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.

5 comments to Dealing with heart failure

  • […] First, I’d like to thank everyone for their good wishes. It really means a lot. For those of you interested in exactly what went wrong with my health, I wrote about it in my personal blog. […]

  • So sorry to hear you have been dealing with this. I am encouraged to hear that you have taken the steps you need to improve your health. Keep it up! We want you around for a long time. Take care of yourself, Ryan.

  • David

    Although recovery may be slow, it’s great to see that you’re on the right track! Take it slow and easy.

  • Kevin Kirton

    So sorry to hear about your heart condition, Ryan, but very happy to read your heartfelt and inspiring response and the progress you’re making. Health, loved ones and friends, doing meaningful and rewarding things (translating and coding), these are the important things. All the best.

  • Hey Ryan,

    Terrible to hear about your trial, but I’m glad that you’re doing better. Just wanted to say I definitely get what you mean about the importance of relationships, but also don’t downplay what you’ve done with your life!

    I came across your blog a year or two ago; I returned to the US a few years ago after teaching English in Japan, and for a time I was seriously considering trying to break into translation. I came across your blog and found it very helpful and inspiring. Ultimately I decided to go in a different direction and am now working my first IT job. Funny when I think about it; upon first reading your blog I had no idea what you were talking about in your Python posts.

    Anyway, I wish you all the best and I hope you’ll update your blog some more!

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