I have the helm: over and out

Again, this post is overdue. I am now out of Phase 3 Cardiac Rehabilitation and essentially in charge myself of whatsoever is to be my continuing odyssey. It’s thus time to mothball this blog and to move back to “real life” and “living” rather than reflecting upon the CHD Odyssey I’ve been on. Before I do that however there are a few reflections that I must make/record and a few resolutions that I should commit to and then it’s really up to me!

So the first point is to praise to the highest level possible the work and programme of the Cardiac Rehab Team at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff (The Heath … as it’s known to the locals). The team of cardiac nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, with inputs from others – such as pharmacists  have developed a progressive programme of activities that meet the needs of the full range of those who have encountered and been challenged by CHD – from surgery to stents; of all levels of fitness, age and understanding. A terrific success and one worth celebrating loudly. Well done and thanks a million!

For a six week (12 sessions) period, extended because of a gap over Christmas and then cancellations due to the snow, I attended the 2 hour programme of talks, exercise and relaxation. A group that started small – about 6 of us,  grew to one in excess of 12 at times. You could see the confidence grow in the people that left the group, having passed through the programme; and then for me towards the end, see the apprehension (and scepticism in some cases) of those joining the programme. The objectives of the programme were made crystal clear to everyone – you need to know your body; how to exercise – healthily; how your heart works and how to “listen” to it and adjust your exercise accordingly; what you can do to “help” it and yourself – in diet, stress reduction and relaxation; and finally, and most importantly, prepare you for life without their support.

So in this second half of the programme (the first half is reported here) we had a discussion (with a video) on sex and CHD – focussing on the psychological as well as the physical, and the way your partner may be feeling about your condition as well; we had more discussions about stress and how to reduce it; and most valuable for me – we had some elementary biology of the heart.

Everyone to whom I tell this is amazed at my ignorance of the heart and how it works. I stopped doing biology in school at the age of 14. [Even managed to miss sex education by switching schools so had to have a crash course (a book and a 20mins chat) on that from the biology teacher – who just happened to be a monk (but that’s another story)]. So … I imagined the heart to be much bigger than it actually is; I didn’t know really what it did or how it worked; I didn’t know the difference between an artery and a vein (seriously … I didn’t) and I had no real idea what the surgeons had done in the by-pass procedure. But now I do, thanks to my cardiologist (NG) too, and for that I’m really grateful. I’m actually amazed in fact – this amazement increased by the reporting from a close friend and colleague who had been privileged  to be able to be present during a heart by-pass operation. I won’t record her descriptions here, but I think the most telling thing she said was “how relaxed it all was” – that really makes me feel good because up to that point I had imagined feverish activity verging on panic as the team battled to do the plumbing that would make my heart work better. How wrong could I be!!

So I know how my heart works; I know I have to exercise it, but not too much – I have learnt how to recognise “moderate activity” by listening to my heart rate and I have begun to get much fitter – in body if not in mind at least … but we’ll come to that later. The exercise programme in the second half of the programme introduced me to the rowing machine, the treadmill, the cross-trainer and the exercise bike. All pieces of equipment that I’d been scared of showing my ignorance of before … if I’d thought it worthwhile going into a gym. Of course, being the rather competitive type I am, I pushed myself on occasion further than I should have – but that was good in itself as it re-enforced  the knowledge of what “moderate activity” should be. I did get fitter … much fitter, and am now committed to staying in the Cardiac Rehab programme in Phase 4 as an adjunct to the hill-walking and cycling which will continue to be my main form of exercise. So tomorrow I attend the local leisure centre for an induction into the gym equipment – I can’t attend the classes as they occur during the working day … but someday, maybe ?? I hope I’ll be disciplined enough to go to the gym twice a week (Resolution One) and to augment this with walking to work (Resolution Two) – once the weather improves.

So we come to my mind and my mental state. What this episode and odyssey has told me is so comprehensive and weird that I’ve been told by my nearest and dearest that I’m almost a different person. I doubt that, but I have learnt a few things which I’ll (perhaps rather foolishly) share with you.

Firstly, I’ve learnt how much I need to feel in control of myself: not in control, but in control of myself – there is a difference. When I’m not, I get anxious. I really had never recognised that and would not have described myself as an anxious person, now I do and that’s scary and the most important thing that faces me now is to find ways of reducing that anxiety state (Resolution Three).

Then there’s reflection and recording. I’d already discovered amazingly after 40+ years of zero-reflection that this was something I should work on; and this, and my other blogs are therapeutic in that sense. They are also practically very supportive as a means of capturing ideas, feelings and observations that previously had been soon forgotten. Reflective thought takes a lot of practice; I’m just at the beginning  of the journey – but I have taken the first steps and I must continue on that journey (Resolution Four).

Thirdly, there’s depression and stress. I would never have thought that I was someone who got depressed, or who got stressed, but I do both … and I believe (for me) that they’re inter-related and are usually the result of me not recognising one state or the other. So I must listen to my mind (as well as my body) and behave accordingly. As another very close friend and colleague has just said to me, I must “focus on the fun things” – that I intend to do (Resolution Five).

What I don’t of course know is whether experiencing any of these feelings is unique to me, or whether similar feelings are shared by others who’ve gone through a CHD episode. I won’t ever know – unless I get some comments on this blog. However I do feel it was important to share them just in case my observations have a resonance with someone else going through the same kind of journey of “self-denial”.

So now I’m back in work. I’m on a return-to-work programme that’s supposed to finish this week, so next week (if I wasn’t away for most of the time) I’d be be back full-time. I can’t deny that I get tired. I must admit (like the admission of my competitive approach to exercise) that I’m probably “doing too much” against all the advice that many family, friends and colleagues are giving me. [I probably do need protection against myself but it’s all about convincing myself that I’m back to “normal” {joke}.] So, I suppose Resolution Six is to slow down a bit, try and relax, not take a rucksack of conscience reading home with me that never gets read, put the laptop aside (occasionally) and recognise that I’ll never be in control of myself … as long as I’ve got lots of good family and friends around me, because they deserve a “slice of the action as well” and I need to let them into my life and I need to involve myself more in theirs.

Here ends The #hospitweet Blog.

5 Replies to “I have the helm: over and out”

  1. Interesting article dad, I would like to hear of your progress on keeping to your resolutions … I haven’t heard much to date and didn’t even realise that you had made some. How are you going?? Be Honest!!

    This article is interesting as it is the first time that I think I have seen you reflect so personally and honestly. You are a very good listener and have listened to my reflections but this is not the same as doing it yourself. I am proud that as you enter your “third age” you are starting to tackle some of the tricky questions.

    The paragraphs preceeding Resolution 3 and 5 are very interesting. You have always been a little bit of a “control freak” so to hear that you get anxious when things are outside your control is not surprising.

    Unfortunately, I think this is something that I think you passed on to me although it materialises in a different way for me.

    I am sorry that I wasn’t able to support you in person during 2009. I know that my approach to your operation was a little morbid but I am glad that I managed to say some of the things I did. It kind of cleaned the slate and set us up for a more adult relationship.

    Anyway, I just wanted to write something on your blog to support you in your brave new world. I am extremely glad that you have come through the operation well and that you are looking forward.

    I am very proud of you and very proud to be your son.


    1. Must come back on your use of the term “control freak”. That I’m not! If you read what I wrote you’ll hopefully note that what I said was that I get anxious when I lose control of things that I SHOULD have the ability to control. As far as I’m concerned (and of course it’s not a scientific term) a control freak wants to control everything – me I’m happy enough to cede control to someone else … it does cause me some anxiety however if they don’t assign the same degree of importance to it as I did! So perhaps there’s a “latent” control freak in me!

      Thanks for the comments. Will continue to report on the Progress of the Resolutions … but in another place.

      1. I will allow you to win (and control) this discussion. It is your blog after all.

        Where will the progress reports be posted?

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