So I was supposed to be well on my way to Tokyo and the Maldives as I share this update. God had other plans.
For those who have already seen my personal updates on Facebook, I apologize for the redundancy and length of this post. However, I need to conserve my voice as it's still a bit rough from surgery. I also want to humbly acknowledge the outpouring of support and concern for my wellbeing. All the kind words (and some twisted humor) were truly appreciated more than you will every know. 🙂
This is an attempt to be a little more complete about my adventure over the last few days and will likely be my starting point when I get back on the air this Saturday. (Next Saturday at the latest) I'm only sharing my personal story with the hope you never follow my fin kicks and in the unfortunate case you do, you're at least as prepared as I was thanks to ScubaRadio.
If you have been listening to the show, you may know of my good friend and author, Eric Douglas. Eric used to work for DAN and has written many articles and even books on dive safety. He's definitely one of my “go to guys” when it comes to discussing medical issues and their effects on diving.
You can imagine our surprise when we found out Eric was suddenly rushed into the hospital to have 5-way bypass surgery. Luckily, he came through with flying colors and we have been covering his story and progression back to diving over the last few months on ScubaRadio. Little did I know his story was soon to become mine.
I started experiencing heart burn and upset stomach issues a little over a year ago. When they first appeared, I was concerned and scheduled an appointment with my family doctor. After going over the symptoms, the prognosis was extra strength heart burn. A couple weeks' worth of prescription strength heart burn pills should calm things down. Sure enough, that appeared to do the trick and symptoms subsided.
I had an uncle who passed away from a heart attack about the age I am now and have monitored my cholesterol from a very young age. I'm actually a participant in one of the oldest studies on cholesterol that began where I grew up in Cincinnati Ohio. So this has always been on my mind and I was very relieved it wasn't anything serious.
All was good until March when the symptoms returned. Same type, but I was noticing less connection to what I had eaten for dinner. I went to the doctor and got back on the prescription. He had said this could be a recurring thing. However, over the next month, the pills were still not knocking things back to normal. I started feeling a slight numbness in my left elbow, more sweating after just a mild walk, more pronounced heart burn. I was saying to myself, I know this isn't a heart attack, but this heartburn is ridiculous. These episodes would not last very long and I would just power right through in a few minutes.
Of course, these are classic symptoms of a potential a heart attack/stroke. I knew it, but had got caught in the current of denial. I share my story so you don't get swept up as well. (and should at least make for a good show or two 😉 )
So after another consultation with the family doctor, we set up an EKG with a cardiologist. Even with the additional symptoms, the belief is it's still related to some type stomach/heart burn issue. The next step would be to run a scope down the throat and take a look around in the stomach. It's recommended to get an EKG before anyway, so we'll rule out any heart issues in the process.
I just scheduled these appointments as soon as convenient. No rush. The symptoms were not consistent. Couple times a week maybe. After my first consultation with the cardiologist and the discussion of my family history, she recommended a stress test and electro cardiogram. She felt it was more likely stomach related as well. We will hopefully just rule out anything else and my mind was once again at ease.
The EKG was this past Thursday and after say 5 minutes on the treadmill, I mentioned the stomach was starting to stir. As the techs' eyes stared at the monitors and the cardiologist came in from another monitoring room, I knew a life changing moment was upon me. They stopped the treadmill and sat me down on the table. As the cardiologists looked over her data and clipboard, I stared blankly at the floor. It wasn't a long period at all, but definitely one of those low points when life gives you a swift kick in the balls.
I still managed some optimism when she approached and said, “Well, your EKG was positive.” I replied with, “That's good thing, right?” and gave her my classic thumbs up. (It was worth a shot)
This only confirms there might be something going on with the heart, like a potential blockage. A test where they inject die into your blood and look at the resulting X-ray is the only way to know for sure. Luckily, she is able to pull some strings and get me into a specialist the next day. I won't have to sit through the weekend wondering what's up. Not to mention, how this might affect my plans to leave for the Maldives in 5 days.
Once again, I have an idea of what's coming because of covering Eric‘s story on ScubaRadio. They do the test. Look for a blockage. If one or more is found, often stents can be put in to correct any blood flow issues. Worse case, open heart surgery where they take a blood vessel from somewhere else in the body (most likely the leg) and replace some of your heart's plumbing. Eric was hit with quintuple by-pass….or what I prefer to call a “5-way.”
At this point, it was out of my hands and I was just hoping and praying for the best. My faith kicked in and I'll share more on that in a bit.
They came back and showed me a 99% blockage of a blood vessel on the front of my heart. It could be fixed and there was no damage to my heart. A stent might do the trick, but after more consultation, open heart surgery was the recommendation due to the location of the blockage. I was very lucky since many people experience no symptoms and just fall over dead. So I took it as much of a win as I could and thanked God for a second chance.
I was restricted to the hospital that night and would have my 1-way open heart bypass surgery the next morning. (I didn't even get a 3-way out of it!)
I started to text a few friends and post on Facebook to update everyone accordingly. It helped occupy my mind and the love that came back kind of blew me away. I was already in the mindset of “learn from my journey” as opposed to looking for any real sympathy. However, all the good vides and prayers sent my way were appreciated and gave me the strength to stay positive through this crazy adventure.
I know it may not appear so on ScubaRadio, but I am a spiritual guy deep down. I'm pretty confident God has had a dive plan for me for some time. I may not follow it as well as I should, but I keep trying. I believe God gives us the tools to managed the challenges he puts in front of us and doesn't give us anything we can't handle. I have been blessed with more tools than most, which includes an overabundance of family and friends.
So my secret is my faith and twisted sense of humor. No preaching here, just letting you know what works for me. It keeps me positive and moving forward.
It also appears to have me recovering from this latest challenge at a remarkable rate. Five days ago I had open heart surgery and I'm back to work without missing a beat! (sorry, it was just too easy 😉 )
So that's my story for now. I'm sure more challenges lie ahead, but getting through this one has definitely reaffirmed my appreciation of all the good things in life. Like getting back to diving in 2-3 months!
I thank you for your support and hope you laugh, learn and love being a part our virtual dive next time on ScubaRadio!
I'd rather be diving,
Greg The Divemaster