Coming to Grips with My New Reality Following My Angioplasty


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Although India has been quite an emotional roller coaster during our last nine months, I never expected it to include a trip to an emergency room and four day stay in ICU.

I have been concerned for some time about pressure around my lower chest, shortness of breath, tiredness, even some hoarseness. So back in late June I visited a doctor who sent me for a series of tests.

Reports, here in India, are not sent to doctors but to a “report department” where they are given directly to patients. So as I went in for various tests, throughout the week, I’d pick up previous reports. I picked up my CT heart scan on a late Thursday afternoon and read it as I sat in a security booth while waiting for my Uber. It was actually quite alarming to read about a blockage and “severe” narrowing of my LAD artery. My wife was at home sick and so I was alone, except for a couple of Hindi-speaking security guards sitting nearby doing everything possible, giving up a chair and turning the fan in my direction, to make sure I was as comfortable. Little did they know.

My wife and I continued our normal work routine during the next few days. I wouldn’t see a cardiologist until Tuesday. However, on Saturday night I shared my news with our mission president and his wife and they immediately sent a scan of my report to a doctor in Hong Kong. The doctor was alarmed when he saw my CT scan early Sunday morning. He called and told me that people with my atypical symptoms can have a heart attack immediately with no warning and, worse yet, it would kill me instantly. He also told me that the location of my blockage, the fact that was a mixture of soft and hard plaque, and at the opening of the LAD (main artery which supplies 60% of the blood to the heart) not only puts me at greater risk but can also be a very tricky surgery, not something all cardiologists can do. Furthermore, he told me it might not be amenable to a stent but I need open heart surgery. At first he told us to start packing for home but then, after getting a second opinion, said I should not travel but recommended I go to an emergency room immediately to make sure I was stable.

Needless to say, I got off the phone feeling anxious. Not only was I concerned about my heart but stressed that I was 12,500 miles from family and friends and unsure of my medical care. But I had little choice. I got a blessing of health and comfort from our mission president and he and his wife accompanied us to the emergency room in MAX Super Specialty Hospital in New Delhi. I was given an EKG, blood tests and eco-cardiogram. The good news was that everything was in the normal range. Not surprisingly, they admitted me to the hospital and recommended I receive an emergency angioplasty the following day. I actually began to feel some peace as I accepted this option.

Well, I had the procedure done on Monday the 4th of July around noon. It took a while—about 40 minutes for the angiogram, and then another 30 to 40 minutes to place not one but two stents due to the size of the blockage and also because it was near an arterial branch.

The procedure was fascinating. I was awake, as are all patients, and could watch what was happening on a few computer screens as the doctor sent a catheter up my arm and into my heart. The room was filled with 6 or 7 medical staff doing different jobs from moving the scanner around my chest to prepping the lines and stents, to monitoring my progress. I’m not sure what all, but know I was very grateful for the entire team of people helping save my life. I actually felt confident that the process was going to be a success, little anxiety during this time.

I came out of the procedure and was suddenly surrounded by 5 or 6 nurses. Nope, there were no high fives. This was not a congratulatory celebration. Apparently my heart rate had dropped to under 40 beats per minute. Once I realized their alarm my blood pressure went up a few notches and a nurse turned the monitor so I couldn’t see it. Another nurse turned the machine off and on a few times wondering if the problem was the monitor. Another held my wrist for a long time doing her own count. Gradually, things began to stabilize and after 45 minutes or so they decided I was okay and took me to my room. By now I was a little on edge and watched my pulse which hovered around 42-45 until I’d do something like sit up to make sure I was still alive. Sure enough, it would then go up into the 50s. I felt like I had to keep moving to make sure I wouldn’t “expire” as they say here in India.

This was my first hospital stay and much like I would have expected—being hooked up on monitors, receiving regular doses of medication, being bored at times as I wanted to get up and be active, anticipating each meal, waiting for the nights to end, and watching the comings and goings of staff and patients. The best part was getting to know so many of the staff. I would say it was a novelty to have an American under their care so they were interested in learning about me and I was interested in learning about them. They treated me exceptionally well. I stayed for two more days and was released with a number of medications although free of all the probes and pic-lines. Hooray!

I’ve now been out of the hospital for more than a month and have continued to have some challenges. I have lacked stamina and suffered from some shortness of breath and hoarseness. My doctor had me take a few more tests to rule out a few different cancers. Fortunately, those results were negative. So I visited my cardiologist who thinks I’m feeling side effects from my medication and changed them completely. It has now been close to two weeks and I am feeling better although still sometimes feel chest discomfort and lack of stamina.

The toughest part of this last several weeks is being so unsure of my health and new “normal.” What will I be able to do and not do in the future? I have been very physically active throughout my life and particularly in the past four or five years—running mountain trails, hiking, skiing, and, of course, playing chase with my grandkids.  Play for me is physical and I don’t want to give this up. And yet, I don’t know the limits of what I will be able to do or not do in the future. This has been a scary and depressing thought. It is a real possibility that I’ll have to give up a lot of what I’ve done in the past. Maybe not give it up but certainly slow down, back off.

So I’ve been doing some grieving. Underneath my worry and depression is a deeper sadness about an emerging reality which I cannot simply will away. As I authentically face it (physical limitations…and my mortality) I have, on a few occasions, shed some tears. It feels good to cry. Although it doesn’t change the nature of things it does help me accept and make room for a new, albeit still uncertain, reality.

You who have followed me for long know that I teach about the three Rs—reality + responsibility = results. I’m doing my best to accept a new reality and, with support from my wife, take responsibility by making good choices—doing regular yoga, practicing deep breathing, improving my diet, accepting my genetics, challenging negative thinking, and slowing the pace of our day-to-day life.

I know I’m not alone. Millions of people have had stents placed in their hearts (including my brother some 18 months ago). Millions more have faced even more serious health and life challenges. Being human means dealing with hard things.

And so life goes on…as well as up and down…always changing, always giving me new opportunities to practice living from faith rather than doubt, love not fear. Mostly, I am learning to slow down and be present at this moment—the only moment that is real, the only moment I am alive, the only moment in which I can make choices. It is a nice way to live and well-spring of appreciation and gratitude.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

28 responses to “Coming to Grips with My New Reality Following My Angioplasty”

  1. Joe Merino says:

    Roger:
    I am so glad that you are progressing. What an experience! When Julie had her first open heart surgery, I wrote about my experiences during that time she was in a critical care unit for 2 weeks in SLC. Thank you for sharing. Much of what you expressed is similar to what I went through during Julie’s last illness before her passing. These days I am grateful for each day; I live by faith more than ever; and I know that some day I will move on to another reality and make room for the next generation. Thanks again for teaching me about life through your experiences. Are you home or still in India?

  2. Judy Sabah says:

    Thank you for sharing this experience Roger. I’ve had challenges with energy and stamina over the last 5 years, though not from the same situation as you. I’ve found that increasing my water intake dramatically has been very helpful. If there is anything I can do to support you please be in touch with me. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Sending you much love.

  3. Carroll says:

    My goodness, Roger! What a tale. I’m so glad you got the procedure you needed and are doing (reasonably) well.

    The last part of your post reminded me of what Gary and I have been dealing with for 18 years as Parkinson’s does it’s dirty work. We’ve discovered a repeating cycle. It goes like this:

    Both doing fine living with adjustments necessary because of PD. Can last weeks or months or years.
    Then a drop in capacity.
    Grieving losses of capacity and dreams.
    Coming to grips with a “new normal.”
    Making adjustments to how we do things and/or accepting the loss of certain things that he/we can’t do anymore.
    Seeking and finding joy in the new normal–until we’re hit with another unavoidable drop.
    Recognizing we’re in another cycle. Taking the steps necessary to adjust and discover happiness in where we are.

    I think one of the important things I’ve learned over the years is that we absolutely are not unique in experiencing this cycle. There’s nothing “special” about Parkinson’s. Almost everyone faces such challenges as we age. Except perhaps Gary’s 99-year-old girlfriend, who just renewed her driver’s license. She can drive until she’s 105!

    All this is just to say that I understand something of what it’s like to experience the human fears, grief and letting go of dreams, while at the same time trying to find a way forward that keeps in place the essence of who we are as individuals and as marriage partners.

    These days I’m constantly giving everything to God, surrendering to what is, and trusting in his love. My guess is that you and your dear wife are doing the same.

    Blessings
    Carroll

    • Roger Allen says:

      Hi Carroll. Thank you for sharing your experience with Parkinsons. My heart goes out to you and Gary as you continue to adjust to drops in physical capacity and dreams. These are such private, personal experiences and we sometimes feel alone. Yet they are also profound experiences which bring meaning to our lives, particularly as we (as you say) learn to surrender to God and his love. I wish you well as you continue your journey. Roger

  4. Kayla Glover says:

    Blessings to you Brother Allen. You are in our prayers…Having changed so many lives for the better through your patient and kind teachings, I know our Father has you in the palm of his hands.

  5. Harold Cameron says:

    So happy you didn’t expire. I really enjoy reading your material Roger, and hope to continue reading many more articles of yours.
    I really picked up on the: Living from faith, and being present at this moment.
    Thanks so Much for the reminders.
    Harold

  6. Sherry Cutting says:

    Dear Brother and Sister Allen, What a remarkable mission you are having. My husband and I served in South India nearly ten years ago and understand the story you have written. We can visualize it, taste it, smell it, hear it and almost touch it. Our prayers for your best reality go with you.

    Thank you for your service and for writing about your mission in a way that few have been able. Senior missions sure change us in unexpected ways! Savor your experience. It might just be one of the most cherished of your life.

  7. Christine Nordstrom says:

    Roger;

    Read your article regarding your recent health issues. Know that I am praying for full recovery and God’s blessings for you and your family. C:)

  8. Cristina says:

    Lots to think about. Sure grateful for those angels round about us. Certainly grateful that you are on the mend and able to share your experience.

  9. Roger Mortensen says:

    Hi Roger,

    I cold hear your voice in your written words. Truly inspired by your courage to face your challenges head on. So grateful that you are able to so artfully and openly convey your thoughts and feelings so that us mere mortals may learn with you.

    God bless you brother as I am blessed by reading your words.

    Love to you and Judy,

    Roger Mortensen

  10. Carrie says:

    Dear Roger,

    I’ve followed you for so long I feel I know you. So sorry to hear the health problems you have had and wishing you a full, speedy recovery and years of healthy happy times ahead xxxxx
    Carrie

  11. Deb Atkinson says:

    Oh, my heavens! What an ordeal! I’m so glad to hear you have pulled through. Thank you for such a terrific example of how we need to face our challenges. Best wishes to you for a joyful recovery and to you and your wife to complete your mission with enthusiasm and vigor!

  12. John Chancellor says:

    Roger,
    So sorry to hear about all you had to go through but so happy that there is – at least for now – a good outcome.

    Hoping you continue on the path to a full recovery.

    Will this change your commitment to staying in India?

    John

  13. Jasen says:

    Love you Roger, keep going sir, keep going.

  14. Chuck Welch says:

    Roger, may God continue to bless you through the continuation this life’s mission. I am one of many who have had their life’s choices greatly influenced by your efforts. Thank you.

  15. Jan Mayer says:

    It seems that one of life’s keywords is “Adjust.” There’s nothing so consistent as getting used to the next thing!
    We are sorry to hear of this challenge for you but we also know that you and Judy will endure it well.
    We are grateful for your compassion and example to our family. You hold a dear place in our hearts!
    You may not have as much stamina as usual, but I have no doubt that your determination and mental energy will increase and you will be blessed in different ways.
    Love to you, Roger!

  16. Lisa Gilbert says:

    Hi Roger!
    So sorry to here about your health issues! Very concerning as we have the genetics from our Allen family!

    I remember when my dad Doyle Allen had his own heart issues too. He had an angioplasty. I was there when he was going through and watching his health deteriorated before my eyes!
    We all have issues we are dealing with. For me I have the neuropathy in my feet, legs and hands! Along with many mini strokes I suffer with like grandma Allen had.

    Now I am on my health and fitness path and trying to do all the right things! Daily yoga, learning to breath the right way. Did you know that half the population doesn’t know how to breath right! Walking , swimming trying to keep up with the grand kids!
    They are the best blessing ever! I have five!

    I try my very best to enjoy each day at the fullest with my family, grand kids and close friends!
    I wish you the very best and recover! Enjoy your life while we are here on this earth!

    Time is flying by so fast! I don’t take anything for granted and try to have a positive attitude on each endeavor!

    May Heavenly Father watch over you and your family!

    Sincerely your cousin

    Tell Paul hi for me!

    Lisa Gilbert. (Allen)

  17. Jenny johnson says:

    Please know you remain in our thoughts and prayers! Thanks for sharing your insights and vulnerability. Love to you both. The johnsons

  18. Fred Zirkle says:

    Roger, you make me think of your dad and his health challenges. Tough but tender men! Carry on. Thanks for the update.

  19. Sandy Hemming says:

    Roger,
    So glad you are hanging in there, so to say, I pray you will continue to heal and get back to the activities that you love,
    Sandy

  20. Seth Jenson says:

    Roger, you are such an inspiration. What an ordeal. I’m glad you made it and hope you start feeling better!

  21. Ed King says:

    Brother Allen, Thank you for sharing your experiences. You remind us of the blessings and value of life. It brings us challenges and our challenges strengthen us. We are grateful for your friendship and all your service. From someone who has inherited some challenging coronary genes myself, I’m grateful to be able to put the right foot in front of the left and the left in front of the right. Keep it up! You are remembered daily in our prayers.
    The Kings

  22. James Blaszczak says:

    Thank you for continuing to have an impact on the people around you. The end of your blog is so on point. Live in the moment and through faith and love, not fear.

    Continued well wishes and thanks again for all you have meant to so many peoples lives.

    Jim and Illona

  23. dick mueser says:

    Roger my friend,
    Just a short note to thank you for the love and support during my good times and bad, especially, several years ago, when you showed up at our home unannounced. I had reached bottom at that time,feeling like “checking out”. Your visit was very timely… guess GOD wasn’t ready for me.
    Hoping you have good health. Warmest regards to you and Judy.

  24. Pam says:

    My dear friend,
    I have been thinking of you and praying for you since I heard the news. Time has passed but I wanted you to know my thoughts are still with you and Judy.
    You have taught us through the years of so many life experiences and now you are teaching once again. How blessed I have been to learn from your wisdom and benefit from your heartfelt sharing. Neil and I will always be your greatest fans.
    Love to you,
    Pam

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