Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “January, 2022”

Progress – Not Everything Is Easier

As a patient, no one can appreciate progress more than I do. Treated with some of the most extreme therapies, while I have survived decades, it has come at a cost in late developing side effects. Patients today, are now treated with better and mostly safer methods. As a consumer, it is easy to scratch our heads at all the new gadgets and vehicles and the options and purposes of the newer technologies. I can still recall many years ago, introducing my grandmother to her dishwasher, microwave, and VCR and the frustrations she had getting along in modern times.

As a parent, I have had different experiences that have caused this particular moment of reflection. As the northeast part of the US got walloped with snow, disappointment abounds for students, as this occurred over a weekend, meaning that the conditions would be cleared up enough for the start of school tomorrow. BUT, had this storm’s timing been a bit more perfect, it would have occurred overnight last night, leading to delays and closures for school.

In the old days, okay, when I was a kid, we found out about school closures on the television, watching a “ticker” (a running announcement on the bottom of the screen, now commonly used on many channels for extra content to be displayed). With our television stations located in Philadelphia covering many suburbs, it would mean that there would be a long list of schools to wait for, to see if my school had made the cut. Fortunately, it was in alphabetical order, but with the number of schools, it could be at least ten minutes until the ticker got back to the “A’s” if I did not get to the television quick enough. This was the only way that we found out if we had a delay or cancellation.

But as a parent, now we have the internet, where the school district announces delays and cancellations right at the top of their web site. Wait, there is more. There is also an automated phone system that now contacts families. Need more? Sure. An app that sends a text message directly to the cell phone, all the while everyone continues to sleep, just in case there will be extra time to get some shut-eye. No more waking up an hour early just to watch the television, possibly to be disappointed in no delay at all of school. Geesh, I wish I had studied the night before.

Nowhere have a seen more progress though, through the eyes of a parent, than that of dealing with school procedures and future planning. Just as a reminder. The microwave, heats up food quicker. The VCR, lets you see television shows while you are away. GPS has saved so many trees no longer needing 50 pages of Mapquest to navigate vacations.

But as I have learned with my daughters, some progress might actually make things more complicated, at least that is, as the Progressive insurance commercial says, “we become our parents.”

The first taste I got of this newer process was as soon as my daughters entered middle school. I no longer remember the name of the app used to enter class selections because that app is no longer used, and now there are at least three more applications that students must use. Here it comes, “why back in my day, we got a booklet with all the course descriptions, and we wrote down what we wanted, then handed the paper in.” Yep, became my parents.

The app being used, actually follows the student their whole middle and high school years, and actually keeps a tabulation on the number of credits necessary to complete their education.

Whereas I had a guidance counselor that was there to help lead me in my future path, there is an app that has you complete surveys and questionaires that now pick your best choices for vocations, so that you can pick the best education path to achieve that goal. Not sold on how accurate this method is given how fickle teenage minds can be.

Don’t get me started on the additional standardized testing by individual states. In my former state, there were actually two, that provided requirements of certain scores and status, in order to graduate. Me, just had to pass the final exam. Sure, I took the SAT’s. But those were not required to graduate.

Another app gives grades and sends out school announcements, and most importantly, processes that need to be taken care of in junior and senior years, in order to meet graduation requirements.

Okay, this is one thing that is definitely a great advancement, the college application process. There are apps for both the college boards which aid in the application process, from submitting SAT scores to the application itself. Back in the day, we actually had to submit an application, along with an essay, through the mail to the school. Today, an app allows you to simply just “add” other colleges to just one application attempt (as long as the college participates), aaaaaaaannnndddd, allows you to even submit the same essay. Kids today, so spoiled.

As I enter this next chapter with my daughters, I often find myself scratching my head, trying to keep up with the newer technologies that my daughters have no problem following. One thing I do know, as this process goes on, I am actually seeing one step further and the progress as they approach the next chapter of their lives.

Then the hard part really begins, letting go.

Calming Down. Yes, You Can (And Should).

A traffic jam. A car cuts you off on a highway changing lanes. Blue and red flashing lights appear in your rear view mirror. While backing out of a parking space, your car suffers a sudden thud as you realize you backed into someone.

A dentist appointment. Going to see the doctor. A surgical procedure. A pending diagnosis of a serious illness.

Panic attacks.

A job interview. A first date. Closing on a sale of your house.

These things are all capable of raising your blood pressure and heart rate, for the wrong reasons. And if it happens to often, or lasts too long, it can be a bad thing. As compared to a controlled situation such as exercising. Because during exercise, you are expected to monitor your pulse as you exercise. You also need to be aware of the range of your exercising heart beat range compared to your resting heart beat.

There are a number of different charts to help you figure out what range your heart beat should be in, but it is best to get that information from your doctor or certified trainer.

But what happens when your heart is pounding, or your head feels hot that you feel like a human pressure cooker, because something has upset your or is stressing you out? I have posted before what this could end up like.

This is a picture of a physical stress load on me back in 2008. In full disclosure, this could easily have occurred during one of my stressful issues. But it was a picture after just a few minutes on a treadmill. Further testing would reveal just how close to death I was. As my cardiologist put it, “it was not a question of if, but when” I was going to die.

Yes, bad stress will kill you.

But I want to share something with you, that I feel should help you, and could help you, if you are in any of the above mentioned situations or any other similar to that which would cause a rapid heart beat.

There is no arguing that being in a beautiful setting like this, would clearly help deal with stressful situations, though you are likely as far away as possible to that location. But, with some concentration, not only can you take yourself there mentally, you can take the steps necessary to slow your heart rate down. It is a method that I learned from my therapist many years ago, and in most cases, it has worked. Only in one or two situations, where I was that far into “fight or flight” mode, did it take a bit more effort.

This “exercise” was something taught to me a long time ago, and has helped me in a number of situations, and I am certain that it can help you as well, simply by extending your exhale. This simple change to your breathing pattern, changes the oxygen rich blood flow to the brain. I won’t get any more “sciency” about how to do it and why, because I want you to pay attention to just how easy this is, and how easy it is to resolve the anxiety attack.

Are you ready?

Get into a comfortable position, sitting is fine. Close your eyes. Imagine a nice serene scene (like the lake scene pictured above). Now breath in through your nose for a total of four seconds. You do not need to fill your lungs to capacity. Believe it or not, breathing in too deeply can lead to hyperventilating, actually making things worse. After you have inhaled, open your lips ever so slightly, to let your breath escape through the pressed lips for a total of five seconds, maybe six if you can stretch it out.

Repeat this five or six times. If you have calmed down, great. If you need to do more, then do another set.

I have been in four intense situations of “fight or flight”, with my blood pressure going through the roof. The only thing that prevented me from needing to go to the emergency room, was this special breathing exercise taught to me.

I hope it helps you.

A Misguided Protest, Also Misdirected

The majority of my posts, are usually off the cuff. When I reveal feelings, they raw and unedited. I do not have any problem being that open when I write. But occasionally, there are times, when I need to let “fireworks” exploding through my mind settle before I hit “publish.” Today’s post is one of those I was better of waiting to press the “publish” button.

In full disclosure, I have always disliked wearing seatbelts. I had only been driving for approximately five years when Pennsylvania joined other states, in making seatbelts mandatory in 1987. In 2008, following my heart surgery, my refusal to wear a seatbelt became more steadfast, even though it was the law, for one simple reason. My breast bone had been broken to access my heart, and the incision itself was very tender. The seatbelt rubbing against my chest hurt, A LOT!, but even more of a concern, in the event of an impact, a jolt forward against the seatbelt, I felt would snap my breastbone in half, something I never wanted to feel.

While I have gotten better at dealing with my rebellion, not so much in the beginning. My first traffic stop for it, was in Manhattan, and cost me nearly $300, just for the seatbelt violation. I did not care. I was not going to wear it. Other traffic stops, not in NYC, cops were a bit more sympathetic to my issue, as I explained in the same way to the NYC cop, and let me off with warnings.

Here is the thing. Do you understand why we are required to wear the seatbelt? I was given one reason by an officer, that it improves our driving, by making us more aware of our safety and our driving. I call bull on that one. I still have all of my other driving habits in tact. But the other reason, and repeated by the other officers, made me aware of something I had not considered.

A seatbelt will keep the driver or passengers secured in the vehicle, preventing an ejection from the car, and possibly a certain death. How many police officers do you think have had that experience? Worse, have you ever had this experience?

I cannot imagine what it is like, for an officer to have to be the one, to notify a family member, that a loved one had been killed in a car accident, and simply because they were thrown from their car, when a seatbelt might just have made a difference.

Oddly, even though I can recognize this “other side,” I still have the resistance to wanting to wear the seatbelt, and for additional reasoning. I will admit, it is not logical thinking, as at least my chest area made sense. But the bottom line, the officer made it clear, the seatbelt is not just about me, but how it affects others.

So, what had me so pissed off yesterday that I risked writing an “F-bomb” laden post? It could not have been about seatbelts, could it? Actually, while not about seatbelts, what happened yesterday, is totally relatable. And before I get into that, I want to preface the rest of this post, my commentary IS NOT POLITICAL nor is it meant to change anyone’s opinion. But rather, to produce an awareness that what we are going through today, really is more than just about us, but those around us.

I have been undergoing cardiac rehab for several months now, at a hospital facility. As any patient going through this, during Covid19 times, we are more than aware of the risks of being there and exposure. But I am also super appreciative of the efforts to keep me, and all of the other patients safe as we recover. At least most of us. One individual clearly does not. And yesterday, when I saw it, I was pissed off.

Again, this is not about Covid19, testing, vaccines, or even masks. And while I fully support the right to protest, ANYTHING!, when I saw what his mask actually said, I thought, “you are fucking disrespectful ingrate.” His mask reads, “worn by FORCE”, with “force” spelled out using the American flag, followed by “not by fear.”

Back in the beginning of the pandemic, I often said, those who were opposed to the recommendations or requirements of masks, this would be a perfect opportunity to post your opinions or whatever on the mask itself. What better way to let people know your position. And while I get that this jackass definitely is anti mask, that is not my issue.

Think back to the discussions I had with cops about why I wear a seatbelt. My opposition to wearing a seatbelt had the potential to affect others. And at least seatbelts are not contagious. As the title implies, his protest is misguided and misdirected. I do not have a problem with him wanting to state his opposition, and I do not care why. What I do care about, is those that are affected by this mask.

First, the misguided issue. His “worn by force” claim, using the American flag. The United States has nothing to do with him having to wear a mask during cardiac rehab or anywhere on hospital grounds. It is the policy of the hospital, to keep patients and staff as safe as possible, regardless if we have governor that appears to be pro-Covid in governing. But the second half of the protest, “not by fear,” again is a false trope. Those who do not fight the recommendations to wear a mask, are not living by fear. We are living smart, for ourselves, and others. Need proof?

As I began this course of rehab, just prior to the Omicron surge, one of the nurses said to me just a few weeks ago, “this is just so heartbreaking. We were done with this. The numbers had all gone down.” She of course was making reference to how Delta, the prior variant, had caused so much death and heartbreak, and finally the numbers began to look like we were finally getting through this. But then, the intro to our class given every morning went from “anyone exposed to or have a fever, cough, cold, or Covid?” to then include, “we really mean it now,” making reference to the wildfire spread of the Omicron variant.

I have spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals during this pandemic. I have personally seen all the efforts taken by the hospitals to keep everyone safe. I have heard of fellow Hodgkin’s survivors having procedures delayed not just because of lack of a hospital bed, but lack of staff to care for the patients. I have had conversations with nurses of all years of experience from decades to just out of nursing school, having experienced the worse their careers could ever have faced.

To say I was furious yesterday was an understatement. I am also really surprised my vital signs did not show my ire. But here was this moron, wearing a mask, protesting that he had to wear it inside the hospital, all the while, staff were following his sweaty ass from machine to machine, disinfecting it for him before the next patient used it, just as every machine was cleaned before he used it. And every member of the staff there, from nurse to therapist, was there at their own risk of exposure to Covid, including potentially from him, and he was going to gripe about it. His mask may as well have read “nurses are stupid.”

Look I said it, and I meant it, my issue is not that he is anti mask, anti mandate, anti whatever. And I support anyone’s right to protest. But in just the last week alone, stupid and insensitive decisions like this, have an impact on everyone else around. Look at the London bound flight from Miami, turned around and aborted the flight, an hour and a half into it, just because some stupid fought the flight attendants on wearing her mask, something she agreed to do when she bought her tickets. Or this one, a Virginia woman who was just arrested for threating a Virginia school board, that she would show up with guns if her kids were forced to wear a mask in school.

After two years of dealing with this, you either have common sense, or you do not. You either agree to mitigation and prevention or you do not. Not many at this point are going to be influenced to see the reason we are still dealing with Covid after all this time. We definitely know what works, and what does not work.

And what this patient is saying with his mask, has nothing to do with the false trope of “patriotism”, as much as he is flipping his middle finger at the staff trying to help him recover. And before you say, well, “well, what if that is the only mask he has?” There are plenty of disposable masks at the entrance to the facility. He could grab one on his way in. Like I said, protest all you want. I support that. But to do so in spite of those trying to help you, at their own risk? You’re an asshole. There is a huge difference between not wearing a seatbelt, not contagious, and fighting mitigation and prevention of something contagious. But with both, your actions have an impact on others.

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