15 June 2008

Matters of the heart - taking stock

Not too long ago I was one of those people who took my health for granted. Even though there was a history of coronary artery disease in my family, I firmly believed that it would not happen to me and like so many people around the world I had no sense of my own mortality.

How wrong I was.

Today, seven months ago I found myself lying in a general ward, waiting for a by-pass operation that was scheduled for the next day. Two days previously I had suffered a heart attack and had been through all kinds of tests that proved it was not a case of severe indigestion, which is what I was hoping it was. The angiogram showed four bad blockages, which the cardiologist said a stent would not be able to sort out. The conclusion - I needed four by-passes - the sooner the better. One positive aspect though, was that my heart had not been damaged, as the veins from the good side had provided collateral support to the side that had been "attacked".

Though I had been put in a general ward to get a break from all the hustle and bustle of the cardiac care unit there was non stop traffic to my bed side all day long, as all the role players came to give me comfort and advice and explain what was going to happen to me. The cardiothoracic surgeon, the cardiologist, the psychologist, the anaesthetist, the PR person all came around. And then of course there were the mandatory blood samples; my legs and chest were shaved and I had to take several showers with special soap that was said to kill any of the super germs that hang around these days.

I was totally at peace with what was going to happen. It was after all a routine operation and many people I know had been through it.

The scars of my folly. They are a daily reminder for me to "behave".

All that I want to say about the operation is that nothing that had been said to me, had prepared me for what was to come. It will go down as the darkest and most miserable period of my life and an experience I have no intention of repeating. My advise to anyone who has high cholesterol levels, is don't wait to sort out the problem with a by-pass.

The sad part is that it was totally avoidable. I had experienced all the signs of a threatening heart attack, but had ignored them. I had given up exercise, because I was so "unfit" that I got chest pains if I went for a brisk walk. After the slightest exertion, I would break into a sweat. I had continued to eat fatty foods and take aways. Processed foods, with all their trans fatty acids were my favourites. I ignored the advise I was given to have a check up. I was a like a ticking time bomb - it was only a matter of time that it was going to explode.

The scar from the removal of the vein that was used for the by-pass.

So it has happened and I have been given a second chance. There is no point in dwelling on the past - I cannot change what has happened, but I can influence the future. Why be miserable?

I made a vow in hospital that I have no intention of going back for seconds. This has meant a complete lifestyle change. I am now on chronic medication, which I have to take daily.

The cover of the book given to me at the hospital. This was my survival manual. I still refer to it from time to time.

Where my diet is concerned I am a total fanatic. I go way beyond what has been recommended in all the heart friendly diets. My basic starting point is if I do not like the look of any food, I will not eat it it - so I might go hungry for a short while, but that is not the end of the world.

  • I have cut all dairy products from my diet - and I mean all. Do I miss any of it? Absolutely not.
  • Soya is a very good substitute for milk. We get a good quality soya milk and soya yogurt.
  • Fatty foods are an absolute no-no.
  • Red meat happens about once a week, but then it must be lean.
  • Saturated fats have been ditched for polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Let's just say we only use olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil or grape seed oil.
  • For breakfast we have home made muesli, which includes raw oats and a selection of nuts and raw chocolate powder.
  • I do not drink coffee any more, but stick to herbal teas, such as rooibos, honey bush and comfrey tea.
  • Eggs no longer feature on my menu.
  • I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and nuts.
  • Processed meats (polony and sausages) and commercially baked foods (pies and confectionery) and take-ways are avoided like the plague.
  • I read the labels of all food products when shopping and if I do not like what I see, it goes back on the shelf. I know I have gone totally over board, but that does not worry me. I am quite happy.

Suzi-k and I realised that we were not getting enough exercise, so we bought an exercise bike four weeks ago. I have been slowly building up my time on it - the poor old knees initially took a pounding, but they have now accepted that this is a part of their new routine.

I do not know what a good work out should be, but whatever exercise I am doing now, is a lot more than I did previously. I try to burn at least 150 calories at the start of each day, but also have at least two sessions where I burn 350 calories. I do think that I am getting ready to pass on to the next level.

The console of the famous exercise bike.

What I have found is that since starting with regular exercise my energy levels have increased. Let me hasten to add that exercising daily requires a lot of self discipline on my part, but so far so good.

New decor items in the living room.

But that is not all ........ I also bought some weights to start toning up my arms. The strapping young man in the exercise equipment shop suggested 9 kg weights - I settled for 4 kgs, but have since bought a 2 kg set for warming up. I will probably have to get some professional advice on how best to use these, but for now am following the same routines Suzi-k does in her water aerobics.

Some days 4 kgs was too much for me so I also got some 2 kg weights.

In the last 7 months I have dropped from 105 kgs (231 lbs) to 93 kgs (205 lbs). I seem to be hovering around the 93 kg mark, but hopefully with the exercise the downward slide will continue, until I reach my target.

The waistline has shrunk by 9 cms (3.5 inches). I can now fit into my old 34 trousers. At my peak I went up to a size 38.

Looks like my belt has growth rings. I am now using the pre-growth ring hole.

What has taking stock of my life seven months after my heart attack shown me:

  • I now no longer take my health for granted.
  • My new life style is not a flash in the pan, but has become part of who I am.
  • Exercise is not a chore, but is now an essential part of my daily life.
  • I do not compromise on what I eat. In fact I am a total pain in the rear end when it comes to dietary matters, but no one is complaining.
  • There is no point in being miserable about what I should have done - that wont change a thing. I am thankful that I have been given a second chance and will make the most of it.


Swubird said...


Good for you. many people who get bypass surgery go right back to their old habits. You have broken your old ways. My hat's definitely off to you.

I have been preaching fruits and vegetables for two decades now and I'm continually surprised with all of the resistance I get - even from family members. Meets, eggs, sweets, and dairy products are still on their list of good eating. Many people just don't want to believe in healthy foods.

What made a believer out of me was a book I read titled Fit For Life. I think the author was a man named Diamond. It's an excellent book and explains exactly how and why to eat fruits and fresh vegetables. It changed my life from tired, lazy and run down, to alert and high energy.

Anyway, congratulations on your new life.

Live long and prosper.

Max-e said...

Thanks for those comments Swubird. Great that you were able to change without going through any trauma.
You are so right about the fact that many people just don't get it.
I have met a few people who have had by-passes who are back to their old eating habits. One guy has since had a stent put in and his attitude is that you cannot deprive youself of all the good things. Well I don't regard that as deprivation, because I eat everything I want to eat - as long as it is healthy - and its all good.

Old Wom Tigley said...

Excellent excellent post... my weight is my bug bear.. it is up and down depending on how my heart is beating now.. but the good news is ''it is beating.:O)...
I admire your will power max and as I have always dome.. I wish you all the best my friend.


Max-e said...

Tom, thanks for that. What I have learnt is that there is no quick fix. After abusing my body for 55 years it is going to take a quite a few months to get to where I want to be and then it will never be 100%. But it will at least be better than it was.
And Tom, I am not sure if it is will power or fear :)

Suzi-k said...

well i'm quite happy to put up with your pain-in-the-butt fanatical eating (and even do the same, up to a point!!) if it means you get to stay around for many years to come!

Max-e said...

Thanks Suzi-k. You are the other reason I am so fanatical. I wouldn't want to put you through this again :)

Old Wom Tigley said...

Just had news tonight that my mate 'Simmy' ex-body builder and body guard and still superfit collasped last week and today had a quad by-pass at the same hospital as me. He as always been a fit strong lad, he did however like a drink at the weekends and the odd take away. He's 49. His father died of an heart attack and they think it could well be linked to a faulty gene.... My family as the same problem so I'm told. we produce a very sticky form of cholesterol. My Dad and oldest brother were both in there early 50s whenthey died.. My sister isnow nearing 60 and my other brother is 55.. these are now setting the bench mark. I'm 50 next month.

Max-e said...

Tom sorry hear that.
I have heard of fit young guys in their twenties having heart attacks and bypasses, as a result of cholesterol problems.
My family also has a genetic predisposition towards high cholesterol. Both grandfathers had heart attacks. One died as a result of a heart attack. My father had a heart attack and died in his 70's from heart failure. My mother had a quintiple by-pass but died from cancer. Her heart was, however, incredibly strong. My older sister has high cholesterol and is receiving treatment.
I guess when it is in the genes, you just have to take the precautions.
I am on Crestor for the cholesterol and half an asprin daily to thin the blood and an omega 3 capsule daily.
Suzi-k is on medication for high blood pressure but also has high cholesterol, despite being on the low fat diet with me. She had a blood test last Friday, so that we can get her on the right medication.
What I am fanatical about is sticking to a low fat, low cholesterol diet.
Once it hits you all you can do is take the precautions and if you do it is controllable.
I have also started to read a book called Optimum Nutrition Made Easy by Patrick Holford. He is a British nutritional expert, so the book should be readily avaiable in the UK. I highly remommend it.

Momma said...

I'm so glad you have taken matters in hand after having that traumatic surgery. My mom was never the same after hers. It is hard to come back from, isn't it? I wish that my father-in-law had taken care of his health. He died of a massive heart attack at my age (46) and missed out on spending more time with his wonderful grandchildren.

When my markers started going off the charts, my doctors were stern with me, and I listened. I weigh 60 lbs less today and really watch what I eat. I wish I could exercise more, but with a spinal problem, that makes it tough. Still, I need to do what you're doing!

Peace and continued health - D

Bob Johnson said...

I get faint at the talk of anything medical, thanks for the heads up, I must leave now before I faint,lol

sonia a.m. said...

I am glad for you Max! Great post and important advises to all of us! Cheers!

I am also very concerned about my eating habits. I did not eat red meat for more than 10 years now, I only eat chicken and fish. I did not eat sausages either and I cook with canola oil. But I love milk (skim milk) and all kind of cheese... but I choose to eat the minus fat cheese. But I have a bad habit... I love sweets, sugar! I know I must to quit this habit soon... I copied and pasted your list of good food habits, for purpose to read it frequently and remember the good habits! Thank you so much for sharing!

Max-e said...

Momma it looks like you have made tremendous strides with your approach.
I am not sure what the cause of spinal problems are, but I have back problems and was given some exercises by my physiotherapist, which were not at all strenuous, but were good for strengthening the muscles to give the back support.

Max-e said...

Bob thanks for commenting before you fainted :)
All I say if you have high cholesterol and can avoid this....... then make every effort to do so.

Max-e said...

Sonia, thanks for commenting.
Don't necessarily follow my eating habits, because I am an extremist.
For example, the dieticians say that you should limit eggs to three a week - I cut them out altogether.
Where milk is concerned low or no fat should be fine. I am also lactose intolerant which is why I avoid milk products. I was eating goats milk cheese, but decided it was concentrated fat so have cut it out as well.
What I will do is copy and post the diet section from my book, to give you a more balanced view.

LiD said...

That is such an inspiring post Max-e. Thanks for sharing how you have turned this frighteningly common experience into a positive life change. I needed a reminder to stop thinking that getting overweight was the only bad thing that could happen if I eat the wrong foods.

sonia a.m. said...

Hi Max, great idea to copy and post the diet section from your book! Thank you!

The name of the author of the book Fit for Life (comment by Swubird) is Harvey Diamond.

Thanks for your visiting and nice comment on my blog!

Mental P Mama said...

What an inspiration...I am going to have my husband read this. Keep up the good work.

Anna said...

Wow Max-e, hard to believe that 7 months just passed like that, I remember when you were going under the surgery. I am so glad that everything worked out for you, and you are definitely on the right track, glad to hear that. Anna :)