Posted by Hiland on March 9, 2010
I liked to go to work early. There is a certain serenity in the quiet workplace. We always arose at 4:00 a.m. Suzanne would hit the road for her ten-mile church, garden and golf course jaunt and I would truck on down to work.
On February 7, I arrived at the coffee shop at 4:30. It was cold. Very cold. Surprisingly, the shop was not open, but the newspapers were there. I parked and decided to grab a paper to wait for my pre-workday caffeine fix.
Upon exiting the car, a frightful chill ransacked my body. I took three steps and became paralyzed. I could not feel my feet or legs. Unable to stand, I slumped to the snowy ground.
I had no chest pain, no shoulder pain but I could not stand much less walk. I dragged my way back to the car, pulled myself up to open the door and grabbed the steering wheel to reach the seat. Turning the car on, I maxed the heat.
There was no sign of life at the store so I drove to my office door. Someone would be there at 5:00. I waited. Finally a truck driver arrived and helped me to a chair. Fainting seemed a strong possibility. I remember lots of spinning and black dots circling around. I lowered my head and received an aspirin from my helper.
Within fifteen minutes, the spinning stopped. I was too shaky to stand. Another worker arrived and helped me to my office. I tried to walk and although tentative, progress had been made. I wondered if I was having a stroke, like my mother and grandmother.
I fidgeted and tinkered until 8:00 when my daughter, Ashley, arrived. She asked what was wrong. I explained. She helped another worker load me into the car and off we sped to old friend and cardiologist, John.
Upon arrival, vitals were taken. Things were a bit out of whack but nothing monumental. When John checked me out, we talked about the immediate and past symptoms.
His analysis was congestive heart failure. John painted an image. Since my six-way bypass in 2000 and a pretty amazing rehabilitation, things had been going a little too well. Perhaps I had gotten lax with my medications. Perhaps I was overdoing life. Perhaps there was just plain too much stress, the killer of killers. Perhaps my diet was undisciplined.
Whatever was happening was dangerous. I had definitely entered end stage heart disease. The symptoms would only escalate and the prognosis was dim.
My reaction was to determine the immediate danger. John quietly said that there were no guarantees, not one year, not six months. We needed to get into rehab, increase and change our medications, meet often and dramatically change the diet to an absolutely no salt and no sodium way of life.
Compliance to these factors would determine my longevity. Compliance would also be necessary to qualify for a heart transplant application. John became unusually stern about the need for safe exercise and compliance. He had my attention.
John described my heart disease as an illness that would not improve but could be treated. He portrayed an image of a walker who was trudging along after open heart surgery and comes to a cliff. The hiker took one too many steps and the slide down was virtually unstoppable. It could be steep and quick or less steep and longer, but more deterioration was on the way.
Again, John cited the damage caused by those first few heart attacks. My heart had not bounced back and was functioning at about 19% with a 3% margin for error either way. No wonder I was cold, losing my memory and wondering why I could not feel my toes. My breathing was labored.
John began to write prescriptions, like coreg, lipitor, cozaar, lasix and several others. The frequency and dosage was disturbing. I envisioned a life controlled by pill popping. For someone who had difficulty tolerating any medicine, I was about to become a junkie.
Ashley had a freightened look on her face. John scheduled several tests and told me to rest before coming back tomorrow. Rest had become impossible, as I could not breathe if prone for two hours.
On the way home, we stopped at the pharmacy. Ashley said she would be back for the medications and took me to the couch. I started taking the medicines about an hour later. 60 mgs of lasix created quite a urinary splash. In a few days, my breathing became easier and my abdomen and weight began to change.
Lasix is a loop diuretic that prevents the body from absorbing too much salt and instead allows the salt to be passed in the user’s urine. Among other uses, Lasix treats fluid retention or edema in people with congestive heart failure.
Before February 7, I tipped the scale at 185 lbs. Two weeks later, I tipped the scales just shy of 150 lbs. Eventually, as the lasix intake fluctuated, I got back to about 165. However my breathing was best at 155 but I could not tolerate the quantities of lasix necessary to get there. My lasix intake was fluctuating between 160 and 200 mgs per day. That is a lot of lasix. My kidneys were working hard to keep the outgoing pace.
The other staple medication was the 24-hour timed release Coreg. I loved that drug. It seemed to stabilize things. When I went to 90 mgs a day, I knew I was in trouble. Once I adjusted to the medications, the dosage always seemed to escalate. The intake was aggressive.
On February 21st, I began to research heart transplantation and other alternatives. I settled in for a long night’s read. I was determined to be ready to talk with some basic knowledge to John.
It was a long, hard night’s read for Suzanne and I. Every page seemed to raise more questions. Other than the medication therapy, it seemed we were in a train about to wreck. John’s “falling off the cliff image” stuck with me every day for the next 33 months. I grasped for limbs to break the fall. On that day, there were no limbs in sight. Suzanne and I started the slide together.