It is 10 weeks since I joined the lifesaving, life altering, zipper club. I think to really understand the consequences you have to have experienced it first-hand.
Your life is not defined by your scars. To me, scars are part of the rich tapestry of life. Since the age of 18 I’ve worn a significant knee scar that has generated many questions and been a conversation opener.
Scar wise, my arm and chest scars are another badge of my life and what I’ve endured and worked through, and I am sure there will be many more conversations to be had.
I caught up with one of my dearest friends recently. Despite staying in touch heaps, we had not seen each other face to face for ages. She was really self-conscious about some scars on her face, courtesy of sun damage and skin cancer.
She had to point one out to me, and then, yes it was obvious, but I initially did not see it – because I love her and our enduring friendship, and that graft does not define her, or our relationship. It is part of her story and her life tapestry.
In my lifetime I have now had 15 general anesthetic operations (including a life saving ruptured appendix operation where I was given only 24 hours (without the surgery) to live due to the degree of gangrene and peritonitis) and 16 procedures done under twilight sedation, and I know I have more ahead with my knee needing a total knee replacement, plus two feet reconstructions. My fingers remain in my ears and I’m going la, la la for a bit longer. More scars!
I am glad I have been through what I have. Apart from being a necessity to continue living and not dropping dead, it has provided me with a lot of other benefits. I have met some wonderful people in the process. I have discovered more people than I ever realised cared about me and reached out to me.
With lots of spare time to think and reflect, it has also provided me with a very clear-headed reality check on other issues that are not within my power to fix alone. Therefore, I will stop trying (and/or hoping) and give myself peace and acceptance instead.
Myths and misconceptions:
There have been a few and let’s address them as they both rattled me at the time.
Firstly, it has been suggested that I have cardiovascular disease as a result of having the Covid vaccine. Seriously!?! The facts are I had been seeing my former cardiologist for some 16 years due to an incidental finding on a lung scan back then – and it was noted that there were what appeared to be, possibly external, calcifications. I still have a copy of the original letter that cardiologist wrote that said – this lady is highly unlikely to be a candidate for cardiovascular disease (due to my fitness).
Even googling that link, I have not been able to find one that possibly links an exacerbation to cardiovascular disease – other cardiac issues, yes I found articles, but not cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease does not just happen. It takes years and years of development, and mine totally predates covid even being known about. Mine has likely developed over 30-40 plus years.
There are risk factors you can control and have influence over, and others you cannot.
I currently weigh 67 kg, have a BMI of 21, have never smoked, do not drink alcohol except on rare occasions, have a total cholesterol of 2.8 (as of a few weeks ago – the bad cholesterol was 1.1) and low blood pressure. I passed all tests including ECG, echo and stress tests without issue – but passing those means nothing really if they can hide the fact that you have advanced coronary artery disease.
I cannot escape my extraordinarily strong cardiac family history and disposition or the fact that I’m post-menopausal.
It was also suggested I would need to start eating healthier. Anyone who is close enough to me and can witness firsthand what I do and do not eat will tell you I am very picky (except when bike touring – I experience the local cuisine to the max). I eat low carb and the only dietary change since my diagnosis is cheese – I eat it rarely now.
I chose to reduce my consumption of red meat a few years ago after being required to project manage departmental support for a local regional abattoir. I saw, heard and smelt things I never thought I would, and the look in the cows’ eyes as they waited to be ‘processed’ was sad and pitiful. Personal choice. It had a profound impact.
I think that my blood tests, weight, BMI, blood pressure etc is testimony to the fact that I do eat healthy. I did not get cardiovascular disease due to my diet (per the specialists). It was my genetic disposition tied in with being post-menopausal.
I have completed a fortnight of work – part time but last week worked over 30 hours. I start at around 4.50 am as my mental clarity is strongest between then and 9 am (drug cocktail time).
I have completed 36 financial assessments in the first fortnight and sorted out $10 million in messy budget reconciliations (a process that took a few of us two weeks last year). I am delighted that everything balanced, and I nailed it in half a day this year- my brain is working ok!
Going back to work is part of my overall rehab and readjusting to normal life.
I need to juggle my daily cardiac rehab with work and balance it with my recovery. First two weeks went ok and physically I am feeling ok. On weekdays I spend 3 hours a day doing cardiac rehab. Weekends are around 4 hours per day. I have added in stretching and some light weights as my arms have suffered badly with being fairly useless appendages for 10 weeks.
This weekend I have kicked some physical goals too. My first cycling goal was to enter and finish the Trek 70 km Saturday event (with 5 climbs). I did it! Whoot woo – and got a great reception upon my return.
Today I rode 100 km – that was my second goal.
Both of these goals were riding on Zwift – not out on the road – as I still have sternal precautions in place but look forward to some cafe coffee cruises soon enough.
At the current rate, I am doing just over 500 km per week cycling – at week 10 – that is pretty cool and a huge confidence boost. As a comparison, I was doing around 1000 km per week pre surgery at 2.5-3.0 watts per kg. Currently I am pushing around 2.0 watts per kg.
I have written an article on using Zwift as a possible adjunct cardiac rehab therapy – Dr Ash is looking at using it for a medical journal article and for patients who have the capacity for ‘fast tracking’ rehab.
I have also established a Zwift Facebook support group for cardiac patients – and there are 48 members currently. One of those, a 35-year-old male had open heart surgery last week in Germany and we will watch his rehab with interest, as he purchased a recumbent bike to use on Zwift.
We will cycle tour again – in 2023. Subject to suitable travel insurance (as our current insurers will no longer insure me) I think I have found one that will – established for “seniors” (a concept I still have difficulty with at 60!) and will cover cardiovascular, cancer and a range of other preexisting medical conditions. Mind you, I think I am a far lower risk now than I was in May when I rode 3000 km in Europe with my ticking time bomb.
I have multiple maps in progress with a range of countries and ideas – the world is our oyster. We have toyed with redoing LeJog (UK), loops out of Paris or Amsterdam or Switzerland or Rome or Milan and so on! We will nail it and I look forward to sharing those blogs in 2023.
How can you thank the team that saved your life? I will be forever indebted to Dr Stephen Broadhurst (radiologist), Dr Nikhil Pal (cardiologist), Dr Ash Hardikar (cardiothoracic surgeon), Dr Katja Brede (anaesthetist) and their wonderful additional support and surgical teams for diagnosing me and their parts in saving my life – for giving me another chance to be a better version of me. To the nursing, medical, ancillary, catering and orderly staff at Calvary ICU and surgical ward and Erin my cardiac rehab nurse – thank you for your part in caring for me. To friends including Paul and Shaun for their professional support and knowledge.
The best way I can thank them all is to live my life to the fullest. I still have cardiovascular disease – there is no cure. I have rerouted cardiac plumbing that will require monitoring and maintenance for life – but that is a small price to pay for the privilege of living longer and having a heart receiving it’s proper quota of blood.
To my friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours, Trek, Zwift Australia and my extended Zwift family who chose to support me with visits, phone calls, texts, emails, sending cards, get well gifts, cooking food and hampers thank you. Your thoughtfulness at what was a horrific shock in my life has been very much appreciated.
To the 10,000 views of my blog on my website – wow! That just blows me away. 1800 views of my first blog alone! What started out with me a huge emotional mess to the strong and positive person I am today has been a massive journey and transformation.
Hugest thanks to Tony – for his love and support through this journey – as he has worried heaps. We are a team and we will continue to have exciting adventures – hopefully well away from hospitals!!
This is to be my last cardiac blog – I think lol…..I feel that I am at a point now where gains will be marginal rather than some of the quantum leaps I have made.
I am proud of me. I have always had a strong work ethic that I credit to Professor Bernie Einoder, the man who initially reconstructed my knee at age 18. He told me that I would get out of rehab what I put into it – I worked hard – 3 hours per days for 6 months. It took me 2 years to walk without a perceptible limp – and I have just reapplied those same ethics this time around.
I applied that work ethic post my ruptured appendix in 1999- that was around a 3-month recovery from the damage the toxins had done to my body.
At 10 weeks post having your chest cavity sawn open, your lung collapsed, heart stopped and placed onto a heart lung bypass machine, having three grafts stitched on, having your heart restarted, having your chest wired and pulled together – being able to ride 100 km is a pure gift of joy and way ahead of when I thought it might be possible. My first ride was in week 3 and was for only a few km.
The best reason to keep living. My two darling grandkids – I get to see them grow up a bit more.
Hugs and love to all those who have been a positive influence in my journey – it is not over, I will continue to evolve and grow with loving thanks to you all.
Eternally grateful – Sharron xxx