Thursday, September 6, 2012

Less Of a Man

Since my heart attack I've lost about 15 pounds. That's more impressive than it sounds; my weight had been fluctuating a lot in the months prior, so I had to stabilize before I could lose anything. I weigh less now than I have in about seven years. And I resent the hell out of it.

Wait; let me back up a bit.

Last week I had my three-month checkup with the cardiologist. It went well; I'm as close to "perfect health" as I ever will be again. When he told me I was "normal" I got quiet, withdrawn, and very nearly cried.

Not, I think, the reaction he expected.

Still not sure what that was about. I mean, I don't want to be sick or have anything horribly wrong with me. Why can't I be happy about being healthy? My wife's analysis, which seems to fit well, is that this is such a fucked up situation (my phrasing) that I need to feel equally fucked up to make sense of it. I think that's pretty accurate. Another piece of it is the disturbing thought that this is now normal. This situation is pretty messed up to be "normal". Plus it means that all the lifestyle changes I've made the past three months now need to be continued. For the rest of my life.

But back to the weight loss.

Every time I look in the mirror and see how thin I'm getting, I get upset. Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely unhappy with the results. I've had fun buying some new "skinny" suits and not buying others because I legitimately believe they'll be too big for me in a few months. And it's a lot of fun having my pants fall down every time I cough. But for the first time in my life I'm losing weight not on my own terms.

I lost a lot of weight a few years back. Since that time I gained about half of it back, but I was ok with that. I felt good, was able to be as physically active as I wanted to be, and liked the way I looked. I was casually trying to lose five pounds, but knew what I would have to do and did not, at that time, want to make those sacrifices.

And now the choice has been removed from me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm Too Young For This Shit: Me & My Heart Attack

Ok, it's been a while. Things have been a bit busy, what with the moving cross-country, starting a new job, and having a kid. Through it all I'm continuing to deal with an existential quandary about my place in and relationship with organized Judaism, so the blogging about religion has somewhat tapered off.

Oh; also there was a heart attack.

As you may have heard around Facebook, I had a minor "major health incident" almost three months ago. You may not have know the details, though, because at first I was hesitant to post them online. Then I was... embarrassed. Not sure why that's my reaction, but it is. I decided it was time to write this post, though, and be a bit more open about the whole thing for one particular reason:

There are absolutely no resources out there for people who have heart attacks in their 30s. Or at least none I can find online.

Granted, the over-50 crowd make up the bulk of coronary heart disease (CHD) patients so it makes sense to cater to them, but you would expect with the hyper-niche formation that has become emblematic of the internet that something would be out there. I have my own theories about why it's like this. First, I suspect that, like me, many younger CHD survivors are too embarrassed to talk openly about their experience. Add in the rarity and it becomes nigh-impossible to gather a critical mass. Second, I suspect that, like me, 30-somethings refuse to accept the possibility they are having a heart attack.

So there's not enough of us who survive the experience in order to bond over it.

I wouldn't have gone to the hospital myself if it weren't for my loving, wonderful, hyper-protective wife. I had been feeling fine, or at least not noticeably bad, and spent the afternoon gaming with some friends. On the way home I started feeling some pain and assumed it was tension-related. When I got home I told Alex; she said that if I wasn't feeling better in 10 minutes we were going to the hospital - "just in case". Nine and a half minutes later we were in the car.

Many experts recommend that if you even think you might be having a heart attack or other life threatening emergency you should call an ambulance rather than drive yourself because you'll get seen sooner. I now agree. We walked into the ER, I told them I was having chest pains, and they directed me to a lovely blue plastic chair where I sat for nearly an hour. Then to the exam room. The nurse hooked up some wires, checked my EKG, and promptly ran out of the room.

That's usually a good sign, right?

She came back in, strapped me to the gurney, and pushed me into the hallway, alternately yelling at people in her way to either move or help.Then I met the nice doctor who got to tell me I was having a heart attack.


There followed some crying and some staring quietly into space while they prepped me, inserting and withdrawing various objects and substances as appropriate. I'll spare you for now the details of the operation and my stay in the ICU, although I may tell those stories sometime, to return to my main point:

It sucks to have a heart attack in your 30s.

Granted, there is no good time to have a heart attack but having one so young adds a special twist. When I go to physical therapy I'm the youngest person in the room by an order of magnitude. Many of the people I meet there tell me they took or are considering early retirement to reduce their stress load - not so much an option for me. They talk about their children coming back home to help or spending as much time as possible with their grandchildren while they can; meanwhile I'm wondering if I'll be around long enough to see my 7-month old son graduate from high school. Or get married. Or learn to walk. Even if I do, will I be able to play with him? Will I be able to teach him sports ("That's great, doctor, because I couldn't play sports before the operation!"), take him camping, or wrestle with him, or  will I be the perpetually weak, tired father on the sidelines his whole life? Having to take more than ten medicines a day or stick to a harsh diet plan for the rest of your life means something very different at 63 than at 33.

I should add that as of now I'm recovering as well as could be hoped. Physically, there was little damage and few lasting side effects. Pharmacologically, it'll take a while longer to get used to the new pills - and the inevitable experimenting until we find the right cocktail. Emotionally...I'm getting there.

I hope in writing this that I can reach other people my age who have CHD to let them know they are not alone. We are here, we are survivors. If you you just went through this and need someone to talk to, contact me. Likewise, if you went through this a while ago and have any advice, I'd be glad to hear it. I'm trying to remember that, long run, this will be a good thing. We found the problem early and with minimal damage, giving me time to learn to manage it. When I reach the age where CHD becomes a more common, more serious problem, I'll already be an expert on the medication and lifestyle.

I know that. It's just hard to internalize.