Monthly Archives: October 2010

Paying the Piper

As some of you may know by now, I spent a few days in the hospital back in the beginning of September (2010). This is an all new experience for yours truly. The last time I spent a night in a hospital was the night I was born. Anyway, herein you’ll find out what got me there and what the future holds for me. Read on if you’re interested…

Back in June of 2010, I noticed some shortness of breath. I was somewhat surprised. It seemed like my childhood asthma coming back to bother me again. That wasn’t what it was, though… unfortunately. As the weeks went by, I began to feel worse and worse. I was short of breath, fatigued, not sleeping well, etc. I knew something was wrong.

My initial guess was that my blood glucose level was high. I’m a diabetic, but control it with my diet. Sadly, I had not been on my diet too strictly for a while. I figured it finally caught up with me; it had… just not in the way I imagined. While my diabetes was definitely out of control, there were other more sinister things happening.

I noticed my ankles would swell up if I sat at the computer desk too long. They would go back to normal pretty quickly though, as soon as I propped them up or stood up and walked around. Then a bit later, the swelling became an every day occurrence. It was working its way all the way up my legs and into my lower abdomen also… NOT good.

I knew those symptoms to be either acute kidney failure or CHF (Congestive Heart Failure). My mother died from CHF; as a result of other conditions. It’s not a nice way to go. With congestive heart failure, the heart muscle is no longer strong enough to pump with enough efficiency to transport blood around the body. You develop edemas, areas of swelling due to fluid retention. Eventually, you get pulmonary edema, which is fluid in the lungs. You die by drowning in your own fluids.

A bit of history about Congestive Heart Failure… firstly, the doctors don’t really like that term and prefer to use “weakened heart” nowadays. Thirty or more years ago, CHF was a death sentence. There was no treatment for it. They used to tell patients to go home and rest, don’t exert yourself, etc. Sadly, this wasn’t enough to prolong the patient’s life for too long. Things are different nowadays, though.

There is now a successful and much practiced treatment that when followed closely by the patient can return them to an almost normal life. It can even make them more healthy than the were prior and extend their lives. The treatment involves close control of fluid intake, sodium restriction and proper diet, blood pressure control, and other beneficial medications. This regimen won’t necessarily cure a weakened heart; but it will increase the patient’s health, allow them to lead near-normal lives, and possibly even extend their lives due to the built-in health benefits of the regimen.

Back to my situation now…

Yes. I’ve been diagnosed with CHF or weakened heart, as they now prefer to call it. Why me? How did this happen? I’m only 49 years old. Aren’t I too young for this stuff? Well, the answer to these questions is that weakened heart can strike anyone at any age. Yes, it is more prevalent in the 60s and 70s, but it does strike younger folks.

What could have caused it in me? Well, it could have been 30 years of smoking. However, the doctors don’t think that was the case. It could have been damage to the heart muscle from some other cause in the past. Again, that’s not the case with me. The cardiologist believes that it was a moderately high blood pressure (only 20 or so points over normal range) over a long period of time that may have been the major contributing factor for me.

My blood pressure has been known to creep up, especially when my weight creeps up. Smoking usually raised my BP as well. It was never really, really high when I checked it, but it was 20 points or so over normal (140 systolic) at times. Just that small amount over normal for a sustained period of time could have weakened my heart muscle enough to cause my current problems. They don’t call high blood pressure the “silent killer” for nothing, folks.

So, what do I do now? Well, the doctors feel that I have a great advantage over most folks because I’m educated about my body and medical science enough to understand underlying causes and the technical explanations. Also, I already control my diabetes with diet, which the doctors all found to be wonderful. They know I have the self-discipline that I’ll need to manage this new weakened heart situation also.

They’ve prescribed my medications. They’re all simple generic treatments that have been around for years and years: Lasix – a diuretic (assists with fluid removal), K-Dur – a potassium supplement, Lisinopril – a blood pressure medication, and Coreg – a beta-blocker (assists arterial/venal flow and blood pressure). That’s it for the drugs.

I need to severely restrict my sodium (salt) intake because salt causes the kidneys to retain water, which in turn cause BP to rise. I was already doing this somewhat on my diabetes diet, but I’ll be even more strict about it now. I’ll also need to limit my fluid intake initially. I was limited to 51 ounces of fluids a day when first discharged from the hospital. That’s not much. You try to go the entire day and only consume 51 ounces. It ain’t easy. Anyway, I’m up to about 72 ounces currently.

There is good news in all this, though. Thanks to all the tests they ran at the hospital, I now know that my kidneys are 100%. My liver function is 100%. I have ZERO plaque or arterial build-up or blockages. I have no clots in my legs or lower abdomen. My lungs (other than the fluid in the right one) are clear and clean. My cholesterol readings were a little whacky… HDL was lower than normal and LDL was slightly higher, but both were WITHIN the NORMAL range. My strict diet will fix that in a matter of just a few weeks.

The future? Well, with a little luck and some time, I should be able to recover from this quite well… and be healthier for it in the long run. I’ve already lost substantial weight (54 lbs) and should be at my optimum weight before the end of this year. I currently weigh 214 lbs. I want to get to 195-200 lbs. My stamina and wind are gradually increasing. Every day I feel better and can do more; working around my home, walking, biking, etc.

It’s NOT going to be easy, but then… whatever is in this life? I’ve beat diabetes (or, at least I’m ahead in that war). I’ve beat smoking cigarettes. I’ve beat other things in my life. I can beat this. Or, at least get and stay ahead of it.

When you’re young and that genie pops out of the brass lantern you rubbed and offers you that one wish, you always say “I want a million dollars” or something to that effect. When you’re older, your wishes tend to change. If that genie popped out and offered me that one wish right now, I’d wish for perfect health. Nothing matters without your health. Take care of yourselves, folks.