heart attack/disease

12 Lead ECG EKG showing ST Elevation (STEMI), ...

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I’ve been going to Cardio Rehab with Rob on and off. Recovery from a heart attack is a family affair we are told though so far, I am it as far as the “family” part goes.

Unless we are counting all the forced walks we dragged Dee on over the summer.

I have seen only spouses in attendance at the various classes they offer, so I wonder why they simply don’t say “spouse” instead of “family”. In my mind, they are not interchangeable terms.

Today’s class went over the basics. Heart Attack 101. Anatomy. What can go wrong. What it feels like when it does. How to gauge pain and dose yourself with nitro. When to dial 911.

Mostly it reiterated what we’ve heard in several other classes:

You are now chronically ill with a disease that will technically never get better. Stabilize perhaps. But your days of claiming 100% health are behind you.

Heart attacks are qualifiers.

“I’m in great shape … for someone with a heart stent and known blockage.”

There will forever be the “but”. Though not necessarily the other shoe.

“Are you worried,” Rob asked me.

Not really. My husband is a keener after all – one of the reasons why he is doing so well and the absolute reason why the company doctor and the P.T. at Cardio Rehab won’t clear him for work until he finishes the program.

It wasn’t his bad habits that caused the heart attack. He doesn’t have many in terms of diet although he could have exercised more. No, it was the stress. He can’t do anything half-assed. Even if it’s something he could care less about, he treats all responsibilities and tasks under his jurisdiction more seriously than a heart attack.

I am not worried for some reason, and it’s not naively assuming we’ve dodged a bullet that can’t ricochet back at us. I am not that complacent or foolish. I just don’t see the point in dwelling on the what-if factor or the when/again possibility.

We’ve taken additional health steps. Reordered life a bit. Safe-guarded what we can. And that’s all anyone can do.

Animated sagittal MRI slice of my beating heart

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The Canadian health saga continues with Rob’s first cardiac rehab meeting yesterday. His cardiologist – the one I’ve yet to even lay eyes on and who he saw just once during his procedure (which the doctor didn’t perform but merely supervised in any case) – referred Rob to a five week program designed to assess his fitness to return to work and get him back on the healthy heart road via an exercise program and fun little classes on weight control or sexual function.

Oh, that last wasn’t an either/or, but examples.

The cardiac rehab is located in Edmonton. Per usual the parking options were limited. So hard to come by in fact that a portion of the orientation is devoted to parking issues.

Rob was probably one of the youngest participants. Certainly no one else showed up with an eight year-old in tow. There was perhaps one gentleman in his late 30’s or early 40’s, everyone else was qualified for the discount menu at Humpty’s.

As we walked in, each patient receives a personal packet of info containing his/her appointment schedules and a menu of rehab class options in addition to the ones pre-selected to match his/her “event”.

No one has heart attacks. There are “cardiac events” only. It’s a pc thing.

The nurse who conducted the session tried hard to be brief and witty and was neither, but she told a little story at the onset which neatly sums up the health experience here from my perspective.

The operator at the hospital received a call one afternoon from an elderly woman wanting to inquire about the status of a patient.

“Who is the patient?” asked the operator.

“Helen Finley,” the old woman replied.

“Well,” the operator said, “I’ll be happy to get an update for you. Let me put you on hold and I will contact the nurse on the ward for information.”

A few minutes go by and the operator returns with good news.

“The nurse tells me that Helen is doing quite well. Her blood work came back normal and her blood pressure and other vital signs are good. In fact, she’s doing so well, that her doctor is planning to release her this evening.”

“Oh,” the old woman’s voice shook, “that is good to hear.”

“I’m glad I could help, ” the operator said. “Is Helen your daughter?”

“Oh no,” the old woman said, “I’m Helen and no one tells me nothing.”

Of course no one laughed. I suspect that any of the other people in the room could tell stories that mirror our experience. But the nurse didn’t mean to highlight one of the chief problems with the system here; she was trying to make a point about asking questions. The assumption being that patients are in the dark because they don’t ask questions rather than the fact that often there is no one to ask questions of.

After the presentation, which could have been mailed to Rob and lost nothing by way of information, we hung around until the auditorium cleared. Rob’s goal for the afternoon being to arm wrestle someone into giving him return to work clearance.

“After your stress test tomorrow and a couple of monitored exercise sessions,” the nurse explained, “you will meet with the occupational therapist, who will give you her recommendations to take to your family doctor. He will give you clearance.”

“Um, that’s not what I’ve been told, ” Rob said and went on to inform her of the buck-passing he’s encountered ever since he first asked “when can I go back to work.”

He had hopes of heading off to work on Monday when Dee returns to school. I kinda had hopes in that direction myself, but it could be another week or so.

Provided nothing goes wrong at the stress test.

That thought just won’t completely go away, and it’s silly because Rob hiked six miles not two weeks after he got home from the hospital. He’s installed air conditioners, and this last weekend, we were up and down the stairs at the Shaw Conference Centre from the river to Jasper Avenue more times than my legs care to recall. If he was going to drop, he’d have done it by now.

And his job is, frankly, physically more restful than any of his hobbies are.

Stress at a plane with an arbitrary orientatio...

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Our entire summer could easily qualify as pushing the emotional boundaries, but aside from a few ER trips and a two nighter at the hospital, it hasn’t pushed me physically over the edge.

During the years I took care of my late husband, solo-parented and held a full-time job as a middle school teacher, I regularly broke physical stress limits.

I averaged 5 hours of sleep a night, worked out sporadically and ate just as haphazardly. When the body protested – and it manifested its displeasure vehemently – I ignored it.

“Suck it up, Buttercup.” Was my response. And for the most part it did and gave me what I wanted.

Today the old bag of bones is not so willing.

Less than 7 hours of sleep?

I don’t think so, says the body. We will now be sick.

Seriously, my body goes on strike if it is asked to do anything even remotely reminding it of days of yore.

So, this summer’s events have really only pushed my emotional buttons and redirected my thoughts to dark places I remember but have no real interest in revisiting.

This morning the phone rang. And rang. And rang.

Not quite 9:30 and I was still in bed.

Vaguely I recalled Rob getting up earlier and wondered why he wasn’t picking up, so I scrambled across to his side and grabbed the receiver from the nightstand.

“Hello,” I wheezed.

“May I speak with Robert?”

Robert is official. Someone who has business with him calls him “Robert” whereas telemarketers ask for him with a “Mr” followed by a rather East Indian pronunciation of our last name.

“Hang on,” I tell the woman as I scramble into my robe and head down the stairs to hunt up my husband.

He is nowhere but Dee is in the kitchen getting her breakfast.

“Where are the waffles?” she asks.

“Where’s Dad?” I reply.

“Oh, I haven’t seen him,” she tells me.

I have sent her out to the garage to look for him before I remember he had a doctor appointment in town.

“May I take a message,” I ask.

“This is a reminder about his stress test tomorrow with Dr. La at the crack of dawn,” and she begins to ramble off instructions for preparation.

“What?” I interrupt. “He has an appointment tomorrow? I thought it was this afternoon. No one told us about tomorrow.”

“Yes, ” clearly she is annoyed. She is a robo-receptionist and I am asking questions that prevent her from merely vomiting information and moving on to the next patient call on her list. “well, today is the rehab intake and tomorrow is the stress test.”

Which tells me all of nothing and it par for the Canadian medical experience course. In fact, I think the motto of Alberta Health is “information is for the professionals; just listen and obey”.

“He should take all his medication as usual, eat a light breakfast, dress appropriately as he will be on the treadmill and refrain from smoking prior to the test.”


When Rob got home, I told him about the appointment.

“Oh, it’s probably about my back to work release,” he said. “What time do I have to be there?”

“Dawn, more or less.”


We live outside of the city, an early morning appointment – factoring the rush hour means everybody up and ready with the sun – or there ’bouts.

“That’s pretty early for you and Dee,” he remarked. “Assuming you are coming along.”

“I was planning to. Don’t you want me there?”

“Well, yeah, just in case I drop dead it would probably be a good idea.”

“I wish, ” I replied, ” I could say that it hadn’t occurred to me that you might die, but it totally did.”

Why? I mean people take stress tests every day and mainly survive. My near 80 year-old mother just had one in the spring and emerged just tired.

Rob’s late brother-in-law, however, dropped dead after his.

I suppose that’s what they mean by “context”.

I reminded again by all this that I haven’t cried. Teared up once at the hospital the day of the angioplasty when they “lost” Rob for about an hour, but haven’t cried.

It’s like I am waiting for something to cry about because, as it’s been pointed out to me, nothing awful has happened to me.

And the point has been taken. So I suck it up like the Buttercup I am.