The heart attack

17 Mar

I have not been posting as often as usual.  I’ve been a bit busy, which sounds like a very trite excuse.  For those who don’t follow me via my radio program or Facebook, I have decided that I had best explain myself.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband had a massive heart attack.  We did everything wrong, starting with not recognizing it as a heart attack and not seeking immediate medical attention.  When we did seek medical attention, we never did get a clear answer on whether it was another one or the aftermath of the first that caused Greg to become unable to breathe easily, but that was the symptom that sent us to the local ER.

Fortunately for us, especially Greg, he survived, despite our mistakes.  The bad part is that the longer it takes to get medical attention, the worse the damages to the heart are.  He had complications, and despite angioplasty and stents being put into place, his heart wasn’t going to magically repair itself.  He had a very large blood clot in the apex of his heart where the blood had pooled when the artery was clogged and the flow of blood stopped.  That required a week of heparin drip, as well as starting him on a blood thinner to prepare him for release.

What didn’t get prepared was our minds.  Greg wasn’t in a high risk group for a heart attack, and we weren’t prepared for the changes that it has brought to our lives.  I am already disabled and limited in what I can manage physically.  Compared to Greg now, I’m the able one.  I had to figure out how to do things that he had done before, somehow. I still haven’t gotten the trash cans out for our trash pickup.  That’s for tomorrow night!

Then, there were the dietary changes.  We already ate mostly low sodium meals, and we did monitor fat content, but suddenly, all of that became more critical.  In addition, I soon learned that our vegetables were all “high” for Vitamin K, and as a result, needed to be restricted as much as the sodium or fat content.  In fact, it was perhaps more critical for the short term because it directly and immediately  interferes with the blood thinner.  Now, grocery shopping was a huge undertaking, as was meal preparation.  I’m a very skilled cook, but this was a new facet and I found myself seeking out recipes online that would serve as starting points to create the foods that we could enjoy eating.

Greg isn’t “out of the woods” as the saying goes.  He’s still adapting, and there are concerns about his physical well being.  Even more important, is the non-physical aspects of his recovery.  He seems to have lost the optimism that always was his trademark.  His temper is often on a hair trigger, and inanimate objects seem unusually capable of causing a melt down.  His chivalry is assaulted daily, as I struggle to do things like carry in groceries, laundry, or whatever physical task I’m tackling.  I have to argue with him, and it isn’t a quick argument, since I have to break it down into smaller steps, usually requiring many trips rather than one or two.

It isn’t possible for him to reasonably help with daily routine activities.  He’s exhausted by the simple things, like walking from the house to the car.  He doesn’t want to go anywhere, perhaps because of the exhaustion that the trip would result in.  Last week, we had a relatively simple appointment to keep, which required an extensive wait in a reception area.  We followed it with a short stop at a small grocery store.  The result was he was so exhausted that his speech was slurred and he staggered as he walked from the car to the house.  It’s as though his brain starts shutting down too, and he then becomes quite childlike at that time.

For those who know Greg, that’s a shocking change in personality.  As his wife, I find it more than merely shocking, it’s horrifying.

I had talked to his cardiologists assistant last week about his medications and expressed some concerns about his physical well being, particularly the level of exhaustion that was resulting from even below the approved level of activity.  (His restrictions were to walk around the house, short store trips, and to lift nothing over 25 lbs.)  We haven’t tested his lifting ability–it’s pointless when the house walking exhausts him.  Sitting in his chair at his desk exhausts him, and where he used to work for hours there, now, he is forced to retreat to bed, where he can recline and use his laptop.  The assistant said it could be adjusting to the medications, but to continue monitoring his activities and responses.

Some things, I know are exhausting.  Showers and baths, once accomplished so easily, are always difficult when confronted with physical disabilities.  In my own case, I know that I can’t jump out of bed, into the shower, and then run off to a long day of driving, shopping, and appointments.  Once I considered that normal, even desirable.  Now, I’d be in trouble at the jumping out of bed portion.

Since I had my accident, I had not driven much, and avoided distances of any kind, usually just driving locally if I was “going solo.”  Now, I don’t feel Greg is up to driving himself, because the exhaustion is as hazardous as being impaired by medications.  I know which medications I use that cause me to be less attentive than usual, and on the days when I drive, I don’t take them.  Granted, this results in some discomfort, and I do have alternatives to help take that discomfort down a notch, such as a very expensive topical NSAID my doctor prescribes for me to use.  I do the driving, and the used SUV we bought last year has features I need to make driving safer and easier for me, such as most of the controls in the steering wheel, good visibility, easy access in and out, and easy to operate doors.  I’m very glad that I annoyed the car salesman that day with my insistence that I tried every single door, got into the back seat, laid down the back seat, put it back up, tried the hatch several times, and then did a test drive to check the visibility and ease of operation.  I was having a hard time with our wheezy old mini-van, with everything from visibility to getting into it, and found the back doors and hatch almost impossible to manage.  While we still have the van, it hasn’t been anywhere in a while, and I have no intentions of trying to drive it now.  It’s sort of a “back up plan” more than a used vehicle now, especially with Greg out of commission.

Our lives have changed.  I’m not going to say for the worse, because change doesn’t always come down to good or bad, and trying to decide that while you are still adjusting is just not the brightest idea.  We’re having to learn how to ask for help.  Nobody likes to do that, especially when they have a lifetime of self-sufficiency behind them.  Now, we’re struggling with everything from financial difficulties to difficulties doing yard work, house work, and repairs on the house.

Usually, when our son in law and daughter come to visit, we’re at a loss for what to keep him busy–he’s somewhat hyper and becomes bored if we don’t have a project to complete.  Now, I have a list of things for the next visit, ranging from replacing a light fixture to some digging and trimming I need completed outside.  The real trick will be keeping Greg from trying to help, something that is apt to result in disaster right now.

I have to take a more active interest in everything from his medications to his activity levels now.  We had always had a somewhat independent view of each other, supporting each other but not interfering.  Now, I have to interfere and nag, and the nagging is something I really don’t like having to do.  I’m going to also have to take a more pushy attitude towards interacting with the doctors, including calling tomorrow to ask for an explanation for why he cannot do the walking he is supposed to be doing, and double checking the levels of his prescribed medication compared to that of what the assistant thought they were.

So yes, I have been busy.  I’ve also been scared and worried.  I’ve been concerned, and I’ve gone through every other emotion that a person can experience.  We’ve had to change everything from dreams  to hopes to our present reality from what it had been even a month ago.  We’re still adjusting.  At the same time, we’re still trying to keep doing the things we had always liked and enjoyed.

Greg missed one radio show (he hosts Voice of the People on Saturdays at 6 pm Central)  while he was in the hospital.  The first show after his release was the first Saturday he was home.  He intends to keep doing them too.  Yes, it did leave him exhausted.  Even so, I had beat him on exhaustion level, as I had planted 1 blueberry, 8 peppers, a rosemary plant and 2 tomatoes yesterday, as well as preparing two meals.  I’ll confess, after we ate dinner (after his show), I passed out trying to watch some program.  I  think it was something about ancient Alexandria.  I slept for two hours, and felt much better afterwards.  Of course, a late “nap” like this meant I had trouble going to bed, which then rippled out even further to a late start the next morning.

For now, its just a case of adapting to the things we can’t change.  It’s also a case of exploring the parameters of these new restrictions, and identifying permanent and temporary ones.  Maybe it is always a case of your point of perception.  I have decided that it isn’t so much a case of “can’ts” as it is a case of “how”?  It’s a new experience, and the things we learn can help expand our own world as well as be shared with others to help them escape things that can be so restrictive.

I love Greg, I want him to be as healthy as possible, I want him to live as long as possible, and I want to share the things that make us both happy with him.  We aren’t giving up dreaming, but we may adjust those dreams to deal with the people we are now and the ones we will become in the future.

Nobody enjoys lessons in humility, and perhaps that’s what we are now experiencing.

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