September 29, 2018

Attending to the Heart

Mitzi's perspective concerning some matters of the heart.

Attending to the Heart

Two months after Damon and I were married we were out taking an evening walk.  It was near the beginning of the new year 2018.  As we approached the sidewalk behind the house, Damon said he needed to stop.  He couldn't catch his breath.  He bent over and took a minute to breath slowly.  Was it the cold weather?  The lingering effects of grief?  A sickness coming on?

After a few minutes he said he felt better, so we continued on the walk.  The next evening, the exact same scenario played out.  In the short time I had known Damon, and the even shorter time I had been married to him, I had come to understand he had limited energy, but this was not normal.  

I asked Damon to please call Brandon's former GP, Dr. Jared Miner, and get checked out.  Dr. Miner kindly made space for Damon that day and conducted a few tests which ruled out a heart attack.  However, he did have some concerns and wanted Damon to do a heart stress test.  The stress test proved too challenging and painful to complete. Damon was scheduled for an angiogram on January 16th 2018.

It's fair to say we were both scared.  What was happening inside of Damon?  What did it mean for our future?  The next two weeks felt like we were living with a time bomb.  We tried to do some fun things and even went on a weekend get away, but the reality of losing another spouse seemed super real.  (Don't you just love how I immediately jump to death?  That's a widow's brain for ya!)

The 16th finally came, I took the day off of work and we headed to the hospital to check in for the out-patient procedure.  I know Damon was extremely worried about me experiencing yet another traumatic event in that hospital.  The truth is, I actually felt calm and can honestly say, the ghosts from the past were not present that day.

As he was completing the intake paperwork he told the nurse he wanted to sign a DNR.    She looked at me.  I told her I supported that.  We briefly told her we had both been widowed and we were okay letting each other pass on when the time came.  She looked at us like we might be crazy???  A few minutes later, in came another nurse....then the cardiologist himself.  I guess we caused quite a stir.  

Dr. Owan let us know that he was going to restart Damon's heart if it stopped.  If he caused it to stop, he was going to restart it.  Damon expressed concern for the unlikely scenario of being left in a life support situation.  Damon was very concerned about the burden a life support decision would be on me.  The doctor kindly agreed, but assured us, this procedure would be completely different from what I had experienced 15 months ago with Brandon.    

They wheeled him off.  I stayed behind with a nurse.  Damon stayed awake the entire time as they fed a catheter through a vein in his wrist to check out his heart.  I watched the procedure with a nurse on a computer screen.

Once we could all see what the problem was, Dr. Owan asked Damon if he would like a bypass or a stent.  Damon decided to go with a stent.  They were able to place one long stent which covered two narrowed areas.  I watched them place it and the blood flowed smoothly through.  (I wish I would have recorded it!)

Before long, he was back in his curtained off section of the Cath Lab.  We hung out while he recovered for a few hours, and then they gave us the green light to go home.

The next few months felt a little uncertain.  What should we be doing?  What do we change in our diet?  Do we start exercising like crazy?  What is up with Damon's sporadic heart pain?  Is it another blockage?  Emotional pain?  For eight months we rode the questioning rollercoaster.  

In August Damon had an experience that made him want to intervene with the heart disease. (You can read the story in his Hearts book :)   He was ready to sign up for 3 weeks at Pritikin – a medical resort in Florida that specializes in heart disease recession.

In September he bought a first class ticket to better health :).  At Pritikin he learned how to dramatically lower his blood pressure, his cholesterol, his weight, his anxiety. He did yoga, zumba, and learned how to feel safe getting his heart rate up during cardio workouts.  He attended cooking school and learned how to create delicious mega healthy meals.  I flew out for a quick visit during the second weekend, and found a different man.

I'm thankful for a lot of things.....discovering the heart disease before damage was done, Dr. Miner, Dr. Owan, The Pritikin Team, Damon's desire and determination to make life style changes, and most of all, more time with a healthy and great companion.