Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

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The Scariest Time Of My Life

Nobody told me what to expect.

I was literally on an operating table less than twelve hours after being told I was dying. I was still under the influence of anesthesia from the procedure that discovered a lethal blockage of my heart. As the fog cleared, I was being transported here for this pre-op test, there for this pre-op test, and then being hounded that I needed to eat because I was going to be fasting in less than two hours in preparation for the emergency bypass.

There were two things on my mind. I wanted to at least talk to my daughters that night. And the final thing that I needed to do, just prior to the surgery, a visit to the hospital. Over the evening, there was more prepping, and eventually around 4am, an orderly would transport me downstairs to the surgery suit. That is all I knew.

Today, because of Covid19 issues, caregivers are usually no longer allowed even in the hospital until a patient is moved to a private room, to limit exposure. A patient coming out of surgery, wakes up without a loved one in sight, a calming person in the panic of becoming coherent as to what has happened. But back in 2008, that was not the case.

Up until my bypass, I had gone through four other surgeries. And though someone was by my side when I came to from the anesthesia, I was not in any kind of state of confusion. I have witnessed my daughters go through this when they had tubes put into their ears, a minor procedure, but they were asleep for it, and woke up somewhere else after it was done. Clearly it was upsetting.

I have my hands on the surgical report. Quite fascinating actually. A truly historic tail of what was done to save my life. But there was one thing that I had not been prepared for. No one had told me. And no one was around me that I recognized when I came to. And then the panic hit me, in a very bad way. That much I do remember.

I woke up in the intensive care unit, obviously surviving my bypass surgery. It was much different than the last room I remembered, strapped to an operating table. It was a dark room, but there were a lot of lights flashing all around me. I felt as if my movements were restricted, even barely able to turn my head. What the Hell had happened to me? Then I realized I was unable to talk. Not for lack of trying. Something was physically preventing me from talking. I saw no one.

My heart rate must have skyrocketed at that point, because someone came rushing in. But it was not anyone I recognized. “Please someone explain what happened to me,” is all I could think, since I could not ask it. And then I heard a voice, “my name is Joe, I am your nurse. You are okay Paul. The surgery is done, you are now recovering, you made it.”

He must not have been convincing enough. This was a stranger. Where was someone I knew, someone who knew me. I wanted answers. As my eyes gained focus, I could see a lot more than lights. I saw machines, many of them. There were hoses and cables. I began to process, they were all connected to me. What the Hell happened? Nobody is telling me what happened. Nobody told me this could happen.

I could see Joe had a syringe in his hand and he was inserting it into my IV line, and soon I had fallen asleep again. The whole infamiliarity of the room, not recognizing anyone, was sending me into a full blown panic attack. I am not sure how long I was out. When I woke up, Joe was still there. Only now there was another nurse, her name was Jackie.

Jackie was young, very soft spoken. She could see my eyes scanning the room, still unable to turn my head. And again my heart rate began to accelerate, now not just from confusing, but from anger. I wanted answers “what the Hell happened to me.” Jackie could see I was panicked. Not sure how she knew what was in my mind, though I am sure she had been in this situation before. “It’s just Joe and I. But we are here. You are fine. You did well with the surgery. I need you to calm down, you are fine. You have a breathing tube, and there are other tubes and wires doing what they are supposed to do, so you are not able to move all that well right now, but you are doing great.”

Again, my eyes raced back and forth, scanning the room for others. Jackie knew I was looking for a familiar face. “There’s no one here.”

Did this mean no one else knows if I am dead or alive? Just me, Jackie, and Joe? What the Hell! Nobody told me about this moment or what it would be like, or that I would be doing it alone. And I should not have had to.

A Lost Moment

On April 16th, 2008, I went for a nuclear stress test. I was 42 years old. I had been having a chest tightness that I had finally gotten annoyed with to do something about it. My family doctor, knowing my health history, ordered this test herself, which ended up getting me in a lot sooner than if I had tried to make the arrangements myself.

Within a couple of minutes, the test had been stopped. I was connected to wires which showed my heart activity, and the technician running the test saw “something.” I was escorted for my next round of heart scans and then placed into an exam room. While in the waiting room, I watched everyone else leave before me, that came in after me. I have seen this play out before. I knew this was not good.

The cardiologist came into the room. He had informed me that I had a blockage, somewhere. He said he normally never offered a diagnosis of 100%, but he was 100% certain that I had one. He wanted me to check into the catheterization lab next door to his office. There, they would go up through my leg, and try to place a stent wherever the blockage was.

Whenever you are dealt a health crisis, you are likely to enter the Kubler-Ross stages (denial, bargaining, anger, etc.). I skipped the denial. I have had bad news before. But immediately I told him, I had plans that I would come back Monday. He got my attention real quick, “you may not have until Monday.” Depending on where and how bad the blockage was, neither of us had any idea what was ahead.

I did come back the next day. When I said goodbye to my daughters, then aged 5 and 3, I kept is simple. That I was just going to stay overnight in something like a hotel, and I would see them “tomorrow.” And it was that simple. But as the expression goes, “tomorrow never comes.”

I was coming to, when I saw the cardiologist, my wife, and a friend at the foot of my bed. All I could make out was that it was worse than they thought. I did not grasp the technical way the doctor explained it. But my friend who was there, was an EMT, and she knew what it meant, and in shock blurted out, “a widow maker.” Again, I was still under the influence of the anesthesia, but as the fog wore off, the severity began to settle in.

I was now set up for an emergency triple bypass the next day. Not any time to go through those stages. First thing in the morning.

But it was not the surgery, or the risks, or the possible results that I was worried about. I wanted to see my daughters just one more time before the surgery, and that was not going to happen. There was no time.

For the first time in their lives, we would be apart. I was able to speak to them on the phone. Hardly a consolation from the hugs that I so desperately wanted and needed. And because of their ages, I could not explain to them what was going to happen, what could happen.

I do not know what was worse. Having no time to prepare to go through this, or be like others, who often wait weeks or even months until they would have gotten that test done. All I do know, is had I waited any longer, you might not be reading this right now.

How Is This Still An Argument?

A couple notable things occurred today. In the county where I live, today was the ending of a mask mandate for helping to prevent spreading of Covid19, which our country is still dealing with in numbers as large as last year this time. You do not need to be a mathematician to figure out, that is not a good thing, and a huge reason if any to continue the mandate until we get down to numbers that are at least 20% of what they currently are (this would have been the equivalent of February or March of 2020.

Businesses had already ripped up the floor stickers and taken down any signage about social distancing, equating the ending of the mask mandate as the “all clear” to go back to the way we behaved in December of 2019, when we never heard of Covid19.

There is no doubt, vaccines have made a huge difference in this pandemic. And we have made the progress faster than ever could have been imagined. At this point, it is a matter of outpacing new cases with vaccine administrations. Consider this analogy, you battle a brush fire, by trying to contain it, not chase it. When you hear that a brush fire is 100% contained, that does not mean it is out, but rather, not expected to spread any further. If we could just hold on a little longer, get our new daily cases below 10,000, while vaccinating, we will have contained this Covid19 “brushfire.”

But we are tired. It has been so long. The fact is, it did not need to be. We spent so much time arguing with each other, denying reality, and too many, made it clear, losses were going to be acceptable.

I am glad not to shake anyone’s hand anymore, or greet anyone with a hug or kiss. I have never liked these traditions and it has nothing to do with being a germaphobe. And crowds, I avoid them like the plague, pun intended with the current situation, so social distancing for me is no big deal. And seriously, was it really that big of a deal to expect people to wash their hands, or for businesses to clean if not better, at least at all?

But the mask thing, that was a line that was going to separate our country. The ironic thing, and again, we study history so that we do not repeat it, the mask issue was a major problem when our country dealt with the last major pandemic back in 1917. People protested masks back then as well, although to be honest, the current mask protest was more linked to politics than it was safety concerns.

I had posted before, the only mask that we were going to be able to use that would guarantee prevention, was an N95 respirator. But it needed to be properly fitted and worn. Which usually takes someone showing you how to do so. But we had a shortage of this equipment, and officials made the mistake of not being up front with the recommendation that masks would do nothing, in hopes of preventing us, the common folk, from buying all the masks, leaving none for first responders who needed it to work with Covid19 patients.

Then we learned that any kind of face covering would help, not prevent, but help. Seriously, what do we sneeze into? A tissue. Perhaps the crook of our elbow. When we cough, what do we cover our mouth with? Or at least we should cover our mouth. This is why the mask was so important. For the lazy slobs who did not cover their orifices when they sneezed or coughed. Of course, the concern included general conversation and anything else expelling air.

The stories that came out why not to wear a mask were down right stupid and selfish, and nothing had to do with nothing. “You get sick from the masks”. No, you don’t. “Because they are not clean and you touch it with your hands which are dirty,” yada yada yada. That falls back on the wash your hands thing. “You breath in your own air, and that makes you pass out.” No, you don’t. Doctors do it all day. Nurses do it all day. Dentists do it all day. The list goes on.

How about the real reasons? “The person I respect the most discouraged wearing a mask.” “This virus isn’t real.” Or my favorite, “I will look silly in it.”

As you can see in my photo, I am not wearing a normal “surgical” boring looking mask. I prefer to “accessorize”, make it less sterile looking. I have several masks with different designs. Some actually end up conversation starters. The one pictured above, recognizes my Native American heritage. I could wear the boring blue surgical mask. I choose not to. And I have not gotten sick once from my mask from Covid19 or any other germ.

For those who were protesting the masks, there was a huge opportunity that was missed. Just like I chose to make my mask a little more easier to look at, as political as the mask situation got, it was an opportunity for mask wearers who object to anything, to put their message on a mask. Be a walking billboard for their cause. We saw this in Congress after the election. We saw it after the murder of George Floyd. The point is, the mask does not have to boring, or ugly to you, it just needs to be worn to be effective.

I guess time will tell, just as the rush to reopen businesses to full capacity, if trusting people to wear the masks on their own, will have the same effect. The fact is, our daily new Covid19 cases are too high not to be impacted by the relaxing of this mitigation effort.

The other big news, which of course I am sure the Anti-vax movement will jump all over, is actually a move that should be hailed for its precaution. The government recommended pausing the use of the Johnson and Johnson, one dose vaccine for Covid19. Of course, the AV movement is going to use this opportunity to smear the entire vaccine program at all costs. They already use an unfortunate tactic taking information that is displayed on the actual CDC web site, a system for reporting side effects of vaccines called VAERS, and swearing it as gospel. But the AV movement is “cherry picking” as they say, only issuing information that they want you to see. The AV movement does not share the disclaimer information how VAERS works, that information supplied is just reported and not necessarily factual or confirmed, and can in fact be biased. So, just shut up anti-vaxxers with this. The vaccines have enough to work through without your misleading claims.

We all know that vaccines were rushed. In fact, they are not even approved. Nor is it likely that they will be approved soon. The vaccines are simply “authorized” for “emergency use.” And let’s face it, we would be dealing with a lot more fatalities without them. Studies that have been completed, allowing vaccines to proceed, were based on healthy people receiving them. Evidently, in the beginning, there were no notable issues, because recipients were healthy. But now, as other sects of our populations are getting vaccinated, that means less healthy people may react differently to the vaccine.

And then there is the difference between the vaccines authorized for emergency use authorization. Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines with no virus in them, and the J&J vaccine has inactive virus in it (in other words, a vaccine normally made the way other vaccines have been made in the past). With well over a hundred million Americans being vaccinated, we are on the path of getting through this Covid19 crisis.

I will admit that I do not have the exact number of how many have received the J&J vaccine, but it is believed somewhere around seven million. And out of that, six women have developed blood clots. What has not been determined is if the vaccine was the cause for the pause. Here is what has been explained as to why the action was recommended, and there is nothing conspiratorial in it, sorry anti-vaxxers. It is likely only to be days, but experts are waiting to see if anyone else comes forward having experienced this side affect of the clotting syndrome. Many may not have been aware that this was related to the vaccine. Let’s say that many more women in this issue come forward, then the decision is definitely the correct one, the safe one. And if not, this is what does come out of the pause, time and education. It is understood, this clotting “syndrome,” is not like normal clotting requiring the use of heparin. In the case of this “syndrome,” medical experts need to be aware of other therapeutics before treating the patients they see with this syndrome with heparin. And that could make the difference between life and death.

Try to keep it in perspective. No vaccine and no medicine is ever going to be risk free. Some may have more than others. When it comes to blood clots, six women out of seven million so far have developed this issue. That is one in more than a million. And that is not trying to lessen the concern. But when you factor in other causes of blood clots, women who use birth control and smokers all have higher risks of blood clots. And then of course, there is Covid19 itself, with no vaccine, you go from less than 1% blood clot risk to over 16%.

But again, you have to keep things in perspective, especially when it comes to risks. Myself, I am on blood thinners because I have stents in major arteries as well as my double bypass. But I have other issues from my treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over three decades ago. I have a medicine I take to control my acid reflux, which impacts not just my entire GI tract, but my lungs and heart. I need this medicine, yet, as some of the doctors of my team will argue, that medicine risks interfering with my blood thinner which could result in, you guessed it, blood clots. But without that stomach medicine, the only one that provides me relief, there is no quality of life.

The risk of the clotting from the vaccine, versus the risk of clotting from the virus is a no-brainer. Get the vaccine. I am sure this pause is only temporary. Cases are rising again, and yes, you can argue hospitalizations and deaths are going down. And that is because the vaccines are doing what they are intended, to reduce the severity of the disease to the most vulnerable. Until cases get low enough, the virus is still going to spread. And that is why the race to vaccinate versus the speed of the spread is so important.

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