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 in the Class B Minnesota State Softball Association sanctioned league.
Danny Johnson, the owner of the Pine City Bakery where Barb worked, had played for the Alpine Inn team 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.
I was 5’8” and weighed in at about 260, maybe a few pounds more depending on the weekend I had.
Each time I hit the ball and ran to first, I got a sensational pain in the middle of my chest. 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 ‘cause 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, okay?
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”, what the locals called the 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.
A common wall hanging in the cardiologist's office.
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 John 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 beared out I had had 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 my heart through an artery in my groin. They inject die through the tube and xray the image. Any blocked areas show up on a TV monitor. I was awake the whole time and didn’t care ‘cause they inject me full of valium so they can do what they want and I just didn’t care. 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.
Look closely and you can see the "zipper" scar on my chest.
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 open heart surgery operation. This put me on recuperation for about a year. I did have some luck and recovered nicely.
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.
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!
Fast Forward a Few Years
I wrote the above article in March of 2003. 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. I need to also say 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 Colorado heart attack came in the morning, soon after I woke up. The California affair came at 9:00 p.m. I waited all night and drove myself to the VA clinic in Eureka, CA in the morning, only to have them tell me to go to the hospital. I drove myself to the hospital and found I had another heart episode. I was transferred to Palo Alto via a little twin prop plane with a nurse at my side. That’s when they cut me open again.
The funny part of all this is that here I am, 24 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. Oh, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes in 1998 there abouts.
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.
On the face of it, the stress factor is different than ever before. I am much more relaxed and willing to accept that it will take time for me to change habits completely, and that I’ll get answers to all I anticipate when I get started taking better care of myself. 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 of 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. 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.
A plain lettuce salad is good for your health.
I have tried to make wholesale changes in lifestyle and eating habits over the years. I have succeeded from time to time with weight loss and bringing my blood sugar levels down to normal levels. Just last winter, I embarked on a no nonsense plan to lose weight through diet changes and regular exercise. I did good.
I started out on January first at 227 pounds. My A1c, the measurement of how much sugar is in your blood, was somewhere around 12. A 7 is said to be the goal A1c for a person with Type II diabetes. My blood sugar readings were well over 200 when I used the glucose meter from time to time.
In five weeks, I lost 14 pounds. My blood glucose levels averaged around 100, (between 90 and 120 is normal), and the A1c dropped to 7.8. I felt good. I had more stamina. I had more energy overall. Even my mind seemed sharper and a lot of the depression behavior I had experienced was gone.
A month after that, I stopped walking for exercise. I had been walking at least a mile or two, and sometimes more, every day. I started eating whatever I saw and craved sweets like donuts and toast with butter, peanut butter and jam. Yes, that’s always been one of my favorite snacks. I completely disregarded thinking about anything I put in my mouth until now, six months later, I am totally out of control.
My Oh My, but these things taste so gooooooood!
My weight is back up to the 225 mark, my blood glucose was 289 yesterday morning and I don’t want to keep doctors appointments as I know my A1c has risen dramatically and the doctor will put me on insulin injections instead of one small pill a day. The thought of insulin and the self persecution because I allowed myself to slip back into really bad habits has caused stress and worry, and as I get older, my mind is telling me that I can’t do it. It’s like suicide by eating with a dose of stress to help me along.
Cooking is right up there with eating on my happiness scale.
In the late afternoon, I get the idea in my head that “Tomorrow for sure, I’ll walk to the coffee shop every day and join a bowling league for regular scheduled activity. I’ll ride my bike at least once every day”. I also say to myself how I will change my diet by eating oatmeal every morning, a salad for lunch and beans and rice for dinner, and never ever have bread and butter again, quit eating meat, donuts, candy, ice cream and pasta!
When I get up in the morning, I have a cup of coffee. Then I drive to the coffee shop and eat a delicious scone or some other coffee cake. I come home and eat more food. I don’t exercise at all and when I think about it, my brain tells me “No, not today.” I won’t even go into the stress thing. It’s better than ten years ago, but still way out there on a fast track to an insane asylum.
So, here I go. Like the alcoholic, One Day at a Time. Maybe today is the day I turn the corner, or die trying.
Peace to All.