The final cardiac blog – it is time.

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.

The sternum scar over the top of where they use the bone saw to open your chest and retract it. The concept is pretty extraordinary really.
The arm is healing nicely too – I do get pain in my lower hand but massage it heaps.

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.

Kicking Goals

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.

Goals

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.

Thankyou

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 only man to have truly touched my heart – Dr Ash Hardikar.
The message Ash sent me which I read and re-read to assure myself I am going ok.

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.

Final words

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.

Two weeks ago, Sienna turned 4 – yes I am in my dressing gown still.

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

No Assholes Policy

Bit dramatic? Bit offensive? Build a bridge….I’ve been a bit flatter the last few days and it made me smile.

I’ve plagiarised the title from Trek. I’ll get to that! Just thought it was a great headline grabber after reading it in their book this week.

I’ve had an interesting fortnight since my last blog. Not all a bed of roses as this rehab gig can be ‘a cranky bitch’ a phrase coined by an old high school friend Wendy earlier today.

I am making solid progress physically, building up to 5.5 km daily walks, and today 78 minutes sitting upright on my bike on Zwift. My walks are great along the banks of the Forth River and our lovely beach here in Turners Beach. Some recent photos.

Part of the new coastal bike path being constructed. This path will turn to the east and cross over the Forth River and head to Leith. It is a very exciting development locally.
The Forth River, looking towards the mouth, Leith on the eastern shore.
Our beach, looking east, low tide, towards the Forth River mouth, Leith on the eastern shore.
Tony and Khaleesi, low tide, river mouth
A great long beach at lower tides, looking east. This aspect is only a few hundred metres from our home.
Looking west towards Ulverstone with Table Cape in the far distance

I saw my cardiologist who described my progress as way ahead of others similar age and stage. I think that is the benefit of my pre surgery fitness.

Tiredness and emotional fragility and residual aches and pains are my main gripes. Lack of concentration and poor memory too.

He tweaked my medications a little more beyond my cardio thoracic surgeon, to try and reduce the brain fog and dizziness a bit more. I have been tracking my blood pressure daily and it is consistently low, around 90/70.

In discussion with him and my cardiac rehab nurse Erin, I have started to decrease the walking and increase the Zwift cycling. My knee (advanced osteoarthritis, bone on bone) is playing up and not coping well now with the 38-40 km walking per week. I cannot not see the point in taking Celebrex just to walk an hour when I have an alternative cardiac option in my garage.

I am well overdue for my total knee replacement, and seriously, I am not in the right mental state to have that any time soon.

So I will reduce weight bearing exercise and increase non weight bearing. Sensible but then there is my bum! I still have to sit upright (ie not putting hands on the handle bars)

It hurts sitting up for long periods. We tried a recumbent option with a chair but less power output again vs bum pain….🙈😳

Concurrently with this issue I was feeling guilty that I was letting Trek down. I am a Zwift Trek Ambassador in Australia and leader backup the weekly Trek ride on Saturday. A 70 km, 5 hill climb event.

I had a chat with Trek’s Aaron who reassured me that Trek invest in people, all was good, and they’d help me however needed.

That led to a discussion on my bum discomfort and he told me he’d post me a saddle from an ebike, designed for more upright pedalling.

Boom. A parcel arrived with a bonus, socks and a Trek book.

The saddle is heaps better, tilted back. I can tolerate a longer time in the saddle.

The broader saddle is much better for being seated upright, no arms policy. Once I am able to weight bear through the arms I will likely swap back, and retilt the saddle forward.

The Trek book! Somewhat of a history book on Trek but also their business philosophies. I do love this particular business lesson : we love our customers and employees and work with some of the best people in the world. But we don’t works with assholes.

I think most of us can relate to investing far too much time with people like Tom in the story above. I try hard with many people and I need to learn to turn away from the very few Tom’s in my life.

Here is a much butt happier Sharron, courtesy of Trek.

In other news, I am a very goal oriented person. If I do not have goals, I tend to flounder. Two have been set in the last fortnight.

Firstly, we have booked to travel to Norfolk Island during our Christmas break for one week. Norfolk Island is a territory of Australia about 2.5 hours flying time east of Sydney.

There is a strong family connection as my great great…..grandmother was born there. A great story for another day.

The second goal. We are starting to scope a bike packing cycle tour. It will be impossible for me to get travel insurance now to include cardiac (silly as I am far far less risk than I was in May). We will go to countries where Australia has a bilateral health agreement. There are 11 such countries.

Again, another story, another day.

Thanks for everyone who has been in touch in the last fortnight. Your continuing encouragement is so very welcomed as some days are tougher than others.

The messages on Zwift, strava, Facebook and texts are so gratefully received. Your encouragement and care is not taken for granted and I am very humbled that you take the time. ❣️

Hugs ❣️

The burning question ….weeks 3 and 4

Thank you to the many friends who have sent me texts and pm’s asking how I am going in the last fortnight, particularly in the absence of no blog last weekend. I am most appreciative and thankful for your care and concern.

Simple reason for no blog….I was just very tired and my motivation levels were low.

The last fortnight saw many changes, with a major one being Tony returning to work and me fending for myself. Whilst I have excellent personal leave provisions, Tony has none and when he does not work, he does not get paid. His bank account has taken a large hit at my expense with a month off work pre and post surgery.

Survive I have and I have improved significantly although it is hard for me to see and acknowledge from day to day. However, I have charted my progress and can see my improvement.

My day starts something like this. I am awake by 4.30-5.00 am as I am uncomfortable in bed with chest discomfort. I am sleeping on my back with 3 European pillows lifting my upper body angle. My natural pre surgery position is on my side, but that is not possible currently.

Between 5 am and 9 am I am at my most alert. 9 am is drug cocktail time and I get dizzy and light headed and fuzzy.

I do my first walk before 9 am and my first day home I walked 320 metres (day 10) . This morning I walked 4 km (day 30).

I then rest for 2 hours or so, often falling asleep on my recliner.

Rest is a huge part of where I am at currently as I exercise my lungs and heart within defined acceptable parameters.

So to that burning question, and one the surgeon Ash asked me when he saw me a few days ago…..”is she back on the bike?”

Raw footage, uncensored .

So now you know. I started on Zwift on day 19. Per the guide below the question I raised with the cardio rehabilitation lady who overviews my rehab.

I had a cardiac rehabilitation appointment mid week on week 3 and sought to unpack the line re recreational. It was determined Zwift was ok, 8 kmh was 💩 and a short time…..well 😳🙈😀

Let’s say that as per the video, you have to sit upright and that is self limiting due saddle ergonomics. At 8 weeks I can lean forward and use the handle bars which will see and increase in power output and duration.

I talked to Trek this week and they are going to send a saddle to try designed for more upright riding.

I Zwift around lunchtime, rest, then do my afternoon walk then rest again.

I fall asleep during each rest period, as I do after dinner before I head to bed around 9 pm. I have my evening drugs then and I have some pain tablets around 1 am.

I am tracking my rehab and you can see the progress below. Day 10 I walked 320 metres in the morning and today, day 30 I walked 4 km. I am walking twice a day (most days) plus zwift.

I am being tracked by many on both Zwift and strava who are providing me with great encouragement. I rest/sleep in between each rehab episode.

Drugs are necessary and I have set up my own webster packs using disposable containers I used at Calvary. I have an am and pm container.

Two of the drugs are messing with me, causing side effects including dizziness. Dr Ash has has halved one drug and swapped another from am to pm, hopefully meaning the worst light head feeling is whilst I am asleep.

I am also tracking my blood pressure. Each morning it is around 90/70 which is particularly low and hence why the beta blocker can be halved. It will be interesting to see if this change makes me feel a bit more human.

I have been blessed with friends sending me cards and gifts including home made biscuits, cakes, flowers, scratchies, food hampers and so on, but two I want to share from the last two weeks.

The first is from Zwift Australia. A total surprise.

I loved the Zwift ribbon. Inside was a lovely hamper of goodies from Byron Bay.
The words were special.

Then there was this thoughtful gift from my daughter Hannah, who is also a physiotherapist. I get heaps of upper back and neck aches since the surgery and my hands get cold (beta blocker side effect).

The larger heat pack drapes around your neck and covers the upper back. Every person undergoing open heart surgery needs one of these packs made in Adelaide using lupin seeds.

My first social event was yesterday. I had a friend from my teenage athletic years undergo open heart surgery 12 days before me. He and his partner visited for lunch. We compared war wounds (literally) and stories and went for a walk to our local beach. Lovely to catch up as we both progress through rehab.

Tony, me, Graham and Narrinda

Certainly this has been a time of reflection. Cardiac blues are a thing!Whilst there are things that rattle/disappoint me as I convalesce and focus on getting stronger, I am trying to focus on the positives – family (my kids, cousins, uncle, aunt) and friends who have taken the time to show their care and concerns and keep my spirits higher. Huge thanks and hugs for your positivity.

The lesson is support those who support you. Let the others go. ❣️

The blog has been extraordinary. Over 10,000 unique visits. Words fails me. A topic that interests many.

The new cardiac zwifting Facebook page I established, Heartz, has attracted a nice core group. Two zwifters I have known for a few years have contacted me in the last week, both facing their own open heart surgery journeys and I will happily support each the best I can.

I need to change the cover page. I have a concept, but not the artistic ability!

That’s it for now, probably things I meant to say but have forgotten, such is my memory at the moment.

Hug those you love xxx ❣️

Drawing strength – week 2

I have been home a week now. Nice to be home and thankful for the support some neighbours have given Tony given I cannot cook and pretty useless with my arms not able to be weight bearing.

Soup, quiche and banana cake have been greatly appreciated as it take some pressure off Tony who has now had 4 weeks off work supporting me. Tony helps me dress, undress and put on the dvt socks and is doing all the housework and laundering etc.

My day starts off around 4.30 am ish as I wake in pain (broad chest pain from the sternotomy) and I plod out of bed to my recliner in the lounge and snuggle under blankets.

I am walking twice a day, strictly per the guidelines provided. Today was 2 x 13 minutes. I am being strict as I have been warned as to the consequences of getting ahead of yourself. There are no heroes here with rehab.

I have a morning and afternoon nap in my recliner. One of my morning tablets causes drowsiness and I’m hoping it’s not a long term one as it foggies my brain.

I have received beautiful flowers during the week including Pauline and Craig and Craig and Ellie.

23 work colleagues got together and provided a goodies basket including a plant, candle, chocolates, face creams, and other carefully chosen products. It was a lovely treat to arrive home to.

The biggest surprise came from an anonymous parcel with a card addressed to the mink. You can read the message below. Lisa is a fellow Aussie endurance rider and we’ve not met but I was very touched.

Day 11 I set up a Zwift support group for cardiac patients named Heartz. 30 or so members already and I am thinking more and more about the Tasmanian group Heals and how I would like to be an advocate for cardiac athletes. Not sure what that could look like but it follows a conversation with my surgeon.

Ash came to see me last Saturday and I want to leave you with two photos. Ash asked me if he could take a selfie with me. Of course!

He then sent me the photo to my mobile with the following words. I will forever treasure the photo and words, from the man who literally is the only one to have ever touched my heart. He stopped my heart for around an hour and he restarted it. I’m in awe and forever thankful for his surgical skills and human niceness.

I intend to frame the photo with the words, as a motivational reminder when I need it.

Baby steps, one week down.

One week down. It’s been a journey for sure, and not one I would recommend. I joke and say as an experience on Trip Advisor, open heart surgery rates no stars.

After my surgery last Friday I spent 4 nights in ICU. A very humbling experience. I was in bay one for two nights then the isolation room for the next two.

ICU has a series of open bays separated by curtains with a central area for medical and nursing staff where they have a clear view of all, except the isolation room. Sounds like the name for one of those group games where you try and escape, the panic room?

I was placed in the isolation room because one of my surgical team tested positive for covid. No visitors allowed whilst they awaited my pcr results, which seemed very slow for something tagged urgent.

The room was quiet. ICU is a noisy place with an array of monitors bleeping and lots chatter. The room gave me peace. No extra sleep though! Solid sleep evaded me. Getting comfortable a seemingly impossible art.

Once my negative covid test came back my door could be opened, and I took this photo carefully as just to the right is a fully intubated older lady. I watch the staff working on her and caring for her. She can’t move as she is on a ventilator. I realise that the same dedication they are showing her, was given to me just a few days before. I became emotional with gratitude. It is very humbling to watch their care, dedication, professionalism and empathy.

Isolation room, ICU

I’ve been quite emotional. Ups and downs. Feeling a bit better, then miserable over anything and everything. I gather that is quite normal for this stage. Cardiac blues.

I am eating again although appetite wanes from day to day. I am drinking heaps in particular coconut water, per my surgeons request ( potassium for the heart). I’ve lost a few kg.

I am walking. I have seen the physiotherapist daily and my exercises have increased. I can now do 5 x 100 m plus walks with a few of those having some stairs.

It is hard work and I huff and puff and have a heart rate far higher than pre surgery for the same exercise. Maybe 35 bpm difference, but that will improve.

I still blow into the ball contraption and can keep up higher for longer. The third ball has started to move a tad.

I have had some sleep the last two nights. Drug induced but at least I’ve slept. I could feel my body relaxing whereas before it was a constant battle.

My temperature has abated after many days and night sweats.

Perhaps my funniest experience (Only funny thing? Not the kind of place you come looking for comedy), was my final night in ICU

I thought I’d try my solo endeavours out . Midnight and I needed to pee. I was attached to the dvt machine that pumps air around your legs. I was also attached to a blood pressure machine and cuff.

I unwrapped the dvt leggings as they were velcros and easier than disconnecting the cables as I cannot use my arm strength. I disconnected the blood pressure cable and removed the cuff. I did my thing.

I came back to bed and all three items had inflated to their max and I could not put them back on. Dang, cuss, curse….what to do? Only option was to press the buzzer and fess up. Yes, I got the lecture I knew was coming and I sat there and nodded….but 🙈😳🤣

Stubborn Sharron was a good sign though that I was on my way back.

In addition to the wonderful medical, nursing, ancillary and support staff including the lovely orderlies and catering staff, I’ve regularly face timed Tony and Hannah, visits from Joshua and Kimberley, messages from two sons in Europe plus heaps of texts and pm’s. Thankyou all.

Covid issues have meant minimal visitations plus when in isolation none. It’s not easy.

Correspondence has taken time and I’m a bit slow as I get tired easily and quickly.

I received a surprise bunch of flowers, card and home made soup from Sam from Bendigo ( a Zwift friend) who had her Hobart based son drop it off (and he had made the soup himself). I was very touched.

Home time is tomorrow. I’ve passed my various tests ( blood, X-ray) and the pharmacist has a pack of drugs ready for me. My iron levels are low and I need to work on them. The word prunes was mentioned 😳

I will not miss the heparin injections into my bruised pin cushion tummy, or the rubber mattress and pillows. I look forward to being in my own home and moving around it, having a warm shower in a warm bathroom.

The home bound trip will take a while. 330 km but to be back home with Tony and Khaleesi will be a delight as I continue on my rehab recovery journey.

Reality check here though readers. My aim in telling my story is to have you avoid what I’m going through. This is the vivid, harsh reality. One can deny it all they like or try and turn a blind eye but….every picture tells a story.

Artery removed from my left arm
The incision. Below this there are a series of stitches from drains etc, plus I have a bandage on my neck still.

I understand the chest scar may confront some. But this is the way they get into your heart for coronary artery bypass grafts. They cut through your sternum bones, pull the bones all back and do their thing! No escaping it.

Get that check!!

To finish with a brighter photo, this is me 530 am Saturday, Day 8. I think Sharron 2.0 is starting to come back to life.

I have a bit of eyebrow missing. My only explanation is maybe there was tape there during surgery and some eyebrow hair removed with the tape. I look at this photo and I can smile and see me in there 💕😊💐xx

Start me up

Short and sweet.

The motor turned over and the story continues.

Lots of wires and drainage tubes removed. Think I lose more today.

Zwifters… I’d rather eat a bucket of kale and do radio tower intervals. Bucket!

The zipper club not one I’d line up to join, but here I am.

The anaesthetist zwifts. The guy in charge of the heart lung bypass machine zwifts. Nurse Aaron has found me on strava. Great to have like minded people around. Katja ( the anaesthetist) wants to join me on Zwift for my very first ride. 😊

I was taken to theatre around 12 noon Friday, and the two anaesthetists knocked me out within minutes. No time to get overawed.

Next thing I’m vaguely conscious as they bring me out and being given instructions as I’m still intubated. That was not pleasant and they ask you to give thumbs up. I let it rain thumbs! Finally the tubes that had been doing my breathing are removed. Relief..

Once extubated they tell me it’s just after 8 am Saturday. Wow.

My chest feels like I’ve had a run in with a Mack truck.

My left arm where they harvested an artery. The other artery was mammary, so my chest.

Dr Ash did this drawing for me showing his handy work. He’s a life saver and I told him my next cycle tour I’m dedicating to him.

I’ve been out of bed on day one and two. Yesterday I did a little walk with a walker. I get dizzy and nauseous.

Not interested in food yet. No appetite and I poke around with my banana. Dr Ash wants me to eat two bananas, one avocado and coconut water to help my potassium levels.

The nursing and medical staff here in icu are brilliant and very caring.

Only issue today is that the assistant surgeon has tested positive for covid so now I’m in isolation from others. Results due back today.

I have X-rays taken a few times a day to check lungs. Bloods regularly. I do have a bit of a temperature and they are doing cultures. I am told I’m doing well although if I’m honest, I feel like shit.

Sleep is evading me. 10 minutes here and there. Painkillers are oral now and I take whatever is offered, plus something to sleep.

New exercise is this contraption. I can get two balls up.

They are hoping to release me from icu today and send me to the surgical ward.

Tony is heading home today for a few days. Visiting hours are limited to 30 min and we can face time instead.

Thanks for your love, support and encouragement . Tony and Joshua have received in excess of 600 messages, comments and likes.

Xxxx

Friday on my mind

Beautiful bear and card Sienna, my granddaughter gave me. Granny bear is watching over me. I will treasure the bear forever.

I am now in hospital in Hobart, having been admitted early afternoon (Thursday)

I have had additional radiology tests. I had a chest X-ray and a carotid artery doppler. The sonographer asked what I was doing there as he said I was too young and the wrong build for coronary artery disease. ‘Genetics’ I said.

The good news is that he told me my carotid arteries are as good as the day I was born. Big relief.

The anaesthetist is a lovely lady, Dr B. The conversation started by her asking me questions about Zwift and she obviously knew a bit about me. I asked how she knew these things, and her response was very honest…”I googled you”. We both had a good laugh and I felt very relaxed with her.

She spelled out in considerable detail her role and the amount of cables and tubes I will have inserted or attached to my body. Mind boggling.

I will be taken to theatre one hour before surgery at around noon. It takes an hour to prepare me with all those cables and lines and anaesthetise me. The cardio thoracic surgeon walks in at 1 pm…ish.

Usa cycling friend Jeff sent me this today. He faces his own journey this week as well.

Dr Ash will work on harvesting my donor vessels first (mammary and arm currently planned), then he accesses my heart (cutting through the sternum and clamping it back), stops my heart (they use potassium), places me on the bypass machine to keep me alive, graft the new vessels, restart my heart (hopefully the warm blood does the trick, otherwise they have jumper leads), wire my sternum, stitch me up and send me to ICU.

Dr B loves her job, and she loves the cardiac team she works with. She reminded me that they do these surgeries nearly every day and it is bread and butter for them. Most traumatic day of my life is their bread and butter.

Then starts the recovery road and rehabilitation. Day 1 of Part 2 of the rest of my life. Mink 2.0.

My kiwi friend Andrew, skiing in Queenstown 14 weeks after his cardiac arrest and bypass. He was my motivation in pushing my tests. I’m playing it forward.

I am a lucky girl. They found it despite being asymptomatic. I know there will be challenges, good and bad days, but I have faith in my personal tenacity and resilience.

Finishing off with a beautiful message from my granddaughter, shared with her parents blessing. Enjoy 😊

Three wise men

Friday 22nd July, 2022.

Three wise men have entered my life. Dr B, Dr P and Dr A. I owe them big time!

They have come bearing gifts – they are wise, well trained, professional, caring, empathetic and possess great diagnostic, communication, interventional and surgical skills. Their gifts? Giving me the opportunity to potentially live a lot longer.

So what went down on Friday?

I have written this blog a few times and tackled it in different ways – the outcome is the same. I am getting so many messages asking what happened, so here it is.

Friday was angiogram day – brought forward by a fortnight from the original appointment.

I was nervous – not so much the procedure as I have had a lot of medical ‘stuff’ happen over the years – but more the possible range of outcomes. Fear of the unknown.

There were five ahead of me on the list – and I got to hear the two way conversations between Dr P and each patient as he did his pre angio rounds. I got to hear his post angio findings too. Certainly there is no privacy in the pre theatre room. They all got good results – it all started off with “I’ve got good news…”

The nursing staff in preparing you do an ecg and insert a canula. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I found it hard to concentrate on my book. I tried word puzzles too but again my concentration was poor.

My turn was some 5.5 hours after being admitted, and by then I was extremely thirsty not having had any fluid for nearly 17 hours.

My view as I waited. That is the Cath lab theatre straight ahead.

I walked into the theatre and popped myself up onto a very slender, long metal table. It was quite cold in there.

The senior nurse takes over with a series of instructions. Arms by your side – do not move them! Head looking up – do not move it! Do not talk! You can watch the screen but only by moving your eyes! Ok – noted – loud and clear!

Both arms are by your side as one staff members fiddles with the canula and nice, I could feel the midazolam hit my system. That takes the edge off the anxiety. They also injected fentanyl and a bit later contrast dye upon Dr P request.

The right arm is for the cardiologist – liberal use of iodine to cleanse the skin, then I could feel a wet, cold sponge like product. Dr P walks in, all clad in his lead suit (I gather they weigh over 7 kg). He feels my arm and injects local anaesthetic and the sheath and catheter are inserted into the artery on the wrist – and quick as lightening the catheter is checking out the heart.

There are four screens he is watching – two with data, two with images, and there is a very square and boxy xray head swivelling around at various angles taking the images. The xray head at time obscured my vision, and I dare not move my head to look.

The angiogram does not take that long – Dr P tells me he has finished it and that he will do a stress test on my heart – how that works I am not sure, but he is making my heart work out whilst I lay there – and I could feel my heart rate increase.

Dr P disappears for maybe 5 minutes and comes back telling me he wants to show me what he found (eek – this is not in line with the first five patients – I am sure they all want to know too….). He told me that I am one very lucky girl, sitting on a huge ticking time bomb.

He should probably have waited to do that stress test as I reckon my heart rate popped right up there and then. He told me that one day I would have just dropped dead without warning. Very sobering.

I think about the 3 000 km that we have recently cycled in Europe and think about what could have happened as I climbed up some of those 20 000 metres worth of hills and mountains. Thankfully we had a brilliant holiday.

He pointed out the issue on the screen – and it was pretty damn obvious to even my untrained eye.

I have an 80% blockage to the LAD – and it is in an awkward spot at the T junction. It is not possible to stent with a lesion in that particular position. Therefore I need open heart surgery and coronary artery bypass grafts.

The LAD is commonly referred to as the widow maker artery – it supplies blood to the larger, frontal part of the heart and is regarded as the most important artery. Survival from cardiac arrest cause by a LAD blockage outside of a hospital is around 6%.

In the few minutes that Dr P had disappeared from theatre, he had already rung Dr A and shared my imaging with him and jointly decided the surgery will be in the next week or so – when they can coordinate the hospital and other issues including current Covid impacts.

He leaves again- and I burst into tears. The senior nurse hits me around the head with a wet fish (metaphorically speaking!) and I needed it – she told me to invert my thinking (she read one of my earlier blogs?) and to remember what he said – that I am a lucky girl!! Others are not as fortunate and just drop dead. Salient!

Post the angiogram you need to stay in bed for a few hours and the catheter site has a pressurised wrist band that they regularly remove a little bit of air from – as it is an artery it is more prone to opening up and bleeding.

After two hours I was allowed to go to the loo (as they like you to drink 2 litres of water post procedure to flush out your kidneys) and what goes in….

It was whilst I was in the loo that I forgot about that hand and used it to assist me – and when I went to wash my hands saw the blood everywhere.

So the pressure bandage had more air go back into it and I needed to stay a bit longer.

Upon leaving I was met not only by Tony, but my eldest son Joshua, his wife Kimberley and my two darling grand kids. They had travelled up from Hobart for the day to be with Tony, hoping to see me when I left before driving back home again.

If ever I needed a salient reminder about all the good things in life, this was it – as my young granddaughter called out “Granny” and had a few flowers in her hand that she had picked from the hospital gardens.

This is worth living for.

Family. 💕
The flowers Sienna picked for me.

Saturday 23rd July, 2022

Dr A rang me in the morning and had a chat – and arranged to do a Zoom meeting in the evening. Amazing on a Saturday that he is willing to put this time into me.

He tells me not to call him Dr – he is “Ash” – an extraordinarily unpretentious surgeon. I warm to him immediately.

To cut a long story short, I am to have surgery either late this week (Fri), or early the week after (Tue). The final date will be confirmed tomorrow by his assistant.

There are more tests to be done including a doppler on my carotid artery. Dr P and Dr A have said my risk factors are nearly all genetic based, and that there is a corresponding link to blockages in the carotid artery. If they find something, that will be an issue subsequent to the heart surgery for resolution.

He gives sobering data too – like there is a 6% chance of a heart attack during the surgery – but let’s wack that fish around a bit more and invert that – there is a 94% chance that it will be fine! Let’s stick to 94%.

In addition to this week, I will be off work for at least 8 weeks post surgery and not allowed on the bike for 2-3 months (that will be another conversation as I presume he is thinking bike riding on roads – and yes with the sternum repairing I totally understand why). I will be in hospital for maybe 8-9 days (bit longer than I was thinking) but he did counteract that with a “until you are sick of the hospital food”.

He has given me a number of websites to checkout – and one was on You Tube – so I digressed and watched an open heart coronary graft bypass procedure – ooh!!! Not for the squeamish and I certainly hope after they stop my heart that they can kick start it again ok!!!

I am very thankful for the three wise men. Huge thanks to Dr B, the radiologist who after seeing the results contacted Dr P immediately – and rang me that night to talk me through his findings.

Dr P who got me in a month earlier than planned to schedule the next step – and then upon diagnosis contacted Dr A who is getting me in earlier too.

I will be on the rehab road (hopefully) by the date of my first review appointment with Dr P ( originally Aug 5) such is the speed of this journey progress.

Now I need to do my bit and be that couch potato and chill and get ready for the next big hurdle.

I have faced hurdles before. In 1999 I had an undiagnosed (40 hours) ruptured appendix, gangrene and peritonitis – and I got through that after being told another 24 hours and I would have been dead.

This will be big – but I use my father in law as a wonderful example of exemplary recovery. At his first post surgery cardiac rehab session they were all asked to walk two laps of the oval. He very proudly lapped everyone!

I have the right attitude, and I will succeed. Watch me!

The telephone – it rang!

It rang – and it was my cardiologist’s rooms – and yes I have been brought forward by a fortnight to this Friday.

Nervous but pleased – let’s get this show on the road!

I just need to keep Covid free and hope that the hospital team do too as Covid has impacted the state’s public hospitals. My angiogram will be in a private hospital but nonetheless, same factors in play if the medical team catch that little dictator of a germ.

This may offend some, but too good not to share – a work colleague Jackie H posted this recently.

A few salient reminders hit home this week re regular medical checkups.

As a teenager I had a close knit group within my athletic group. We had a lot of fun as teenagers and to this day now have a regular chat group and ‘annual’ dinner when we can. One of those friends is today having bypass surgery after a medical incident (no prior warnings), and another is starting chemotherapy in a week or so (cancer can just F off!), then the third is me with unclear cardiac outcomes, and the fourth is off for a medical checkup – taking no chances!.

Time is going by slowly – I have an extra 4 hours a day to do stuff other than cycle. So what do I do? I have started work earlier, I am still working on my jigsaw puzzle, I am upcycling a set of bedside tables that I purchased for one of the spare bedrooms, I have bought heaps of books (some arrived, some still to arrive), answering personal messages received, chatting with family, working on my ancestry family tree (another hobby, over 10,000 direct relatives identified), walking twice a day with Tony and Khaleesi and yesterday we went and watched Tony’s son run in the local Ironman race (25 km?).

I love books and built a library in our home just for them – I do prefer the tactile touch of a book when reading and I’ve not got into e-books.

The most recent book delivery

Suzanne P responded to my last post regarding perception. I have known Suzanne since I was a teenager, attending the same church youth group. It was a wonderful fun group and I have great memories including a play that we did around the song “My boomerang wont come back”, and another time all piled into the back of a panel van driven by our group leader (?) maybe going to a progressive dinner (?).

Suzanne reached out to me to share a beautiful article she had read recently. The following extract is all about perception.

In his book, The Vision and The Vow, Pete Greig tells of how a distinguished art critic was studying an exquisite painting by the Italian Renaissance master Filippino Lippi. He stood in London’s National Gallery gazing at the fifteenth-century depiction of Mary holding the infant Jesus on her lap, with Saints Dominic and Jerome kneeling nearby. But the painting troubled him. There could be no doubting Lippi’s skill, his use of colour or composition, But the proportions of the picture seemed slightly wrong. The hills in the background seemed exaggerated, as if they might topple out of the frame at any minute onto the gallery’s polished floor.

The two kneeling saints looked awkward and uncomfortable.

Art critic Robert Cumming was not the first to criticise Lippi’s work for its poor perspective, but he may well be the last to do so, because at that moment he had a revelation. It suddenly occurred to him that the the problem might be his. The painting had never been intended to come anywhere near a gallery. Lippi’s painting had been commissioned to hang in a place of prayer.

The dignified critic dropped to his knees in the public gallery before the painting. He suddenly saw what generations of art critics had missed.

From his new vantage point, Robert Cumming found himself gazing up at a perfectly proportioned piece. The foreground had moved naturally to the background, while the saints seemed settled – their awkwardness, like the painting itself, having turned to grace.

Mary now looked intently and kindly directly at him as he knelt at her feet between saints Dominic and Jerome.

It was not the perspective of the painting that had been wrong all these years, it was the perspective of people looking at it.

Robert Cumming, on bended knee, found a beauty that Robert Cumming the proud art critic could not. The painting only came alive to those on their knees in prayer. The right perspective was the position of worship for this particular painting.

Salient message there. Try viewing life from alternate perspectives.

Looking at the ceiling…Banqueting House, London
Rubens magnificent painting I was looking at laying on the bean bag
Next day, I viewed this… interesting angle…Bell Harry tower, Canterbury Cathedral.

Doing my jigsaw I thought about this extract more – as I turned the dark pieces around trying to find just where they fitted – and the fit was not always where you thought it might go either. I spun the jigsaw around.

As my favourite orthopedic surgeon, Dr Gary Fettke stated – he wrote a book (One Man’s Answer) about it – invert your thinking! “Inversion is turning a familiar image upside down and seeing it from a new perspective. The answer is often right in front of us.”

What’s in the bag?

I have often been asked, what’s in my bags. Yes we travel as minimally as possible. When you have to cart your gear 3000 km you look critically at everything.

Certainly there are non negotiable items clothing wise, first aid, medicines, tools and spare bike parts. You need casual clothes for evenings. You need cycling clothes for rain, cold and warm conditions.

Here are our two bikes just as we arrived back at my sons place in Switzerland, 3000 km later.

The set up with the two bikes is similar, bar the two small front panniers on Tony’s bike. In addition, his bike is bigger and therefore he has a larger rear post bag

Here I am leaving accomodation ready to pack the bike. Three bags in hand. You need to be able to cart your gear to and from your bike easily,

I am carrying my front handle bar bag, my rear tube saddle bag plus a stuff bag with all the odds and ends that have a specific home on the bike.

Storage choices. You have seen two bags above. I also have two bags on my top tube. The smaller upright one plus the hanging lower and longer one.

So let’s see what I have all spread out on the floor.

In more detail. The rear saddle bag is basically everything I hope I do not need during the day riding. In the bag you would find….long leg bib and brace for cold weather riding, a thermal long sleeve top, a second short leg bib and brace kit, spare short sleeve jersey, a pair woollen cycling socks wet weather, yak wool beanie and snood, a casual dress, a long leg casual outfit, yak wool casual top, nightie, spare underwear and medicines and toiletries (except ventolin), tens machine ( for our backs, could be considered non essential but given our back history very handy as you can ride and use it simultaneously).

Strapped to the top of the bag are my casual sandals, neoprene over booties and my gilet (indicating that it was hot when this photo was taken).

The front bag has stuff that I may need during the day. It has our first aid kit, a teaspoon (very handy at times), safety pins ( useful if zips break), a nail file (also very handy at times for all things not involving nails), long sleeve warm jacket, arm warmers, passports, vaccination certificates, travel insurance info, food, rear derailleur hangers (never leave home without spares),biro, my iPad, masks, small torch, shopping bag, hair bands and small hairbrush, bike lock, tyre pressure gauge, spare fully charged etap battery, drink tablets….

On top is a map pocket which I use for sunscreen, hand sanitiser and tissues.

The top tube bag has my purse (debit card, credit card emergency, cash- in this case euro and Swiss francs), lip balm and ventolin.

I have exercise induced asthma and part of my asthma management is ventolin regularly during the day as I ride. I also take Symbicort twice daily for asthma. Well managed my asthma is rarely problematic. If I get a cold etc, it can be problematic.

I also need to carry an epilepsy drug having complex partial seizures at various intervals since I was 20 (but only diagnosed by a neurologist 5 years ago).

This is Wags, my sons dog, very keen to check my gear out.

The hanging longer top tube bag opens both sides. The larger area contains my rain coat and rain cap.

The smaller pocket contains a battery pack (to charge the Hammerhead gps bike computer if the battery gets low), and my stuff bag (used to transport loose items to and from our accomodation). Spare food is sometimes stored there too.

I also have an internal tube storage area under a bidon holder. It is really nifty and we stored 3 x rat test kits there. I intend to find long skinny bags for our first aid kit for the future to place in the tube.

The extra bags on Tony’s bike has his spare tubes (my wheels are tubeless), plus our two lightweight down jackets ( they stuff down very small), some tools and spare parts (brake pads, derailleur hangers etc).

We choose to travel light. Most touring cyclists we see travel with more gear and bags. Many also carry tents and sleeping bags.

This works for us. We do intend to replace our rear seat post bags with a newer Tailfin setup for our next trip. Not cheap ($1400-$1500 for the two bikes) but the benefit is the weight is not hanging off the seat post being mounted to the rear axle.

I think that about covers it. This setup and gear replicates what we carried for 35 days in central and Western Europe in 2019 and we’ve not made any major changes for this trip (26 days riding).

We get to the luggage collection carousels post trip and are quite bemused by the number of suitcases many travel with. Yes, we keep wearing the same gear, no it does it bother us, yes we launder cycling kits daily, and casual clothes regularly.