Susan Armstrong Carmel, IN
My heart story is somewhat different in that I had a strong idea something was wrong with my health, but I denied all the signs. Shortly after 9/11 in 2001, I had the worst flu ever. Little did I know it was probably a virus attacking my heart. During the next twelve months, nothing was right and my ankles and fingers were always swollen. I tried to conceal from family and co-workers that I was constantly out of breath. Before this, I was on a successful weight loss program, and then I could not lose an ounce. I finally went to the emergency room only because I thought I had pneumonia. I found out I had congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, and left bundle branch block. There was damage to my heart. In the ambulance ride to a larger hospital, I remember lying there silently crying as the vehicle raced.
That was eleven years ago. I am now fifty-nine. I have since had three pacemaker/defibrillators, one cardioversion, and three heart catherizations. In fact, I like to think that my energy wears out my pacemakers. I truly cannot remember how many hospital stays I have had. By not counting, it reminds me that heart disease is livable and life is normal. One hospital stay was the result of my pacemaker discharging about eighteen times in less than an hour. Scary as it was, it gave me newly found strength. I love to shop and on a trip to the mall with a fellow shopper, I passed out. My pacemaker shocked me. There was nothing to do but laugh afterward at the irony of my collapsing outside Macy’s. I am at the stage when I must realize that long-term heart disease affected my kidneys and the necessary beta-blocker medications are hard on my hair. I am glad I am vigilant about taking my prescriptions, and grateful my cardiologists are technically top-notch. They appreciate my individual situation. Conversations with them keep me focused about the possibility of an LVAD, heart transplant, and new pacemakers.
Of course, heart disease changed many aspects of my life. I quit working; I simply did not have the stamina to do my professional job. It hurt to admit that I could not keep up with everyone. Getting through each work day was an ordeal. Yes, I try to eat more healthy foods, and yes, I often fail. I am cognizant about moving more. Since I have always liked to cook, it is a crusade to prepare foods with the absolute least amounts of sodium and fats possible. Reading astronomical sodium content on processed foods and restaurant items make me cringe.
Heart disease is easier with family and friends close by. My family is attentive to my needs, as well as being so considerate about frequent restroom stops and avoiding fast food. My husband and my son always ask if they are walking too fast for me. Receiving phone calls and hilarious greeting cards are treats from friends. Somehow, some way, they always know when I need to laugh. But, there were other friends who drifted away and outright disappeared after my diagnosis. I have learned to be open and honest about my heart issues. The blessing in disguise of that is people are more upfront and sincere with me in talking about their illnesses and personal crises. Life would be easier without heart disease. The good news, however, is that I have had so many better days than bad ones that I consider myself fortunate, sick heart or not.