Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

It’s Not The Cold, It’s The Gloom


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My mother and my daughters recently visited with me in my Florida home.  What they returned back to was almost cruel.  In Florida, the weather was a very comfortable low 80’s, and nothing but sunlight.  Just days after they returned back to Pennsylvania, the area got walloped with over 31 inches of snow.

Of course with my health, I can only breath a sigh of relief that I do not have to deal with shoveling large amounts of snow, or deal with extreme cold temperatures.  And while the initial impact of the snowfall is quite beautiful, after the novelty wears off, reality sets in.

It is a phenomenon that I saw first hand in the Spring of 2014.  I picked up a friend from the Philadelphia airport in March, who had come to visit my dying father.  She came from Florida.  In just moments from leaving the terminal, the expression on her face changed as her view of the overcast skies, brown and barren trees, simply changed her mood to one of gloom.  And I am not talking about her pending visit with my father either.  She had just flown in from a place where the climate was still warm, and very sunny.  It was like watching air released from a balloon.

I really could not understand what I was witnessing, because the Pennsylvania overcast winter climate was all that I knew.  That is, until after I moved to Florida.  My first visit back home was in November later that year.  Coincidently, the area had been hit with an early snow storm.  And while initially I was dreading the cold, and possibly the snow, in just months, I had grown acclimated to the sunny climate of Florida.  It happened, the overcast skies caused an immediate change in my mood.  I had never experienced anything like it.

The skies remained overcast the entire weekend visit.  And the dreariness in my mood remained.  Upon my return to the airport, and I kid you not, a single ray of sunshine was piercing through the skies.  And from the highway, I could see that it was pointing right to the airport.

Do I miss the drastic changes of seasons up north?  Do I miss the changing leaves?  Do I miss snow?  We actually do have changing seasons down here in Florida.  I do miss a day up in the Pocono mountains to smell Fall.  And yes, I do miss the silent beauty of a snowfall.  But you know what I do not miss?  Constant overcast skies.

Understanding Pain And Temperature


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Unless you have spent any time in the deep south, the following statement is probably going to be met with a major “eye roll” and a comment under the breath, “yeah, right,” but waking up to 43 degrees was not only cold, not only painful, but also reminded me of a condition that I have not had to deal with in over two years since I moved to Florida.

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The picture on the left shows the remnants of winter storm Jonas, with an actual amount of 31.9 inches of snow.  I missed this storm living in Florida.  But in the picture on the right, the second most snowfall occurred back in 1983, which I was a senior in high school.  The remaining three storms like this, were following my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and the last two following heart surgery.

Why do I bring this up?

Treatments from over 25 years ago have left me dealing with some late issues with my body that developed over time.  During cold temperatures, I am reminded of one of those issues.

I cannot recall exactly how my lungs felt prior to my heart surgery in 2008, but I do know that following my surgery, my temperature tolerance dropped about 10 degrees.  Up in the north, I learned to deal with this issue by wearing wool over my mouth and nose, and wearing extra clothes to stay warm.  When did I have to start doing this?  Once the temperature went below 60 degrees.  My cooler weather apparel was often met with mockery, and only those who deal with similar issues can know what I was physically feeling.

The first thing that hits me is breathing in the cold air.  The only way to describe the feeling is that my lungs instantly freeze up solid like a brick.  Your lungs need to expand, and my lungs will not.  My current lung capacity has been measured at 76% from progress damage due to radiation therapy.  In fact, the lower lobe of my left lung is completely “dead”.  The only way for me to get relief, since inhalers do not work, is to get into a warm environment as soon as possible.  The “thawing” out of my lungs if you will, can take up to about a half an hour, possibly more.

But in the meantime, two other issues appear once the cold hits my lungs.  I often begin to have an anxiety attack, at the panic of my restrictive lung disease.  And with that, my breathing becomes even more difficult, the anxiety gets worse, and then the pain hits.  Again, the best way to describe the feeling, is my muscles, especially in my back and hips “constrict” like a boa constrictor is squeezing me.  Again, there is no relief other than thawing out.

My late developing issues from treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are progressive.  There is only one thing I can do, and that is “manage”.  There is no cure, no reversing what has happened to my body.  My moving to Florida I thought would have helped with this particular issue.  But recently, our weather has turned colder down here.  No, I know I will never volunteer for sub-freezing temps again, or major snowfalls, so I will state that my friends and family in the north will deal with much worse when it comes to cold temperatures.  But for me, 43 is cold enough to remind me what my body has gone through, and still has to deal with.

Beautiful But Deadly


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Yes, quite a lovely photo.  This picture was taken back in 2010, but I can easily envision the same sight in 2016 from my current home in Florida.  The snow is quite beautiful.  There is a peaceful aroma that comes with a large snowfall, as well as the chilling silence.  Once the snow has finished falling, you will begin to hear the echoes of snowblowers, and neighbor helping neighbor to shovel out from the unsuspecting amount of snow.

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The amounts of the current snowfall, while pictured here, have been stated up to 30″ localized, meaning some pocketed areas could see larger amounts.

As a child, these were amounts that we could only dream of.  Undoubtedly, school would be missed because it would take literally days to dig out, and often times, areas were without electricity.  But that was of no concern to us.  We were more than happy to grab a shovel, and start taking care of sidewalks and driveways because that would mean one thing, SNOW FORTS!

Shoveling snow as a child however is much different than it is for an adult.  And even if we are in our most fit condition, shoveling snow can be dangerous, if not lethal.

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Of course, we hear the warnings all the time.  And we also hear of the tragedies.

In 2008, I underwent emergency heart surgery to perform a double bypass.  But unlike millions of adults, my cardiac issue was not related to weight or diet, but rather long term effects from cancer therapies.  So, it should not come as a surprise that being fairly physically fit and active, when we got hit with snowfalls, especially in the Winter of 2007/2008, I did not plan on taking any precautions when it came to shoveling.  I just simply went out and did it.

Prior to my heart surgery, for a period of 4 months, it turned out, I was having symptoms of a major blockage, often referred to as a “widow maker”.  It is called that for only one reason.  You have a fatal heart attack.  By the time the damage is done, it is usually too late for paramedics to do anything.  My symptom, was fairly simple, but ignored.  After all, as I said, I was in decent shape, and in spite of my father having a major heart attack, I was fairly certain I was not having a heart attack.

From the moment I lifted the first heap of snow, a “tightness” from the middle of my chest to my left shoulder occurred.  And the sensation would last approximately a minute and then go away, and I would continue shoveling.  Now it should mention, the amounts of depth would vary, but my driveway was 30′ x 10′ and I had about 100′ of sidewalk to do every time.

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Now while the picture above is the actual scan from prior to my heart surgery, this was done following less than one minute on a treadmill when I complained about the same symptom as shoveling, and confirming from the EKG that was attached to my chest, that something had just occurred.  Now imagine, this photo was basically showing every time I was shoveling snow (or anything else physical that resulted in that symptom) and what was about to happen.

My cardiologist refers to me as the luckiest man on earth, because I prevented my fatal heart attack by seeking help before it happened.  Yes, I played with fire for 4 months.  The problem for me is I am not a complainer, so I just tolerated the discomfort, and it could have been fatal.

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While I did heal, the winter of 2008/2009 was on us in no time, and without a snow blower, I was faced once again with shoveling snow.  Of course I was going to be careful, but this was clearly an activity I should not have been doing.  And it ended up being a very busy winter with snowfalls.  By the 3rd snowfall of the season, I had finally purchased a snow blower, which got used a lot from then on.

But my warning is no joke.  Most reading this are not young, and perhaps should not be shoveling snow.  And this weekend, so many that I know are going to be busy shoveling out from a major snowstorm.  Please, if you must shovel, and it is still snowing as of this posting, so you hopefully have read this post, please read the warnings from the American Heart Association I have pictured above.  And please, please, be safe.  I have a lot more posts that I would like you to read.

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