Category Archives: Health

Recovery

“Use that toilet over there, to void your bladder. Then take off all your clothes and put them in this bag. Then put on this skimpy gown, and I’ll tie it in the back,” she instructed. Thus began the humiliating process of my surgery.

Why tie it in the back? It doesn’t reach completely around, so she’s going to see the crack of my ass anyway. But it’s de rigueur. I suppose it’s so I can put on a pretense of modesty. But in truth, there ain’t no modesty in a hospital.

A fluoroscope. The one used in my surgery looked somewhat different, but the idea is the same. Fluoroscopy uses X-rays to provide real-time moving images of the inside of the body.

She walked me down a hallway in my flimsy gown, my bare ass greeting any and all hospital personnel who might have glanced back at me. Then into a room with a large, white, highly technical-looking machine, called a fluoroscope, where I was ordered to sit on the operating table.

A beautiful, young Asian woman quickly untied my gown, that had just been tied about a minute earlier, and proceeded to apply all kinds of sticky, cool electrode patches to my naked back, chest, and thighs. Her touch was supple, and felt sensual, soft, and soothing. If my wallet hadn’t been in my clothes bag, I would have tipped her.

Her next step involved giving me a shave. This would require a great degree of concentration, on my part.

But before she could get the razor out, the damned anesthesiologist slammed an oxygen cup over my face and told me to inhale deeply. I felt a caustic poison burn its way up a vein in my right arm, from the IV. I wondered if this is what it feels like to be executed by lethal injection. If so, it’s cruel and unusual.

The ceiling started swimming away from me, and then it was off to Dreamville. Or Deathville.

The next thing I knew, I was hearing jumbled voices. I realized I was being wheeled to the Recovery Room. My stomach felt like it had been kicked by a jackass, and so I tried to turn over on my side, to alleviate the pain. Hands grabbed me and ordered, “No, no, sir! You must stay on your back! Keep your legs down and straight, or your sutures will come out!”

My head was whirling and I could hardly breathe, due to my aching belly. My throat felt raw, also. That’s because the preliminary part of this catheter ablation involved a Transesophogeal Echocardiogram (TEE). That’s where the surgeon drives a train down your esophagus and into your stomach. There, the train sounds it’s horn loudly, and the echos that result produce an image of the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA) of the heart.

The LAA is where blood clots can form, from Afib events. It must be free of blood clots before an ablation can be safely performed. Otherwise there’s a danger that a clot could be dislodged and travel to the brain or elsewhere, causing a lot of damage.

Having found no blood clots, the ablation procedure got the green light. The train utilized a roundhouse in my stomach, chuffed back up the tunnel of my weasand, and choo-chooed out my mouth, knocking a tooth loose in the process. But this is only what I can surmise after-the-fact, as I was asleep during the TEE procedure.

Next came the ablation. One-quarter-inch incisions were made at the top of each side of the front of the groin. The surgeon rammed thin catheters through these incisions, then guided them, with the help of the fluoroscope, up through my femoral veins and into my inferior vena cava, and then on up to the right atrial chamber of my heart.

There, the catheters burrowed through my atrial septum like flesh-eating worms, to reach the left atrium, and slithered up inside my pulmonary veins (which receive oxygenated blood from my lungs). In each of the four pulmonary veins, one of the catheters threw a party, and inflated a balloon. This balloon was supercooled to sub-zero temperatures, and it pressed against the inside walls of the veins, and gave them frostbite.

The frostbite damaged the veins, which will create a ring of scar tissue when healed, similar to ringing a tree. Scar tissue does not conduct electricity well. Now, if my Afib is the most common type, then overactive cells on my pulmonary veins have been sending stray electrical signals to the left atrium of my heart, making it fibrillate. The scar tissue will act as an insulator to block those signals, thus preventing future Afib events.

This procedure works very well on 70% to 80% of Afib patients. My doctor is gambling that I’m one of them. But if not, he’ll have to try this again, and look for the source of the stray signals elsewhere in my heart.

In the Recovery Room, my mouth felt dry as a chalkboard. My tongue was a stick of chalk. I felt a desperate need to swallow, but could not. You need saliva as lubricant, to swallow, but there was no spit in my mouth.

I found that screeving my chalky tongue over the insides of my chalkboard mouth, I could stimulate a few precious drops of saliva. But it was arduous work, like drilling for oil. I ran my tongue along the gumline of my bottom front teeth, and managed to conjure up a few more soothing drops.

And that’s when I noticed that my #24 central incisor was loose. It posted back and forth with each touch of my tongue. And so I had to avoid this area, in my search for saliva, lest my tooth wiggle completely free. And this made the oil drilling all the more challenging.

After they wheeled me into the Recovery Room, I looked to the right and saw a big, round, white, institutional clock hanging on a distant wall. The little hand was past the 10, and the big hand was near the 37 hashmark. It was 10:37. I looked to my left and saw a similar clock, hanging on the wall close to me. And it too read 10:37.

And so I calculated that my surgery had lasted about two hours. A little later I wondered what time it was, so I looked to my right, for the clock. There was no clock, just curtains that surrounded the bed next to mine. So I looked at the wall immediately to my left. And again, there was no clock. Just a big computer monitor displaying my vital signs.

I guess I had been hallucinating the clocks. And yet, it checked out that my surgery had lasted two hours, and that I had been wheeled into the Recovery Room a little after 10:30. Weird.

I felt cold, and began shivering. Soon the shivering turned violent, and nurses started piling warm blankets all over me. But it wasn’t enough, and the shivering and shaking persisted. This was similar to what happened to me about ten months earlier, when I’d been taken by ambulance to an Emergency Room, with an Afib episode.

Apparently, my body was going into shock, because when you’re in shock you feel extremely cold. I guess I go into shock easily. I’d probably never survive a major car accident.

Finally the warmth from the blankets managed to permeate my body sufficiently to stop the shivering. But now there were so many blankets I felt like I was suffocating under the weight. I managed to flag down a nurse, and she removed about half of them. That felt much much better.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best I could feel, I felt like a zero going into the Recovery Room. Three hours later I was up to about a 2, when the charge nurse decided I was well enough to go home. And so I was 86’d from the hospital, via wheelchair, and tossed to the curb, where my wife picked me up and drove me home.

The doctor instructed that I was to rest, and not to lift anything, or exercise for a full week. And yet here I am, the day after surgery, lifting my fingers to type this stupid post. And my blog, of course, is an exercise in futility.

Worse than that, my wife fixed a bowl of chicken noodle soup for me after I got home. I advised her that since I wasn’t allowed to lift anything, I could not lift the soup spoon. She would have to feed me. But she lifted her eyebrows and refused. I guess this was her way of practicing tough love. She wants me to be as independent as possible, so I had to lift that dangerously heavy soup spoon all by myself.

But seriously, my wife has been an indispensable help to me throughout the past week. This reminds me how invaluable it can be, when we have a spouse who loves us.

As I write this, the surgery was yesterday. Today I have a badass headache, from a severe cold I contracted at the hospital. And my throat feels like it’s been run over by a train. I’m moving around a little more, but am finding it hard to concentrate. I must follow the doctor’s orders, and rest. And so I will keep this post short, and go back to bed now.

Aftermath

Although I wrote this the day after my surgery, I continued to revise it throughout the week, following my recovery, as my mind cleared up and shifted into damage control.

During this past week, I developed bruising, swelling, and soreness on my right wrist, where the IV had been inserted, that hurt like a son-of-a-gun for a few days, and that is still somewhat swollen and sore.

I also developed bruising above and below my left incision, but while ugly, it has been painless.

My throat remained sore for about three days following the surgery. My tooth is still a little loose, but seems to be tightening up. And I caught a severe cold at the hospital, but it’s much better now.

I’ve had one arrhythmia event, that lasted for an hour, on Sunday. These are to be expected during the so-called “blanking period.” Inflammation and irritation of the heart, due to the surgery, can trigger arrhythmias for up to three months following the surgery. This is why it can’t be known if the surgery was a success until after three months.

However, I was having arrhythmia events nearly daily, prior to my surgery. So I consider it a good sign to have had only one short one, this past week. I will also note that I feel more mentally clear and alert than I’ve felt for years, in spite of all my aches and pains, and this cold. I’m hoping this is also a sign of success.

Thank you everyone, for your well wishes and yes, even your prayers. Knowing that there are people out there who care about me, has helped me get through this.

Out of Rhythm

As I write the first part of this post, it’s December 5th, 2020, and I ain’t in rhythm. Right now the electrical currents in my heart are zinging about helter-skelter, dancing to the beat of a drunk drummer.

This is a heart arrhythmia event, and it can go on for hours, even days. I get them just about every day, nowadays. I think they began when I was a teenager, or at least that’s my story. I can’t prove it, but I’ll use any excuse to vindicate my life-long laziness.

But I may be running out of excuses. Some damned doctor has decided I need heart surgery. And if this surgery is successful, I’ll have to get off my shiftless ass and start doing more chores around the house. Fuck.

My last cardiologist was more than willing to do nothing. But he and I got into it and I got feisty and found a new heart doctor. It’s my pride, you see. I don’t like to lose.

My new sawbones is an electrophysiologist (EP), and EPs specialize in heart arrhythmias. The surgery he’s planning is called a cryoablation. This crazy son-of-a-bitch plans to run a thin catheter from my groin, through my blood vessels, up to my heart, and freeze the hell out of the supercharged areas that he believes are short-circuiting my ticker. Talk about a cold-hearted thing to do.

I only hope he won’t make a mistake and freeze my balls off in the process.

And hopefully this will put an end to my nuisance heart condition, that has been diagnosed as Atrial Fibrillation (Afib). Except that I won’t have an excuse to be lazy anymore.

Arrhythmia events feel so unusual, that they are hard for me to describe, and hard to remember how to describe. So if the cryoablation is successful, I fear I may forget altogether what an arrhythmia event feels like, or how to identify it, should this mutherfucker pop up its evil head again.

And so this post is about describing, to the best of my ability, what Afib feels like. I’ll use it for reference, in case my frozen arrhythmia ever thaws out and revives, like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Presently, I feel weak and shaky. And I feel congested, as if I have a bag of dry sand in my chest. It’s the kind of stifling sensation you can get in your lungs when driving down a dirt road, inhaling the dust.

But because I feel shaky, let’s make it a bumpy dirt road.

Another analogy is feeling as if I’ve just run a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon in my life, but my heart has, so I think I know what it feels like. My chest feels raw during an arrhythmia event, and my limbs feel weak, as if I might collapse.

Most of my episodes begin gradually. Afib sneaks up like a slow-acting toxin. In fact sometimes when an event is coming on, I’ve worried that my wife has poisoned my dinner. But I don’t dare accuse her anymore. I’m tired of those dirty looks she gives me, and her threats to never cook a meal again.

When I tell people how I feel at these times, they sometimes act like amateur physicians and diagnose me with hypoglycemia. They advise that I should eat something. But when eating doesn’t help, I realize that these folks are practicing medicine without a license. That’s why they’re wrong. About as wrong as most licensed doctors, who are also piss-poor at diagnosing Afib.

Afib events are uncomfortable and damned tiring. But they are rarely fatal. Which is too bad. There are many times in my life when I’ve wished I was dead, rather than continue to feel this way.

But no, this damned heart condition is only fatal when it leads to a massive stroke, or heart attack from tachycardia. I think my grandfather had Afib. He had a massive stroke when he was 77, that left him partially paralyzed, and with the mentality of a blubbering fool. That’s how merciless Afib can be. But when he was 82 it finally it had mercy on him and took him out of this world, with another massive stroke.

Despite popular belief, it’s common to have an Afib event without a racing pulse. In fact, that’s how my events almost always occur. With no tachycardia. But if you get the racing pulse, you’d better check into an emergency room quick, before your heart gives up from working too hard, and takes an eternal nap.

Some people have Afib events and never even notice them. They’re the asymptomatic ones. Lucky bastards. But also unlucky, because if they don’t know they have this heart condition, they won’t take the anticoagulant medication that prevents massive strokes. They’re walking time bombs, and might be in for a big, unpleasant surprise, someday down the road. The same kind of surprise my grandpa had.

However, the anticoagulants can give you a big surprise also, and right in your wallet. I take Eliquis. There is no generic version available, so I’m stuck with the expensive brand name. A 90-day supply of Eliquis costs about $1,500, without insurance. Thankfully, my current insurance cuts this expense down to about $500.

When I have an event I just want to lay down and sink to the center of the Earth. I want the universe to fold up around me and take me away to an unconscious place where I can rest in total comfort. A place with no weakness and no shakiness.

But when I lay down, the symptoms don’t go away with bedrest. They are only somewhat ameliorated. It beats being on one’s feet, trying to get chores accomplished, but it sure ain’t like a vacation at Sandals.

When I do the opposite of rest, and force myself to be active during an event, I run the risk of getting a splitting headache. I don’t know how the heart connects itself to the forehead, but a strong relationship seems to exist. It sometimes smacks me in the head, and keeps smacking me in the head, as if to tell me I’m a dummkopf for not resting.

When I walk during an event, I stagger like a drunk. That’s because I relax all my limbs, like a ragdoll. It saves energy. But it also makes me appear intoxicated. And my speech slurs and I mumble a lot, as articulate speech requires too much effort.

When I was in the military, my CO’s ordered me to be drug-tested several times, after I was observed in ragdoll form, probably having an arrhythmia event. And so I offered up jars of pure piss, of the finest amber, to military labs, which exonerated me every time. And which no doubt left my CO’s in a pissy mood, for being so wrong.

And speaking of piss, Afib makes me a piss-poor conversationalist. Animation and repartee go right out the window when I’m in an event, and I possess all the charm of a cinder block. You might as well be in the company of a zombie.

I won’t miss having Afib, even though I want to remember what it feels like. It seems impossible that my decades of heart arrhythmia hell may soon come to an end. If indeed, my problem really is arrhythmia, and not laziness. I could just be a lazy bastard, you know.

And maybe the cryoablation surgery won’t cure me. Ablations are successful 70 to 80% of the time, which means 20 to 30% of patients are left shit-out-of-luck. They often have to undergo additional ablations, for any chance of success.

It takes three months to know if the surgery is successful. But I hope one day in the not-too-distant future, my ragdoll days will be over. I hope these events will become a thing of the past, and that my heart will start behaving itself, so I can get back into the rhythm of things.

Today it’s January 11th, 2021, as I’m posting this. Tomorrow I’m going in for the surgery, so this blog will be idle for a little while. I’m taking at least a few days off from blogging, up to a week, depending on how I feel.

Perhaps forever, if I croak in the middle of the operation. That can happen, but it’s rare. Sometimes doctors have butterfingers, and sometimes they get in a hurry and make mistakes. But who can blame them for not wanting to miss Happy Hour?

I have a post scheduled for a week after my surgery, with a simple message that reads, “I’m dead.” But if I survive I’ll unschedule it. Goddamn, I hope I remember.

But either way, it’s been nice knowing all the people who follow my blog. I hope to see everyone again on the other side. And I mean within the next week, on the other side of the surgery.

Until then, so long for now.

Fighter

It’s said that nurses can tell a fighter from a patient who’s given up. And they say fighters often survive, sometimes against long odds. But those who’ve given up often slip away even when they stand a fair chance of making it.

I like to think I’m such a fighter. I’ve been fighting AFib, and it’s been landing some pretty hard blows lately. I’ve been sucker punched, rabbit punched, and had sand tossed in my face. Hey, this mutherfucker fights dirty.

But not as dirty as the medical system. That cocksucker will shake your hand, then kick you in the nuts.

I have two opponents: my heart condition, and the medical system. They’ve both been circling me lately, one armed with a switchblade, and the other with a sock full of rocks.

I got the go-ahead from my worthless PCP to visit my worthless cardiologist again, to consult with him over the possibility of an ablation procedure. But after my previous experience with this highly credentialed stooge, where he ambushed me with a dismissive attitude and incompetent advice, I decided I needed to arm myself.

So I clicked on over to the American College of Cardiology’s website. There I found their Guideline for Management of Patients With Atrial Fibrillation. It was available, free of charge, so I downloaded a PDF version. And I studied the hell out of that complex, technically-worded Guideline, while familiarizing myself with the medical jargon. This way, armed with knowledge, I figured I could show that cardiologist that I knew what was what, and could insist upon proper, guideline-based treatment.

I felt nervous entering the doctor’s office. My cardiologist is a hard case. He’s very arrogant. I hoped I’d be able to stand up to him and fight effectively for my cause, rather than transform into a mewling kitten who gets picked up by the scruff of the neck and thrown out to the wolves.

I puffed myself up and boldly approached the front counter. And then, in an instant, the receptionist whipped out a gravity knife and popped my balloon. She informed me that my appointment had been canceled, due to the doctor having to assist a patient at the emergency room.

I protested. I’d waited weeks, and driven nearly an hour to this appointment. So she told me that the doctor should be back in a few hours if I wanted to wait some more. Nice rope-a-dope, lady. Yeah, wear the patient down. But I wouldn’t be worn down. I’d have to draw on my reserves for this, but I bit the bullet. I told her I’d wait.

Finally, a few hours later, there I sat in the chilly examining room, anticipating action at any second. My stomach churned. My body trembled. Was it from the cold, or the anticipation? That’s the problem when there are lulls in warfare. Anxiety can drive you nuts, because you know all hell can break loose at any moment.

Suddenly I jumped, as Dr. Sherman Tank burst into the room with his cannon blazing. “Sorry I’m late,” he loudly apologized, his tone betraying a hint of irritation. “I was attending to a patient in the ER. I had an ambulance rush me here, so I could see you.”

Huh? I wondered. The hospital is only a hundred yards away. Is this son-of-a-bitch trying to guilt me?

“You’re in normal sinus rhythm,” he sprayed at me like a machine gun, without giving me a chance to say anything. That’s one of his tactics. He talks loudly, quickly and impatiently, without giving me much chance to interject and tell him about my health concerns. “You don’t need to be cardioverted.”

I managed to regain my composure and grabbed my carbine, so that I could plink at this Sherman Tank. “I’m not here to be cardioverted,” I shot back. “I want to discuss ablation.”

His turret whipped around at me, and blasted, “You don’t need ablation! You don’t have AFib! I just told you, you’re in normal sinus rhythm!”

The concussion knocked me across the room. But I staggered to my feet and took unsteady aim again. “Uh . . . uh, yes, but I have recurring episodes of AFib. It’s paroxysmal, and brought on by physical activity. I want ablation so I won’t have fatigue anymore, and so that I can exercise more and be more physically active.”

He lobbed a hand grenade at me. “No, you can’t get fatigue from AFib unless you’re in AFib! If you’re not in AFib, you’re not tired!” Untrue, as many with AFib will attest to. AFib takes a lot out of you, and fatigue can linger well beyond an AFib episode. Besides, I know when I’m tired.

Then the Sherman Tank fragged me with something that was clearly contrary to the Guideline. His Guideline by the way. He’s an FACC, or Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. His FACC colleagues wrote the Guideline. So this was his Guideline. The fake, FACC fuck.

So I hurled a hand grenade back at him, with the protest, “That’s not what it says in your Guideline!”

He puffed up and kicked the grenade back at me, “YOU’RE telling ME what’s in my Guideline?!” Ah, the all-knowing-doctor-is-the-authority tactic. I’m supposed to defer to this fool, no matter what stupid thing he says, because he’s a DOCTOR and cannot be questioned, while I’m just a pissant, ignorant patient.

I had a copy of the Guideline in my arsenal, with relevant passages highlighted in yellow. But before I could whip it out and show him the damning truth, he changed the subject by announcing, “There is no evidence you even have AFib!”

Oh this was even better. Apparently, he had not reviewed my medical record before this skirmish broke out. He had barged into battle unprepared. But I was prepared. I reached into my armory (a file folder) and pulled out three ECG traces from emergency rooms, and let him have it.

There was no denying it. Even his cursory review of the traces clearly demonstrated that I’d been irregularly irregular (an AFib term). These bomb blasts staggered him. Finally he sputtered, “Okay, so you were in AFib then, but you don’t have AFib anymore. Anyway, there’s no cure for AFib.”

He was flailing. He must have realized how illogical he sounded just then. Besides, it’s not even true. There is a cure for AFib. Ablation cures it about 75% of the time.

I had this son-of-a-bitch on the ropes. But before I could move in for the kill, the nimble Dr. Tank beat a hasty retreat. He stormed out of the office while tossing a smoke screen behind him. He hollered to the receptionist, “Refer this patient to Dr. Fubar!”

Great, a new cardiologist. That’s what I needed. At least Dr. Tank was good for something. But later, my insurance plan would intervene and change the referral to a nurse practitioner, leaving me with a new battle on my hands.

I appreciated the referral, at the time, but Dr. Tank offered no explanation as to why I was getting this referral, and he quickly disappeared through a warren of office doors and passageways. I was shaking. The combination of combat and a bad heart left me feeling wounded and weak. It’s not good to excite a heart that has a propensity to go out of rhythm. I just wanted to get the hell out of there and rest my nerves.

I staggered to the elevator and pushed the button for the parking level. But suddenly Dr. Sherman Tank rushed in and joined me. Geez, this was awkward. I was tired of war and out of fight. But there I was standing next to the buttons. And Covid and social distancing, you know. So I politely asked him what level he wanted.

“Oh, where you’re going is good enough,” he blithely replied. Hmm. Is this guy stalking me, I wondered. The doors slid closed as he fixed his bayonet for some mano-a-mano action in close quarters.

He eyed me. “I know my Guideline,” he suddenly jabbed. “And it says what I told you it said.” His voice was authoritarian and patronizing, as if I was a kindergartner needing correction.

Why was he even talking to me about this? Was he as full of shit as I thought he was, and worried I was going to expose him?

I’d had enough of this bullshit. When a warrior tires he either lays down and dies or throws everything he’s got at the enemy. I chose the latter. With all the adrenaline I could muster, I parried his thrust and drove my blade home, declaring, “Sir, I’ve READ the Guideline. I KNOW you don’t know the Guideline.”

He stiffened up. For a fleeting moment I feared he was going to physically attack me in that elevator. But he kept his body still and mouth shut. For the first time, something I said triggered silence in this bastard. Perhaps he’s not accustomed to patients telling him they’ve read the Guideline.

The elevator doors slid open and Dr. Sherman Tank stalked away with a stiff gait and clinched fists. I quickly retreated in the opposite direction. He was younger and athletic, and I figured he could easily whup ass on me. I wanted away from him.

I don’t know who won this battle. I did not get what I wanted, which was a referral for an ablation procedure. Or at least a stress test, or a Holter monitoring. These are two standard, guideline-based tests I’ve never had before, but would have had six months ago if this quack knew and followed the Guideline.

But he apparently didn’t get what he wanted, either. Which I think was for me to back down, shut up, and meekly let him call all the shots with no dissent. I suspect he didn’t like being stood up to by a well-prepared and well-informed patient. And I’m hoping he spent the next week losing sleep, while worrying that I might file a formal complaint against him. I suspect I could devastate him with such a complaint, simply by citing the Guideline he didn’t follow.

But I won’t do that. Instead I’ve chosen the nuclear option. Open Season is coming up, and I’m changing insurance from my HMO to a plan that will allow me to go to any specialist I choose.

With an HMO, you’re stuck with a small selection of specialists, confined within the HMO’s sub-network medical group that you’ve chosen. And often these doctors aren’t, shall I say nicely, the cream of the crop.

But my new insurance plan will allow me to choose from a wide range of cardiologists. If I make a bad choice I’ll figure that out quickly, due to my familiarity with the Guideline they’re entrusted to follow. And then I’ll fire the bastard and choose a new one.

This new insurance plan will cost more, but hey, you get what you pay for.

I’ll have to wait until January before I can see a better doctor. A considerate, competent doctor whom I hope I won’t have to do combat with. And with any luck, my heart will hold out until then. In the meantime I’ll stay in the ring, bloodied but unbowed, and keep duking it out with AFib.

I ain’t gonna let it knock me out. I’m determined. I’m a fighter.

Justification

Nothing pleases a hypochondriac more than a diagnosis. It’s justification for all those years of medical research and vague complaints. And the more serious the diagnosis, the greater is that satisfying feeling of justification.

I just got my diagnosis, and it’s very serious. Hooray! I’m proud to announce that I have Atrial Fibrillation, otherwise known as AFib. I won’t go into all the details, except to say it could kill me. And that’s a prognosis any hypochondriac can sport with pride.

I spent a few nights in emergency rooms last month, where they told me I probably had AFib. But last week a nice, kind cardiologist confirmed that diagnosis and made it official.

It appears I’ve had AFib most of my life. Basically, this is a disease that makes your heart lose rhythm and race like an IndyCar with a flat tire. Usually this disease starts in middle age or old age, but not for me. I’m one of the rare few who started to have AFib attacks in my teen years.

I just didn’t realize what they were. And that’s because they’ve always been short-lived, sort of like Whitman’s Sampler AFib attacks. Or previews of coming attractions for my old age. They’ve usually lasted only a few seconds, and never longer than a minute. But last month they must have gone on steroids, because they started lasting for hours.

When an attack comes on, my heart suddenly starts pumping wildly, without any warning. There’s also a fluttering or churning sensation in the middle of my chest, as if it’s full of butterflies, or as if there’s a garden hose turned to full blast. It’s a weird sensation, and actually kind of fun to experience as long as it only lasts a few seconds. It’s like getting a rush from drugs without actually shooting up.

I never thought much of these attacks, due to their short duration, and never told a doctor. It’s a good thing too, or I might have been misdiagnosed with panic attacks and sent to a shrink. Hell, I could be living in a rubber room by now.

This has happened to some AFibbers. They get misdiagnosed with mental illness. It’s true that anxiety can sometimes trigger an AFib attack, but usually they come out of nowhere. They’re bolts from the blue, with no rhyme, reason, or pattern to them.

They happen to me at odd times. I could be busy with a chore, or shopping in a store. I could be cleaning my email of spam, or I could be eating a plate of green eggs and ham. I just never know when AFib will strike.

However, a study of AFib patients in 2015 showed that yoga can reduce the attacks by up to 40 percent. So maybe I really am crazy and need to spend some time in a rubber room. Or at least a yoga studio.

EKG trace of AFib, with no P waves (the normal hump before the high spike), and a heart rate of 150. Provided by James Heilman, MD. CC BY-SA 3.0.

AFib is impossible to diagnose, except by EKG while you’re in the process of having an attack. This is why I’ve gone so much of my life without a diagnosis. Some AFibbers, like me, may go many years having short-lived, undiagnosed minor attacks. But others begin their AFib with a major attack that is immediately diagnosed. Lucky bastards.

Those of us with short-lived attacks eventually have our day of reckoning. One day an attack occurs that doesn’t quickly go away. And that’s when we head to the emergency room, get hooked up to an EKG, and get our elusive diagnosis. From that day on we are vulnerable to having more of these long-lasting, major attacks. It’s the major attacks that can kill.

My cardiologist said there was no known reason for me to have AFib, as I have an otherwise strong heart, and am in overall good health. This is a terrible thing to say to a hypochondriac. No hypochondriac wants to hear that they’re in good health.

However, what he meant was that in many AFib patients the cause can be traced to an underlying condition, such as hypertension, a damaged heart, or obesity. But in patients like me the cause is a mystery. We’re an anomaly, and are sometimes termed Lone AFibbers. And I’m not lying about that.

My diagnosis of AFib has come as a surprise to me. It’s a pleasant surprise in one regard, as I now have the justification all hypochondriacs seek for the complaints we make. But it’s unpleasant when I consider the ramifications of having such a serious heart condition.

One of the unpleasant ramifications is having to pop pills several times a day. These mutherfucking pills have side effects, such as dizziness, depression, memory loss, lazy eye, swivel neck, molting of skin, chrysalis, and spontaneous limb detachment. I’m adjusting to them though, so I should be getting back to my regular routine soon. Which includes lots of naps.

The drugs don’t guarantee I’ll never have another major attack. In fact my cardiologist indicated that I probably will have another major attack. He indicated this by nervously having me sign a waiver promising not to sue him. Apparently, the drugs only postpone the inevitable. The best I can hope is that they’ll keep me out of the emergency room for a very long time.

I also hope the drugs will help me to live longer than Mother Nature says I should live. I know it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but I don’t like the alternative. But if one day, in spite of the pharmaceuticals, I succumb to AFib, don’t worry. I’ll be very happy on the Other Side.

For then I will possess the fullest justification any hypochondriac could ever own.

Heart Gone Wild

About a week ago I was schlepped to the hospital by ambulance at the lovely hour of four in the morning. Along the way, the ambulance driver managed to hit every bump in the road he could find. It was sort of like riding a wild beast. Or like riding my heart, which had also gone wild.

“AFib,” the EMT advised her partner, as she interpreted the EKG. Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) occurs when the top half of the heart marches to the beat of a different drummer from the bottom half of the heart. It results in a wild, anaerobic dance that will make your ventricles turn on their afterburners, while your lungs struggle to catch up.

I’ve been told that AFib is not usually a fatal condition, but that it can lead to a massive stroke if your blood is prone to coagulating. Which is no problem if you’re a hemophiliac descendant of ancient British royalty.

My wife handed my wallet, containing my driver’s license, insurance card, and everything else that gives me permission to live, to the EMT. While laying supine, I watched her place it on a shelf above my head and to my left. This was the last I saw of my wallet. Either the ambulance crew or the hospital staff lost it. Both point fingers at each other. I suspect that it bounced out a window after hitting one of those bumps, on the ride to the hospital.

“AFib,” they confirmed at the hospital. They poked my arm a dozen times until they found a vein. Then they fed some poison down a line, designed to reduce my heartbeat, which was racing along like a hummingbird in a meadow of May flowers.

I kept shaking violently, probably from shock. They told me to stop shaking. I managed to force my arm to sit still, but then my feet erupted in quivers.

“You MUST stop shaking sir!” they yelled again, as if I was doing this on purpose. I stopped my feet, and then my head shook. I stopped my head, and then my belly contorted. I finally managed to stop everything. But then my lungs and breathing got all shaky. This was the funnest game of whack-a-mole I’ve ever played.

The poison went to work, and my beats per minute came down closer to 100, the safe upper limit. But not close enough. A doctor ordered an RN, over the phone, to administer a more powerful drug. The RN looked scared. He flat-out refused, claiming that perhaps something was misheard over the phone. But finally, after much coaching from his peers, he relented. I retracted slightly as he approached my bedside with his sinister vial of venom in his trembling hand.

But then he glanced up at my heartbeat monitor and exclaimed, “Whoa! It’s down to 85! How’d you do that sir?”

“Just laying here, I guess,” I shrugged. Or maybe when my heart saw how nervous he was, it decided to start behaving.

As my heart rate decreased, I felt increasingly better. I asked the RN if I’d be able to ballroom dance after I left the hospital. He said he didn’t see why not. I said that I did. Hell, I don’t know how to ballroom dance.

Suddenly I was feeling great and wanted the hell out of there. But no, I was attached by an IV line. I was a prisoner, at the mercy of the hospital. And the doctor on the phone wanted me admitted as an in-patient, for observation and further testing.

I looked around for my wife to rescue me. And that’s when I remembered. No visitors were allowed in the ER, due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions. She was at home watching TV and enjoying life without me, as I lay enfettered upon a gurney.

While warming my back there, I overheard lots of talk about the coronavirus. The RNs were cussing mad. They were bitching about our country’s lack of preparation for this pandemic. They expressed fear and outrage over a lack of testing, masks, and ventilators.

And they seemed to harbor resentment toward every patient they deigned to lay their eyes on. We would be the death of them, and their clinched jaws betrayed a calculus that weighed remaining on the job, against cutting and running for the high hills.

They shook their heads in dismay when relating a story about a patient who had all the symptoms of coronavirus, but was refused a test. He was refused because he had not recently been in a foreign country. It was steups all around, at this news.

Their fear was contagious as corona itself. I realized I was likely sitting in a petri dish full of Covid-19 germs. A hospital is not a good place to avoid a virus during a pandemic. I tugged at my IV line, but hell, they put that goddamned thing in pretty tight. And besides, I’m squeamish.

Finally an orderly came and wheeled me away from those future zombies, to my hospital room. The corridors of this medical facility were eerily deserted. In fact, I thought I glimpsed a few ghosts. “No visitors are allowed,” the orderly explained in a haunting whisper. “Coronavirus,” he breathed the word long and heavy.

The next few hours consisted of me loafing in bed watching Trump on the hospital room TV, as he delivered an uplifting press conference of false hopes and fulsome reassurances. And in the bottom-right corner of the screen, the Dow was falling like a stone over the Grand Canyon.

I finally received an echocardiogram. Which found nothing wrong with my heart, except that it was hollow like my head, and echoed a lot. Hmm, a mystery. So what caused my AFib? Later, a thin doctor with an Indian accent strode into the room and recommended that I see a cardiologist.

That was last week. Exactly one week later my heart went wild again. But this time my wife stuffed me into her car, rather than an ambulance, and trundled me to a better hospital.

There I received drugs to tame my heart, and all kinds of erudite medical advice. In one tidbit of twisted medical wisdom, my emergency room doctor told me that my condition was so serious, I should not be in the hospital. Huh? Not with the coronavirus going around, he pointed out. Hmm, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that strange concept.

But I guess these are the days we live in.

I’ve gotta level with my readers. My heart’s been giving me a run for my money lately, and I’ve been wondering if I’m close to cashing in my chips. I think I have to slow down. Perhaps sit out a few hands.

Part of that slowdown may include cutting back on blogging. So you may see a few less posts, comments, and replies coming from me in the future.

Okay, now that all the whooping, hollering, and gunshots fired in the air have died down, don’t expect me to go away completely. I’ll still be around, lurking and smirking in the shadows. And I also have a backlog of posts just festering to cover the blogosphere, like some kind of skeevy motel room bed rash.

But overall, things are likely to get a bit more quiet around these parts. Unless I’m like Colin, who says he’s going away, then stays and throws a party. Hey, what’s that all about, Colin? 🙂

But no, I’ve got to get some rest. I need a little more napping for awhile. And I might just up my meditation game, wax fey, and persuade my jumpy cardiac nerves to settle down around a stick of incense. I think it may help.

So it’s time for me to be like Manjushri, take a ride on a wild beast, and settle the fucker down. I have to go off and tame my heart gone wild.

In case you’re interested, here’s a little video about that dastardly heart condition, AFib:

Angry Blood Pressure

I don’t have anger issues. No, I’m not an angry old man. But I do worry a lot.

I’ve been worried about my blood pressure. It’s been too damn low. Not so low that I have to see a doctor, but pretty close. Maybe I’m prehypotensive, if there is such a thing.

I damn sure don’t want to see a doctor. Those quack bastards would run all kinds of expensive and time-consuming tests, and then tell me that either there’s nothing wrong with me, or that I’ve gotta have a heart transplant. I know their game. They’re in it for laughs and money.

The laughs come when they tell a sniveling, worried hypochondriac like me that, hey, after all those tests and all that anxiety, you little crying snot-faced pussy, there’s really nothing wrong with you. Now go home and drink a glass of warm milk, you fucking wimp, and let me tend to the patients who really need my help.

The money comes when they do find one little thing wrong. They can use this as an excuse for any ol’ open-heart surgery they might dream of. Consumer Reports once did some research on this, and found out that many of the procedures recommended by heart clinics and cardiologists are unnecessary, dangerous, and a waste of money.

So I’m doing my very best to avoid seeing a heart quack, by exercising regularly (lots of walks and hikes), and eating right (lots of sugar on that bland-tasting fibrous cereal).

The sleek and sable Omron 10 Series Upper Arm Blood Pressure Monitor, with 2-User mode, 200-Reading Memory, Backlit Display, TruRead Technology, and BP Indicator LEDs. It’s a hypochondriac’s dream.

I have one of those Omron blood pressure cuffs. It’s one of the more expensive types that goes around the arm, rather than the wrist, because I’ve read that they’re more accurate. How in the hell can a little cuff around the wrist give an accurate reading? But an anaconda-sized arm cuff? Yeah! That squeezing fucker really means business.

One recent morning I tested my blood pressure, and nearly fell out of my chair. Not from alarm, but from weakness. I was feeling wan, under the weather, and thought that maybe my feeble-fucking heart was finally giving out on me. So I strapped on the Omron. And my suspicions were confirmed. It read 93/70.

This was it, I shuddered. This was the big one. I damn near called 911, until I remembered how much I hate doctors. So I did a little Googling first, and found that blood pressure isn’t abnormally low until the top number drops below 90.

So I set up the Omron next to the phone, and kept monitoring throughout the day. Finally, later in the day, it barely peaked above a hundred. Dr. Google says it’s normal for blood pressure to be lower in the morning, and to rise over the course of the day. But I suspect it was really all my anxiety that raised that top number up. It’s a good thing I’m a hypochondriac and can worry about these things, or I’d be dead by now.

I felt relieved, but kept the Omron set up and handy.

Then the other day, my wife came home from the auto dealer, after having routine warranty-required service on her new car, including an oil change. They gave her a big-long, bullshit report on all the things they claim to have inspected and supposedly did. I noticed on this report that it said oil change intervals are “recommended at 10,000 miles or eight months, whichever comes first.”

My heart exploded. Those lying, mutherfucking cocksuckers! I raged (to myself). The warranty manual that came with the car clearly recommends oil changes at 10,000 miles or twelve months, whichever comes first, and not eight months. Those bullshit bolt-twisters are trying to take advantage of our ignorance, and get us to come in more often for their mutherfucking expensive oil changes!

All kinds of expletives, imprecations, and invectives inveighed across my brain. And all over this teeny-tiny pathetic little attempt at fraud that I detected. Boy was I pissed. And all over nothing, really.

And that’s when I remembered that people who get pissed off real easy over little things, tend to be prone to heart attacks. Yeah, that’s true. Just ask Dr. Google.

Well, fuck.

And then I remembered my Omron. So I strapped it on, while ranting and railing in my head about those mutherfucking, con-artist car mechanics. I wanted to see how high I could push the systolic.

Wouldn’t you know, I popped it up to 124/69. Not bad, eh? Not bad for me, at least. That’s prehypertension territory. I felt kind of proud.

So maybe I just need to have more anger in my life.

But then I remembered that high blood pressure is bad for you, too. So I killed my inner rant. 20 minutes later I checked the bp again. Now the top number was down to 112, but the bottom number was up to 77. Could it be that repressing anger lowers the systolic, but raises the diastolic?

Who the hell knows? I really don’t know what the answers are to this heart thing. I guess I’ll just keep on with my exhausting exercise program and eating my fucking fiber, and staying as calm as possible in this fucked-up world.

I’m hoping to get a few more decades out of this beating bastard, until I’m some dried-up dotard who can barely stand and walk. And then I won’t give a damn about my heart. In fact, I’ll probably be cheering for it to give out.

So perhaps that’s when I’ll become an angry old man.

Cranky Pants Battling Autoimmune Disease

I know a Canadian lady with autoimmune disease. Her name is Cranky Pants. She’s cranky, because she’s in constant pain and discomfort from this disabling and difficult disease. And she wears pants. And even her dog has autoimmune disease. And her dog is also cranky.

Cranky has started her own YouTube channel, where she talks about this disease, and invites discussion. If you have autoimmune disease, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, IBD, or any of the others (heck there’s about 80 of them), or if you suspect you may have this health condition, I think you’ll find Cranky’s YouTube channel informative.

Cranky is nice, fun, and helpful, in spite of the name she’s given herself. You can check out her channel and see for yourself, by watching her latest video, below:

Coffee Is Poison

Seems everyone drinks coffee except Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists. I’m not a religious man, but I think those Morvantists have got it right. Coffee is poison. And an abomination.

My wife is addicted to coffee. When she wakes up to start the day, she never says to me, “Good morning.” And if I initiate by saying, “Good morning,” to her, she replies with a scrunched-up scowl and screechy, “Fuck you!” And that’s because nothing civil is allowed to happen in our house until she’s had her morning cup of Joe.

She once threatened to divorce me if I ever spoke to her in the a.m. again, before her lips have touched coffee.

And that’s the sort of madness that is brought on by this black poison brewed by the billions, around the world. It’s no wonder we live on such a crazy planet. No wonder we have wars, disasters, and global warming. Coffee is the culprit. It makes people behave irrationally. It causes dysfunction and disrupts public safety. And all that percolating java every morning has got to be what is heating up our atmosphere and melting the polar icecaps.

I can’t count the many times people have told me they can’t function without their morning coffee. Really? Why have folks allowed themselves to sink so low as to be that desperately dependent upon this drug? And why let yourself be at the mercy of an industry that cares more for its profits than on your ability to be productive? If you get so destitute you can’t afford to buy coffee, they don’t care if you lose your job and end up sleeping in a gutter. If you don’t have any money, you just don’t get your fix, plain and simple.

Have you heard that Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, is plotting to destroy the world? He’s drank so much Espresso, it’s rewired the neurons in his brain, and turned him into a caffeine-crazed monster. The caffeine has tricked his brain into thinking he can run for president as an independent, and actually win. But what will really happen is that he will split the Democratic vote, and ensure a Trump reelection. And I doubt our planet can withstand another four years of comrade Trump in the White House.

Blame coffee. Coffee will be the death of us all.

Stop the madness! If you want to save yourself, and contribute to the salvation of our big, blue Earth, you must stop drinking big, black mugs of coffee. And you can do it if you put your mind to it. You can kick the coffee habit.

Sure, you may have to slap yourself around for a while, every morning, until your withdrawal symptoms recede. And you may get the shakes and shits and have to fight off the urge to commit mass murder. You may even have to check into a rehab clinic. But with self-discipline and determination, you can free yourself from the demon-pull of java juice.

Imagine how nice that would be. Think of the improvement you’ll realize in your relationships, including with your spouse. Consider all the money you’ll save. And reflect on how proud of yourself you’ll feel, knowing you’ve done your part to fight global warming and Trump reelection.

It won’t be easy for you to quit. So here’s a few motivational slogans to reflect upon, while fighting the urge:

• The best part of waking up is tapwater in your cup.
• You ban coffee, and have richness worth much more than a second cup.
• Fill yourself to the rim: Avoid Brim.
• Be good to your last drop, without one drop of coffee.
• You’ll be starved of bucks when you think work can wait.
• Juan Valdez is a drug dealer. The richest kind.
• A 100% Columbian never needs coffee.
• To be mountain grown, you must grow out of the coffee habit.
• Avoid coffee, and you’ll taste as good as you smell.

The sooner you kick the coffee habit, the better off you, and the whole world, will be. And you will never regret it.

Because coffee is poison.

Try watching this youtube video, for more motivation to quit the coffee habit:

Life Insurance

“Nah, nothing wrong with you except a chest cold. Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics.” Dr. Glimp tore off the worthless script from his prescription pad and handed it to Max, hoping it would appease him.

“Are you sure?” Max intently studied the doctor’s eyes. “I mean, doc, I’ve never had a chest cold this bad before.” He coughed. “Can you look that X-ray over again?”

Dr. Glimp sighed and turned his head so that he faced the X-ray display at a 45-degree angle. He glanced at it asquint for about five seconds. “There’s nothing there!” he declared, turning back.

“Look, I understand your concern. Ever since the Surgeon General announced two years ago that cigarette smoking causes cancer, I’ve been flooded with patients who get worried every time they develop a cough. But if you had something wrong it would be in the X-rays. Your X-rays are clear!” He thumped Max on the back. “Congratulations! You should be happy!” The thump sent Max into an uncontrollable coughing spell for about 30 seconds.

Max paused for a moment after stepping out of the doctor’s office, to catch his breath. He rubbed an achy spot about an inch below his neck. He suppressed a cough, then struggled for a deep breath of fresh air. Was that a wheezing he heard?

He lit up. Smoking always helped him think better. Was the doctor right? Was he just being a little paranoid after that Surgeon General’s report made headlines all over the country? He fiddled with the pack of cigarettes in his hand, and read the new message he’d been seeing recently, printed on the sides of this product: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health.”

He mused that he would have never taken up the habit if he had only known. Back in his youth it seemed that every man smoked. In fact many doctors hailed cigarettes as good for your health. That had always seemed counterintuitive to him, but who was he to question doctors? And now he was hooked. A chain smoker.

A tussive urge struck from below and an involuntary cough erupted. When Max regained control he tucked the pack back into his shirt pocket. Too late to give it up now, he theorized.

The coughing kept recurring over the next several days, as Max struggled with his fear of cancer. He knew something was wrong. He felt it in his gut. And it occurred to him that he was going to die soon. He was going to leave behind his wife and his children. His very successful business would not last without his guidance. It would fail, and his family would go broke.

He contemplated what to do. How to prepare for the worst. How to ensure that his wife and kids would be okay. And he came up with a plan.

He justified that if these bastard doctors were wrong in the first place, by recommending cigarette smoking, and then wrong again in the second place, by missing a diagnosis of lung cancer, he’d show the sons of bitches a thing or two. He’d show these damned so-called experts.

Max put the word out that his machine shop was up for sale.

Then he made an appointment with a life insurance company.

The fine folks at Graystone Life Insurance welcomed him into their office. The agent talked Max into a $100,000 policy. And all he had to do was pass the physical. Which involved a chest X-ray.

It came out negative.

It was all Max could do to suppress the coughing while Graystone’s physician examined him. The physician mentioned that his breathing sounded a little raspy. Max told him that his own doctor had diagnosed it as a chest cold. After a quick phone call to his doctor, the physician seemed satisfied and quickly signed off.

And then it was off to visit Huffburg’s Life Insurance, and then Sandsound Life Inc. Then Whistler’s Life. Then Hacker Life, Limited. Then Sputummer’s Life. Hedgeworth’s Life. Kakouphany Life. Emyprean Life. And so on and so forth.

By the time Max finished with his life insurance binge, he was paying premiums on more than a million dollars’ worth of policies. And his wife and children were the named beneficiaries.

He sold the machine shop to my father-in-law. This is how I became aware of this story, many years later.

Max’s wife worried about his mental health. And she felt positively stressed about him selling the business. She knew they couldn’t go on forever, living off the proceeds of the sale. Especially with all those life insurance premiums they were now paying. She nagged at Max to visit a psychiatrist.

But Max ignored her, in his monomania to find ways to provide for her after his upcoming demise that he just knew was going to occur.

Several months passed. His cough had deepened, and his wheezing was sounding more like a whistling now. Max was feeling increasingly worried for his family, and carking more about their long-term future. He walked into the office of Protective Life and breathlessly asked to speak with an agent. He said he wanted to take out the biggest policy they offered.

The agent asked the same routine questions Max was accustomed to, and Max had all the right answers at the ready. He filled out the forms and signed them. Now all that was left was the requisite physical.

The physician furrowed his brow and pointed at the X-ray display. “Sir, I see something like a shadow around your clavicle. And a few other shadows, here . . . and here.” he pointed. “I can’t approve this policy until you have your lungs checked out by your doctor.”

Max returned to his doctor and got yet another chest X-ray. This time Dr. Glimp’s insouciant demeanor disappeared. With a gray face, he told Max that a biopsy would be necessary.

A few days after the biopsy, Dr. Glimp delivered the message Max was expecting.

“Max, I’m sorry to say, but it’s advanced stage lung cancer. I’m really, really sorry I didn’t catch this earlier. It was hidden behind your clavicle. You know, your collar bone. We can try to operate, but this appears to have spread to your bones. Radiation might work, but I don’t know.” He shook his head grimly.

“How much longer, doc, if you continue doing nothing?”

Dr. Glimp winced. He appeared stung by that question. He stammered. “W-w-well, uh, I doubt you have more than, uh, s-s-six months. D-do you have life insurance?”

Max’s face brightened, even as he coughed.

“Yep, oh yes!” Max cheerily proclaimed with a hoarse voice. “Yes, I have life insurance. Yes indeed I do!”

Max died two months later.

His wife retired, and his kids all got good college educations.

Doctors, with all their fine degrees, are not omniscient. There’s much they don’t know and can’t know, and there are many things they’re unwilling to figure out. So we have to trust what our bodies are telling us until clear medical evidence proves otherwise. I believe that’s the lesson we can learn from people like Max.

Marathon Heart

My father-in-law, Jake, has worked and played hard all his life. He was a machinist, and his job involved heavy lifting, hard sweating, and complex mental absorption. Back in his day, he was a man of brawn and brain.

He married his sister-in-law when he was 24, enduring all the internecine slings and arrows this relationship with his brother-in-law’s ex-wife generated. He accepted his two nieces as his own daughters, and had several more children with his sister-in-law.

Then his wife’s parents died, leaving three children of nonage. He happily took these three underage orphans into his already crowded home, and raised them into adulthood.

In those early days of the Cold War, the aerospace industry was booming, keeping machinists like Jake very busy. His average work week was about 80 hours. And the overtime pay allowed him to support and raise his large extended family, which he did cheerfully and without complaint.

Then he went into business for himself and prospered even more. His machine shop earned a nationwide reputation amongst those who needed the kind of specialty work his shop performed.

He kept very busy within those metal walls of his shop, toiling away long hours, doing the heavy lifts, sweating, straining, and responding daily to all the challenges before him.

And then abruptly at the age of 60, he retired. This man with a busy mind and active body suddenly found himself with nothing to do. But he didn’t twiddle his thumbs for very long.

Jake turned to athletics. He began competing in marathons and triathlons. He put all his mettle into this sport for the fleet of foot, and set world records for his age group.

Not only did he win many trophies and accolades, but his cardiovascular health benefited from this new hobby of his. He was in tip-top aerobic shape.

He was also an avid hiker in his retirement years. He took me with him on several hikes, and I always struggled to keep up with his fast, enduring pace. Sometimes I even had to persuade him to stop and take a break, lest I collapse.

But in his early 70’s Jake had to slow down, and then finally stop. All the heavy lifting from his machinist career, and all that post-retirement marathon running was catching up to him. His joints grew spurs and the discs in his back compressed.

He began using a cane. And now, at age 89, he’s traded the cane for a walker. Yet even with a walker, he is barely able to stay upright. He’s fallen several times and hurt himself, and has had to be helped back up to his feet. He dreads the future. He fears that soon he may be confined to a wheelchair.

Yet his heart, his heart! Oh that marathon heart of Jake’s is as strong as ever! He takes no heart medication, yet his systolic blood pressure reading is often in the 90’s, and his diastolic ranges between 45 and 70.

Poor Jake. He wants to die. He hates living like a cripple. But his heart won’t allow him to die. He’s in chronic kidney failure, and his body is bloated with water. But that marathon heart pumps strong as ever.

The doctor says that cancer may have invaded his body. He coughs a lot, and lives in constant pain. He’s incontinent also, due to stenosis in his spine. And even when he can make it to the toilet, he requires help with his hygiene. It’s very embarrassing for this man who prides himself on being independent. This man with the marathon heart.

And he can’t sleep well. But that strong heart of his won’t allow him to die in his sleep.

Jake is a hero to me. But a hero of the Greco-tragic ilk. Be careful, you marathon runners, or you may end up just like Jake. Your strong heart will force you to endure the humility and helplessness of a crippled body. It will keep you alive through the torture of all kinds of chronic illnesses. And the mercy of the grim reaper will be held at bay, while you cry out in pain and plead for the end, every day and every night.

Relax on the couch and watch TV. Eat potato chips. Allow your cholesterol level and blood pressure to rise through the roof. And persuade that coronary to overtake you now, before it’s too late.

You don’t want to end up like Jake.

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