As you recall from the last post, the advanced heart failure doctor ordered two tests: a cardio treadmill stress test and a cardiac catheterization. The purpose of these tests was to determine whether I fell into the category of a heart failure patient who has a 50 50 chance of being alive within one year. Patients who are in this category are put on the heart transplant list, and perhaps receive other devices to help them in the meantime. I guess if you equated this with an appliance in your home, it is like figuring out if the warranty on your heart has expired and whether it is time for a new heart.
I was scheduled to perform the treadmill stress test a few weeks after I saw the advanced heart failure doctor. The test actually had a few different components to it, and all of them were performed in the pulmonary lab of a hospital. Before my doctor arrived for the treadmill test, I had to do two separate pulmonary tests for a medical professional. The first test involved blowing into a tube that looked like an attachment to a vacuum cleaner. I was to take as deep a breath as possible and then blow as long and hard as possible into the tube.
The good news about being a heart failure patient is that the doctors periodically conduct tests to make sure that your heart condition is not getting any worse. I knew the cardiologist would ask me to have another echocardiogram during the summer of 2014, but I wasn’t worried. (This is the test that measures how effectively your heart is pumping your blood.) I had been watching my diet and taking heart medications. I figured it would be just like when I was in school. I would do well on my test. No need to see the principal because I failed.
In the meantime, the mentoring project continued to be a success. I conducted a few conference calls with our mentors so that we could discuss the progress of the mentoring partnership, and pick up a few tips from each other. We continued to add mentoring resources and articles to the leadership organization’s website. We had a mentor/mentee luncheon in the spring. The ability to network between the generations was a key element of our program.
You heed building alarms alerting you to danger. Do you heed your body's alarm that your health may be in danger again?
As the fall of 2013 progressed, I had engaged a therapist to help me with my transition to a slower life. I had taken on the mentoring project, as well as continuing to work on church matters. All these activities represented rewarding work and did not seem too taxing. I was busy but did not seem to be overwhelmed. In this phase of my post-retirement life, I was more alert and better able to heed signals my body and heart might be sending me.
While I performed a lot of the mentoring project work from my home, I went into the offices of the leadership organization periodically to complete some tasks. I worked closely with one of the senior staff members who was also a former government executive. We hit it off from the day we met, and helped each other out. He helped me out by becoming a mentor in our program. He would sometimes bounce ideas off of me relative to assignments he was working on. It was nice to have a colleague that I could collaborate with and confide in. The President of the organization also kept an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed.
The word mentor comes from Greek mythology. Mentor was an older man entrusted by Odysseus to guide his son Telemachus while he went away to fight the battle of Troy. (The goddess Athena often took on the appearance of Mentor to assist in the process of guiding Telemachus. I like this because it proves that even in a male-dominated world, females can rock!). In many ways, my work in the mentoring program was motivated and guided by a very special man. In the last post, I discussed the second mentoring project as it was beginning. In this post, I discuss the inspiration and guiding light for the project.
There would have been no mentoring project for me to coordinate at all but for the persistence of the general counsel of our leadership organization. His legal career had been devoted to protecting the interest of government employees and in grooming new government leaders. His commitment to promoting public service and enhancing the options of public servants extended to his volunteer work after business hours as well. His conviction for mentoring the next generation of public servant leaders was truly inspiring.
Before I get into the substance of the post, let me note that it may look like my life story is getting a little boring at this point. For the last few posts, I have not blacked out and fallen from a piece of exercise equipment; I have not had a medical procedure; and I have not even been in a hospital. Where is the story going? Well, I’m happy that throughout the last 3 to 4 years I wasn’t always in crisis mode! Just think of this as another commercial break in the story of my life. It is a time when I was able to carefully consider my options, calmly get a cup of tea, and proceed with an almost normal life until the next crisis loomed. During the next series of posts, I will let you determine whether I used the break wisely and was able to read the tea leaves a little better this time around.
As my retirement chapter continued to unfold, I certainly could not complain. I did feel much better in July 2013 than I did during the first six months of 2013. I just needed something to occupy my active mind, and heal and enrich my heart. As I worked through this matter in my mind, I knew that I needed to keep my life filled with people. I needed interaction with people to keep my brain stimulated, my senses of humor and compassion fueled, and to put any gifts that I had developed during my career to good use.
I would say that my initial days in retirement was a bit of a mixed bag of results. On the up side, it dawned on me that there was no office that I had to go to ever again. There were no deadlines I had to meet ever again. I didn’t have to look at my iPhone for after-hours work messages ever again. Mind you, I really thrived on my job until my heart problems began to surface. But I have to admit that even the vestiges of the hard charging Melanie that still existed thought it was fabulous that I did not need to be a servant to a time clock, and I did not need to juggle a variety of assignments.
I engaged in the fun activities that I often was too busy to do when I was working. Enjoying lunches and coffee and long walks with friends in the neighborhood, and just being with people without having to worry about what was happening in an office. I was aware that a group of 5 women I had worked with over the years had planned my retirement celebration. I wanted to thank them for their efforts, so we went to lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. I also began a custom of meeting former colleagues who had become dear friends for lunch or dinner every few months. In fact, I just had one of these lunches the other day. I value the companionship of these friends, knowing that it enriches my heart and my health. When you have heart failure, you take medications and perhaps rely on devices as part of your treatment. But I also believe you must stay in touch with your network of friends, because these connections are also important to your heart health and emotional well-being .
Until very recently, I never saw myself as a brave person. I wasn’t even sure I knew how a brave person would act.
But when I was in the process of drafting the initial posts for blog, I decided to reach out to my former minister. I mentioned him in an earlier post as the minister who came to visit me when I was in the hospital for my initial pacemaker implantation. He was also there after I had my defibrillator upgrade (to be covered in a future post). In addition to seeking spiritual advice from him, I sought his counsel a number of times when I needed someone to listen to a problem that was causing me anxiety. He always made me see that my faith made me emotionally stronger than I ever imagined.
Or do you just figure that if you pour more energy into the equation, the problem will go away or a miracle will occur. What if it doesn’t? Do you just divert more energy to it? Even the Energizer Bunny wears down, and that is why he takes a commercial break to insert new batteries and recharge. So I have learned that if you have heart failure, you may need to take periodic breaks to recharge. Because otherwise you may have to pay the freight for ignoring signs of the wear and tear, or the deterioration, of your heart. I expect that this same advice also is followed by a number of people who are diagnosed with chronic illnesses.
I decided it might be useful to continue to keep the pause button on for the next few posts. So I am pausing the story about the events that led to my health issues and the treatment plan that followed. I am going to continue for this and the next post to focus on some recurring themes I have noticed in the last three years.
The answer depends on how you define that term. When I was in elementary school in the 1960’s, the three "R's" was the short version of a term that defined the basic building blocks of education: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. But in June of 2013 when I was putting the final touches on the end of my career, the three “R’s” began to be defined as: Retirement, Reflection, and hopefully, Rebirth.
Retirement: Other than packing up and cleaning my office (tedious), and saying goodbye to people I had known for years (bittersweet), retirement was easy. It wasn’t like I was going to take on any new tasks in the waning hours of my career. Going home at night was a breeze, because there were no crisis questions that I had to respond to or worry about. I had initially feared that I might be afraid to retire, afraid that I might get bored. But because I was still a bit tired – gee bring boredom on!
Is it proper protocol to high five your doctor When you finally get a diagnosis – even if it is a little scary?
Hallelujah! A miracle occurred that provided a diagnosis and solution for my problem!
On the Thursday morning after I had the holter monitor test, there were messages on my work phone, my home phone, my personal cell phone and my work cell phone to call the office that conducted my holter monitor test. I talked to a nurse who asked if I could come in early Friday to talk about the results. I said yes, and asked if there was anything I should be concerned about in the meantime. She told me to avoid doing anything like the activities that caused me to note a reaction in my diary. Oh great, that would cover basic living activities! I said I would be careful and I would definitely be in the office early the next morning to learn what was causing my black-outs and lightheadedness.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.