It's been said that when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.. At the age of 33 years old, life handed me more then just a few lemons, it handed me an entire lemon tree. I can remember the day like it was yesterday. I had gone to an urgent care because I was suffering from a severe cough that had been lingering for a really long time.. Along with the cough my body was abnormally swollen and my heartbeat was so strong that I could literally see it beating out of my chest.
After taking some blood work and running a few x-rays, the doctor told me that it was possible that I may have Congestive Heart Failure. Since he wasn't a cardiologist he couldn't make that diagnosis so he referred me to one.
My very first visit to the heart doctor started off routine, well what I thought was routine. I checked in and got weighed then my blood pressure was taken. That's when the first set of alarm bells went off. My blood pressure was a whomping 213/183. Not really understanding how the whole blood pressure thing worked, I wasn't bothered by it until the doctor told me that my blood pressure was at stroke levels.
They rushed me back to do an EKG that was swiftly followed by a echocardiogram.. Shortly after, the doctor called me into his office and told me as calmly as he could that I need go be admitted to the hospital immediately. He explained to me that the heart is supposed to fraction between 50% to 70%.. My heart ejection fraction (which is a measurement or term used for the heart to tell how well its pumping and for diagnosing/tracking heart attacks) was only 20%. He also informed me that the reason that my body was so swollen was because I was retaining fluid. When a person has CHF one of the symptoms is fluid retention or build up in the legs, arms, stomach and in my case, even my toes which were swollen like Johnsonville sausages.
I sat there and listened to the doctor explain to me that it was urgent that I go to the hospital as soon as I could. Time was of the essence. I didn't quite understand the gravity of the situation at the moment but I later learned that because I was retaining so much fluid, I was internally drowning. I found out that my heart was in really bad shape and if I didn't get treated quickly, I was at risk for a heart attack or worse, death.
I spent a week in the hospital with my doctor and his nurse practitioner working around the clock to get me better. I wont go in to all the details, but I will say two things though. The first is that Hospital food is already gross but it gets worse when you are a heart patient. The other is, if you need sleep or rest, the hospital is not the place to get it. Before being released and being crowned the "the cardiac floor brat" the doctor sat me down and with no filters told me that I need to take this seriously. He stated that if we couldn't get my heart to fraction better, the next step was to put me on the heart transplant list. That's when time froze, that's when the reality of me having CHF gingerly walked up to me and struck me in my face.
I understood then that this wasn't something that was just gonna go away. I was going to have to live with this and struggle with it for the rest of my life. The struggle is definitely real. Almost nine years later and it is a daily mission to make sure that I am doing what I am supposed to do to make sure I see the next year. The blessing in all this is, the span of someone with CHF is five years, I made it passed that. I try my best not to take that lightly. It gets hard sometimes. Taking meds daily and having to watch everything I eat. Making sure that I don' t over do it with any kind of liquid because if I do, I will swell up like a blowfish. I'm not gonna sit here and say that I am always on my toes with my health cause I slip at times. I get irritated and fall off of what I am supposed to be doing. I do try, I can do better, but I try.
Living with a chronic illness, (well actually I have several but we will save that for another blog) isn't easy. A lot goes into willing yourself to get out of the bed. Forcing yourself to do the day to day things that come naturally to others–but is extreme labor to you. Watching others enjoy life to its fullest, while you just try to make it though life. Yep it's a struggle, but I am grateful that I am still here struggle or not.