Time flies when you’re not having fun.

My life can never just be status quo. Things had started to settle into a rhythm the past few weeks and then everything has got upside down. I think sometimes God thinks that I think better on my feet and He doesn’t ever want me to sit in one place. I’m serious about this, every time my life calms down and I get to make progress in an aspect of my life it gets put on hold because of a new crisis.

These past few weeks have been filled with worries about my father. Just over 4 weeks ago he drove himself to the hospital with complaints about his left leg. That Sunday he was taken by ambulance back to the hospital. Two days later he was transferred to Foothills Hospital for testing and care. After 4 weeks of tests and doctors scratching their collective heads they have been able to let us know what they think is the problem. I won’t discuss the exact details as that his my fathers privacy but it means some definite lifestyle changing possibilities. They are now going to attempt to transfer him back to the hospital here to continue treatment. It will mean quite a bit less travel for me and hopefully more time for this blog and other endeavours.

I will try to restart my postings with regularity this week and again I apologize for letting this sit idle for so long. Hopefully I haven’t lost many readers.

Love is…

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February 10th 2011 I went on a first date, it turned out being the last first date I would ever go on. It was with the most wonderful girl I would ever meet.

I met Cara a few weeks earlier out with some friends for drinks. She was sitting further down the table and I asked a mutual friend who the cute girl was. They had me sit beside her to meet and we ended up at that same friends house after the bar closed. All the other guys were trying to “get lucky” and I was the only gentleman. It caught her interest and in a few days she gave me her number.

Dating went along fairly seamless with no major hurdles. We spent a lot of time together. I fell in love with her and said it before her. I’ve always been a step ahead in this relationship, she is very cautious with her heart. A few months later it was agreed she should move in as we were spending almost every night at my place or hers.

She spent most of the summer here with some belongings and started moving things in slowly. September 24th 2011 we moved all of her big items into the house and it was official we were “shacked up.” It was only 4 days later she was rushing me to the hospital and I was flown out in critical condition to Calgary.

Cara drove to Calgary early September 29th to find me hooked up to machines and a very grim prognosis by the doctors. On their first attempt to revive me I wanted to communicate and so the nurse held a pad of paper. I wrote this marriage proposal and was insistent on an answer. She told me we would talk about it when I was better and I fell asleep. I don’t remember this at all but everyone swears this is what happened.

Cara spent the next 10 days and nights at my bedside or in the waiting room of the ICU.  Her first meeting of my mother was at the hospital, not the perfect place to meet after spending days at the hospital.  My family got to know her really well during a crisis filled time and really got to see her character and strength.  My mom called her a “Gem.”  After I woke up I came to the realization that any girl that 4 days after moving in stuck through what had just happened was a keeper.

In moments of weakness I have asked Cara why she stayed with me, no one would look poorly on her if she ended our relationship due to my health complications.  She definitely did not sign up for a guy in his early thirties dealing with things that people in their 50’s and 60’s usually do.  She always tells me because she loves me.  She has done so much for me in the past 17 months, through all my ups and downs she’s been at my side.  Its with an answer of “love” that cemented the idea in my mind that she would be my future wife.

Soon after coming home and being able to drive to the city by myself I went and bought a ring.  I had the salesman at the store feign he did not know me as I had her come in the store to show me her ideas “just for fun.”  She picked the exact ring I had already purchased.  I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with and just had to figure out when to propose.  I asked her mom for her permission at Christmas and she wanted me to do it when we were opening presents, I knew that wasn’t how Cara would want it so I didn’t do it then.  I asked her father on a trip that we were tag alongs for the girls shopping, he smiled and said he has never seen her happier and that I had his permission for his daughters hand.  I didn’t know where to hide the ring so I kept in in my jeep for months.  Every time she was in the jeep I would smile to myself knowing she was so close to it and never knew it.  I took her out to Canmore for a romantic weekend on our 1 year anniversary, I had breakfast in bed planned and got down on one knee and proposed.  She didn’t say yes….

She didn’t say no either, she said “not yet,”  I knew her well enough to know that she never did anything she wasn’t ready for.  She told me she had to talk to her family about it.  I was disappointed but I knew that if I kept pushing it she would keep running away.  At the end of April we were laying in bed and she said that she had talked to her sister.  I looked at her and said “really!?! Right now??”  I asked her for the third time and she said YES!!

We have taken our time with the wedding planning so far, we want my health to be our focus and for me to get back to work and our life to get back to some sort of normal.  We have had many discussions about the wedding and are now starting to plan things.  I’ll keep the details secret for now as I know many of my blog readers are our friends.

£#&*|@% Appendicitis!?!

I apologize for my abrupt cliffhanger ending on my last post. I’m not a professional writer nor have I used my creative writing skills since university. My writing has been limited to Officer Observation Reports and other government documents. As such please bear with me as I turn on that part of my brain that hasn’t been used in years.

My Doctor wheeled me past admitting and the triage and right into a room. He helped me on to the exam bed and told me he would know what was wrong with me in a few seconds. He grabbed my right foot and told me if it hurt after he shook my leg he knew what it was. He shook my leg and I almost levitated off the bed. He looked at me and said you have appendicitis.

I looked and him and said “are you F’ing Joking?” Now I usually try not to swear in professional settings such as hospitals and knowing my doctor is a religious man I make sure to watch my tongue. However, in this case the words just fell out of my mouth. I had just survived a medical ordeal and now faced another one. He said he would have to do some tests to officially confirm his diagnosis but he was pretty sure. I would need surgery but he couldn’t do it in Drumheller as I was a higher risk than what he was certified to do as an anesthesiologist. I told him I trusted him and “wouldn’t sue” but I had to go to Red Deer for the surgery.

The ride to Red Deer in the ambulance was painful even on morphine. I had surgery after a platelet infusion to thicken my blood. The surgery went well and I was to spend a few days in the ICU to make sure everything was good before going home. I woke up in the ER due to bed space limitations. If you have ever tried to rest in a city ER you know how impossible that is. I called my doctors in Calgary and had some strings pulled to move me back to Drumheller.

On my return to Drumheller they had to thin my blood for my heart and gave me more blood thinners than I usually took. The doctors miscalculated and my blood was made too thin. I couldn’t leave the hospital, I had instructions that even if my gums started to bleed when brushing my teeth to not even wait for the nurse call button but go to the nurses desk. I couldn’t even go home for a shower because they worried if I got in an accident or fell at home I could bleed out before they could help me. So I sat in a crummy hospital bed for a total of 8 days waiting until it was safe to go home.

Before this I had finally shed some of the layers of bubble wrap that everyone insisted on me wearing. I still couldn’t jump out of airplanes but I could make supper ect. This episode placed them right back on me. My mom, even with my insistence she did not need to, flew out from Ontario for a month. The food was good but the “I’m your mother” speeches I could have done without.

On top of the setback on cardiac rehab and the new limitations post surgery I quickly gained 20 pounds on top of the 20 I already had after the heart attack. I started to voice my concerns to my doctors and every team I talked to blamed another group. I was starting to get really frustrated.

I have always struggled with my temper and had gone to see a counselor a few years ago. It really helped then and I had noticed I wasn’t having the same control over it as I had in the past. Maybe all the frustrations of the past few months were building up. I hadn’t been able to do any of the things I had in the past that helped with stress such as travel or work out. I called the mental health clinic with the intention of only working on finding new coping strategies. I learned that having a major illness had caused a lot more issues in my head.

I continue to see a counselor even now. I have my ups and downs and she has helped with being someone I can tell anything to. I’ve learned how to cope with all I’ve been through and the uncertain future ahead. I’ve learned it’s ok to be sad about losing my old life and still be excited about this one. Mental illness is the same as any other illness and everyone will face moments in their life when this could be an issue for them. There is help out there, please use the resources available to you. It has helped me immensely.

And with that I end today’s blog. I hope you all find this one ended nicer than the last. I am happy to see all comments and criticisms continue so please let me know the good, the bad and the ugly with the blog.

Josh

Do you have an appointment?

After my heart attack that was unexplainable by most doctors they wanted to see me and often. At last count I have 41 doctors and have made 79 trips to the city for appointments. That is 23,700 kilometres or over half way around the planet. Nobody can say I am not committed to my health.

I even went as far as getting a Smart Car to help with fuel costs. It was great on fuel and not so great on the male ego.  While in the hospital they had me meet with dieticians to discuss my eating habits.  All of their “Red Flag” foods weren’t in my regular diet.  They told me I had to restrict sodium intake and not cook with salt, but I never cooked with salt and I never salted my food before I ate.  They told me to go through my pantry and remove any high sodium products.  Cara and I did and we only got rid of two things, chicken noodle soup and chinese noodle soup.  I tried to explain to them that I did eat healthier than most, yes I enjoyed a Big Mac once in a while but it wasn’t a regular meal.  I didn’t eat everything deep fried, I didn’t drink regular pop or bags of chips.  I couldn’t make them understand I wasn’t on the “heart attack diet.”

Every time I saw a doctor I would ask why I had my heart attack.  They wanted to always focus on what to do now that I had one.  To me that was a part of the puzzle but I was more worried about what caused it so that if I started to see any of those things happening again I could stop it before it happened again.  I still carry nitro spray in my pocket even though I have never had a need for it.  I still worry about what happens if I have another M.I.

My first appointment with my cardiologist didn’t go as I planned.  I had never actually met the man since I had woken up.  Cara liked him and trusted his judgement in my care during the early days in the ICU.  He, at the appointment, did not sugar coat anything.  He was very dark with my prognosis and even discussed the need for a heart transplant.  He set up some more tests to see where my heart function was at.

They did an echocardiogram, it showed heart function at 32%.  They did a MUGGA scan where they make some of your red blood cells radioactive and then count how many pass through your heart and it showed the same result.  I did a cardiac stress test and ran for 14 minutes, thats when my doctor realized that I wasn’t lying about my cardiac conditioning before the MI.  He was really impressed with how far I got as he said to me that he didn’t think I would get past walking on the treadmill.  He did want me to get prepped for an ICD however, it is a implanted device that will shock your heart if it stops.  At 32% heart function it is a normal precautionary measure but I was nervous about the implications on my lifestyle it would mean.

Due to the rarity of someone my age having a cardiac episode, I have been asked to participate in 4 heart studies.  I agreed to all of them because they will shed light on what happened with me and hopefully one day stop the same from happening to someone else.  Also I would benefit from some of the specialized tests that my regular doctors cannot get done to assists in my future treatment.  The most important test I underwent is a Cardiac MRI, this test is very expensive and gives the doctors a perfect model of what my heart looks like without having to cut me open.  This test showed a heart function of 36% and just past the threshold for having a ICD implanted.

I was excited and relived I did not need to have more surgery.  I had also finally convinced them that I should do my cardiac rehab in Calgary as their program was one of the top rated programs in the country.  I was scheduled to start it at the beginning of March 2012.  Finally I was making some progress.

February 28th 2012 I spent most of the night in pain.  I felt like I had knots in my intestines.  The next morning when I woke up on the floor of the bathroom because I had passed out I called Cara to take me to the hospital.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was scared.

Bubble wrap

Machu Picchu

I am not used to being protected. I am a protector in life and in my vocation. I like to live on the edge. I jump out of planes, swim with piranhas, search out and ride the twistiest highways I can find and generally enjoy risking my neck for the thrills it gives me. It started while in hospital and got worse when I got home. My family and friends were attempting to protect me from anything and everything they perceived as a danger to me. I call it the bubble wrap effect.

After almost losing someone people tend to realize how short life is and want to maximize what time they do have with you.  They think that by protecting you from everything they may accomplish the goal of keeping you on this mortal coil longer.  Unfortunately we do not know when or where we will pass, I’ve always told my mom when she would chastise me for doing anything extreme that “I could die sitting on the couch just as easy as I could doing anything else so why not enjoy life.” However, I always knew the line between a smart risk and a stupid one.  I never did anything that really I would consider absolutely stupid like swallow needles or drive a race car blindfolded.  Yet people think that protecting a loved one from the perils of life is a good idea.

My family and friends started the process before I even left the hospital.  It started with the overprotective brooding over every little thing about my stay in hospital.  If I made any indication of a small need it became a huge issue that needed immediate attention by a nurse or other staff member.  I learned to wait till they were not present to make any requests of the staff if I could help it.  I was not allowed to really do anything without a glare of worry.  This continued at home.

At this point I would like to say that at no time did my family or friends do anything I probably wouldn’t do to them if the roles were reversed.  Until you are in the position I was in its hard to understand where I am coming from with this criticism  of my post heart attack life.

Back to the story….

When I returned home changes were made even in my house.  A bed was placed in my main floor office just in case I needed a rest and couldn’t do the stairs and I was under strict order from Cara et al. that I was not to try doing the stairs on my own if I was home alone.  I also was to leave the front door unlocked to facilitate people coming to check in on me and just in case a emergency trip was necessary to the hospital and so that the paramedics wouldn’t need to break down the door.  Cara also came home for a longer lunch break to make me lunch and to check in on me.  I understand that some of these precautions were probably necessary but I didn’t enjoy them.   I also was not to attempt any housework or chores.  One day early on I decided a small bag of garbage needed to go out to the bin behind the house.  I took my time and did the task and was out of breath from it and was sitting on the couch just to catch my breath again when Cara walked in the front door.  I got a chastising from her like I had never received before.  I know she had just sat at my bed for 10 days with some very stressful and emotional hours upon hours but I was quite upset.  It was not like I had decided to run a half marathon barefoot on broken glass or something, I had taken out the garbage.

The bubble wrap curse comes with many symptoms.  On top of the feeling of over protection and the then soon coming disdain for same said protection, comes the feeling of familiarity and it feels akin to a child with training wheels on their bike for too long, they never want the wheels off and they become afraid of that happening.  I did start to feel that way a little bit I must admit but I never got to the point to where I did not want the over protection to end.  Maybe the stubborn “extreme” way I had about living life meant that I just couldn’t get comfortable in the bubble that I was placed in.  Nevertheless people do get used to being pampered and that did start to happen with me.

I will continue talking about the bubble wrap effect throughout the blog as it still continues in some facets of my life and it has reoccured in different ways throughout my recovery.  I am trying to take a timelined approach to this blog and as such I cannot end this topic with this post but it needed to began now and it will make reappearances in the future.  So I will end todays post on a more positive note then you all thinking I resented my family and friends.  Bubble wrap is needed to protect anything that is fragile.  At that point in my life I was very fragile, even if I didn’t accept it, and needed the bubble wrap to a point.  I think everyone needs to be cared for a time or two in their lives and I really do sincerely appreciate my family and friends in this time.  I would not have gotten through this without all of you and continue to lean on you when I need to and thank you for letting me stand when I try and your ever presence for when I trip and fall.

Josh

The Early Days Home

I was not prepared for life post heart attack at home. Simple tasks were monumental accomplishments with major effort needed to even attempt some of them. I was tired all the time and so weak. Maybe I did leave the hospital too early as I felt very vulnerable and fragile.

I couldn’t do much the first couple of days. I rested and sat on the couch, two things that were not in my usual behaviours. I used to always say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I wanted to help where I could so Cara and I decided to go grocery shopping, just walking around the store was tiring and me being me I decided to pick up two cases of Coca-cola and walk to the register with them. Something didn’t feel right and I made Cara take us home immediately after the Jeep was loaded.

My chest hurt, the same pain they kept describing I should have felt when I first had the heart attack. I took the nitro spray like I was told, I felt the rush of blood flow throughout my body but the pain did not cease. I followed the protocol I was taught and took another shot a few minutes later with no relief. I then called 911. I was advised to take another shot of nitro while I waited for the ambulance. 15 minutes passed and they finally showed up. They gave me another shot of nitro and loaded me in the ambulance as my neighbours gathered to watch. They gave me one more dose of nitro on the way to the hospital.

The doctors, now quite afraid of me due to the lashing they received from the cardiologists in Calgary, treated me as if I was the most ill patient at the hospital. They ran test after test with no cardiac event showing up on any of the results. I tried to explain to them the pain I was feeling was akin to being extremely stiff and sore. They decided to give me morphine. 5 doses of nitroglycerine and then morphine has a side effect of lowering your blood pressure.

My blood pressure dropped dramatically and they went into crisis mode again. It was decided to pump as much saline into me as they could quickly to raise my blood pressure. Overnight I gained 10 pounds. I argued with them that this went against the congestive heart failure education I had received at the Calgary hospital. They continued this treatment of morphine and then saline through the weekend.

Monday morning I called the Cardiac Function Clinic in Calgary as I was taught if there was anything amiss with myself. I told them what was going on and they “freaked out.” They called the Drumheller Hospital and told them to either transfer me to Calgary or discharge me as they were doing more damage then good. They let me go home and the next day I went for a check up in Calgary.

It seems that weeks in bed does make you stiff and sore and puts things out of joint. Turns out regular tylenol and slow stretching and then a massage would help alleviate the pain I was in. I learned a valuable lesson, I am the only one in charge of my health and I would always have the final say in what treatments I would have.

A few days later and a few days sooner than I was supposed to I drove for the first time. Only a 5 minute drive to see some of my co-workers. I was tired by this short excursion but I had to make the trek so that people could see I was alive. The rumours that had spread in the previous weeks were bordering on the absurd and I had to dispel some of them.

It was in the first week that the first bout of depression had begun to set in. The realization of how much my world had been shattered by these events weighed heavily on me. I would cry and had no motivation to do anything because anything I attempted I could not finish. I felt useless and alone in my pain. Cara tried to sympathize but she couldn’t understand the depth of loss I was feeling. I was contemplating speaking to a professional but I was proud and felt I could get through this on my own.

At this point I would like to state to anyone reading this that if you are having depression or thoughts of self harm or worse PLEASE speak to somebody about it as soon as possible. Mental health is as important as physical health. No one will look at you as weak or “crazy.” Just as my heart attack was a serious illness so is depression. Please muster up the courage to speak up on your own behalf.

And with that I end todays blog. Again I am encouraged by the comments and critizism I have recived and I am amazed at how many people are reading this around the world. I have readers from Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Malaysia, England, America and Trinidad and Tobago. Please feel free to comment and let me know any ideas or questions I can answer regarding the blog.

Josh

The road home

Anyone that has spent any time on a hospital bed knows they are the worst thing to try and get any sleep on. They are not designed for comfort. My body ached from being in bed. I would try to only be in it when I absolutely needed it.

I also disliked hospital routines. They ran my life. Told me when I would eat, where I could and could not go. Poked and prodded me on their schedule. And the hospital was so boring. I didn’t watch much TV before all of this and found watching it rather dull. I just wanted to go home.

October 18th 2011 I finally after 20 days in hospital with some persuasion of myself on the doctors I got the permission to go home. I was so excited to leave the hospital. I thought to myself it would mean I would get better. My logic was that I was only feeling tired and weak due to the hospital stay, not my heart functioning at less than half of normal.

Due to doctors orders I was not allowed to drive. Cara helped me into the jeep and within 5 minutes I was already exhausted. We stopped at a store to pick up some things and I had to use the “mobility scooters” they provided. How embarrassing, how could I a 31 year old need an electric scooter. Especially since to the general public I did not look ill, I thought people that saw me were thinking I was making fun of handicapped people. I still to this day have the battle in my mind about using my handicapped parking pass every time the possibility of using it arrises.

We arrived home to banners and balloons placed on the house by my neighbours children. I needed assistance from Cara and my neighbour to walk up the front steps of the house. Just as I reached the top of the stairs I heard a helicopter’s rotors echoing off the valley walls. It was the sound of the very same helicopter that helped save my life. I made a silent vow right there that I would do what I could to help that organization. (More about my involvement with STARS Air Ambulance in a future blog.)

As I walked into my home I was happy. I had lived through this almost life ending incident. It was just a matter of time in my mind until everything would return to normal. I was finally enjoying my pre-heart attack life. I was “over” my ex wife, met a wonderful woman I was in love with and she had just moved in officially 4 days before I fell ill. I enjoyed my job again and was working in a place and with people I enjoyed and considered my friends. My family life had even settled into a even pace with my father living on his own with little or no assistance from me. My mother was recovering well from triple bypass surgery and my brother had started to mature and caused less drama in my life. It seems that every time my life seems in balance then the scale is thrown out by some life changing event or another.

Later that evening I received a phone call from a co-worker that shook me to my core. A good friend and co-worker since I started my career was taken hostage. They didn’t know much at that point but they wanted me to know before I heard about it via social media or the news. I felt sick to my stomach and my legs didn’t want to work. I reached the stairs and called Cara. I sat there shaking. My head spinning and a knot in my stomach. I had just seen my friend a few weeks earlier when she came to see me in the hospital. I prayed for her well being and was angry that it had happened again 7 months after the first hostage taking at work.

I soon received a second call to let me know she was safe. I let out the breath I had been holding from the time of the first call. The knot in my stomach untied itself and I finally could rest.

That night climbing into my own bed felt so right. The familiarity of the bed and the pillows. Finally having Cara in my arms and her soft snoring put me to sleep. I have a tattoo of the ending of a Pablo Neruda poem on my arm.

Where I does not exist nor you. So close that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

At that moment I personified that quote. It felt right. I felt at peace for the first time in weeks.