The bad news is that my heart failure returned and needs quick intervention. The good news is that the return of heart failure made me eligible for an extra-high-tech pacemaker developed for treating heart failure. I spent much of last week in the hospital for cardiac tests and a pacemaker.
This is not the usual type of pacemaker with which most people are familiar and that has already saved millions of lives around the world. It is a combination ICD and CRT-D pacemaker about the size of a half-dollar coin.
ICD technology is like carrying an emergency room in one’s chest. If the heart goes so far out of rhythm as to cause a fatal event, the ICD provides a hefty shock to re-stabilize the rhythm. (Imagine paddles in a hospital room reduced to chip size.)
Because the contractions of my right and left ventricles are not synchronized with each other, the CRT-D technology sends an electric signal with each beat that corrects this and makes them beat as one (how romantic). In addition, the constant re-synchronization often remodels the heart muscle over time toward that of a normal heart.
My sudden flurry of medical attention began after I sought my doctor’s approval to resume an exercise regimen. “Not without a cardiac work-up,” replied my primary care physician. Long story short, a stress test with echocardiogram revealed my heart function has declined dramatically. I spent several days in the hospital being monitored before I was ready for the super-duper pacemaker. My arteries are still nearly pristine and the pacemaker should restore some degree of confidence and restored quality of life. The cardiologists think I’m a good candidate to receive greatest benefit from this particular device.
I’m resting and recovering at home now. Mark has been an excellent nurse and as always, a great cook. I’m forbidden to do any kind of housework, including washing dishes, loading the dishwasher, making the bed, doing laundry, or lifting more than a pound with either hand. Bummer. I wonder how long I can string out the limitations on housework?
Three cardiologists marveled last week at how well I’ve managed my cardiomyopathy and heart failure for thirteen years. They are pleased with how faithful I’ve been to exercise and lifestyle changes, and my good quality of life. They’re also surprised by well my heart is doing beyond the issues that made the pacemaker device necessary. They also explained that my being short-of-breath and tiring easily has not been because I was a lazy and slothful. It was because my heart function was slipping.
I’m pleased and hopeful. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.
For those of us who live in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl is more than just a stadium or a championship game of American football on New Years Day. It’s also a park, picnic grounds, soccer fields, an aquatic center, a golf course, and a three-mile bike/walk/run lane that beckons us to get healthy and enjoy life. I used to “walk the Rose Bowl” often, but haven’t in a long time. For over ten years, I’ve dreamed of walking that three-mile loop again. I finally did it!
To be honest, if I hadn’t been a bit crazy with stress that Saturday morning two weeks ago and not thinking quite straight, the dream would still be in the future. But, hey, the world would be dreadfully boring without a little wild craziness in it. Right?
The weather was too glorious waste on a treadmill and my usual hike along the Arroyo seemed boring. I went in search of a new venue and the Rose Bowl called my name. I promised myself I would limit my walk to 40 minutes, and quieted the inner voice tempting me to walk all three miles.
At the 20 minute mark when I should have turned back, I was on the west side of the stadium, with my car on the east. I convinced myself that, since I had already walked this far, I should finish the loop. How bad could it be? Besides, if I retraced my steps, I’d have to walk in the sun instead of the shade that I knew was up ahead. Surely shade would be easier to take than the sun, even if the distance was longer. (I forgot I still had to walk uphill in the sun to reach the shade.)
My stress-addled, oxygen-impaired, and dream-crazed brain used the fuzziest thinking imaginable to justify my decision to keep going: I usually walk 40 minutes at an average speed of 2.7 mph for a total of 1.8 miles, but will be able to complete an extra 1.2 miles in just an extra 10 minutes while increasing my speed only slightly. And . . . since 50 minutes is just a little longer than 40 minutes, I will be fine and not overly exhausted. Really? I plowed ahead.
A few minutes later, a fleeting moment of sanity weaseled into my brain and I phoned my husband for a ride back to my car. He promised to pick me up as soon as possible, but was still in the mountains with our dogs. He headed back to his truck right away to get me.
“Why sit and wait for him here? Go a little farther, and a little farther,” screamed the voices of temptation and perseverance inside my head. Hubby arrived as soon as he could–just after I finished walking two more miles and reached my car.
The Cheshire Cat could not have worn a broader smile than I. My 10-year dream came true. I punched my fist in the air and looked skyward, “I did it. I did it. I did it.”
When I told a friend what I’d done, he suggested I work towards a 5K (3.1 miles) charity walk. Great idea. I have a new dream to strive for. I started training for a 5K by walking two miles thee times per week. God willing and the crick don’t rise, I’ll keep going. Cross your fingers.
Impossible dreams don’t always come true, but as Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother sing in one of my favorite songs, “Impossible things are happening every day.”
No, I do not wear a gas mask. But … air quality is a life and death matter in my life. Literally.
If you already have heart or lung problems and live in an area with poor air quality or commute in traffic, air pollution is already making your life harder and injuring your health. If you are healthy, the damaging effects of air pollution will be evident long-term. Fear not. I have good news about how to make sure you breathe clean air and protect your health. I am living proof that the suggestions below make a difference.
First, a few words about why air quality matters. No matter how healthy we are right now, breathing the fine particles in air pollution has a cumulative negative effect, much as eating an unhealthy diet has a cumulative impact on our health, longevity, and quality of life.
Large particles in the air such smoke and dust are easily visible. Bad as they are, however, they are not the super dangerous stuff. It is the smaller stuff that gets us. These are known as fine particulates, or PM 2.5. Thirty times smaller than a human hair, PM 2.5 scars the tiny air passages in our lungs that transfer oxygen into the blood, permanently reducing our lung function over time. Even worse, they are small enough to move through the blood into the rest of the body. They travel to our heart, brain, and other organs, causing both short- and long-term damage.
PM 2.5 cause a statistically significant increase in heart attacks, cardiac disease, asthma, lung cancer, and C.O.P.D. They exacerbate high blood pressure, diabetes, heart failure and even dementia.
Here is some good news: A landmark study published this week demonstrates that reducing air pollution in Los Angeles over the past two decades has had a statistically significant impact on children’s health. Scientists at the University of Southern California found that “Millennial children living in Southern California are breathing easier, have stronger lungs and suffer fewer respiratory problems than children who grew up with dirtier air in the 1990s,” writes Steve Scauzillo of the Los Angeles News Group (3/5/15). Said James Gauderman at the Keck School of Medicine, Between 1990 and 2010, air pollution decreased by nearly in the Los Angeles basin. During that time, the number of 15-year-olds with significant lung deficits decreased by more than 50%. Additionally, children’s lungs from the end of the study were larger than those of children from the early part of the research period. This is the first research to demonstrate such definitive results.
While all of us work on cleaning the air in our exterior environment, there is much you can do to make the air you breath in your home, office and car healthy. Taking the steps will keep you healthier and help you feel better. All of these (except #16) are part of my life now and make a difference. (Number 16 is beyond my budget.) Some can be found on brochures in doctors’ offices or on the links I have included. Others come from my experience and that of friends. If you have suggestions or links to share, please include them in a comment.
The Best New Things in My Life for Health Lungs and Freedom on Bad Air Days (and my reason for writing this post in the first place)
1. Best Low Tech: The Chimney Plug. Imagine a plastic pillow that snugs beneath the damper in your fireplace. When I read about this as a device for reducing drafts and saving on energy cost (winter and summer), I realized it could also improve the efficiency of my air purifiers by preventing particulates and air pollution from entering my house through the fireplace. Within one day of putting in chimney plugs, the air quality in my house was so good that I ate dinner and watched a movie in our family room, even with gross air outside. I bought the Chimney Plug for $55.00 on-line. (Also available on Amazon)
2. Best New High Tech Thing in My Life: The GoPure Car Air Purifier. This plugs into a 12v charger. It has medical quality HEPA and HESA filters that remove PM 2.5, VOCs, and odors. It is the only one I found with this quality of filtration and the only one that does not create ozone. It is pricey ($135.00), but worth it. This gadget helps you stay healthy and breathe freely no matter how much time you spend in traffic. Mark and I tested it recently by driving across Los Angeles to the coast when the AQI (Air Quality Index) was dangerously high at 167. The drive took more than 90 minutes each way, but our air stayed so clean that I was symptom free the entire time. Without a GoPure, I would have been ill within ten minutes. This gave me the freedom to linger over ceviche and beer at the beach, and make it home still feeling great. Freedom!
Other Steps You Can Take to Breathe Better Right Now
Check your local air quality on-line regularly. Check Southern California here, or elsewhere in the United States, Canada, and other countries here.
Sign up for air quality alerts if you live in an area with periodically high levels of air pollution.
Buy HEPA filters for your home ventilation system and change them every two months. These remove PM 2.5.
Encase your mattress and pillows in allergy barriers. Fine particulates accumulate in pillows and mattresses, then enter our lungs while we are asleep.
Remove living plants from your bedroom. The soil generates stuff that can exacerbate breathing and heart problems.
Buy a HEPA filter for your vacuum cleaner. HEPA filters are the only ones that remove PM 2.5, so always look for HEPA on filters and purifiers.
Buy a HEPA room air purifier, at least for your bedroom. It does not have to be expensive, just make sure it Is HEPA standard, appropriate for the size of your room, and does not create ozone. These can be quiet and unobtrusive. Many have washable filters. They are available at Target, Best Buy, Sears, and on-line. I have seven and use them through-out the house on poor air days. When the air is poor, close your windows and turn on the air purifiers.
Use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies.
Replace wall-to-wall carpet with hard surface flooring. It is astounding how much dust, dirt, and dander accumulates in carpet. Work with a company attuned to air quality issues and VOCs. Make sure the new flooring does not contain formaldehyde.
If you already have heart or lung problems, wear a mask when dusting, trimming the garden, or grooming your pets. I often forget to do this until partway through the project and then regret my forgetfulness. If I will be around VOCs and fumes, I use masks from the hardware store. Since I feel like I am suffocating in those, however, I prefer lightweight medical masks from the drug store for other tasks.
If you insist on cycling to work when the air is gross, wear a lightweight medical mask such as above. A hardware store mask would not allow enough oxygen to get to your lungs.
Keep your floors particulate free by using a Roomba (robotic vacuum) every few days. A Roomba keeps you from having to make time to vacuum constantly but eliminates the residue of air pollution. These are available at Costco and on-line.
Have your chimney cleaned by a chimney sweep every few years.
Don’t burn wood in your fireplace. Use natural gas.
Eliminate all sources of mold in your home.
Replace your air conditioner. Buy one that filters PM 2.5 and VOCs. The difference this makes is astounding and life-saving. (This one is still on my wish list. I have done everything else but this. All that stands in the way is ….. money.)
Do your part to create clean air for everyone!
Please add share your experience and tips by posting a comment. Good health and good breathing!
Photo credits: Gas Mask by Alex Carata; Los Angeles Traffic by Kevork Djansezian; Mountain Lion in Los Angeles by Steve Winter.