That message came to me from my wife last Friday. No. I hadn’t realized that Feb. 1 was my sixth “cardioversary”. And, chances are, neither did you. Six years ago, I embarked on a whirlwind journey that indelibly changed my philosophy on life. And, with it being American Heart Month, it’s always the perfect time to share my story.
I’m a big, tall, guy1. I’m also overweight, much like a large percentage of America. I’m sedentary. I love to eat barbecue2. I hide my extra pounds fairly well because of my height. Because of that fact, I never really gave much thought to my overall health. Besides, six years ago, I was 34 years old. I was still a pretty young guy, riding out the last vestiges of self-perceived invincibility.
However, as part of a New Year’s resolution, I pledged that I would take stairs whenever possible. I had lots of stairs to climb at the office as I hopped from meeting to meeting. I parked on the third floor of the garage every day just so I could take the stairs to and from the car. I did this every day, and it was grueling. The exhaustion and shortness of breath I felt was, in my mind, just what a “fatty” like me was going to experience getting started. It was good for me. But, as time went on, I didn’t feel it getting any better. If anything, I started feeling worse.
One evening, I climbed the three flights of stairs to my car and felt completely, utterly wiped out. Almost as if I had run a marathon. I sat in my car for 10 minutes before I caught enough breath and regained enough energy to head home. That was not normal.
My dad’s dad died from a heart attack in his sleep when he was 30. That was what began flashing white hot across my mind as I was gasping for breath in my car.
Oh, shit. I’m dying.
I got in to see a cardiologist the next day, who set me up for a treadmill stress test. To get a baseline reading, the technician needs you to run on the treadmill for 10 minutes. I could only make six before I was feeling suffocated. But, that was enough for them to be able to see in an ultrasound that I had some blockage in my coronary arteries.
“Nothing too bad,” they said. “We’ll schedule you for an angioplasty and you’ll be back to work in a couple of days.”
The angioplasty on Feb. 1 lasted only five minutes. When they got in there, they found three of my coronary arteries were 100% blocked. So, the very next morning, I found myself shaved and sedated as I underwent a six-hour triple bypass surgery.
I’m fine now, of course. Also, luckily, I never had a heart attack. My knowledge of my family’s heart history saved me from that and from possibly far worse. I take a litany of blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol medications that I’ll be on for the rest of my days. I was a lot better with diet and exercise in the beginning than I am now. That’s the one place where I really need to regain control.
Zeldman’s post this morning on Hillman Curtis and colonoscopies reminded me again about my cardioversary. It reminded me that, even at 40, I still have remnants of that invincibility. Those are the remnants that keep me saying, “Oh, it’s OK if I have this burger today,” even though I had a burger last week. No matter your age, those might be the remnants that keep you from thinking that you should have your cholesterol checked, a stress test run, a colonoscopy, mammogram or any of the other myriad things that you may think you don’t need because none of this could ever happen to you.
Thankfully, you’re right. It probably won’t happen to you. But, why not go check just to make sure it doesn’t? Everyone that loves you will thank you for it.