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.
We also held a panel discussion in that time frame entitled “How to Advance Your Federal Career”. The speakers were four of our mentors with a variety of professional backgrounds. The President of the Young Leaders association also participated in the panel discussion. In addition to our mentors and mentees, a number of other young Federal employees attended, and the session was very well received. Clearly, at least my mental health was benefitting from helping to sponsor such rewarding events.
But, there was still something not quite right with my body, and it seemed to be getting more pronounced as time went by. I was still eating very carefully and exercising diligently, but my clothes were getting tight. I went to visit my sister and brother-in-law for Easter. We went out for Easter Lunch with some of their friends, and I wore a skirt and top that were always loose. Or I should say had always been loose, because when I wore them on Easter, both were tight.
I was really confused. I could undesrtand the clothes being tight if they were among the smaller sizes in my closest. But what I wore on Easter was one of the roomiest outfits I owned. What was going on? I e-mailed my cardiologist and he suggested taking more diuretic, and keeping an eye on my weight. You may remember in an early blog post I talked about losing weight in the Fall of 2012 and having my clothes altered to a smaller size. Oh how I very much regretted the day I had taken that action! And my sister later told me that it was during the Eater holiday that she saw something she had never seen before on me: love handles!!!!
But despite those warning signs, and continued shortness of breath, there were still some rewarding events in my life. After Easter, my partner in the mentoring project advised me that his supervisor was nominating him for a Leadership Award in the category of mentoring. The award was sponsored by a Human Resources Association. I was one of the people who wrote a recommendation in support of his nomination, and he received the award in the early June. He was so energetic and talented, and it was a treat to have been part of the process that resulted in his receipt of this prestigious award. It warmed my heart.
The other accomplishment in June was the closing luncheon for the mentoring program. We had several people scheduled to participate in the luncheon, and the main speaker was a political appointee who was well known in the Federal community. We had reserved a banquet room at a popular restaurant in DC.
We had to make a down-payment to hold the facility. We sold tickets in advance, but it was a bit of a challenge to coordinate attendance, as it took place during a work day which meant it was hard to predict which of our mentors and mentees could make it for sure. So it was a little stressful in the days leading up to the luncheon to make sure we had a sizable crowd to greet the speaker and to maximize the networking potential. But it all worked out well. The luncheon was a hit, and I was very proud of all the mentors and mentees who had participated in our program. And I was thrilled to know that the Young Leaders organization wanted to have a third edition of the program, which was a testament to how successful we had been.
My sister and I took a short trip to South Carolina and we had a great time. However, I noticed I was getting more lethargic and short of breath, and my clothes were still feeling tight. I know I continued to complain about this throughout the trip. But I also continued to explain that I felt odd and was afraid something was wrong.
After I returned from the trip, I had another echocardiogram. During the test, I could hear this “glug glug” noise, like my heart beating in a pool of water. It was really an eerie sound. I kept listening to the wondering – “Is that how my heart is supposed to sound? Is it beating to fast or too slow or not enough?” I couldn’t wait for the test to end. When it did, the technician just seemed really sober. She must have told me two or three times that I needed to make an appointment to see my cardiac nurse. I told her I already had something scheduled for later in the summer, but her tone of voice seemed urgent. She gave me a card to call in a few days to check on the results of the test.
I didn’t even get to the check-in day to call for my results. The night before the check-in, my cardiologist called me. He let me know that the results of my test had dropped from an ejection fraction of 30 to 15. I was stunned. I was even more stunned when he told me that not only did I need to make an appointment to see him and the cardiac nurse as soon as possible, but he also wanted me to make an appointment with the heart transplant specialists at INOVA Fairfax Hospital.
In the year or so since I had the pacemaker implanted, the words heart transplant had never entered my mind. This sounded beyond serious. I wanted to cry but I was too frightened. I kept asking the cardiologist what I had done wrong. He told me that he had thought a lot about what to say when he called me, because he knew how hard I had been working to improve my heart health. He let me know that the reality was that I was not doing anything wrong. But unfortunately this was how my heart failure was unfolding. I promised I would make the appointments first thing in the morning.
But the very first thing I did was to call my sister and tell her the latest news. I think she was stunned as well, but was not showing it so that she could keep me focused. She wanted to come with me to both of my doctors’ appointments. As she said, it would be helpful to another person there to ask questions and to take in and remember what the doctors said. I was extremely grateful to her for her support and continual presence in my life.
How low could my test scores go? Well, they were already at 15 which seemed pretty low. I did not get called into the principal's office like you might if you suddenly had a low academic test score. But I was required to see a number of gifted doctors which in the scheme of things was a blessing. But why didn't it feel like a blessing at the time? And I could not help but wonder – could the test scores possibly go into the negative numbers?
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.