A couple of months ago I was asked to write about my experiences when I had my heart attack. I did it, and just the writing of it was a good experience. It reminded me of how far I’d come and how much I didn’t want to repeat it. However, I had feelings of not leveling, of not telling the whole story. I might have left the impression that once you’re out of surgery and then the hospital, that the hard part was over. That they waved a about magic wand and I could return to my old life.
Nothing could have been further from the truth for me. It is true that if you survive the first few days, you’ll probably be okay – for a while. Studies show that after a month or so that if you don’t change the behaviors that helped cause your first attack, it’s more likely that your second attack will likely kill you.
The procedure that saved my life was just the beginning. Certainly the doctors had repaired me as much as they could. Miracles of modern medicine notwithstanding, if I wanted to live and to live well, it would require a lot of work on my part and a lots of help.
The Chinese have a proverb that says the longest journey begins with a single step. My first step was when I was still recovering in intensive care and Sara, the therapist from Cardiac Rehab came into my room the day after my procedure. I remember, at that moment, I was wondering how long it would be before I could “blow this pop stand and have a smoke and a beer.”
Sara told me what I would need to do to avoid a second heart attack. She tried to get me to understand that if I didn't change my lifestyle, that a second heart attack was not only likely but almost certain. She told me all about the necessary changes to my diet and exercise regime. She asked me if I thought I would be able to do this on my own?
I shook my head.
On her second visit she took me for a walk; I needed to use a walker. She told me what Sanford Outpatient Cardiac Rehab could offer: education, support, guidance, and a great facility. By the time we got back from my walk I was out of breath. It was 30 feet to the nurse’s station and 30 feet back. Sara and another RN had to help me back into bed and to reconnect all the tubes and wires. It was then that I realized just how challenging my recovery was going to be. It was going to be difficult, if not possible to do all by myself.
I started in the outpatient cardiac rehab program shortly thereafter. It was an eye opener from the beginning. A large part of the recovery process is education. I learned that my former diet couldn't have been worse for a cardiac patient. They taught me about fat, salt, cholesterol, and a few other things I needed to think about when considering my food choices.
I learned about medications, dealing with stress, the telltale signs of an impending attack, and a myriad of other things important to me for making good choices.
And then there was the exercise. I dreaded that part. I had memories of being able to go almost an hour on the treadmill without stopping. My first day in rehab I could barely do 10 minutes. It turned out to be not as bad as I had thought. Soon, I started to look forward to my sessions.
It wasn’t easy and it took time but I was not alone. There were the other patients to compare notes with, but mostly it was the staff at Sanford Cardiac Rehab. There are certified cardiac rehab specialist, RN’s, a dietician and pharmacist to answer my dumbest questions.
I could walk a block, then two, then half a mile. The weight came off. I noticed other things began to improve. My memory, my sense of smell (I gave up smoking), my appreciation for life all improved. I set as a goal to do the Fargo Fall mini-marathon’s 5K.
I graduated from what the folks at Rehab call Phase 2. This is one of the danger points for my cardiac rehab. It would have been easy to go backward.
However, Sanford Cardiac Rehab offers a Phase 3 program, not a lot different from phase 2. I can go to the education classes and I have access to all of my favorite staff and their expertise for what a gym membership would cost.
And I did that 5K. Sure, I did finish last and needed help to get to a chair but I finished. And the next year, I wasn’t last!