Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pain Might Be Your Last Warning

I am scheduled to have coronary bypass surgery because I was lucky enough to have bronchitis. Sound funny, but it’s the truth. If not for the bronchitis I might have delayed seeing a cardiologist until after a heart attack.

In most ways, I’m a typical man, and my type of behavior is predictable. Though older than I admit and heavier than I should be, I have always considered myself capable of answering any challenge regardless of a few aches and pains.

Over the years, I have modified my exercise routines to avoid injury and pain risks. As an aging martial artist, my tournament-training days of tornado-like spinning heel kicks are behind me. In their place, I’ve adapted to a routine of lower and shorter-reaching but effective techniques to both promote fitness and maintain something of an emergency arsenal should the occasion arise. I have enough skeletal issues to discourage running, but walking has been enjoyable, until recently.

At first I found myself out breath much quicker than in the past, and then my blood pressure elevated after even short workouts. As fate would have it, a flare-up of reoccurring bronchitis emerged. Naturally, I credited my bronchitis with the exercise-induced shortness of breath and elevated blood pressure. Wisely, I decided to lay off my exercise routine until the bronchitis cleared up.

Then it snowed in Louisiana. My four-year-old grandson had never seen snow, and the idea of going outside into the white stuff captured his imagination.

After I gave him a demonstration of how to make a snowball, he quickly became an expert, too. Of course, I had to help him make his first snowman. What kind of grandpa would pass up such an opportunity?

As the base of the snowman grew to sufficient size, I realized that I was in trouble. I leaned on a nearby fence while I encouraged my breathing to return to normal and for an angry tightness in my chest to relax. The closest thing I’d had to this level of discomfort had been during the last few hundred yards of an Alabama 10K in 1985. Back then, I had the good, or you might say, bad timing of approaching the finish line beside another runner, who was as determined to finish in front of me as I was to be in front of him. Understandable consequence for then, but this time, all I’d done was roll up a medium-sized snowball.

After I recovered my breath, and the pain left me, I blamed the bronchitis and rolled another ball to make the middle of our snowman. Then it happened again.

When I recovered, we finished the snowman. My grandson thought it was a great invention. I think he’ll remember at least a little about his first time whenever he makes another snowman, or as he called it, a snow dragon. Because his grandpa writes books with dragons in them, he often sees dragons where others can't. 

When I explained the breathing, blood pressure, and pain issues as part of a plea to get my desired antibiotics, my doctor suspected more than bronchitis. A flurry of test and procedures: EKG, x-rays, stress test, and eventual heart catheter confirmed the suspicions.

I have many blockages, some quite serious. The doctor told me that the good news was that my heart was healthy. Sounds funny to you and me, but in cardiologist talk, that means I haven’t had a heart attack. I presume many of their patients wait too long. Good thing I didn’t.

When there isn’t enough oxygen-carrying blood flowing to a part of your heart, you get pain, sometimes called angina. Fortunately, the pain goes away when you rest. It’s not a heart attack, but it’s a sign you might have one.

It’s not always an indication that you’ve allowed yourself to get out of shape and need to push yourself to the next level. Telling yourself, “pain is weakness leaving the body,” and then trying to push through the barrier can very well kill you. I think that may be what happened to a few of my old friends. I didn’t understand it until now. As demonstrated, a typical man may not be able to distinguish the nature of these pains until he gets some help from a cardiologist.

Not all problems like this require coronary bypass surgery. Depending on the severity, some solutions are relatively simple, but you need a trained professional to make the determination.

Naturally, my story is not a substitute for qualified medical advice, but I hope it serves as a warning to all those typical folks like many of friends who chose to push back at the pain.

Think of pain as a light on the master caution panel. Don’t push it and forget it, hoping it stays away. Investigate it; you might have multiple problems confusing your symptoms. Take the proper action.

Be good to your heart. Talk to a doctor about chest pain and shortness of breath.

It might not be what you want it to be.

The Chronicles of Susah

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  1. It's good to get the dirt straight from the horse's mouth. �� I'm much relieved you found the danger before it found you. Please do keep keeping on!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. I plan to keep on keeping on; however, as the date of my times five bypass surgery comes closer, I had to consider the possibilities. I thought it would be best to offer as much as I know now. If these words help even one more person, I've done much.

    Thanks for reading.