Living with a Broken Heart

I suffer from congestive heart failure. I was diagnosed five years ago after becoming concerned about swollen ankles. I thought the swelling was due to my age and the fact that I was standing nearly eight hours a day doing my job. Except for the swelling, I felt fine. But I wasn’t, apparently.

My family doctor checked my chest and said it sounded as if I had a heart murmur and then sent me to a specialist for further testing. The tests showed that my heart was not functioning well. In fact, it was only functioning at 25 percent of its capacity. I had to have a doctor’s permission to leave the hospital and was told not to do anything at all, work, pick up my young nephew, housework, play with, or walk my dogs, anything that might stress my bad situation.

I was given medicine and materials to read up on heart valve replacements. I was given the option of having a pig valve or a plastic valve implanted in my chest once I was stabilized by the new medication. I was inundated with information about the types of medications that I would have to begin now and to take to sustain my life, for the rest of my life.

Being the info junky that I am, I read somewhere that CHF sufferers rarely live five years past diagnosis. So as I write this, I guess I’ve reached a mile stone in this unexpected journey. I’m still alive with no end in sight.

But five years in, I’m still tremendously angry. Once I got over crying and being fearful that my life was soon to end. I got mad, and I’ve pretty much stayed mad.

I have always believed that if you did things right, the universe will be right with you. Another way to say it is “what goes around, comes around.” Karma. I truly believe that karma rules all. I believe that we reap what we sow.

I was an athlete. I watched the food that I ate. I never smoked. I experimented with alcohol, finding out that I really don’t like the taste, so my drinking is of a social nature. Beyond taking aspirin or nsaids for the pain that accompanies athleticism, I never did drugs. I have inhaled though, around my college friends and at a Richie Havens concert once. But that was it.

I went to school, stayed employed from the time I was sixteen. I have been self supporting since I was eighteen. To my mind I should not have been saddled with a chronic probably fatal disease. But it happened despite all of my self identified “goodness” and good living.

Five years in and I still haven’t had the valve replacement. The hole in the wall of my heart has closed up as mysteriously as it opened. My function is nearly 80 percent as I write this. My cardiologist says I’m a textbook recovery. He has no explanation for the reversal, nor why it happened in the first place.

I must take 16 pills per day to control my heart beat, blood pressure, and fluid levels in my body. One of the side effects of the medication is weight gain, so I’m living heavier than I have ever been and that is hard. My joints ache. I have to rest much more often than I used to.

I can exercise now with the restriction of not elevating my heart beat above 150. That means no running, my last exercise of choice. I can walk. I can lift weights, now in the fifth year. I can do yoga and tai chi and I can play golf. Exercise is much more difficult with the extra pounds and the fear that I might hurt myself or worse, die from exertion is sometimes incapacitating.

I have had to face the fact that I was afraid of dying. I have had to admit that I didn’t want to lose the material wealth that I had accumulated. I have had to admit that I wasn’t ready to let go of my family and friends, just yet.

I still deal with these things daily. As I get farther away from diagnosis, it’s been easy to forget that although I’m alive, I have to be vigilant about my health. I have to work daily for my physical existence. I have to get busy living because dying in my case is extremely easy.
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