Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Cardiac Chronicles: Every patient tells a story

I said farewell yesterday to my pals at Cardiac Rehab. This is my third and final stage of rehab. 

R has had multiple stents and an open heart surgery. Two weeks ago, just after getting home from a camping trip in Poudre Canyon, he went to the hospital with chest pain. Coronary embolism, said the docs, and kept him overnight for observation.

R has disabilities from Vietnam where he "zigged when he should have zagged." He's taking a new med that provides some interesting hallucinations. Yesterday he was playing cards with Mickey, Goofy and Donald Duck.

Everyone has a story.

D's heart has stents and she is now equipped with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator or ICD. It's never fired, which is good because it means she hasn't been hit with a catastrophic heart attack. Should that happen, she'll get buzzed back to life. As one hospital web site put it:
The ICD is working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is like having the paramedics with you at all times.
Looks as if I'll have lots of company once I get my ICD in July. Better alert my wife to expect guests. 

D told us a story as we warmed up. A friend had trouble breathing a few weeks ago. She went to the doctor. He conducted a few tests and diagnosed an advanced case of lung cancer. The woman died three days later. She was only in her fifties.

F was a Marine and is a diehard Denver Broncos fan. He wears a Marine cap to one session and an Orange Crush cap to the next. He was born in Mexico and grew up in the American Southwest. He joined the Marines to earn his citizenship. F recently moved to Cheyenne to be near family. Colorado Springs was getting too violent, he said. He carries around an oxygen canister from a lifetime of cigarettes.

M is like everybody's joke-telling uncle. He always wears a Harley or Sturgis T-shirt. J is recuperating from a stroke and arrives at exercise class pushing a wheeled walker. While he's in our class, his wife works out in the main gym.

I'm a lucky man and I know it.

Next week I go back to working out at the YMCA. I will be unsupervised by nurses and exercise physiologists for the first time in four months. The trick now will be finding the will to continue exercising when nobody will be checking me off on a list. Thing is, I have to exercise and keep exercising as if my life depended on it. In the year leading up to my heart attack, I swam every other day at the Y. I'd lost 40 pounds and was in great shape. That might have kept me from dying but it didn't prevent heart damage. Once I've recovered from my ICD surgery, I'll be back in the pool.

Today in Houston, my brother Dan is receiving his final dose of the atomic bomb of chemotherapy. It's designed to wipe out the remaining marrow cells so that on Wednesday, he can receive new marrow that will banish leukemia forever. When I talked to him on Thursday, he'd been very sick with the first treatment, sicker than he's been since treatment began last December. My sister Molly donated the marrow and she was sitting up with my sister Mary who had just had a third of a lung removed due to carcinoid cancer. They are all at the MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, the best cancer treatment center in the country. They are lucky too. They are getting the best treatment available. My brother has even volunteered as a test subject due to a wayward gene in his make-up.

I feel heartsick that my brother and sister have cancer and are in pain. I know what it means to have a sick heart. That said, I'm a lucky man.

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