Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tugging at My Heart Strings

This was originally written on March 11, 2003 on a laptop computer as I recovered from my second heart bypass operation. Stanford VA Hospital Palo Alto, CA
I was  36 the first time it happened. Around July sometime in 1985, I was playing softball in Hinckley. I played for the Alpine Inn team and we had a game one evening. I had been the pitcher and batted cleanup for all the time I had played for Alpine Inn. They were a Class B Minnesota State Softball Association sanctioned league team.
Danny what's his name, the owner of the Pine City bakery where Barb worked, had played for Alpine Inn for a number of years. I guess there were plenty of teams around. guys getting together to play softball, having fun, re-creating.
But there were only two really well known teams in East Central Minnesota, Alpine Inn and Bob’s Standard. Bob’s Standard, sponsored by the local Standard service station, was a really good Class B team. Nobody hardly ever beat them. Alpine Inn, the other well known team was good too, no-one hardly ever beat us either except Bob’s Standard! I always thought of Bob’s as a really serious team, and Alpine as the bunch of guys who wanted to have fun, laugh, joke around, go out after the games and get drunk, that sort of thing.
So Danny, remember the bakery owner, had seen me play on a very recreational church league. He played left field for the Lutherans. I played wherever the born again christian Evangelical Free Church would ask me to. 
At one of the church games, Danny in left, me up to the plate, I whacked one over his head for a homer. Next time I was up, he backed up, and I whacked another over his head. This happened a third time and I wish I could remember a fourth, but definitely three times in a row. After the game, Danny asked me if I’d be interested in playing for the Alpine Inn team. I was flattered. things like this happened rarely in my life and I enjoyed being appreciated.
I had played for the team probably about two years, it was a hot July night, we were playing in Hinckley and I was up for my first at bat.
It was a hot grounder easily played to short with a routine throw out to first. As I had made it to the team, I would end my career, because this happened three times in a row, just like the homers over Danny’s head.
Each time I hit the ball and ran to first, I got a sensational pain in the middle of my chest. I was 5’8” and weighed in at about 260, maybe a few pounds more depending on the weekend I had. I had never experienced heartburn very much, but I thought that’s what was happening. I’d run to first as fast as I could, just like Pete Rose always did, I’d get the pain, rest and it went away. Well, almost all away, the third time it lasted for a while longer.
My rest took me to the bench then to the ground where I chose to lay down and just stop moving. After a few minutes, I got up and the pain was gone. I was still trying to get something for heartburn because this was bad and I didn’t want to start getting heartburn and not being able to do anything about it. I was on a kick of drinking a bottled sparkling water called “Lacroix”. I wanted some now because a burp would feel so good. I think someone actually went to the store and bought me one. It wasn’t a good evening at the old ball park. Mighty Casey was going down and he didn’t even know it.
A school teacher on the team suggested I see a doctor and have myself checked out. I should have listened. No one else could care less. I’m sure many of them wondered how I could do what I did being as big as I was. I must have looked like a water buffalo running around the bases.
Some time, a few months later in September, I was playing some touch football at the high school field. I remember scoring two or three touchdowns. I also remember laying on the ground like I had to do that July night playing baseball. I don’t remember the heartburn type of pain, but it took laying down flat on my back for me to recover.
Now just a minute here. This story isn’t about how good I was at sports. I mean, I wasn’t when I was a youngster. I was just hitting a stride and living up to my potential and had a few good years back to back.
The next day was Sunday and it was the day to go over to the Pine City municipal liquor bar and store and do the weekly cleaning. I ran a small business called, what else, “Joe Spado Maintenance Service”, and I had a few accounts around town. The “Muni”, municipal liquor store, was my biggest account and my pride and joy. I often went over on Sunday, the only day in the week they were closed, and did a super clean. I tried to get Barb to help me often. She hated it. It was my job. I solicited it, I got it, but I always thought she should help me do it, and she did, a lot! I realized many years later that I should have been fully responsible for getting it done and that without her help I was doomed. She held the account together and managed the business when I was away with health problems. Thanks for everything, Barb.
Well, on Sunday, September 22, 1985, I was there cleaning with my oldest daughter Maggie. That “heartburn” came back again. I had done everything and saved the vacuuming for last. I used a large upright bagger and was pushing this thing around with precision. I was strong, so, I was able to direct its path with my muscular arms and wrists. I was close to being done, maybe another ten minutes or so when the “chest pain” came on. I picked up the pace because my nature tells me to get the job done so you can get home and get some relief, even though I don’t know what I wanted to be relieved from. As I hurried to finish, the pain got worse. I’m sure I drank a bottled sparkling water or two to try and burp to relieve the heartburn. We finished and headed for home.
When I got home, I laid down on my bed, clutching my chest. I don’t remember doing this or how it actually happened, but I’ve been telling the story this way since it happened so I’ll stick with it, and that is, my oldest daughter Maggie, let’s see, she would have been 12, came to my bedside and said,” Gee Dad,  you don’t look so good, maybe you oughta go to the doctor!”. (or, words to that effect). Our foster son, Joe, was there and he was old enough to drive. The pain was not letting up and I asked him to drive me to the hospital emergency room in Mora, 23 or so miles away.
We pulled up to the emergency room entrance, I walked in. When someone asked if they could help me, which was immediate, I said, “Yeah, well, er, I don’t know. I got this pain in my chest and I got some real bad heartburn or somethin.” There was a doctor close by, he had heard me. He looked up and told me to come into the room and lay down right away. Soon a flurry of activity around me was taking place with blood being drawn, shirt taken off, wires with leads pasted to my chest, and a little white pill was given to me and I was told to hold it under my tongue.
It was only a moment later that the pain disappeared completely. The doctor had given me a sublingual nitroglycerine pill. it is used to relax the blood vessels and relieve angina pectoris, the “heartburn” pain I had been experiencing. My doctor, Doctor Wilson from Pine City, showed up soon after. He told me about the pill and that he thought there might be something wrong with my heart. Only minutes later, he spoke to me and told me the blood test results bore out that I had experienced a mild “MI” or, a heart attack, a Myocardial Infarction.
Now up until this point, I had not put together the instances of chest pain and how they related. I soon realized that they were all connected. the ball park, the football field and the vacuuming.
My life would change forever, I was 36 years old.
After that,  it was a trip to the big hospital in Minneapolis, the one that specialized in heart problems. They put me in an ambulance and sent me on my way. I got an angiogram first. They put a tube up into your heart through an artery in your groin. They inject die through the tube and take X-rays. Any blocked areas show up on a TV monitor. You are awake the whole time and don’t care because they inject you full of valium so they can do what they want and you don’t care. (Could use some of that at times, seems like it takes care of stress for a spell) When they find the blockage, they insert a balloon into the tube and inflate it, flattening the blocked area into the walls of the artery. This opens you up so the blood will flow again freely through the arteries. They used the balloon in 1985, now, they use something called a stent.
I went through this procedure in September and again in December. You see, the one I had done to me in September collapsed. They call it restenosis. My angioplasty procedure restenosed in December and was done again. That procedure also restenosed in late January and the doctor then told me that it would do no good to keep trying the angioplasty procedure. I needed to have a heart bypass operation. So now I was admitted to the hospital and had this bypass operation. This put me on recuperation for about a year. I did have some luck and recovered nicely.

These photos are of my heart, from an episode in 2001 at the Minneapolis, MN VA hospital
Before. The black lines bracket the blockage, the pretzel shaped lines are the wires that hold my breastbone together from the surgery I had in 1986

It was time to make some real changes in my life. I had already started to do this since the first onset of the heart problems, now it was time to get serious.
After. The stent installed in the blocked area, opening my arteries for good blood flow

I must change the diet entirely, add exercise to my life and get rid of stress. Let’s see, change the diet; 36 years of eating like a pig must come to an end. Let’s see, start exercising; start walking or biking or something, I’d never done this before. Let’s see, get rid of stress; yeah, right!
That brings me to today, January 4, 2011

I wrote the above article in March of 2003. Today, it is January of 2011. When I looked at the date I wrote it, it was exactly one week after my second heart bypass which took place in Palo Alto, CA at the Stanford VA hospital. In fact, I was in the hospital recovering when I wrote it. I need to also tell you that I had another heart episode in 1993. I was living in Grand Junction, CO. I had the same chest pain sensation and the nitro pills didn’t take it away. I laid in a hospital bed for about a week with an intravenous nitroglycerine drip. When the pain finally went completely away, they took off the drip and tested me. They told me I had a small piece of my heart tissue die. They told me it was on the right side near the back of my heart.
The funny part of all this is that here I am, 25 years later, and I have the same issues as I had when I was 36 years old. I carry too much weight, I eat poorly, I don’t exercise enough and sometimes not at all, and although I am making huge inroads on dealing with stress, I still haven’t got a handle on it completely.
Still, I awake everyday in hopes that I will have a good day and do something good for my body, something that will make a difference. I thought getting involved with The Longest Walk II in 2008 would help me make some real life changes. I did lose over 20 pounds and bring my blood sugar levels to normal levels. But I soon slipped back into the old habits as I’ve done numerous times.
I lost weight and had normal blood glucose, (the amount of sugar in the bloodstream, a measurement familiar to all with diabetes), readings a few times. On a trip to California in 2000, while at the VA in Hot Springs, SD in 2005, on the Longest Walk in 2008 and again after I went to an in patient program at the VA in Cleveland in the Winter of 2009. 
Like a freakin’ yoyo. I’d get healthy, but never stay there.
As I get older, it gets harder and harder to change habits and do what I know I need to do to help my own self out. On the face of it, the stress factor seems different than ever before. I am much more relaxed and willing to accept that it will take time for me to get out there to start exercising, and that I’ll get answers to all I anticipate when I start to add important dietary changes into my life. I have already started a trend where I don’t eat certain foods and I am much more active than I have been this past year. So, seems like I am off to a good start for this challenge.
We’ll see as time goes on. It sure is a strange thing. I know that my poor behaviors, as far as eating and exercise are concerned, can be harmful and even fatal to me since I already have heart disease and I am a diabetic. Yet like the smoker that is dying of emphysema, he must have that cigarette. I tempt fate with my style of living. Fast paced, stressful, worrisome. I wonder how riding the spirited Triumph motorcycle affects me. Add to that the lack of any significant exercise and a diet full of sugared and salted fat, red meat and heavy carbohydrates and you have the makings for another heart episode. I can not have a third heart bypass surgery. If I don’t die from my arteries closing up, then I certainly will spend the rest of my life in a wheel chair with an oxygen tube in my nose.

The Jolly Roger is still flyin' folks. Don't count me out just yet, Mateys

So, here I go. Like the druggie, alcoholic or compulsive gambler, One Day at a Time. Maybe today is the day I turn the corner, or die trying.
Peace to All


english inukshuk said...

good grief!! I almost had a panic attack just reading this. . .

. . .as you say, dear Joe, one day at a time - sometimes I live my life an hour at a time, and have even done it minute by minute

I know the internet is full of helpful, useful information; this, by that Ralph Emerson guy, helps me:

"Today I will take it easy.

"I will accept that I've made mistakes in the past. I will also accept that I did the best I could. Maybe I wish I had made different decisions or handled things differently. But wishes don't change the past. I can only begin making changes today. I will accept myself, knowing that I did my best. . .

I did what I thought I had to do."

(you can tell I didn't write it - all those capital letters and full stops!!)

so, take it easy today. . . and do what you can of what you know you need to do




Jeannie said...

Boy - this takes me back.
26 years ago, my husband - was 31 then - was having pains in his back whenever he physically exerted himself (he had/has a paving company and worked with the crew) or when he got chilled - it was fall. It got progressively worse. We phoned emergency & the doc said to give him a couple aspirin and a hot water bottle - thought it was muscle spasms. The aspirin probably saved him as it turned out. He'd gone to emerg a couple times but by the time they checked him he was fine. Finally, after a particularly bad episode, I insisted that our doctor get him a stress test for his heart. Which he did immediately and later that day, my husband was admitted to the ccu. He was scheduled for a double bypass but because of his age, they opted for angioplasty instead - they had to get a doctor up from Chicago to do it as they couldn't go through his arm. They said it would last 6 - 18 months but it lasted 18 years! He did not take care of himself either. Then he had a quadruple bypass. He is still vastly overweight and hates exercise. But we found that one dose of Metamucil (or generic brand) brought his cholesterol levels to normal levels. He just had a stress test and everything around his heart is still good.
Hope it goes as well with you.

Mel said...

ILTV said it so well. She's got it in perspective.
We do the best we can, today. And one day at a time, we manage to muddle our way though.

Obviously G-d had plans for your life. Geeze, you're still here doing the deal and bringing to the lives of others (boy do I hope you see that as much as those around you see that). Give yourself a bit of credit here. Okay--so there's things that you can do differently, there's also things that you are doing differently (hugely so) from 10 years ago.....10 months ago....

Never ever sell yourself short. Goodness me--look at how you've affected others for the good.
Maybe I've misread this and you've taken stock of that, too. People oft times believe I'm hard on me--and in essence I can be, but the result is good. I'll hope that you do the same. Cuz boy, if you need some help seeing that end of the spectrum, I'm sure we could help ya out a bit! :-)

You're still growing.....and you're growing well!

About those donuts......

susan said...

I've also read about great spiritual teachers who've lived and worked for many years beyond what the doctors had anticipated. You do wonderfully well all around and we all have compulsions that can't always be controlled. I'm very glad you're here.

rebecca said...

quite the story.
i understand too well the proactive path and its inherent difficulties.
i have a rare (only 10,000 diagnosed in the world) metabolic genetic disease.
i am up long before dawn walking my mandatory 55 min. on the treadmill. everyday while the healthy sector of life dreams in warm cozy beds, i am walking my miles. i eat a high protein low fat/low carb diet without any refined foods.

it's my daily lot in life. i will say that "walking the straight and narrow" has kept me out of the wheel chair and off oxygen, where most of the other patients are.

it's lonely on dark mornings...i always imagine walking towards the light, just happily on firm ground!

glad you are here too....one day at a time!

Spadoman said...

Thank you all for your comments. I appreciate your words and your concerns.
I posted this mostly because I needed to say it "out loud". I needed to tell the story. I don't and I won't give up.


mig said...

36 is young to be having a heart attack. It strikes me that you are living proof of the fact that people can go on after a heart attack to live a full life. Sometimes, reading through your life stories, it seems as if you managed another full life for each of your heart attacks and then a bit more!
And also that even with a broken heart you still have a powerful spirit.