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 mentoring project began to take shape. After the mentors made their mentee selections, we informed our mentors and mentees that they had a month to make an initial contact with each other. So the initial requirement was that the mentors and mentees meet up either in person or by phone during the first 30 days of the program. We had some mentors and/or mentees who lived outside the D.C. Metropolitan area and were going to engage in a long distance mentoring relationship. Phone calls were going to be the best form of mentoring contact for them. (For example, the young woman I was mentoring lived in the Tidewater area of Virginia, so most of our sessions were done by phone and lots of e-mail chats).
In October of 2013, we created a mentoring webpage on our organization’s website. The page included not only a description of our program, but a section that had resources for our mentors. We also had links to two articles in local management magazines that featured interviews with two of our mentors. We included articles in our organization’s newsletter to publicize our project and the accomplishments we had achieved.
We held an opening event in the November of 2013. We booked a space at a popular restaurant on Capitol Hill for an after work happy hour. My partner in the project opened the festivities and functioned as our emcee. He is also a motivational speaker, and he did a remarkable job keeping the crowd energized. My presentation included a tribute to our leadership organization’s General Counsel who had recently passed away, and who was the subject of my last post. I hope I was able to paint a sufficient picture for our attendees of the tremendous influence he had on our project, and on every person he met during his career.
Mentors and mentees from the previous project also spoke about the positive impact of being in a mentoring relationship and the success of the previous program. We included a speed mentoring segment, similar to speed dating. All these segments provided a good introduction to mentoring, and encouraged the spirit of collaboration we sought to develop. The happy hour was a resounding success. Even as I describe it, I can feel the energy that was in the happy hour room, and I realized that the positive vibes I took from the mentoring program seemed to be a good influence on my heart.
In addition to the mentoring project, I engaged in some coaching sessions with Federal managers. I also helped one colleague with her applications for a senior government position. I participated as a “hiring manager” in some mock interviews we performed for the participants of a leadership development program. I assisted our church in several fall events and continued to be an officer of the church board.
During this time, I also had a “device” check of my pacemaker at my cardiologist’s office. While I had a monitor by my bed that would periodically “interrogate” my device, the protocol is for me to also go through an in-person device check annually. This includes connecting my device to a computer that runs through several diagnostic checks of the pacemaker. The check went well which gave me peace of mind that my damaged heart was doing well.
So by early December, I had engaged in a number of rewarding activities and felt like I was keeping busy. But by that time, I was starting to note the occasional odd occurrence. I had lunch with a friend in walking distance of where I lived so I walked to the restaurant. On my way home, I took a route that involved a bit of an incline, but nothing major. I started to get really winded and had to pick an alternate route home.
I was scheduled to go to a seminar regarding government leadership. I started to put on a really nice skirt and jacket that I had worn many times before I retired. I could not get zip the skirt up without the fit being tight, and I realized if I wore it I would be uncomfortable all day. So I switched to another outfit. I arrived at the seminar, and a male friend asked how I was doing. I launched into a tirade about feeling like a cow. I am lucky he ever chose to talk to me again. But in my defense, I really watched my now very heart healthy diet carefully and was exercising daily. My calorie intake and exercise level was virtually the same as it had been the last time I wore this skirt. It just didn’t seem fair - what was the problem?
In January of 2014, we convened another mentoring happy hour at a restaurant in Washington DC. The day that we had the event was forecast to be very very cold, especially after the sun went down. My cardiologist had warned me that when the weather forecasters talked about weather that could impact people with chronic health conditions, they would be referring to people like me. My method of traveling into DC was basically the subway because driving around DC during the rush hour, no matter which direction I was heading, could be difficult. Needless to say I was a little unnerved about being out and about in the cold weather on foot.
Fortunately, I found that again, I had many friends who were always there for me. I was able to get into DC before 5:00 and while the weather was cold, it was not bitter cold yet. My partner in the project and his wife drove to the event, and dropped me off after the Happy Hour was over. Of all the treasures in the world, I continued to receive proof that the most precious gifts were friends who understand and have your back.
However, I continued to keep track of the instances where physical exertion was more challenging than before, or where clothes suddenly didn’t fit right, or where I had maybe undue concern, bordering on fear, regarding conditions that might stress my heart.
I do not think that I could ever be accused of being a hypochondriac. I wasn’t at panic level yet, but I was starting to hear faint alarm bells going off in my head, and this time, I was paying attention to them!
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.