It’s simple. When you’ve had severe indigestion or you’ve had an accident more serious than a paper cut, you call a doctor or visit a hospital emergency room. The world has earned a medical degree watching TV to know whether to apply home remedies or call 911. For minor afflictions, there are plenty of products to cure that sore tummy and enough medical supplies to kill all the bacteria and cover the wound with a Band-Aid. The voiceover in medical ads tells the patient to keep using the suggested over-the-counter medication, until a state of unbearable pain is reached. Then, take aggressive action, and seek medical help. You know the drill. There is only one time I know of when a state of pleasure sends us to the emergency room: after using Viagra.
My advice is different. Be on the alert for devious silent killers in the woodwork. Don’t wait for symptoms to surface. Preventative medicine is a must. Get a yearly physical exam. Even if you get a clear bill of health every year, your doctor knows you and your potential health risks. That knowledge is a big plus in preventative health maintenance. I’ve walked out of my internist’s office sixty times in sixty years with the same diagnosis: Leonard you’re in terrific health. See you next year. Nothing seemed out of kilter, and my internist sent me home with the same firm belief, his examination was sanctioned by God and I would live for another year. I was a lucky sort, until this year.
Which brought me closer to my current medical problem. For years, I’d had pain in my calves. My internist referred me to a vascular surgeon, and he diagnosed my pain as a congenital birth defect. He suggested he could surgically rearrange some veins in my legs to increase blood flow to those muscles. More physical strength was the intended outcome.
A revisit to my internist brought a neutral opinion. “Let’s do some more tests. Here’s the name of a cardiologist.” A funny thing happened at the cardiologist’s office. I flunked the stress test, which changed the course of treatment. My cardiologist told me he needed to do a catheterization to determine the arterial heart blockage. “A stent or an angioplasty treatment may be needed.”
I was flabbergasted. How I could be so sick with no symptoms? Let me give you, the reader, a test. What do you call a person who has had Hall of Fame EKGs his entire life, no shortness of breath, no chest pains, a pulse rate of 75, a slightly elevated blood pressure reading of 130/75, and a yearly cholesterol reading below 150? For me, my test concluded I was a candidate for a heart attack. I heard a respected doctor say that if you can stay outside in extreme heat or cold, doing active functions, your heart is in good shape. Imagine that.
The catheterization revealed blockage in four arteries that could not be corrected by stents or angioplasty. Twenty minutes after returning back to my room, a heart surgeon stuck his head in and said, “Hello, I’m Dr. T. and I’ll be performing open heart surgery on you early next week.” I protested. “Dr., I have no symptoms.” He smiled. “That’s what a lot of patients say.”
The second part of the adventure fit the window of the four days between the catheterization procedure and when I arrived at Beaumont Hospital for the open heart operation. My mantra during the timeframe was, “I feel fine.” I repeated it every waking hour for four days. There was no accurate tally the number of times I said it.
I called family and friends and told them what awaited me. Everyone heard the mantra. Out shopping, I ran into friends. When I explained my situation, my story ended with, “I feel fine.” With each repetition, I asked myself, “Why don’t you call the doctor’s office and cancel the operation. Tell them you feel great.”
The day before the operation, I met with the surgeon. He outlined the plan for the following morning. I listened with respect to the doctor. He owned the knowledge to my well being. How could I challenge him? Just because I felt good didn’t mean he would buy my argument. I left the appointment with a new mantra to tell myself: Leonard, you’re not feeling great.
I walked into Beaumont Hospital eager to get started. Get the operation over, so I’d wake up, and know I lived through the ordeal. Intensive care and the cardiac hospital section consisted of eating, taking medication, and watching TV. Visitors included my wife and my children. The surgeon’s order of walking the halls proved a most important directive. Everyone helped me to get out of bed and walk arm-in-arm. I felt better. Not being confined to a bed made my spirits rise and made me feel that I would return to good health. I measured the recovery from when the pain medication, administered during the operation, wore off and the last pain pill I swallowed. Without any pain pills in my future, I was as good as new.
Nostalgia played a part. Every day, I looked at my daily ten plus pills and said, “So you guys know what part of me you’re trying to reach to make me better. Good luck.” The last time I saw such a colorful pharmaceutical arrangement was during my father’s and my father-in-law’s declining years. When they took the bouquet, I mused, “What are the pills supposed to accomplish? I don’t see any improvement. Are they supposed to keep a status quo existence or kill you slowly?” In my case, I did feel improvement each day, stronger, more alert, and grateful to God to regain independence.
I still have more treatment awaiting: cardiovascular rehab. My internist visited me every day while in the hospital. “Leonard, you’re getting better.” When I checked out to return home, he said, “See you at your yearly physical.”