I was told these words following a night in the ER where I received superior care/ treatment to determine if I was having and/or had a heart attackand yes I did. After 3 days in St.Marys, where I received the very best of care and was tactfully informed by my cardiologist that the condition of my arteries were "the worst he had seen in a long time," I was given the options of bypass, medication intervention or stents, which resulted in a collaborative decision to use 3 stents. I ended up with 1 stent, then spent 3 more days in St.Mary's precipitated by failing my initial stress test, and whinnying to the surgeon who put in the stent that I "will never be the same or be able to exercise."
The next morning during rounds the team listened as I expressed my anger, with tears and words, regarding how I had consistently exercised 5 days a week for 30 years, watched my diet, faithfully took medications I disliked and still I couldn't overcome my genetically dealt hand. My cardiologist, just as several nurses had over the past 6 days, listened and validated my feelings. He then went on to tell me that the only reason we were able to be having this conversation was due to the items I mentioned in my explosion of feelings, which I had been stuffing for 6 days. "YOU have been given a life sentence, not a death sentence - it is how you live your life in the coming days, months and years," he said. My response was basically-"YEA, Right sure has done wonders to this point - how can I exercise now I can't even pass a ******* stress test!"
I then was informed that by self-disciplining myself to vigorous, consistent exercise I had prompted my body to generate 2 very large collateral arteries on the right side of my heart, in addition to a couple of smaller ones that were replacing the blocked and partially blocked arteries. My attempt at eating healthy and the medications that I disliked taking were also a benefit in protecting my heart muscle. He explained to me even with bad genetics and a heart attack I had very little if any heart damage - my ejection fraction was 73 versus the average (?) 50-60. This was great news, but it did not change the fact I was unable to think of trying to exercise and having another attack. I only knew one way to participate in sports or exercise - full speed.
I was then introduced to what turned out to be my "safety net": the Cardio Rehab Unit at Gonda 4. My immediate thought conjured up pictures of a place that I would not find to reinforcing - I was used to a workout facility! He urged me to take the appointment and visit Gonda 4. The team left and a nurse on the floor stopped to check on me - I guess the word was out that I was not very happy - in fact two nurses came into the room. When they finished their visit I was starting to believe I had been given a "life sentence," It was up to me.
I felt blessed that these two angels visited me. The time in the ER, St. Marys Hospital - 3 different floors and the staff that cared for me was just the start of my sentence. The staff at Gonda 4 demonstrated that the culture of patient care I had experienced in the ER and on the CV floors at St. Marys existed also in the CV rehab unit. It has staff therapists, nutritionists, nurses and exercise physiologists) with knowledge, people skills and empathy toward everyone who comes through the door, and the receptionists start the welcoming process.
I am a person with a history of vigorous participation in sports and exercise - yet I was AFRAID to return to a concept that was such a huge part of my life. If I felt this way how about the individuals who do not have any awareness of structured exercise, healthy diet and consistent use of proper medication? These are all areas in which the staff at Gonda 4 provide thorough guidance and support. The staff at Gonda 4 has helped me continue my "sentence" with the opportunities to exercise at a level that allows me to be safe, reminding me about diet and answering my questions about medications.
I was introduced to One Voice through my participation at Gonda 4 and have found it to be a growth experience beyond belief. The opportunity to meet and learn from other patients and family members who have had similar experiences, to be involved in the Caring Hearts Visitor program, to meet and interact with professional staff members, to observe their knowledge, caring and passion, to attend seminars and symposiums regarding cutting edge concepts in medical care and to be in the same room with all of these people and have your input listened to and valued. I am AMAZED!!
I also have had the opportunity, through One Voice, to be involved in an information sharing tool; The Voice, written by patients and for patients. It is printed quarterly and is a vehicle to bring forth the happenings of One Voice, patients sharing of their stories, support networks that are available, opportunities to give back and for me another way to make sure I continue my "life sentence."
July 26, 2006 seems like a long time ago, but time has gone by quickly since I had my heart event. In that time I have embraced my "life sentence" thanks to many caring people - I am a very lucky fellow. I believe I have increased my quality of life; that my life has been enriched by the individuals I have met and continue to meet; that I have grown intellectually and my hope is to continue the process.
Please take a moment to review "The Voice," our quarterly newsletter by and for patients and families, and let us know your thoughts and ideas about future updates. Thanks for listening to my story and let me know if you are interested in learning more about One Voice.
March '09 issue of The Voice (right click and "Save as..." to download)