Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Round Two

Surprise! Surprise! Life is full of surprises.

Most of the time I enjoy surprises. In this case, I’ll make an exception. It was a year ago in January that I found myself going under the knife, so to speak, to have six stents placed in two of the three arteries of the heart. This certainly answered a lot of questions about my being tired so frequently.

With the arteries open and flowing I was feeling pretty good about the prospects of enjoying a new lease on life. I dutifully consumed the requisite medicines prescribed by my cardiologist knowing these various colored pills and tablets were working hard to keep my heart free of any additional plaque buildup.

So in December I went in for my one year checkup. This included the nuclear stress test which was performed on December 31. The next morning my wife and I flew back to Virginia for ten days of rest and relaxation. I felt fine, assuming everything was good with my stress test. After returning home I had a follow-up meeting with my cardiologist. When he walked into the examination room we shook hands and engaged in the normal pleasantries. He then eyed me and said, “How do you feel?” To which I replied, “Fine!” “Have you had any discomfort or chest pain?” he asked. I wondered where this line of questioning was going, so I responded that I had no such symptoms, other than a twinge now and again, which I explained seemed reasonable to me in light of the fact that I had six foreign objects residing in the arteries of my heart. I explained that if I were to call him every time I had a sensation like that, we’d be on the phone every day. So I said, “What’s going on?” He then showed me the results of the stress test. Sure enough I saw the tell-tale signs of what appeared to be heart disease. He said he wanted to go in and take a look around. Not wanting to mess around, I said, “Let’s do it.”

Back in I went to the hospital at the end of January. The doctor thought it would be a simple process, at most requiring an additional stent. So, silly me, I told my wife that since it had taken him two hours to put in four stents, figure an hour-and-a-half and I’d be done. Four hours later they wheeled me out! To say that my wife was not a happy camper would be a gross understatement. She really does love me!

The next day when the doctor came to my room I was ready for him with questions. What were you doing for four hours? What did you find? How do we fix this problem? And, we’ve simply got to stop meeting like this! He patiently explained what he discovered. It seems that the body, in its attempt to heal itself the first go-around, looked rather unfavorably on the four stents in the right artery and proceeded to coat them, effectively blocking the entire artery. My eyes widened at this revelation! I said, “Then how is it I was not found lying on the floor somewhere with a heart attack?” Now here’s the really cool part. He made a drawing of my artery on the erasable board in my room, indicating the placement of the four stents. He then pointed to the spot where the blockage began. “Here,” he began, “is where a new blood vessel formed to completely bypass the blockage.” “What!” I cried. “Are you kidding me?” I almost came out of my hospital bed I got so excited. My first thought was how incredibly made our bodies are that the heart can take action to attempt to fix its own problems. This blood vessel allowed blood, stopped at the blockage area, to pass, thus keeping me from experiencing the dreaded “Big One,” or even from experiencing the chest pain he thought I should be having.

The doctor cleaned out the offending artery with what I describe as a very tiny roto-rooter device. Just to be safe, he wants me back in a couple of months to go in again just to make sure we’re not dealing with the same problem.

We haven’t broken the code yet as to why my body is behaving this way. We discussed at length what might be going on. The HDL (good cholesterol) is too low. The problem here is that I’ve always had this to contend with. Exercise seems to be the only true means to bring the numbers up. I do exercise, but I’m not very hopeful that even with an increased exercise regimen that there will be a significant difference since this existed even when I was younger in the days when I had a body like Adonis. The other culprit is elevated triglycerides. When I asked what could be done to lower these, he said, “Triglycerides usually go up when the person is a smoker.” I smiled and said, “You know I don’t smoke.” He then said, “Well, if you eat too many carbohydrates, such as bread and pastas.” Again I smiled and said, “My wife and I don’t do that.” Then he tried one last possibility, “Another problem could be eating too many desserts.” My smile remained. “We don’t eat desserts.” Strike three!

Wondering how the Lord wants to use this experience to glorify him, I had perhaps a glimpse of a blessing to come from this on the morning I was being prepped for the surgery. The nursing staff that was taking care of me was all new to me. But one of the nurses who had cared for me the previous year happened to walk by. Recognizing me, she came over to the gurney to say hello. She reminded me that I had given her one of my military coins as a thank you for taking such good care of me the year before. She then got misty-eyed, and said, “I keep your coin in my wallet. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I take it out and look at it to remind myself that at least someone cared about the job we nurses do.” I squeezed her hand and thanked her for those kind words. What a blessing!

After round two of heart surgery, I may not have answers as to what to do about the heart problem, but even in the midst of life’s uncertainties, God always brings blessings. So I can’t wait to see what he has in store in the months ahead!

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