Dealing with heart failure
This place has been empty for a while. Hold on while I tidy up a little … OK.
So a funny thing happened to me on my way to my 45th birthday. About a week after my last physical exam, where I got a clean bill of health, I started getting out of breath climbing the six flights of stairs to my office. At my old job I worked on the 23rd floor and took the stairs, so getting out of breath after six was odd. I quickly and progressively got worse, until just walking around the supermarket was almost too much to handle.
Three weeks after that physical, I went into a walk-in clinic complaining of feeling weak and getting out of breath easily. They immediately called an ambulance and rushed me to the emergency room. After a flurry of tests, they told me that I had heart failure. I later found out that it was due to an abnormal heartbeat that I had probably had for years. I was pretty floored to be diagnosed with heart failure at 44 years of age, but I guess I shouldn't have been. Heart failure is what did in my father at 54 and probably my grandfather at 58.
Sitting in the ICU, I had quite a bit of time on my hands, so I started googling. I found out that heart failure has a poor prognosis, with survival rates on a par with cancer. Statistically, I have an 80% chance of surviving one year, a 50% chance of surviving five years, and a 20% chance of surviving eight years. You can spot a trend in there. 🙂
So that kind of sucks. The good news is that I have been steadily getting better since leaving the hospital. I walk, swim, and bicycle. The only real ill effect that I notice is that I get tired quickly. If I don't take breaks and go slowly, I pay for it later. So I slow down and can lead a normal life.
Another good thing is that the bar for a miraculous recovery is set pretty low. 🙂
And I'm determined to recover, doing everything my doctor has told me and more. I get more exercise now than I did before I got sick. I closely follow my low-sodium diet, and have lost more than 50 pounds. My heart's efficiency has gone from 15% to 50% in just a few months (55% is considered "normal").
Having a serious illness like this also let me see life differently. I was able to realize that the accomplishments and knowledge I had been proud of were meaningless. Sitting in the hospital and thinking I might die at any moment, I realized that the only things that mattered to me were the relationships I had built with my loved ones. This was true before I got sick, and being able to realize it is a gift.
In fact, since getting out of the hospital, every day seems richer and more satisfying. I've been able to realize how fortunate I am to have the family and friends that I do. This probably sounds kind of hokey, but it's true. It's made getting sick almost worth it.