Are You Settling or Choosing?

Sometimes you hear a phrase that speaks volumes to you. That really makes you stop and think. That makes you pause and reflect and say to yourself…”I need to think about this…”

The other morning that happened to me.

What was that phrase?

“10 years from now, make sure you can say you chose your life. Not that you settled for it.”

That’s a tough one to think about, isn’t it? Because in all honesty, most of our lives are a combination of both.

Sometimes we make good decisions, good plans. And sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we think carefully about our plans and decisions, talk them over with friends or family, weigh the pros and cons, and come up with what we think is the best plan. Sometimes it is; sometimes we find out years later it really wasn’t.

Sometimes we make long term

plans based on spur of the moment decisions, jumping into something because at the time it sounds perfect, almost too good to be true. And then find out we made a terrible mistake and have no good way to get out of it.

Many times we all look back at times in our lives and realize the plans we made, the decisions we made, were the wrong ones and wish we could undo them and start again.

Sometimes we make decisions because we don’t think we have a choice, don’t think a better opportunity will come along, and decide to make that step, even though we know deep down inside it’s not the right thing to do.

Does this resonate with any of you?

We may not have necessarily chosen the life we have right now. It may be the way it is because some one or some people made it the way it is. It was not our choice.

But….

We can choose how we handle today in order to make tomorrow more of our choice than settling for something else. Something easy. Something we know isn’t right for us, but we don’t think we have any other choice.

But let me tell you, we always have a choice. We can settle for status quo, decide that where we are now is where we’re always going to be. We can decide to just say “I’m done” and stop striving for more. And settle for what we have.

We can remain in the same place and give up trying to achieve what we know we want, because we’ve lost our hope.

Or…we can say to ourselves “I’m not settling for second best. Or third best. I’m not settling until I have what I know I deserve, and I’m choosing right now to make it happen. Somehow.”

You may not know how you’re going to do it, but just by making that determination, you’ve already started making it happen.

Yes, realizing our hopes and dreams, making our choices a reality, isn’t always easy. There are bumps along that road, but in the end, it’s worth it.

It won’t happen overnight. Anything worth waiting for never does.

But do you want to say in 10 years you settled, or do you want to say you gave it your best shot, and made your best choices?

You’re too old, you say? My friends, we’re never too old to make choices that we will live with the rest of our lives.

It’s your choice, and it’s up to you to make it. Do you settle or take a chance?

I know which one I’m taking.b

Matters of the Heart, Part 24

I really had hoped this would be our last installment of the series, at least for a few months. However, as I’ve said before many times, you just can’t make this stuff up! Even if you try.

When we woke up the morning of Ben’s scheduled pacemaker upgrade and ablation procedure, all we could think about was, it was finally going to be over, at least for several years. He’d finally be saying a permanent goodbye to Afib, shortness of breath, and fatigue. It was going to be the end of a long and difficult journey.

We were so looking forward to getting this all behind us.

But still I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind, and I ignored it. After all, what could go wrong? We’d been though enough already.

The surgery was scheduled for 9:00 and we got to the hospital right on time at 7:30. Although the Heart Center was packed, we were taken back fairly quick to begin the pre-surgical prep. After all of the various procedures we’d gone through, we fairly well knew the routine and were able to mentally check off each step in our minds.

One difference this time was having the pacemaker specialist come in to check Ben’s current pacemaker and download the information from it to put into the new one. (Never thought about that!) We asked questions about the new device and how it basically worked, since we hadn’t had the opportunity previously.

The tech said that like the one Ben currently had, it monitored the heart to keep it in rhythm, but also would monitor when he went into Afib, and would deliver a shock to the heart to put it back in rhythm when necessary. Yes, he would feel it, but most likely he could tell when it was going to happen because he’d feel somewhat light headed already from the Afib. And it wouldn’t be anything like the shock of the paddles that are used when the patient is unconscious or needs to be resuscitated, since this one shocks directly through the heart and doesn’t have to go through clothing, chest muscle, etc. to get to the heart itself.

He told us, “It’s sort of like going from a car to a diesel truck!” Well, I think we could relate to that. At least it gave a good visual.

When Ben’s surgeon came in for a final discussion before surgery he explained again that he was going to do the pacemaker change-out and would then do a complete ablation so that the pacemaker would be totally in charge of the heart keeping a proper rhythm.

The new pacemaker would also communicate its daily activity via WiFi through a monitor on his night stand and the readings would go to the doctors’ office daily. He’d have regular 6 month checkups to be sure it was working properly. And that it would require a battery change about every 5 years. We’d know in advance when it needed changing with the monitoring and the regular checkups.

Well, he’d had his current one for five years and it was still working properly, so that sounded fine.

The doctor explained he would also be doing a venogram before they started so as to be sure the veins were clear and open so the pacemaker could be properly installed in place of the other one. If the veins weren’t in good condition he would have to install the new one on the other side of the chest, a somewhat different procedure. For that reason, Ben would be awake during the venogram so they could discuss any change of plans necessary, as he would have to consent to the change in procedure.

So we were ready. Time to get it all done! By that time our daughter had arrived and we said goodbye and good luck to our patient, and went out to wait the two hours or so it would take.

And as planned, the first thing done in the OR was the venogram, and the doctor was pleased with the results. Ben remembers hearing him say everything looks good to go, so let’s get started! That’s the last thing he remembers til he woke up a few hours later.

And I got the phone call from the nurse two hours later that the surgery was over and went well; Ben was in the recovery area; and the doctor would be out in 15-20 minutes to talk to us. I was relieved, to say the least!

Finally all this was behind us.

Or so we thought.

Until I talked to the doctor.

The first words out of his mouth were “we weren’t able to put the new pacemaker in.” And he looked very upset.

What?

He quickly went on to explain that although the venogram was fine, once they opened Ben up and got ready to put the new device in, he discovered because of the way the old pacemaker had been put in, he wasn’t able to run the wires properly for the new one without risking the veins breaking.

So they had to re-implant the old one. Ben would now require another surgery in 30 days in which the new pacemaker would be inserted on the right side and then the existing one on the left would be disabled. Since Ben was already under anesthesia, he wasn’t able to give consent to the different procedure at that time. and they also had to allow time for healing before they went back in.

The good thing, though, was that the doctor had been able to do the ablation, so the Afib should be gone, at least until the new pacemaker was implanted. And I will say, the doctor did not look happy about the change in plans for his patient.

Neither was I, and I knew Ben wouldn’t be either.

I really didn’t know what to say, and I’m sure I haven’t explained all of this properly. I was too shocked to completely take it all in. All I could think was, after all this…we still had to wait…

More to come in Matters of the Heart, Part 25.

Are You an Ostrich?

We’ve all heard the stories about ostriches hiding their heads in the sand. It’s associated with people trying to avoid dealing with problems by ignoring them. That way, they just hope they’ll go away.

Well, listen to this story and see what you think.

One day a wise older flamingo out for a stroll on a warm summer day happened to walk past an ostrich whose head was obviously buried down a hole in the sand.

“Curious,” thought the flamingo. “Why hide your head in the sand on a beautiful day like today?” So he asked the larger bird that question.

“Excuse me, Ostrich, but why is your head buried down in the sand? It’s a glorious day and the sun is shining, and I even hear other birds singing as they splash around in the water. You’re missing out on all the fun!”

“Fun?” Said the ostrich. “Fun?! How can I have any fun? You don’t know what I’m going through. There’s no fun around me. Everywhere I look there are problems. My family’s a mess. My job doesn’t pay enough. I have bills I can’t begin to pay. There’s no fun in my life! None!”

Puzzled, the flamingo replied, cocking his head at the ostrich, “So what are you trying to accomplish by standing here and sticking your head in the sand? You can’t see anything around you, and I’m even surprised you can hear me speaking to you.”

“Ahhh,” replied the ostrich, “that’s simple. If I can’t see the problems, I can forget they’re there. And they go away. It makes me much happier.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” said the flamingo, “ignoring your problems doesn’t make them go away. They just get worse the longer they’re ignored.”

“But I don’t totally ignore them. I pull my head out of the sand once in awhile. I have to eat and breathe, you know. But the problems are still there. And I really think they’re getting bigger. It’s really much easier to live with my head here in the sand. It’s actually cool here. And quiet.”

The flamingo shook his head. And looked around. He saw sea gulls flying over the water and dipping down every so often to grab a bite to eat. He saw groups of pelicans flying over the waves, obviously with fish in their pouches. He saw sandpipers scurrying across the beach, occasionally dipping their beaks in the sand to pull out a tasty insect.

Some of the birds even came up to the ostrich as if attempting to make friends, and have him pull his head out of the sand. But to no avail.

Once again, the flamingo tried to reason with the ostrich. “Do you hear all of the other birds flying and splashing around? I’m sure they have problems, too, but they’re obviously dealing with them. They don’t have their heads stuck in the sand all day. They’re living their life, making things work. They’re going places. You’re just stuck here, with your head in the sand. You’re going nowhere and accomplishing nothing. Is that fair to your family? Your friends? Are you happy?”

The ostrich pulled his head out for a moment. He looked around, and simply replied. “If I don’t see problems, don’t think about them, or don’t worry about them, they just don’t exist for me. So I’m happy. Why deal with something that upsets me when I can ignore it?”

And he put his head back in the sand.

And the wise older flamingo just looked at him sadly.

“One day,” said the flamingo quietly, shaking his head sadly. “One day you’ll understand. And hopefully it won’t be too late.” And he walked away.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier being an ostrich. It’s sometimes a lot easier to bury your head in the sand and not deal with problems that come up. But they unfortunately don’t go away by doing that. They usually get worse, and actually become so much harder to fix the longer you ignore them.

If you’re like that ostrich and keep burying your head in the sand, you’ll never solve any of your problems. Face them head on. Deal with them. Don’t rely on a friendly flamingo to try and convince you to do the right thing, because flamingos, like people, get tired of giving advice that isn’t acted upon.

What are you hiding from today? And why?

What’s it going to take to face it head on and fix it?

Believe me, you’ll be a lot happier when you do.

P.S. Ostriches don’t really hide their heads in the sand for long periods of time. They couldn’t, or they wouldn’t be able to breathe. Since they lay their eggs in the sand, because they can’t fly into the trees to make their nests, they actually do that to keep their eggs warm. Or they’ll sometimes do it for camouflage because their enemies can mistake that huge body for a big bush and move on. They’re actually very intelligent birds, even though they can’t fly. And they’re a lot more likely to face a problem head-on then run away or hide. Take a moment to read about them. You may be surprised.

Too Many Lemons

We’ve all heard the saying about when life gives us lemons, it’s time to make lemonade.

But did you ever feel like you’re getting so many lemons that you have to find other things to do with them?

Sure summertime is great for making lemonade, and so far this summer I’ve had to make more than my share of it. So much of it, we just can’t use it all. And when we try to share it with others, they have all they can use as well, and don’t need any of ours.

We’ve even found ourselves adding strawberries to that lemonade to try and give us a break, a change from everything going on, but even that isn’t enough. Because the strawberries don’t last that long, and we still end up ankle deep in lemons and lemonade.

In fact recently we’ve had so many lemons thrown at us, I’ve resorted to
making other things with them.

Lemon meringue pie takes a bit more time to make than lemonade, but the end result is a bit sweeter, and you can actually envision yourself throwing said pie at someone who may have given you a lot of those lemons. Not that I’m advocating such a thing, especially not violence, but let’s face it, it is fun to think about. And it would be a safer – and tastier – way to get even….

I’ve even used some of those lemons to bake lemon cookies to go with that lemonade. However, many of my friends actually prefer tea with their cookies, and of course tea is very often served with…you guessed it…thin slices of lemon!

But we still have a lot more of those lemons. Just when we think they’re about gone, all of a sudden we get another delivery of them, or, like a few days ago, it seemed like a car load full of them! And there aren’t enough friends to take them all off our hands.

So we’ve now made lemon dessert bars, lemon pound cake, and lemon muffins. We’ve used them as garnishes. We’ve used them in table decorations. We’ve used them to season poached shrimp, which was delicious, I might add, and in a lemon wine sauce with grilled chicken.

And I’ve even seriously thought about cutting them in thin slices and floating them on top of the pool. Now that would be interesting and make for a great photo op, but then we’d still have to figure out what to do with them!

Now you all do realize I’m not talking about real lemons…the ones you buy in the store or garnish your meals with, or use to make real lemonade or pie. I’m of course referring to those proverbial lemons we all get from time to time, the ones that bring bad news, medical issues, financial and emotional problems…those parts of life that seem to hit us randomly from out of the blue, from places we’re not expecting, and even sometimes from people who disappoint us or make decisions that completely turn our lives around.

Yes. Those lemons. And we’ve certainly had our share of them. More than our share, if you want to know the truth.

Just like you.

Like the proverbial lemons I wrote about being used for lemonade and lemon meringue pie, lemon cookies, and other creative uses, although it’s difficult, and certainly at times more difficult than others, those lemons that come at us still have to be dealt with.

And you have a choice.

You can turn those lemons, those unfortunate and sometimes almost devastating circumstances into something new. Something positive. You can refuse to deal with the news and either drown in depression and misery, feel sorry for yourself, and let the lemons pile up around you, or you can turn the situation around and change it.

And no, you can’t change things back to the way they were right before the situation happened, but like using those lemons to make something new, you can decide to take those circumstances, no matter how bad, and find something positive to do with what happened. Find something good to come out of it, even though it may be a really long stretch to find that positive angle. But it will be there. Eventually.

Life doesn’t remain static; it constantly moves, constantly changes. Like stirring that lemonade you made, it goes around and morphs into something different. And to go a step further, lemonade is much easier to drink when it’s flavored with a little extra sugar.

And maybe in some of these circumstances a little extra sugar, a little extra sweetener, might be needed to help the situation. Note I didn’t say make it right, but help it. Not all of these situations can be made right, but with the help of family and friends they can be turned around to become bearable.

Lemons, lemonade, or lemon meringue pie.

Which are you going to have today?

Matters of the Heart, Part 23

Spending three nights and two and a half days in the hospital hadn’t exactly been in our plans for Ben just a month after a very easy and successful heart valve replacement procedure.

But unfortunately the Afib decided it was much more dominant than a new heart valve, and if you’ve read our installment of Matters of the Heart, Part 22, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Although we were so sure our hospital stays were over, once the Afib came back just three weeks after the cardioversion two days after the valve replacement, it was unfortunately a matter of time. At the emergency room he was hooked up to IV’s once again, given stronger meds to steady his heart rate, and IV injections of lasix to reduce the fluid buildup which had put him in a serious state of congestive heart failure.

And as nice as the new cardiac wing of that hospital was, and as friendly and caring as the nurses were, it still wasn’t the place he’d planned to be that week, and it wasn’t fun trying to get his body back to some semblance of normalcy so he could come back home and be able to function normally until the next cardiac procedure to hopefully eliminate the Afib once and for all!

Which was still over three weeks away.

When he finally came home he was somewhat better. The meds were helping the Afib a little, although it still didn’t go away, but the shortness of breath continued. Some days were worse than others, and he still didn’t have the energy to go back to work.

The next week was Fourth of July. We always had a cookout with friends over. This year it was extremely modified. Just a couple of close girlfriends and I were in the pool that afternoon, and Ben did manage to grill burgers for us, but he was mostly confined to staying inside in the air conditioning and watching baseball on TV. Not much excitement over a long holiday weekend, since he really didn’t feel like going anywhere. We even missed a birthday party for one of Ashley’s friends’ daughter, something we’ve never missed.

Increasing the lasix helped a bit, and he was able to go back to work the next week, although in the office rather than his regular courier routes. But at least he was able to feel productive and get out of the house!

For those of you who cannot really imagine what this is like, let me try to explain. For Ben, it’s a day by day ordeal, wondering each morning how he’s going to feel. If his heart rate will be jumping all over the charts, which makes him exhausted. If his blood pressure will stay in the normal range or drop dangerously low requiring another hospital visit. If the fluid accumulation will become worse which causes difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, making it a chore to go up stairs, lift anything over about 7 pounds, or even go for a walk. Some mornings he’s ok for a while, and some mornings he says he felt like he didn’t get any sleep when I know he did.

It’s no fun living like that, and he keeps saying he’s just waiting for something else to happen to cause another trip to the emergency room. He checks his heart rate 3-4 times a day as well as his blood pressure, and makes sure to text me the results.

For me…I worry. I can’t help it. I still wake up at night and listen to be sure he’s breathing. If he has to get up during the night, I immediately wake up as well and can’t help but ask if he’s ok. I take notice of the swelling in his abdomen and his feet and ankles and remind him to put his feet up every chance he gets. I watch his facial expressions and have learned to tell when he’s not feeling right, or getting short of breath again.

And yes, I probably nag him too much to take it easy when I think he’s overdoing it. He tells me he knows his limitations, but to me, it seems he stretches them a bit because he just wants to do what he normally does. Which worries me as well. But it’s difficult watching your husband go through this struggle, and not being able to fix it.

Fortunately his ablation and upgrading his pacemaker will be done shortly. All we can do now is wait, and pray it will correct this situation once and for all.

It’s a journey, although not one we chose. But we’re getting through it with the help of good friends, family, and understanding co-workers. And some excellent doctors.

More to follow, in Matters of the Heart, Part 24.

Matters of the Heart, Part 22

Sometimes our stories don’t unfold the way we think they should, the way we want them to. And with a cardiac patient, unfortunately sometimes that’s more than true.

After spending the weekend waiting for a call about what the doctors had decided to do, and no calls coming in, we could only hope that we’d hear something on Monday. And of course, each day Ben’s condition got slowly worse.

He had already called his boss Sunday afternoon and taken another week of sick time off. As tired and short of breath as he was, there was absolutely no way he could do his job on Monday which entailed driving to Williamsburg from Virginia Beach, making thirty stops at local businesses (in and out of the car twice each time)and then stopping at the Williamsburg bank branch to drop off what he had collected, and then drive back home.

Monday morning his heart rate was in the 130’s and his blood pressure was low, but still not quite low enough for concern. He stayed around the house all day, inside instead of out in the summer heat, and took a nap, but by the time I got home from work his heart rate was still high, his blood pressure was lower, and the shortness of breath was much more pronounced. Not a good combination.

He finally had gotten a call from the doctors’ office and was told that his doctors had scheduled a procedure for him on July 17, almost a month away. He would have another cardiac ablation, followed by upgrading his pacemaker to include a defibrillator, which would shock the heart back into regular rhythm when it went into Afib. This had been discussed before, but now obviously it needed to become a reality.

But waiting almost a month to have it done…that wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Unfortunately both doctors were scheduled for vacations, and the special operating room needed was booked solid.

He had asked why he couldn’t get in sooner since he was in such bad shape by now, but was repeatedly told he was not in an emergency, life threatening situation. So he would have to wait. A month. While he became worse every day. And the only other solution would be to go to the hospital if he started getting any worse.

Well, by the time we were ready for dinner that night his blood pressure was down to 90/72 and his heart rate was climbing. He could also feel his heart fluttering. So he called the after-hours number to his doctor, and it seemed to take forever to get a call back. In that shape, 45 minutes felt like forever!

And when he finally got the call, and explained his symptoms to the Physicians Assistant who called him back, we got ready to go to the hospital. As the PA said, “Ben, you’re a ticking time bomb right now. You need to go to the hospital now. Don’t wait.”

So I grabbed my keys, my ID badge, and off we went! He was walking so slow we were worried he might need to be carried, but he didn’t want an ambulance.

Fortunately we live 5 minutes from the hospital, and when I pulled up I put my emergency flashers on and ran inside to get someone with a wheelchair to bring him in. Amazing how quickly that works when you say breathing problems and cardiac patient! (And yes, if we weren’t so close, we would’ve called an ambulance!)

They took him back right away and by the time I had parked the car and run back inside, he was being wheeled into a triage room where he was hooked up to a heart monitor, IV lines started, EKG taken, blood drawn, put on oxygen, and meds given to calm his heart down. By that time it had reached 144, which was way too high, and his blood pressure was dropping.

All I could think about was the time we were there some five years ago when he’d coded in front of me. I couldn’t shake those feelings. And when you’ve been in that situation before, you tend to relive it in your mind more than once.

Fortunately that didn’t happen this time. They were able to quickly stabilize him with medication, and his heart rate went back down and actually stabilized. His blood pressure slowly came up to a normal reading.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.

I also knew he would probably be there for a few days, because we had no idea how long his symptoms would stay in the normal range without all the medications, and he still had a lot of fluid in him which was causing the shortness of breath. And when he tried to stand up, he was shaky and light headed.

Of course, in my opinion this certainly constituted an emergency situation. But I guess in the overall scheme of cardiology, since he was able to be stabilized with the medication, it still wasn’t.

And after three hours in the Emergncy Room, around midnight he was transferred to a room in the new cardiac wing, a large corner room, with a view of the new garden area, and a “smart bed” that could talk to him. Three nurses were waiting for him when we got there. As nice as it was, and as wonderful as the medical staff was, this wasn’t how we wanted the week to start.

We knew he was in good hands, and he was where he needed to be, but still….

Here we were again….

More to follow in Matters of the Heart, Part 23….

Matters of the Heart, Part 21

We really thought, or at least Ben thought, that once the cardioversion was done after the valve replacement that life would be good. Life would be smooth. He’d be back to his normal self and stay that way for years.

Well…that’s what we thought.

And he was doing great. Until that Friday night exactly three weeks after the cardioversion.

A good friend of Ben’s had bought him a device to monitor his heart rate through his cell phone by using a special device that fits in a case on the back of his phone and uses a free app called Kardia to measure and record his daily heart rate. From the day he got it, he’s been using it faithfully.

But that night he’d been feeling tired. Actually he had been feeling that way for the last few days when he’d come home from work, but we attributed it as just catching up from the surgery.

So he checked his heart rate. 137.

Not good.

And the app told him “possible Afib”.

Possible? In his case, probable. And it had been exactly 3 weeks since his after surgery cardioversion.

The same length of time the last one was effective.

Of course he called his on-call doctor but there wasn’t much they could do on a Friday night but tell him to go to the hospital if necessary.

But by Monday morning the swelling and shortness of breath had set in, and much quicker than last time. The doctor’s office prescribed changes in his fluid pills as well as some of his other meds to try and slow the Afib. Which unfortunately didn’t work too well.

The good thing, if there was a good thing, was that he already had a follow up appointment from the TAVR procedure. Otherwise, who knows how long we’d have had to wait!?

As it was, every day he got a bit worse, a bit more tired, and more swollen from fluid accumulation. More shortness of breath. Walking up stairs was an effort. Taking the dogs out was an effort. And by the end of the day he was totally and completely exhausted.

We looked so forward to getting something done at his appointment on Friday.

But it wasn’t totally what we wanted to hear.

After relating all of his symptoms to the Physicians Assistant, reading his EKG which clearly showed his “old friend Afib” had come back, all we were able to get accomplished were prescriptions for new meds that were “only a bandaid” until his two doctors, who were off that day, of course, could be reached and consulted. But fortunately his new valve was working perfectly.

So we were again in a waiting game. He was once again exhausted, having shortness of breath continually, and just miserable. He couldn’t work, had trouble taking the dogs out, and didn’t even feel like sitting outside by the pool, let alone just get in there and relax on a float.

And it was the start of the weekend, so what were the chances of finding out anything quickly, even though we were assured by the PA of getting a phone call by the end of the day…..

More to follow in “Matters of the Heart, Part 22”, to be published July 3.