Charles Siskin: I Did Everything Right And Still Wound Up In Cardiac Rehab

Saturday, February 23, 2013 - by Charles Siskin

I had spent my entire adult life starting at age 21 doing all the right things. Eating properly, check. Exercising at least three or more times a week, check. Not smoking, check. Drinking wine and beer and not much of either, check. Writing about preparing healthy meals, check.

So when the Cardiologist told me, as I lay on the exam table, that my arteriogram showed two severely blocked arteries, I asked him to repeat that again.

Repetition aside, the question that presented itself on that screen over my head that morning was simple, how soon did I want to schedule surgery?

I’d never had major surgery. Oh, the usual suspects, sure, but to date no one had ripped my heart out of my chest although I’d had it broken several times in my youth.

The important fact to remember in any marriage is that the wife, in cases like this, becomes the Facilitator and all you have to do is follow orders. Simple enough. Be a good soldier; go in to battle; come home a winner and receive , if not a Purple Heart, at the very least a heart that has been certified like your old car to run several more years.

The cool thing about going to the hospital for surgery, you don’t need to bring anything more than a toothbrush making packing a no-brainer . The hospital was providing me with one of those nifty little gowns that come untied at the most embarrassing of times and an equally embarrassing bill at a cost just short of the national debt.

As to the nifty little gown I learned to do the “Clutch” which might not replace the Korean dance craze the Gangnam but certainly kept my backside from being exposed to the elements as well as everyone else in the hospital corridor. However, I may have shown my backside when my bill arrived.

On the other hand, modesty is really not an issue. From the moment I arrived in my little pre-op cubicle a chirpy young lady set about with electric clippers making me as smooth skinned as the day I was born. Of course, there were the nurses who came into my hospital room and threw up my gown to check my incision every so often and gratefully never sneered.

I’ve never gotten used to the idea that no matter how deep a sleep you might have fallen into, a nurse or an assistant will arrive, unannounced I might add, throw up the light switch till you think you are in Times Square and proceed to take your blood pressure which has gone sky high by the very presence of this medical imposter.

Even if you beg to be left alone for an extra few hours, Dr. DeSade’s assistant will find a reason to wake you up in the middle of the night to practice finding a vein to draw blood. One night two of these sweet things stuck me 6, 7, maybe 8 times before they sent for head nurse Ratchet who swiftly did the deed and left before I could explain that I was going to get in touch with the AMA or the local police.

My other favorite was the nurse who was obviously deaf because no matter how much I pleaded to be left alone like Garbo, she would arrive in the middle of the night to weigh me. No really, weigh me?

Was I at a Health Spa? I don’t think so. More like an asylum where Weight Watchers were running amok in the middle of the night. And what do you think I might weigh when all they served you was a diet that consisted of mop bucket water masquerading as soup?

When after a week I was finally released into the custody of my wife, the Organizer, I was taken downstairs after an interminable wait to find my wife not at the designated entrance because I was taken to the wrong entrance. But the good news was that I was given a wheel chair tour of all the entrances before I found my wife asking where had I been so long?

Once home my bride had arranged for the Home Health Care people to come in and “help” me. So first came Derek, this sturdy gentleman with the Eastern European accent who thought I’d like to go for a walk… in the rain. It was apparent Derek was accustomed to swimming in the Baltic sans Speedo, where the water temperature never rose above 10 even in the summer. I didn’t see much of him after a phone call to the authorities.

Next came a young lady that was going to help reintroduce me into society. I was making my lunch at the time. She never came back. And lastly came the person who was going to set up a light fitness program for me.

Ok we know how that went as well. Because I had been in such good physical shape prior to my surgery, my recovery was going much faster than the average person my age in my estimation. About a 1,000 lives ago I had been a fitness instructor specializing in people arriving at the gym as first timers and never coming back as second timers after one light workout.

One of the questions that was asked of me was “how was I going to change my lifestyle?” What were they thinking? Since I had done all the right things I suggested that this time around I should eat buckets of chicken wings, drink lots of beer, smoke like a fiend and party all night?

The truth was simple as to why this had happened. It was my age and my family history. While you can choose your friends you cannot escape your genetic history.

The most devastating thing I discovered was trying to evoke as much sympathy as possible over my surgery. I wanted to share my story with whomever but I soon discovered that whoever had the surgery as well.

And if they hadn’t had the surgery they had stints. And some had had both and many more illnesses including cancer or diabetes and suddenly I realized I wasn’t so special after all. In fact, I was one of the lucky ones only because of my relentless pursuit of exercise and diet.

Regarding that expression, coming unglued, I’m now a poster boy for Elmer’s. Seems that I was glued back together rather than stapled or stitched. I have visions of the Doctor in the operating room asking for the sticky bottle over in the corner. What breakthrough is next for medicine, scotch tape?

I go to Cardiac Rehab now three times a week and see people 25 years younger that me and as old as 80+. Some are there for the second or third time or in the case of this one petite lady, her fourth time.

If I stick it out, 36 sessions - 12 weeks, I get a certificate. I fear I’ll be at best a drop out. I’ve asked if they have an accelerated program but this is nothing like high school. This is the real thing and I understand that with each session. This is my 12 Step Program and I’ve learned that the heart heals from the inside and it takes 3 to 6 months for that to happen.

I’ve also learned that the surgery isn’t a cure. It is a fix. The rest is up to me. Heart disease is just that, a disease. But like so many other diseases, diabetes or HIV or even mental illness, if you take your medicine, watch your weight and eat what now tastes like cardboard without the salt, exercise and most of all, don’t get stressed out, you have a chance of getting that extra mileage.

Footnote: What to eat when you can only have one teaspoon of salt per day?

I miss my pizza. I watched people sucking it down at a Super Bowl party recently. However, there is a simple solution. Rather than deny yourself the pleasure of pizza, you buy yourself a pizza stone, stop by Publix’s and pick up their ready made pizza dough, whole wheat if available, and set about creating your own awesome pizza pie.

I did just that and instead of making a good-for-you low sodium or no sodium tomato sauce I made a pesto sauce instead. (You can buy a jar of the sauce which turns out to be cheaper than a small bunch of the fresh)

Spread the pesto on the uncooked dough and then add such ingredients as artichoke hearts, mushrooms, red and yellow peppers and red onion slices. Grated hard cheese is also acceptable for heart patients so I did a good covering of Parmesan. Put that on the pre-heated pizza stone and tell Dominos and Papa John’s to cancel your order…permanently!

charlessiskin@mediacombb.net

 


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