October and November are autumn months, and autumn has always been my most favorite time of the year. But even though I love the change of colors, and putting on sweaters, wool outfits and even gloves and hats, the season holds some challenging moments.
Why? Well my Dad’s birthday is in October and my Mom’s birthday is in November. And they both passed away in the autumn. So, I have bittersweet memories when autumn rolls around. My Mom passed away last November, and my Dad passed away during the last week of September in 1996. This means that my memories of my Mom are more recent and thus, more vivid. But I have great memories of both that are helping me manage and I hope at some point perhaps even stare down heart failure.
I am a veteran of the anxiety wars. By the time I was 30, I realized that I tend to worry about things. As I took on progressively responsible positions in my career, I knew that the stress on my job would only increase over time. I also knew that worrying about things that either (1) I could not control or (2) were unlikely to happen could derail my ability to be decisive not only in my career but in the personal sector of my life.
I knew I had to get the worry gene under control or the impact of the ensuing anxiety would be disastrous. As I recall, I read several good books on techniques to manage the stress so that I did not begin to obsess over red herrings. I did really well for a number of years. But then heart failure came knocking on my door.
One thing I love about a blog is that I can edit things. Whether it be on a piece of paper I have scribbled on, or a computer with typed commentary, I have the ability to cross out, erase, or backspace through to edit and refine the language. The story always becomes something that I can take pride in.
I can’t say I take much pride in how I have handled the events of the last few weeks. As background, this summer challenged my allergies and sinuses. I either had watery eyes and a runny nose, or I was fighting aches in all of my sinus cavities. I think the really bizarre weather helped create an environment that made being outside a misery. When you fight shortness of breath due to heart failure, it doesn’t help that your respiratory system is plagued with allergies and sinus headaches or drainage.
When it comes to managing heart failure, I think the concept of tolerance plays a significant role in how much success you will achieve. Bear in mind that the word tolerance has a number of definitions, and so there are a number of aspects of tolerance that will contribute to better management of your condition.
The first definition that the Merriam Webster Dictionary website provides is: the capacity to endure pain or hardship: endurance, fortitude and stamina. So this definition pertains to heart failure management in the following ways. First, it is a health condition that will cause you a lot of hardship in your life that will likely increase as time passes. Examples are shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, strict diet and fluid restrictions, and anxiety. The best way I have found to handle these hardships is with a reality check. They aren’t going away absent a miracle cure. But if I am really vigilant with medication and good habits then my ability to endure this hardship increases. Or in other words, I learn how to tolerate the hardships better and they become less intimidating.
About six weeks ago, I had a truly dismal weekend. It started on a Friday morning when I was taking my daily blood pressure reading. This has become my absolute worst medical requirement, even worse than having to send my daily weight to a monitoring center.
To begin with, I have incredibly low blood pressure, and the heart medications I am on make it even lower. In my opinion, the readings have no relation to how I am really feeling. On days when I have a lot of energy and think I can conquer the world, I will have a lower reading. Then the next day, when getting out my pajamas seems like a big achievement, my blood pressure reading will be higher. Go figure?
I recently had lunch with a friend I had not seen for about 6 years. Of course, I advised her that since the last time we met, I had received a diagnosis of heart failure and had a new, improved heart device inside me.
My friend is like me, and is more than a little curious. So she wanted to know all the details about my heart failure and how I was feeling. Before I provided the ups and downs of my story, I made her promise that she would not worry about the details of my condition. I think I somehow managed to make my life sound like more ups than downs, more successes than failures. Because truly, that is the life that I now live and I am fortunate to have it.
You may recall that last year at this time, the therapist I was seeing encouraged me to use the occasion of a New Year to reflect on what I had accomplished in the outgoing year. She also recommended developing a list of goals that I wanted to work on for 2019.
At first, I was a little wary of this suggestion. I was never one to make a list of New Year's resolutions. It seemed to me that New Year’s resolutions were made by amateurs, those who meant well but simply did not have the discipline to follow through to keep the promise made. Why would I think this? Well the History.com website says that starting with the ancient Babylonians, people have been making new year’s resolutions for 4,000 years. While some cultures resolutions had religious roots, History .com says:
Paying homage to the angels of mercy who are devoted to the welfare and good health of those entrusted to their care. Part II.
Two weeks ago I wrote about the doctors I have met who have provided care that is more than just practicing medicine and rises to the level of healing. This week, I write about those other health care professionals who are steadfast in their proficient treatment of patients. This includes nurses, technicians and lab workers.
As I was writing this post, I came across something known as the Florence Nightingale pledge. As you may know, Florence Nightingale was a 19th century nurse. According to the website Britannica.com: “Nightingale was a British nurse, statistician, and social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing. Nightingale was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War. She spent many hours in the wards, and her night rounds giving personal care to the wounded established her image as the “Lady with the Lamp.”
In my experience with heart failure, my treatment relies on getting the right meds, diet and fluid and exercise advice, as well as monitoring and assessing symptoms through a variety of pesky but necessary tests. But despite these life-enabling, life-extending measures, I think there is one important factor that trumps all of those treatment facets. What I am referring to is what used to be referred to by the term “bedside manner”. This term relates to the restorative, soothing manner that doctors assume towards their patients.
I seem to have spent a significant amount of time with medical professionals since my life-changing encounter with heart failure over five years ago. But in early November, my 93-year old mother began an extended hospital stay that expanded my exposure to health care professionals across the spectrum. So this post pays homage to those wonderful professionals I have met as a result of my chronic condition and my Mom's illnesses, and to demonstrate what separates those who are "practicing" medicine from those with a true vocation for the art of healing.
I recently realized that while I have traveled a long way in terms of conquering my anxiety, I still felt under pressure to accomplish goals and meet ambitious expectations. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have been trying to live a Martha life with a Mary heart.
Okay, I know that you think I have totally lost it. Perhaps there is some type of dementia that accompanies dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. The woman is so confused, she doesn’t know her own name and she thinks her heart is a person. How sad!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.