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A Heart Attack Story: Part 3 – Recovery

This is a bit delayed, and thinking back, I probably should have done it a bit sooner.

The first week out of the hospital was rough. It might have been even more troublesome if my wife didn’t have experience in cardiac nursing. I experienced frequent dizziness, and was extremely tired. My wife took my blood pressure frequently, and decided the problem was probably that my blood pressure was too low, especially for someone whose blood pressure usually ran very high. We cut back on one of my blood pressure medications for a couple of days and that seemed to help, and after talking with the doctor about it we continued on with the lower dose.

Week 2 was much better, though I was still very tired. Saw my regular doctor as a follow-up to the heart attack. Nothing major went down at the appointment, but it let him know what had gone on. Overall, I think he was pleased with things.

Week 3 meant returning to work. I was my cardiologist at the beginning of the week, then started working again mid-week. I was also able to start cardiac rehab during this week. It does 2 things for me: 1) I do some cardio exercises (treadmill and recumbent stationary bike to start), plus it takes me out of the office for a few hours 3 days a week, making it a little easier to get through the work days.

And since then, it is a blur. I’ve been taking all my medications every day, something I wasn’t very good at before my heart attack. I’m slowly increasing the difficulty of my walking and biking during rehab. They moved me from a recumbent stationary bike to an upright version meant to work my core more as I ride. I’ve even started walking at the farm again. I’m not doing full laps just yet, though I walk far enough that I could do a full lap, I’m trying to stay a little closer to the house in case I push it a little too far.

I’ve lost approximately 36 pounds since they day of my heart attack. I really need to start getting some photos taken of myself so I can see the change. My wife says I’m melting away, but some days I feel like I’m starving myself and seeing only small results. I just keep trying to remember that those 1/2 pound losses add up over time. I can tell that I’ve tightened my belt a bit, using notches I punched last time I was losing weight, but didn’t really use.

I’ve tried losing weight a number of times in my life, obviously unsuccessfully, but I feel like I’ve got a better chance of sticking with it this time. Perhaps it is simply the fear of death, or fear of leaving my family, but I feel more dedicated to continuing my efforts than I can ever recall feeling in the past.

And while we are on the subject of weight…it is a number I’ve been a bit afraid to share. I recognize that it is just a number. If you know me in real life, you can look at me and see how overweight I am. And if you’ve never met me, the number is just a large number, perhaps larger, perhaps smaller than you imagined after seeing photos. So let me just post it right here. My current weight is 357 pounds. If you do the math, that will tell you I was at 393 pounds the day I had my heart attack. A couple of years ago before my last try at losing weight I was 405 pounds.

So recovery keeps going slowly along. I still get tired more often than I’d like, and occasionally I get out of bed or my chair too quickly and I feel a little dizzy, but overall I’m getting slowly better. Thanks to everyone for the support.

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A Heart Attack Story: Part 2

We’re now at about 2 weeks post heart attack, but now I’m telling you about day 2 and 3 of my treatment.

After the doctor left the evening before, I was given some more morphine, and slept for a few hours, waking up in pain, and getting some more to get me through the rest of the night. The night was also interrupted by visits from the nurse and/or nursing assistant checking in on me, or taking blood for various tests.

Relatively early the next morning the cardiac doctor showed up and told me about the cardiac catheterzation procedure. The quick explanation is they would go in through either my wrist (preferred) or my groin (if necessary) with a ‘wire’ and thread it through my veins to my heart. There they would send some dye through the wire into the heart so they could see the various veins and arteries, and any blockages. If they found blockages they would blow up a balloon, and then insert a stent (looks like a Chinese finger trap) into the artery to hold it open. Any mistakes in that explanation are my own, not the doctor’s.

The doctor said he wanted to get my procedure done that morning, though he had a lot on the schedule, so didn’t promise a specific time. He did mention that someone would be coming to shave my groin and wrist in preparation for the procedure.

The next hour or so seems to pass fairly quickly, maybe I slept, certainly nurses came in, and maybe even another doctor, and I’m pretty sure I spent some time using wash cloths to try and clean myself up a bit. It was at ths time my wife told me I wouldn’t be wearing underwear during the procedure, and so I didn’t put them back on after washing up. Before the people could show up to shave me, they showed up to take me down to the holding area to wait for the doctor to be ready to work on me.

Since I haven’t been shaved yet, the nurses and other staff in this area get to do it. Shaving the wrist is of course easy, but to shave the groin area, I have to let a couple of strangers see beneath my gown. Not a huge deal, but I would later joke with my wife that more folks viewed my privates that day than might have done so over the rest of my life. I expected I would be waiting there a while, but once they were done shaving me, it seemed like they took me immediately to the cath lab for my procedure.

Wrist entry

The small mark on my wrist is all the doctor needed to get the wire and stent into my heart. Modern medicine is amazing.

I was able to help shift myself from one table to the other, though not without letting a few more people view my privates during the move. I had to keep my left arm tucked very close to me, while they strapped my right arm to a board to hold it still for them to use for the procedure.I felt like they had something very close to my face coming down from the ceiling, either a light, or something else. Several monitors sat to my left, though I didn’t really notice them until the procedure was almost done. The screens were showing views of my heart and the arteries, vessels, and veins when I looked at them.

Things get really fuzzy for a bit here. I’m fairly sure they gave me something for pain and to keep me calm for the procedure, perhaps it was strong, because I really don’t recall them actually beginning the procedure. I do remember feeling pressure at my wrist, and starting to feel a lot of chest pain. The doctor kept asking me to take a deep breath, though almost never letting me know I could exhale. Then, although I’d been having chest pain for more than a few minutes, the doctor told me that what they were doing might give me chst pain. I’d been keeping quiet about it because I assumed that when they were done the pain would be gone, though I guess it was good to have confirmation that it was supposed to be happening, and not just me having another heart attack while on the table.

I lost track of things again, and then it was over. The doctor told me I’d had a 99% blockage, and that they’d put in the stent to open it up, and that the artery was clear now. I don’t remember being rolled back to my room, but there I was! Because they’d been able to do the procedure by going through my wrist, I was able to sit up, though I couldn’t get on my feet for a few hours.

They wanted me to start getting up and being a little active, so after I was able to move, I took a short walk around the hospital floor. A few hours later, I tried it again, but feeling brave (or foolish) I tried to do the entire floor, and by the time I got back to the room I actually was feeling very bad. Not chest pain kind of bad, just very weak and tired, and just not feeling right. It was late enough in the day that I didn’t try another walk that evening.

The next day, the cardiac doctor came in to see me, and while I think he would have let me go home that day, he wanted me to stay another night. While my wife knows much of this cardiac care, we decided to go with the doctor’s advice and stay another day. If something had happened, I wouldn’t have wanted my wife wondering if there had been something she should have noticed, or should have done. Also by staying there, we were right at the hospital rather than 90 minutes away in the event of some further event happening.

I took a walk every 2-3 hours starting short again and slowly stretching it further as the day went on. I felt far batter than when I’d tried the long walk the day before, and even walked the same distance a couple of times in a row when it started feeling like too much.

As the day went on, I was able to remove some of the monitors and other tubes that attached me to my bed, so movement got easier, and I felt a bit more free. And the next morning, I was truly free. They gave me a thick pile of paperwork, including a lengthy list of medicines, and I was able to head home.

There is more to the story, though it may get a different name, since it will be more about my recovery, and may continue for months as I continue to adjust to my health situation. Thank you for reading.

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A Heart Attack Story: Part 1

One week ago, I suffered a heart attack, and suffer is definitely the right word. I woke up in the middle of the night with some severe chest pain. Initially I thought it might just be stomach acids and tried drinking water, taking some Tums, and drinking some milk, but none of them helped even a tiny bit, and so I cried tears of pain as I woke my wife.

Within minutes we headed out the door. I left behind my jacket, cell phone, and glasses. Luckily I put on my pants while she let her dad know we were leaving and letting him know not to worry about getting the kids to school in the morning if we weren’t back.

I don’t really remember a lot of the ride to the hospital. I remember Elizabeth telling me to breathe slowly, and that I didn’t need to be doing any breathing like we’d learned for the delivery of our children. By the time we reached the hospital, the pain had subsided slightly, but not enough to change my mind about needing the trip to the hospital.

Elizabeth dropped me right at the doors to the emergency room while she went and parked the car. I stood near the door waiting for her to walk from the car. She of corse gave me a hard time saying that I wasn’t supposed to wait for her. Inside they took me into triage, asked what was going on, and I told the story of what happened and how I was feeling for the first time…well the 2nd time I guess, since I’d told Elizabeth when I woke her up, but that seemed different somehow.
After checking my vital signs, which were of course not very good, they moved me into a treatment area where I took off my shirt so they could hook me up to an EKG machine to look at my heartbeat, and they also started an IV, though I don’t remember if they actually hooked it up to anything at this time. In fact, some of what went on in the ER is a bit confused, and probably out of order.

The doctor came in. It was someone we go to church with, so he knew me, and my daughter had been to sleep overs with his daughter. This made it a little weird to be telling him all about what has happening.

Before long they gave me two kinds of nitroglycerine, one under my tongue, and one as a paste on my chest meant to be absorbed through my skin. This quickly got rid of most of the chest pain, but also dropped my blood pressure so quickly I started feeling hot and clammy. I’d been sitting up in the bed, but apparently I got very pale, and they laid the bed back a bit to keep me from passing out.

A cardiac doctor got involved as well, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t see him until after I left the ER.

Once I was stable, they moved me into a regular hospital room. They wanted to observe me, and as a follow-up to what they thought might be a heart attack they take a series of blood tests to check a particular enzyme put out by the heart when it is damaged. The first one, which they took while I was in the ER came back as ‘high normal’ and so I don’t think they were feeling certain that my pain was truly a heart attack.

A different doctor came to check on me in the hospital room, and I got to tell my tale again. After the initial decrease in my level of pain from the nitroglycerine, it seemed like every visit and talk with a doctor would lead to increased chest pain, and at some point morphine became involved. The morphine would take me out of it for a couple of hours, but usually when I woke up I’d have a low level of pain again.

Next visit from the doctor they reported that the enzyme levels were higher, into true heart attack range, though on a test where they had seen levels of 500, I was below a 2, so the heart attack was considered minor. Things moved fairly rapidly at this point, the cardiac doctor showed up, we talked about steps now that they were far more certain I’d had a heart attack. They moved me to ICU because they wanted me on a medicine that they can’t administer in the regular rooms, and they were planning on transferring me to a different hospital where I could get a cardiac catheterization.

My wife, Elizabeth, used to be a nurse in the hospital we were transferring to, and in fact used to work on the floor that handled patients recovering after cardiac catheterization. This meant we had long time friends at the other end of this transfer, and before I could be transferred from a regular room to the ICU within the same hospital, the larger hospital had already been in touch with the ICU to get report on my condition.

They were trying to get me moved quickly, hoping to do the cardiac catheterization the same day, but because I am a big guy, they had to make sure they used a certain ambulance, so there was a delay, during which I mostly zoned out and slept from a dose of morphine, and then I took my first ambulance ride.

They sent a 4 person crew, a couple of them were in training, though I suspect the number had more to do with needing to lift me than any need for that many on the trip. I got to tell my story again, though with them I think it was more a way of killing time on the long ride than from any serious medical need. While we road we also talked about my work with computers, and I got to listen to them as they discussed a lot of EMT related topics. One of the crew had been through the catheterization procedure and told me how it was relatively pain-free and very effective.

Some time during the ride they received a call, and we found out that I wouldn’t be getting the procedure that day, and so when we arrived, I went to a regular room. Elizabeth was following behind, and so they had me settled into my room by the time she arrived. There may have been a doctor visit in here, but I honestly don’t recall, but later in the evening, after dark there was definitely another doctor, who deserves special mention for two reasons.

First, and most obviously is that he bore a strong resemblance to Chris Kattan. Second, he was a self-described nerd, and his topic of choice was medicines. Though I was just getting to the hospital, he was discussing the various medications I would likely be taking after I went home. Not only did he tell me what I would be taking, but he explained why, and informed me about a lot of the statistics from studies about the medicines. ie: Medicine A would tend to cut risk of future events by 80 percent, while medicine B, which they might put me on only had about a 2% improvement in survival rates and only if taken for 7 years. Perhaps a bit too much information, but her really felt it was important that I understand all the logic behind the medicines I would be taking, and could make informed decisions if I decided ‘No, I don’t want to take that one’.

I planned on telling the story of my heart attack all in one post, but it seems we’ve barely reached the end of day 1 and I’ve already rambled on far too long. Perhaps I’m adding information that isn’t exciting, but while I am writing this to let everyone know what went on, I’m also writing it so I will remember things and have this to look back on in the future.

As I read back over this, there are a couple of important points that I want to make that I don’t feel like I’ve been expressing.

1) I spent this entire day in a great deal of pain. They would give me morphine, and it would kind of take me out of it, and I would sleep for a while, but the pain never really seemed to leave me, though it was sometimes stronger than others.

2) I also was very worried and stressed out most of this time. Looking back, I’ve been wishing maybe I’d been using my phone a bit, taking pictures of the doctors and nurses so I would remember them, but at the time my thoughts were focused on pain and stress when I was actually awake and thinking.

3) My wife stayed by my side nearly 24 hours a day. She did many things nurses would normally do, and so I didn’t always have to wait for help with things like getting up to pee the way the average patient might. Also the fact that she knew all about the cardiac medicine and procedures meant she could usually help answer questions that came to mind after the doctors left the room.

I’m going to keep writing, and you’ll probably see part 2 of my tale early next week.

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Walking in the Stream

Scattered and confused reflections.

Scattered and confused reflections.

While I took my morning stroll, my mind was running at a frantic pace. Sometimes the thoughts have a logical connection, others my mind simply hops from one idea to another seemingly without meaning. Most of the thoughts contain nothing grand, or stressful but the sheer volume overwhelmed me, leaving me emotionally confused. For some reason, I thought I would share. All this came to mind during a 10 minute walk, and I’m sure more thoughts crossed my mind, but were not memorable enough to recall.

I’m presenting two versions, the first called ‘For Your Sanity’ separates the thoughts a bit so you can comfortably read through it. The second, title ‘The Wall’ captures a bit more closely that feeling of being overwhelmed by my thoughts.

For Your Sanity

Did I turn in that paperwork? It would be a little bit of money.

Hospital bills will be coming in. I should call that other insurance and see if they’ll pay anything because I had a heart attack.

I need to check on things at job 2.

What am I going to eat today?

I should do more cleaning up while I have this time off.

Was that two laps or three?

What am I doing with Cub Scouts this week?

Oh, Thursday is Maunday Thursday at church.

How am I supposed to balance carbs, sodium and calories at the same time and actually set a diet I can stick with?

I’d like to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the kids.

Maybe I should do some laundry.

I wonder if that Fitbit thing is worth it.

What are we doing this weekend? Oh yeah, Easter. Isn’t one of the kids singing on Sunday?

What do I need to have ready for class tonight?

I need to call and get a date for my follow up doctor’s appointment. And get a referral for rehab. Hope I can get the early session.

Maybe I can go to the office and turn in that paperwork.

Need to get Steven Paul this afternoon.

My knee hurts a little bit, is that just normal pain, or does it mean something else? Does my chest hurt? No, but it sure is cold this morning, freezing the lungs a bit.

Should I stop, or can I do another lap?

Better take my pills when I get inside.

What is Charlie howling at?

I want some more chickens, but probably not a good idea right now. Maybe when it gets warmer.

I’m actually feeling pretty good right now.

I need to get some paint and work on some terrain for a game. Wish I had a steady gaming group. I wonder if I know some folks who game but I don’t even realize it.

Isn’t today payday? Maybe I should pay the bills this morning. Might want to wait for Elizabeth just in case.

Jane Marie seems more grown up this week. Hope me getting sick didn’t cause it. Maybe it was time though. Will I get to dance at her wedding?

Did I grab my nitro pills this morning? There they are, but I forgot my cell phone.

I need to fill in my calendar with all the kids’ activities that are coming up.

I need to clean out the car.

Have I really taught the students much at all?

I need to finish that bird feeder. I wonder if I could sell it?

The strips for checking my blood sugar expired. Can I order those from Amazon?

Since my group is small, maybe I can get Cub Scouts to meet on Wednesday night so we don’t miss a meeting this week.

There’s a lot of stuff running through my mind, I should write some of it down.

The Wall

Did I turn in that paperwork? It would be a little bit of money. Hospital bills will be coming in. I should call that other insurance and see if they’ll pay anything because I had a heart attack. I need to check on things at job 2. What am I going to eat today? I should do more cleaning up while I have this time off. Was that two laps or three? What am I doing with Cub Scouts this week? Oh, Thursday is Maunday Thursday at church. How am I supposed to balance carbs, sodium and calories at the same time and actually set a diet I can stick with? I’d like to run a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for the kids. Maybe I should do some laundry. I wonder if that Fitbit thing is worth it. What are we doing this weekend? Oh yeah, Easter. Isn’t one of the kids singing on Sunday? What do I need to have ready for class tonight? I need to call and get a date for my follow up doctor’s appointment. And get a referral for rehab. Hope I can get the early session. Maybe I can go to the office and turn in that paperwork. Need to get Steven Paul this afternoon. My knee hurts a little bit, is that just normal pain, or does it mean something else? Does my chest hurt? No, but it sure is cold this morning, freezing the lungs a bit. Should I stop, or can I do another lap? Better take my pills when I get inside. What is Charlie howling at? I want some more chickens, but probably not a good idea right now. Maybe when it gets warmer. I’m actually feeling pretty good right now. I need to get some paint and work on some terrain for a game. Wish I had a steady gaming group. I wonder if I know some folks who game but I don’t even realize it. Isn’t today payday? Maybe I should pay the bills this morning. Might want to wait for Elizabeth just in case. Jane Marie seems more grown up this week. Hope me getting sick didn’t cause it. Maybe it was time though. Will I get to dance at her wedding? Did I grab my nitro pills this morning? There they are, but I forgot my cell phone. I need to fill in my calendar with all the kids’ activities that are coming up. I need to clean out the car. Have I really taught the students much at all? I need to finish that bird feeder. I wonder if I could sell it? The strips for checking my blood sugar expired. Can I order those from Amazon? Since my group is small, maybe I can get Cub Scouts to meet on Wednesday night so we don’t miss a meeting this week. There’s a lot of stuff running through my mind, I should write some of it down.

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Early Inspiration: Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

Originally posted on DungeonBriefs:

This post is the first in my Early Inspirational Reading series. I’ll be rereading and discussing some older fantasy novels and discussing how they inspired me in my adventure design and role-playing.

The Sleeping Dragon Cover The Sleeping Dragon (Guardians of the Flame) by Joel Rosenberg

By the time I read Joel Rosenberg’s The Sleeping Dragon, and the rest of his Guardians of the Flame series, I’d already been playing Dungeons and Dragons for several years.  Though many stories before, and since used the premise, this book is the first I recall reading that dealt with people shifting from the real world into a fantasy setting. In this case, it was even more interesting because the characters were actually gamers transported into the world they believed to be a fictional place created for them by their game master.

Upon arriving in the game world, the players quickly realize they have the bodies, and…

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Santa for a Night

Santa and the kids.

Santa and the kids.

Though Santa and I have shared a similar physiques for quite a long time, this is the first year I’ve actually gotten to be Santa Clause. The opportunity came up only the day before an event at the local elementary school, and even though I’d never done this before, once I knew it was possible I knew I wanted to do it. I’m lucky the notice was relatively short, because after saying I would do it, I began to get nervous. Santa Claus is a big deal for kids. I knew the suit fit me, but would I be able to be Santa Claus?

Perhaps I should have spent some time researching how to be Santa Claus, but I had to work, and time was limited. Besides, I’d been a kid, seen all the Christmas specials on television, so I figured I could handle it.

Things went smoothly as I put on the costume, except that I was wearing white socks! I hadn’t considered the color of the socks then I put them on in the morning, but they showed a little between my shoes and the back boot tops that I wore on my calves. Luckily it was only a tiny bit of white, and my feet wouldn’t show in the pictures.

After getting the thumbs up from my wife, and some of the other school employees I headed towards my station in the gym. Kids spotted me right away, some smiling and waving with their eyes wide in wonder. Others slid behind their parents for protection. I don’t know when I made the decision, but though I tried a couple deep Ho-Ho-Ho’s, it didn’t feel quite right, so as I walked down the hall I would shake hands, and say Merry Christmas in something not far from my natural voice. I even got a few hugs before I made it to the chair where kids would be getting their picture taken and talking with Santa

But they weren’t just talking with Santa, they were talking to me! I was Santa! It was very exciting for me, and I don’t think I stopped smiling all night! Even though the fake beard hid my smile, I’m fairly certain you could see it in the roundness of my cheeks and the sparkle in my eyes.

After the first few kids, I fell into a rhythm. We’d take care of getting the pictures, so the parents could take a look at them while I talked with the children. I asked if they’d been good, told them to keep behaving, asked what they wanted for Christmas, and thanked them for visiting with me.

I don’t know if they believed I was Santa, but everyone treated me like Santa Claus! My own kids knew it was me, as did my nephew, and one of my Cub Scouts, but everyone else treated me like the real thing! Faces lit up when they saw me, some hugged me, and some little ones even cried, but they kept lining up to meet me.

I may never be lucky enough to have this experience again, but for that night, for just a few hours, I was Santa Claus. I got to experience the joy and magic of Christmas in a whole new way.

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Virtual GenCon 2014

Originally posted on DungeonBriefs:

Kill the die! Yes, this week, gamers invaded Indianapolis for GenCon 2014!

Reading my Twitter feed, I know many of you are already there. Dice rolling, cards flipping, roles playing, friendships forming! I know you’re enjoying an amazing experience. Thanks to the wonderful world of The Internet, those of us stuck at home can share in the enjoyment!  Here are a few links I am using to keep an eye on things:

1) Board Game Geek Livestream: Board Game Geek is providing a stead stream of game demos all day long! Learn about some new games!

2) Oomba.tv: They’re hosting a number of interviews throughout the day. I’ve been having some trouble with this site, but I keep checking back hoping they’ll get things running smoothly.

3) Twitter!: I’ve seen both #GenCon and #GenCon2014 hashtags. The links will take you straight to a search for those hashtags. I’ve kept both open…

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