The Heart of it All

AUTHOR: | POSTED: December 29, 2010 | COMMENTS: None Yet - Post a Comment
CATEGORIES: Daddy on The Fly, Health & Safety, Holidays, Tags: , ,

Sean Savage

Holiday spirit was filling the air and lights and decorations were up everywhere I looked. All seemed right except for me. I found myself in a similar position as I was two years ago, masking a secret known only to me and Carolyn. But this time the secret was my health.

I had a physical in October that led to concerns and further tests. Please note I last consented to a physical 12 years ago. Yes, I avoid doctors like the plague! In my defense, I run 25 miles/week and had perfect attendance in high school (This may not be relevant but I thought I would throw it in here for some historical perspective) My medical strategy is to avoid the doctor. Lots of apples. At my 40th birthday party a few months earlier, I had declared that my life was just one-third complete/ But I now had three concern medical concern boxes that I needed to check off by late December. Until then, I would worry about the unknown and pretend as though I was enjoying the season.

After receiving good results on the first two, my last box to check off was a treadmill nuclear stress test for my heart. And if I was going to take three hours from work to complete this test, I decided to at least set a record for time spent on the treadmill. After nearly 20 minutes on the treadmill and hooked to a monitor, my heart rate was still not up to the 180 beats/minute used as the benchmark to end the test. Much to my dismay, the doctor ended the test early but remarked that he had never seen such an outstanding performance in his 18 years of cardiology. I was sure the plaque for the wall had already been ordered (ha!). But visions of the award ceremony announcing my record breaking performance later vanished when I learned a marathon runner years ago held the top spot. My thoughts turned to what could have been had I been allowed to continue. Thank goodness I’m not competitive.

The next morning my doctor called not to congratulate me but to tell me that the test results indicated a blockage in my heart and that I would need a heart catheterization and possibly a stint. I was stunned. Forty-years-old and I have heart disease. I was not prepared for this phone call. I immediately thought of Carolyn, Drew, Ryan and Mary Kate. In a heartbeat, I was on the phone with the cardiologist as he described the risks associated with heart catheterizations, including death and stroke. The only alternative he offered was to wait 6 months and retest.

I did not like waiting as a strategy.

My mind was bouncing around like balls in a lottery machine. I gathered myself to call Carolyn. Thankfully, I had a partner with whom I could share this burden and who would help me through this process. We had been through tough stuff together and she would be a good person to discuss next steps. I felt an obligation to share this information with Carolyn now that there were decisions to be made. She would be the one most impacted if something went wrong with a procedure and so she had a right to know. In times of crises we step up for each other.

After the initial shock abated, I had to move forward. I approached this diagnosis as I do other problems or crises that surface in my life: to act prudently and proactively. Gathering all of the facts and making a plan would allow me to stay focused and make good decisions. Carolyn and I certainly had experience to draw from.

And as I have learned from previous experience, physicians are human and tests are not perfect. I needed to: 1.confirm there was a problem and 2. get the procedure done at the best facility. Advocating for yourself and loved ones in life is important, and with medical care it is critical. I had a responsibility to Carolyn, our children, and myself to seek out the best possible care. I am greatly appreciative of all of the good advice I received from the caring and talented doctors I consulted (formally and informally).

After gathering all of this input, I was fortunate to schedule an appointment with a top cardiologist I was thankful and felt a bit unworthy to have such a physician and a facility. The seven day wait for the appointment did pass, but at what seemed like the pace of thick syrup being poured onto pancakes. When I met with him, he explained that he did not think I had a blockage, but that there was a possibility I had an enlarged right ventricle. My heart sank in the unexpected potential diagnosis and before I could say “check please” he was talking about the immediate testing that would follow.

As Carolyn and I waited for two hours or the test to be conducted, we did not discuss the possibilities we were facing at the moment. Once in awhile I would share an expletive that only she could hear and would laugh for a moment. She wondered out loud if the last two years had taken a greater toll on me than was known. I joke that our recent crises now had me understanding how one “ages,” but was there some truth about how the stress had done some real damage? For now, I was focused on getting answers and then moving towards solutions so I could see all of my kids grow up and hopefully meet my grandkids some day. In those quiet, excruciating moments, I was mentally preparing for a challenging diagnosis. The words of my dad came back to me. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

I learned on Christmas Eve that that the testing all came back normal and further testing or treatment was not necessary. In that moment, I felt like my heart was finally beating normally again.

This latest scare taught me much about dealing with crises, while also reinforcing what I’d come to understand as Carolyn and I faced and continue to face challenging circumstances and difficult decisions. I’ll give them to you didactically and hope that you, too, can learn something from my health scare:

1. Stay calm and focused. Despite the fear and anxiety I needed to calm down and focus in order to attack the problem. Whether it’s a medical issue, an office challenge, or a family disagreement I think this is the best approach.

2. Always get a second opinion. Do not rely upon an initial diagnosis. Seek out centers of excellence for the particular ailment and get a second opinion. If I would have taken the initial diagnosis I would have gone through an evasive medical procedure on my heart.

3. Don’t take your health for granted. I am guilty of taking my health for granted. I need to be more thankful for being in good health.

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