Matters of the Heart, Part 4

When we speak about matters of the heart, our heart skipping a beat, being heartsick about something, being broken hearted, etc., we’re talking emotions, not our physical hearts.

As you know now, this series is about physical heart. The muscle that sustains our very life. The type of heart issues which can be life threatening.

As you read previously in Matters of the Heart, Parts 1, 2, and 3, my husband has experienced heart issues since we were married a little over 34 years ago, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at the age of two. He’s had two open heart surgeries and numerous other cardiac procedures that we didn’t really know existed until he had to have them. And we’ve learned a lot more we you ever wanted to about heart problems.

After the pacemaker episode in the summer of 2013, I really thought things were stable; that we wouldn’t have any more issues. That all we’d need to do was keep up with regular doctor appointments, and everything would be fine.

Well, it was a nice thought.

And over the past several years I have learned there is no assurance that the problems are ever totally solved; that there will be many other times that his heart decides it’s moving out of regularity and into a whole other area of problems.

After the pacemaker episode, things began to normalize to a degree. We had our daughter’s wedding to plan, along with all the festivities involved. We were so thankful Ben was healthy and able to host their engagement party just a few short months after we’d almost lost him. After all, the Father of the Bride is a very important participant in the wedding! And Ashley and her dad are very close.

But Ben being Ben, I later learned there were things going on with him as the big day grew closer that he elected not to tell me. Or Ashley. Or anyone, for that matter, including his cardiologist!

Nor did he voluntarily tell me until a few weeks after Ashley and Chris’ wedding (which was beautiful and perfect!) when he was noticeably having trouble walking a couple of blocks to an auditorium for a graduation event. I questioned him about it, and his answer shocked me. “It’s like the nurse said; all the fluid buildup is causing me to have breathing problems, and I can’t walk that quickly.”

Nurse? What nurse?

Oh, the doctor appointment you forgot to tell me about!?? What else did she say??!! Oh, that if it gets worse you need to get to the hospital….??

That was on a Friday afternoon. He insisted on going to our daughter’s best friend’s pre-graduation dinner after the white coat ceremony we attended for her (a very important part of the graduation process for medical professionals), but the next morning when his breathing was so much worse we ended up in the hospital emergency room instead of attending her actual graduation ceremony.

Imagine how we felt when they rushed Ben through a series of tests…chest X-rays, blood work, EKG, etc., and were told he had congestive heart failure. And that very combination of words sounded to me like a death sentence. I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good. We were both scared.

Simply put, congestive heart failure, or CHF, is a condition in which the heart is working harder then it should be, but still isn’t pumping at its full capacity. Because of this, fluid builds up around the heart and in the lungs, which makes breathing more difficult, and the heart work harder. Ankles, legs, and abdomen swell. Lightheadedness, dizziness, and exhaustion are also common. And yes, he had all of those symptoms as well.
Without treatment, the prognosis isn’t good.

CHF is not curable. Once you have it, you can only manage it. You’ll always have it, although you can control it by diet, exercise, and medication.

Because of the huge amount of fluid already built up in his body, he was immediately put on IV medication to cause him to eliminate the fluid, which meant several bathroom visits per hour. During the first two days in the hospital he lost probably 6 pounds of fluid, and a total of 14 pounds before he was released after almost a week.

Fortunately, at least so far, he’s been able to manage it. He’s on fluid pills twice a day, religiously counts the sodium in each meal to avoid going over 2,000 mg per day, weighs himself almost daily to be sure his weight remains stable, and tries to walk as much as possible each day. He sees his doctor every three months as well.

But there are still times the fluid starts to build up again, even with the pills, and the dosage has to be increased. It’s a never ending cycle. And yes, I always worry when he has problems starting to develop again. I can’t help it.

However, CHF isn’t the only issue we’ve recently been dealing with. And when it involves the heart, it’s not minor in any way.

And it continues in Matters of the Heart, Part 5, to be published March 6.

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