a hospital bed.  They are too young to have to deal with something like this, I felt terrible for putting them through it.  They have been very brave. They provide support and make us laugh.  Just being around introduces a sense of normality to proceedings.

Louise, my wife is now more of a Nurse, Carer and, of course, Mum.  She holds things together.  She is generally cautiously positive, planning my recuperation and beyond.  I’m sure there are times when she is scared too.  It sounds silly when you write it down, but me dying would have a much bigger impact on her than on me.  I don’t really think about it… she does, a lot.

Then there’s our Family and Friends, Business Partners and Clients.  The news of the Heart Attack will impact each and every one in a slightly different way.  For some the news will generate the biggest impact… Why?  How?.  For others it’ll be the consequences, immediate and longer term… So what?, What now?  What will change?.

After the surprise or even shock, with most people there is genuine concern for me combined with a hint of selfish curiosity; “What could this mean for me?”.  I totally understand.  What else would you expect?  Apparently the 40-somethings are concerned… sales of salads are rocketing in the office.

Even strangers pay more attention than normal.  They want to understand how it could have happened, how can they prevent it from happening to them.  I wish it was simple…

Me:  “I had a Heart Attack because I used to eat 15 Snickers a day.”
Them:  “Oh, that’d do it.”
Me:  “I’ve given up Snickers so I should be fine now.”
Them:  “Oh, that’s a relief!”
Me:  “Do you eat too many Snickers?”
Them:  “No.”
Me:  “So, you should be fine then.  You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Them (Smiling):  “Yes, thanks.”

I wish it was that simple.

It’s tough because there are few easy answers.  I want to be able to get my head around it all.  I want to understand why it happened.  I want to know what the implications are.  I want to be able to explain it to everyone.  Then I want to get back to normal.

Unfortunately that’s not going to happen.  Some things may become clearer in time, others will remain a mystery.  That’s life I guess.

So ultimately it is all about me… but not just me me, it’s about you me, and her me and him me too… it’s all about us!

The many benefits of swimming

Friday morning in North East of Scotland was cold; “Baltic” as we’d describe it.  Having braved the conditions to get to the swimming pool I was greeted by a large “Information” board.  Apparently there had been a problem with the heating at the pool, and the water temperature had been up to 34 degrees C…

“Don’t pay your entrance fee if you think the temperature will be too warm!”

…was the message.

I thought nothing of it and headed in to the changing room to get ready.  As usual, I was in the pool just before 7 am and started my swim.  Also as usual, just after 7.30 am the swimming club members started to leave and a number of “Silver Swimmers” (presumably retired members of a slightly older generation) entered to begin their slightly more relaxed session.

untitled (60)As he entered the pool, a gentleman sporting a well maintained, military-style moustache (let’s call him “the Colonel”) greeted me with the words…

“Lovely and warm isn’t it!”

To be fair, the pool was indeed lovely and warm.  In comparison with the temperature outside I think anything would have felt warm.  However, the Colonel’s comment, together with the satisfied look he had on his face got me thinking… what if the “Silver Swimmers” were also “Silver Surfers”?

Perhaps they had hacked into the Aberdeenshire Council computer systems and updated the temperature settings to create a warm haven, thereby saving money on the heating bill at home.  The Colonel was definitely on the inside and, recognising me as friend rather than foe, decided to share his delight!  You certainly shouldn’t judge a book by its cover!

***

One of the reasons I was keen to get into swimming was that it’s exercise you can do for life.  It’s a low impact, cardiovascular workout that is great for mobility and fitness, which all bring additional health benefits.

Not everyone appreciated the super-heated water!

My interaction with the Colonel reminded me of some of the peripheral benefits of swimming too… access to warmth (the whole building tends to be warm, not just the pool), access to a hot shower (the best bit about a visit to the pool according to the Colonel) and, social interaction (the Colonel certainly wasn’t operating alone!).

The other thing is, it’s never too late to start.  So, no excuses really.

Whether it’s to get out of the cold or to get yourself fit, swimming has to be the way forward.  Just watch out for the organised crime!

Dinner suit disaster!

Yesterday we discovered that my wife used to be married to a fat man.  It might sound strange, but it was as much a shock for her as it was for me.

It all happened quite innocently…  a work Dinner Dance offered a rare opportunity to wear my Dinner Suit or, more correctly, one of my Dinner Suits (as I have accumulated several “emergency” suits over the years).

I’ve always thought I looked good in a Dinner Suit too!

I’ve always felt good in a Dinner Suit.  I’ve enjoyed getting dressed up ever since I bought my first one from a Charity Shop to attend my first “Ball” when I was at school.  Yes, it is easy for men; we always get to wear the same outfit, no particular thought is required, and we can accumulate accessories over time.

Generally the key pre-requisites have been to (1) remember to get the suit cleaned after particularly heavy / boisterous nights out and (2) make sure the Dinner Suit is in the right location for the Bash (this has been the primary contributor to me owning multiple suits).  On top of this, there is the concern of whether the suit will still fit – the irregularity that the Dinner Suit is usually donned means it provides a good commentary on the (usually expanding) waistline.

My latest Dinner Suit was my favourite.  A simple, single breasted Ted Baker Suit with a light grey lining.  Nothing special, but it was a good fit and I always felt very comfortable in it.  I looked after it, and it looked after me.

Organised as always, at around midday on the day of the Dinner Dance, I got out my favourite suit for a last minute readiness check.  I knew I had lost some weight but I anticipated a belt or, in the worst case some braces, would be all that was required to make it “fit”.

This used to be a snug fit!

When I tried it on I was shocked!  Louise was shocked!  The suit was HUGE!  How could it ever have fitted me?  It looked absolutely ridiculous!

With growing desperation, I tried on the other suits in the wardrobe… they were all way too big!  Even a made-to-measure suit I had made about 5 years ago, when I thought I was fit was way too big.  A disaster!

It takes a lot to get me to visit a shop, particularly a clothes shop, but even I had to (reluctantly) admit that an emergency visit to the Menswear Shop was required.  Fortunately, thanks to the help of a very understanding Assistant Manager, I found a suit that would meet my immediate need.  It’s not quite my old favourite, but I think he’s history.

Now all that’s left is for me to do is to pluck up the courage to go through the rest of my wardrobe and get rid of the clothes that in all probability I’ll never be able to wear again.  Even packing some of the clothes away “just in case” is too depressing a thought… that would mean all my hard work has been in vain, and wouldn’t augur well for my future health.

In sickness and in health

I don’t know any of these people, do you?

Today is our 15th Wedding Anniversary.  A lot has changed since two fresh-faced, fun loving, enthusiastic youngsters got together and formed our very own Anglo-Scot alliance.

Most of the changes have occurred slowly and comfortably, as we’ve drifted into new habits over time.

Some changes have been sudden and life-changing;  parenthood was thrust on us with the arrival of two beautiful bouncing babies (in reality they arrived one at a time with a little gap in the middle!).

Other big changes have taken courage, preparation and effort;  amongst other things, we’ve upped sticks to live in a new country twice.

We have been very lucky together.  We are fortunate that most of our marriage has been “for better” rather than “for worse”, and “in health” rather than “in sickness”.

Just the one glass, thanks!

***

Looking back on it, the events of the summer already seem like just a minor blip.  They did however result in accelerated change… I guess Heart Attacks have a habit of doing that.

The obvious changes relate to my lifestyle.  I am physically a very different person to 6 months ago.  Mentally I guess I’ve changed too… some things that were very important in the past just don’t matter so much.  I like to blame my medication for not getting so wound up about things, but it’s also down to the fact that I’ve developed a new perspective on life.  Some might call it “balance”, but it still doesn’t always feel that natural to me.

Less obviously, the whole experience has changed Louise and “us” too.  We don’t talk about it much, but I think we’re still in the “lucky to be alive” and “things could have been different” phase.  This might fade in time, but it’s definitely a big factor now.

Louise has been great throughout the whole experience.  I even got a bit of sympathy for the first few weeks of my recuperation.  (A very rare occurrence!)  She has been incredibly supportive throughout, and has even started to come to terms with my early morning swimming (although alarms at the weekend are strictly forbidden!).  Again, I am very lucky.

imagesCAV1VRKD

The gifts we exchanged this morning summed up our current situation well:  Flowers, Chocolates, Festive Liqueur & a pair of Swimming Trunks.  Can you guess who received what?

***

Health scares change things… and they should, but we look forward to many more years of gentle, drifting change with the occasional moments of excitement… but only on our terms of course!!!

Changing treatments

I heard about two more Heart Attack Survivors at work recently.  Apart from the fact that there seem to be more cardiac emergencies around today than in the past (probably more to do with me than everyone else!), I was struck by the way they had been treated… the two gentlemen had received 8 and 12 stents respectively.

Apparently the guidelines for treatment have changed recently…

When I had my Heart Attack, the approach was to just treat the blockage that was causing the immediate problem.  For me that meant fitting two stents in my Left Anterior Descending or LAD artery.  During the procedure they identified that another of my arteries (Right Coronary Artery or RCA) was partially blocked, but as it wasn’t causing any distress so it was left untreated.

Apparently now the approach has been revised so that they address any blockages during the initial procedure.  As a result, the patient leaves hospital safe in the knowledge that they have no blockages.  I guess it maximises the value of the angioplasty procedure, and reduces the chances of having a repeat performance,

There is a point of view that stents aren’t great for you.  Yes, they are helpful in an emergency situation like mine, but many people are treated with stents as a preventative measure.

The argument is that the stent treats the symptom rather than the disease, and in the process reduce the chance that any action will be taken to address the root causes themselves.  In addition, they leave the patient dependent on a concoction of medication and exposed to the side-effects and potential complications (for example, risks associated with future, non-heart related medical procedures).

Personally I haven’t thought much about whether my situation would be significantly different if my other artery had been treated at the same time.  Given the emergency nature of my treatment, I obviously didn’t have an opportunity to think about it in advance.  There was certainly no debate or discussion as I got wheeled into the “Cath Lab”  (See:  The Cath Lab (FD ~02:30)).  I didn’t have an opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons.

There was no cosy chat for me when I arrived at the hospital!

To be honest, it doesn’t feel like a huge deal right now, but I recognise that it could turn out to be a big deal at some point in the future.   It seems strange to me that if I’d had my Heart Attack today I might have been treated in a very different way than 6 months ago.

I guess I have little option but to carry on taking my medication and stay disciplined, it’s up to me to do the work to address the underlying disease (or at least to prevent it from getting any worse).  For me, watching what I eat and drink as well as exercising regularly are the key to my long term health.

I can’t rely on stents to return me to “normal”.  Now it’s all about establishing a new, safer, healthier normal.

Really not so cool…

images (15)Last week Michael Jamieson, the Scottish Olympic Silver Medallist Swimmer, announced that he had to have his heart re-started to get it back into rhythm after a particularly hard training session.

His Twitter announcement (@mj88live) included the comments:

“Not really sure the reasons behind it happening, but I went into an irregular beat after reaching 203 heart rate in a session (max is 193).”

“Specialist said he’s only seen this three times, all Olympic medallists – pretty cool!”

Apparently he’s made a full recovery, and returned to training after just 48 hours.  Personally, I think it’s fantastic news that he is fit and well!

I don’t however believe that it’s “pretty cool” to push yourself so hard during a training session that your heart gets knocked out of sync.  Any suggestion that it’s a good thing has to be nuts!

The fact that the Specialist has only seen it three times would suggest to me that perhaps others may have experienced the same issue, but not been so lucky.  Not cool!

imagesCA475PQPI guess I’m particularly sensitive to the story as I spend so much of my time trying to keep my Heart Rate within reasonable limits.  Personally, one of my biggest challenges is to make sure I spend enough time warming up and cooling down so I take care of my Heart.  Going “from rest to maximum effort as quickly as possible” definitely isn’t an option for me, and I would suggest shouldn’t feature in most people’s exercise regimes.

So, horses for courses… I’ll continue with the gentle build up to my Euro City Cycle.  I wish Michael all the best in his build up to next Summer’s Commonwealth Games!  For everyone else… go easy out there!