When Life Slaps You Hard
Midway upon the journey of life
I found myself within a forest dark,
for the straightforward pathway had been lost.
– Dante Alighieri-Divine Comedy
A little more than six months ago, life was clipping along at the perfect pace. I had just finished a season of triathlon racing and felt great. My family and work life were balanced and proceeding on course.
In sport and life; however, the outcome is never certain. At times the universe steps forward and knocks you on your ass hard. Life has a way of doing that. Hopes and dreams crash in mid-flight. That doesn’t signal defeat but rather a chance to rise and meet the challenge.
If you read the previous post on how much a life is worth, you know where this is headed.
I’ll summarize it here for those unfamiliar with this twist of fate.
Several friends and acquaintances suffered unanticipated heart attacks or other serious events recently, and a sense of mortality weighed heavy on my mind. In a past life, I enjoyed a good cigar and often opted for toxic food choices. I needed some reassurance that I was not going to find myself pushing dirt from six feet down.
Self-directed testing and imaging have fostered a new era of patient driven self-directed care. The Quantified Self movement is replete with data-driven fanatics capitalizing on emerging science.
That said, I wanted in on the action and ordered a coronary calcium CT scan of my heart.
Anyone concerned about heart problems must consider having a CT scan of their heart. This quick imaging (X-ray) test can detect calcium in the arteries supplying the heart. Think of it as a painless/non-invasive way to determine the risk of having a heart attack.
The preliminary results were perfect with a score of zero. I walked out of that appointment beaming and feeling like I’d live forever.
A few weeks later, I noticed a letter from the hospital peeking out from a pile of the usual postal trash. Although tempted to file it away for later, an unseen force compelled me to open it.
“Your cardiac score is zero and risk is minimal; however, a large thoracic aortic aneurysm is noted and prompt medical attention advised.”
Fast forward a few months and numerous cardiologist visits later, I found myself staring at the OR ceiling as they prepared to crack my chest. My scalp wired with electrodes as they intended to freeze my body until all brain activity stopped. Then my heart would be stopped, and life irreversibly changed.
This scenario is nothing anyone wants to contemplate at any age. When the universe comes knocking at your door demands a different direction you are forced to comply and redefine your life.
I was fortunate to have a few months runway to prepare mentally, emotionally, financially and spiritually for this life-changing event.
With a lot of hard work and research, my wife and I cobbled together a plan to get through this. Her wisdom, love, and patience were essential to my survival on all levels. With intense focus scouring the internet, we thought we were ready for what loomed ahead.
Despite 17 years of clinical practice and a first-hand look at the ravages of disease and outcomes of risky surgical procedures, this experience forced a reassessment of everything in my life.
Looking back, there are numerous things I would have done differently to prepare better, ease the pain, suffer less and recover faster.
Knowing that 800,000 will suffer a cardiac event that lands them in a similar situation each year in the US alone gave me pause.
Months after my surgery, I knew there was a better way to help others forced into a similar situation. I wanted to share an honest look from an open heart patient’s perspective with a bit of insight as a physician. I knew this would be helpful and provide a mechanism to best prepare others for this event.
A Better Option
That being said, I created the Healing The Heart project. With the help of my wife, family, and friends, we created a comprehensive resource for anyone facing open heart surgery.
This is a up-front account of this physician turned patient and my experience at a world-renowned medical institution.
The course walks through the preparation phase, in-hospital period and shares critical tactics for recovering promptly at home. Each section has checklists to ensure nothing is left to chance. The information is concise and easy to apply, yet written without any expectation of medical knowledge.
The final section is a chronicle of videos sharing the common events every open heart patient will face. I’ll warn you that some of the footage is raw and uncomfortable for the medically squeamish, but it is an unavoidable fact of heart surgery.
Knowledge is power and a tool that provides comfort and reassurance. I trust you will find value in this project and hope that you will share it with those facing open-heart surgery.
You can either accept life’s defining moments and a new set of limitations or rage against the dying light.
I chose the later.