Part One, "Wakeup Call"
"Why are you doing everything you can to have heart disease?" my gorgeous cardiologist asked me after nearly killing me (more on that later, and figuratively not literally).
He got my attention, as if the events of the last few weeks hadn't. The last few weeks, where I actually felt terror -- real, live terror. I was terrified and alone, never more than one night in the recent past that was enough to drive me in to the arms, or offices, of not one but two doctors.
I'm 49, will be 50 on Nov. 7, 2012 (yes, this year). I've had a weight problem my entire life -- losing it, keeping a lot of it off, gaining some back. The American way. I was very good about exercise in my 30s, going to the gym, working out on a treadmill at home at least three times a week. In 2000 I went from 272 down to 212 thanks to the high-protein, low-carb Lindora diet program. They sponsored the show on KFI AM 640 I did with my late partner Andrew Howard, and as part of the promotion I went on the program and LA Fitness put a weight station and treadmill at my home.
After Andrew's passing and over the last 10 years or so, I'd like to say the equipment has been put to good use; on the contrary, they both went to the first person with a truck that showed up from Craigslist. I couldn't take the guilt of them staring at me and me not using them for whatever reason I told myself (didn't have the time, my back injury was acting up, on and on).
I found myself a few months back at 272 again, the biggest I have ever been. Just 28 pounds away from 300 pounds. I began to watch what I ate. I walk the dogs every morning, but aging dogs have made the walk shorter and less vigorous. The "second" walk for my younger Chow Chow never seems to happen. I stand three hours a day and do somewhat passionate talk radio and a web TV show, but no set cardio to speak of in the routine, and consistent meals of whole grains, fruits and veggies just weren't happening that often.
Oh, and of course I have the same financial woes as America, always battling a 30-day-late mortgage and a 6.75 percent interest home loan that needs to be refinanced but with a FICO score right around double my weight, making me a credit criminal (from being late on said mortgage, a catch-22 really), and the realization that most of the "programs" for "distressed" homeowners are a ridiculous failure.
It was after one of the five-hour marathons (I did a weekend show 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. for my own syndication and then KGO San Francisco 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., making for a five-hour talk shift) that I got a reminder about how all of this can add up.
At 10:55, right before I was to cross with the next host, the room started spinning, as in right round baby like a record baby right round round round. I got through the end of the show, but had to use the house as a guide to get in from the studio. Thank the universe I have a home studio. I made it to bed. I felt nauseous. I had a headache. I couldn't stand.
Of course, a panic attack (or so my doctor has not told me) played into this and my heart started skipping about, my feet of all things started sweating and I had an impending sense of doom.
I leapt to the iPad. After a few Googles, that was it, I was having a heart attack and I was going. A stroke, wait, a link here says it could be a TSA or is it ICA or TCP, oh hell, a mini-stroke either way, Wait, does my left arm hurt...
How should I get to the hospital? Ambulance? Who will take care of the dogs? What about the show? What if I have a heart blockage and need bypass surgery? I have a dog with cancer, will she die while I'm in the hospital... On and on my mind raced. By now it was 1:00 on a Sunday morning. The last time I went to the ER with someone over the weekend with a heart problem, he died. It was my late husband, Andrew, whose birthday was also just days away from this moment... an omen?
I paged the on-call cardiologist at my cardiology group. I was never more grateful for health insurance than at that moment. Because no matter what he said, I knew I could leave and get care and have some of it covered. I cannot imagine feeling as I felt and realizing I had no recourse because I had no insurance. It's wrong we make any American feel that way. By 2:00, he hadn't called. Page him again? They said to, if he didn't call. But I've lived now two hours out from this incident. Do heart attacks last this long? Strokes? What-evers?
I paged the cardiologist again. He'll tell me what to do. I fell asleep, iPad in hand, at 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning. I woke up at 10:00 a.m, alive. I truly was shocked. I had a terrible headache but my vision wasn't blurry any more, my heart seemed in rhythm.
I took my blood pressure with my home monitor (whereas I'm already on a blood pressure pill and statin). It was 165 / 98. Whoa! That' can't be right. Let's wait a minute and retake that.
164/97 ! Fifteen minutes later, 170 / 105.
OK, time to page primary care doctor. I do, and he answers. I tell him everything. I think I might have even cried. I'm a crybaby.
OK, yes, that's high, double up on your blood pressure pill, take an aspirin, calm down -- it's not keel-over-dead high yet -- but come in first thing in the morning.
Suddenly, I felt better. At least a little. My BP went down to 150 / 90.
Bright and early I saw my primary care physician, who immediately ordered a head CT, a carotid artery scan, a blood sugar, cholesterol, other blood work, urinalysis and I think an oil change. Four hours later, we were sitting in front of the results.
First thing, you must see the cardiologist today. The EKG had the words "could be due to possible cardiac ischemia..." I googled it on my iPhone as he talked, basically, that means a blockage. Oh, great. They drop things like this so easily.
Second, your morning blood sugar was 112 fasting, a little high, could be pre-diabetic, here's a test kit, start taking it three times a day and we'll talk in a month about that.
Third, we need to make a list of things that are stressing you out, and see how we can create a workable plan to make things a little easier for you.
What, a doctor that wanted to spend time with me, work on a plan? OK.
The first stress, my health of course!
"Well, I'm sure we can get whatever it is under control, it's all very early no matter what, so let's just go with we can get this under control, what next..." he said.
We talked of work, of life, life alone (He knows I do better when I'm partnered, recommended it, but had no prescription form for a 30-year-old alterna-dude, so...), and he said some words that still echo...
"So, do you want it to be the rest of your life, or the BEST of your life..." he said. "Because you need to make some choices. You can keep up what you're doing, the way you're doing it, and see me and other doctors a lot more. Or, we can make some changes and you could probably halt or reverse anything going on here," he lectured.
This was the doc that was with me all during my mother's passing, the last years of her life, the man who told me it was time for her to go on hospice care and helped me navigate all that meant. I trust him.
"It's not your job stressing you, you're an entertainer through and through," he continued, "but something else about it. You have to manage whatever that is. It's not money that's bothering you, you've had it or not, it's something else about not having it, work on that..." he went on.
After 20 minutes or so, we had a plan. But first, off to the cardiologist.
Those results and the next step to follow! Stay with me as I take on 50 for 50!
For more by Charles Karel Bouley, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.
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