The journey begins….

Welcome to my blog….Journey of the Heart.  I had all good intentions to begin blogging during February, Heart Month; however, as we all know, the heart can be very unpredictable.

Who am I and why do I think my blog might be worthy of a read?  Well, I’m a woman who recently entered my 68th year, in denial mind you, but eager for what the year would bring.  I’m a published author of bi-lingual children’s books, anticipating a new launch in iBooks.  I’ve traveled and lived in several corners of the world.  I’ve had personal health challenges for over 35 years.  I research and read a lot on health.  I eat well and take supplements. Until recently I took no prescribed medications.

Last spring I made direct impact with my kitchen floor, face down.  I went downhill fast.  Pain and mobility problems put me on a cane and then a walker.  I despaired.  I wasn’t willing to settle for that kind of life so I began searching for something other than “pain cocktails”.   I found Backfit in Victoria.  X-rays and a thorough consultation gave me a diagnosis for my back/neck pain.  I was on the  decompression table every day for nine days.  I returned home with a few fulcrums (firm foam supports for back/neck exercises), and a determination to return for more treatments.  I’d graduated from a walker to the cane…a classy green/black abstract design!  I thought “if I gotta use a cane I’m gonna have a stylish one!”

I knew I had to get moving.  I was in that vicious cycle…in too much pain to move; no movement, more pain.  I joined the YMCA and began a Gentle Joints class in a warm pool.  I took to it like a fish…..  Former lifeguard, synchronized swimmer, and paddler of lakes and oceans near and far, I took it easy.  I just moved, walked, and enjoyed the ensuing benefits of greater flexibility and less pain.  Water heals.  Every movement I made in water was impossible on dry land.  I felt I could leap tall buildings in water!  I could cross-country ski in water.  My outlook improved and I made new water friends.  I settled in at 3x a week, joined Weight Watchers, and began to feel in control and on my way to a “new and improved me”.

February 17th, 2012.   I entered a new phase.  I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, rapid/erratic heartbeat.  In order to make sense of this shocking announcement, I began to journal to remember and to vent feelings.  This blog was born after my hands protested and I could no longer manage to hold a pen for hours on end.  Writers gotta write…anyway they can!

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women and men, surpassing all forms of cancer.  Heart disease can be a silent killer.  Women manifest symptoms much differently from men.  No chest clutching, falling to the floor.  No.  We’re much more complicated and our symptoms are as varied as each individual.  As caregivers we’re just hardwired to put ourselves last on the TO DO list.  We have too much to do. We get busy.  Right?

My symptoms began with vertigo.  I woke up February 9th, sat on the edge of the bed and felt the room spin.  I fell backwards.  I thought I’d just got up too quickly so I didn’t think of it until the next morning when it happened again.  Then it was the weekend, followed by some book commitments.  Friday the 17th came quickly–a full nine days had gone by after vertigo began.  A quick visit to a walk-in clinic ended abruptly after a short walk down the hall to the ECG lab where a 10-second strip was printed.  The nurse excused herself to show it to the doctor.  Minutes later they BOTH peeked their heads through the door.  I remember saying “this doesn’t bode well”…..and I was right.  The doctor showed me the readout and pointed out the top line which showed erratic spikes while the lower line was steady, normal.  Within minutes I was in emergency, checked in, hooked up, and very frightened.  Of course my heart rate was climbing higher the more anxious I got.  I’d seen enough Dr. Kildare shows to recognize what the numbers meant.  Thankfully there was no flat line!

My first bit of advice:  NEVER ignore something different…like vertigo, headaches.  Get to know your body.  Build an early warning system internally that goes off when something’s not right.  I put off dealing with vertigo immediately and placed myself in a precarious position.  Yes! I knew something wasn’t right but, well, I was busy with things that I thought couldn’t be put off.  I was surely the ONLY person on earth who could deal with this and that.  Had I gone to the doctor within the first 48 hours I could have had a procedure to re-set the heart rhythm.  Instead, I now have to wait weeks while my medications kick in and my blood thins out enough to shock the heart back into what’s called sinus rhythm.  Since the 17th I’ve ended up in emergency twice more….symptoms much the same, heart still beating out of control.

More procedures have been ordered–echo cardiogram, a 2-part stress test (nuclear medicine-style), and a holter monitor.  You see, I don’t know when my heart is fibrillating or fluttering.  I don’t feel that sensation.  I have other symptoms which I want to tell you about, in detail, tomorrow.

Stay tuned…..I need support, encouragement, and heartfelt love as I embark on this journey of the heart.  This blog is dedicated to my dad, John Apple, dead at age 52 from a ventricular/aortic aneurysm; my elder sister Jo, dead at 52 from a berry aneurysm; to aunts and uncles and Gramma and Grampa Apple who all died too early from heart disease.  I’ve beat the odds so far.

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