Not Exactly the Vacation I Had in Mind…


By: , SparkPeople Blogger

Next week, it will be five years since my weight first dropped below 230 pounds, which is where it hovers most of the time now, give or take 5 pounds. That’s more than 140 pounds below my highest weight ever (I’m not actually sure what that highest weight was, since the scale only went up to 370).

Today’s blog was originally going to be a nice little travelblog about the hiking and camping vacation I had planned for early April, in honor of my official eligibility for membership in that somewhat exclusive club of people who have lost over 100 pounds and kept it off for 5 years.

Unfortunately, though, I’m not going to be taking my camping vacation next week. Instead, I’ll be spending this week in the hospital, getting a bad heart valve replaced. I’d love to report that all my training in psychology and philosophy, and my experience as a life coach are enabling me to cope with this turn of events without much trouble, but that just wouldn’t be the whole story.

First of all, you have to understand that I’m a guy who can’t even stand to watch other people get shots on television. I can barely handle routine blood tests—and only if I keep my eyes closed the whole time. So, the prospect of spending several days getting poked with needles, having tubes installed, and actually getting sliced open is a little…well, I’d rather eat dirt. On a scale of 1 to 10, my general anxiety level is about 14 most of the time. And I can't do much exercise right now, which is my main form of stress management. Not a good combination.

I’ve known about this valve problem for quite a while—ever since I lost enough weight for the doctor to actually hear my heart murmur through his stethoscope—and I suppose I knew this would have to happen eventually. I just figured I had another five or ten years. I’ve been getting annual exams to see how it’s progressing for the past 3 years, and last year, it finally went from “mild” to “moderate” in severity. But when my cardiologist told me a couple weeks ago that it had now reached the borderline between “severe” and “critical”, and that it was time to get it replaced, I was pretty shocked. I didn’t really have any serious symptoms—a little bit of unusual fatigue, and it was getting harder to ride my bike uphill instead of easier, but I could still crank out a pretty speedy 40 mile flat ride and live to tell about it. My first reaction was that there must have been some kind of mistake.

But there wasn't. The doc ordered an angiogram to check out the rest of my heart (which turned out well—no blocked arteries), and then sent me to the surgeon, who put me on the operating room schedule for this week. The good news is that I’ll probably be able to have “minimally invasive” surgery instead of the usual “cut you in half, reach inside, and replace everything” version.

I’ve been trying to feel grateful for that, at least—I hate to think how much worse things would be if I still weighed 400 pounds, or hadn’t made the changes in my diet and exercise that I have. But compared to a camping trip, getting a 5” cut in my chest instead of a 10” one, and a faster recovery, doesn’t really feel like much of a reward, you know what I mean?

And when I’m not feeling angry or frustrated, I’m bouncing back and forth between worries about all the things that could go wrong, how I’m going to cope during the first couple weeks after surgery without putting a big burden on my kid, and panic over what will happen to my weight and my fitness if I can’t do much physical activity for a few months.

I do have my calmer moments, though, when I’m able to remind myself that I’ve got every reason to believe these worst-case scenarios aren’t actually likely to happen, and that I can manage the stuff that’s in my control even if things don’t go ideally. And I know I can also stop trying to manage the things I can’t control, which is really what gets my anxiety cranked up. When I do calm myself down, I’m able to see the progress I’ve made over the past few years in my own sense of self-efficacy, as well as my weight. Not too long ago, just about anything could throw me into that unpleasant state of alternating panic-worry-anger-helplessness--even something as simple as the bagel store downstairs closing an hour early, before I got my daily dessert (I kid you not). Now it takes the prospect of open heart surgery. That’s definitely progress, right?

So, I’m working hard to follow the advice I always give other people about looking for the positive opportunities in difficult situations, and planning ahead to avoid problems. I’m trying to see how far I’ve come in changing the attitudes and habits that make stress hard for me to handle, as well as what I still need to work on. I haven’t had many problems at all with emotional eating this past couple of weeks, which is good. Not being able to do much exercise can make it pretty hard to stay in a good frame of mind sometimes, though. It's pretty clear that I need to come up with some additional ways of managing stress, and also start thinking about how to change my diet and routine so I don't need as much exercise to manage my weight.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know I won’t be around for the next 2-3 weeks here on the blog site, or at SparkPeople. But don’t feel too sorry for me—I figure I can spend at least one week of my convalescence sitting out at the pool here in my apartment complex. This time of year, it’s sunny almost every day, and the average temperature is about 85. I’ll probably be the only guy in town with a tan on his heart surgery scar. It may not be as much fun as sleeping in the dirt, dragging myself up and down steep hills all day, and eating freeze-dried food, but I guess I can live with it.

Now I just need to figure out why it takes heart surgery for me to feel good about sitting around the pool on a nice day. Anyone else have this problem?

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  • 324
    Oh no! I am all about taking a well-deserved day off every now and again!' - 3/1/2012   9:07:38 AM
  • 323
    I see this was a couple of years ago and I now you write all the time for SP, so clearly you have made it through and are back on track! This is a good post for anone facing the possibility of heart surgery. I may copy and paste it into an e-mail for my daughter-in-law's sister (did you follow that?). Thanks for the insights!! - 2/21/2012   8:35:18 PM
  • 322
    A speedy recovery!
    My dad had this surgery 2 years ago and thank G-d he is better than he had been for 15 yrs. Healthy, pink cheeked and a new lease on life. - 2/13/2012   3:04:35 PM
  • 321
    You can do it - you have lots of support here. All the best to you and wishes for a speedy recovery - 2/8/2012   12:44:48 PM
    Best of luck for a quick recovery! - 8/15/2011   5:41:17 PM
  • ALLIB22
    Hope u get better quickly - 8/14/2011   7:38:28 PM
  • YANKS10
    Hi Dean , today i have a 12:45 followup appointment with my cardioligist. a couple of weeks ago i was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation/ flutter. this was a shock to me, i'm not a very heavy guy (181lbs), i'm a 63 year old male my training included 90 to 120 minutes of cardio about 5 days a week. he has cut that down to 60 minutes 5 days a week. needless to say the workouts seem insignificant but i am following doctors orders. i was feeling some what dizzy during and after the old workouts now i feel fine. i was under the impression more is better in this case moderation seems to be working. i hope things worked out for you. - 3/31/2010   12:29:48 PM
  • 317
    Sending hugs to you!

    Hang in there and you will be back up and going again. Then you can start replaning your next vacation soon.

    Enjoy your time off and invite friends or family over and chill..

    Have a great weekend! - 3/26/2010   2:33:43 PM
  • 316
    Thank you for sharing. Very touching - 3/25/2010   9:38:24 PM
  • 315
    Yes, truly allowing yourself complete rest and not needing to do anything... learning to allow that as a regular part of my life has been difficult. To not be productive even on a vacation! Have you tried Tai chi, qigong, yoga? Just concentrating on deep breaths is amazingly good for you - for stress management and I'm sure also for your recovery. All the best and I wish a speedy yet leisurely recovery. - 3/25/2010   10:25:08 AM
  • 314
    It's a year later, I know you've recovered, and all has gone well. Sorry I didn't see this sooner. - 3/25/2010   10:19:59 AM
  • MRE1956
    I've been truly humbled and put in my place by your post, think that I've been stressing for the past two years over my inability to take any kind of vacation due to having to "eat the costs" financially......sigh.....well, never mind that......I'm sorry to hear about your latest health issue and I wish you all the best! - 3/25/2010   4:45:26 AM
    On the positive side, Spark has probably helped bring you to this point, you didn't pass away unexpectedly and you will survive this to live many more years which will no doubt please your son. You note that you may not be able to do much in the period following your operation and I would take exception to that. Most of my family and friends who have had similar such operations are encouraged to almost immediately institute a physical regimen that will further test your mettle. Interestingly, most of my acquaintances made post-operative comments to the effect that they almost immediately notices a big increase in their internal energy and they no longer felt tired all the time. So, you have everything to look forward to once you've passed this hurdle. We wish you the best of luck in quickly coming through your operation. All of the valuable data you've picked up via SPARK should be very helpful in assisting you to a quick recovery. - 5/7/2009   6:04:21 PM
  • 311
    May the LORD lift you and sustain you as your heart heals. It is amazing what doctors can do these days! My dad's heart surgery left us all sitting around with him, holding his hand while he cried. For some reason (according to the docs) sometimes that happens. If you feel like crying, remember it's normal and your loved ones will understand. God bless you with total healing!

    Jesus first!

    .•*´¨ ) ..•*¨) -:¦:-
    (. ;.•.♥ ¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ *†~MellyAnne~†¸.• ♥.•*¨ )
    (. ;.•.♥.•*´¨ ♥.•*¨-:¦:-. ;.•.♥ .;*) - 4/24/2009   11:54:08 PM
  • 310
    Best wishes for you. I don't know if you have had the surgery already or not because it is a few weeks since you wrote this. Either way you are in my prayers and the accomplishments that you have had thus far, the non invasive surgery should be a snap for you. You are strong and determined, just look at your track record. - 4/14/2009   1:16:09 PM
  • 309
    Well, eating dirt does sound easier. Best of luck! - 4/7/2009   9:40:01 AM
  • CYNDY77297
    Glad to hear you're home :o) Praying you recover quickly and that you will "listen" to what the doctor(s) say~~unlike many others of your gender do~~LOL! Be good to yourself during this time of recovery and God bless you with His love, mercy and grace!!

    Blessings - 4/6/2009   10:19:42 PM
  • 307
    I pray the doctor wasn't too hard on you.. AND that the weatherman is letting you have some SUNSHINE on your patio. Probably no swimming this week or going to the gym. Speedy recovery and let us know as soon as you can how you are doing.. Hugs, Vivian - 4/3/2009   10:37:49 AM
  • 306
    Let April be your new beginning. Just like the flowers ! You are in my thoughts and prayers. - 4/1/2009   9:49:36 AM
  • 305
    I wish you a very successful procedure and a fast and complete recovery. - 4/1/2009   1:56:52 AM
  • 304
    I'm sorry I missed this last week, and I'm sure everything went fabulously! My son had heart surgery at 6 weeks old, so I did his stressing for him :), and feel you on this one!
    I am inspired by your blogs on a regular basis, and have to echo the earlier comment about how wonderful it is that you only have one valve that needs to be replaced and no blocked arteries! Congrats!! What a positive, encouraging thought for anyone out there who is overweight with potential heart troubles!!
    I hope you had a few good books to have with you in the hospital!!
    Take care, recuperate well, and start planning that camping trip for later when you can enjoy it and be amazed by how much easier it is to slog up those hills!
    - 3/31/2009   8:54:20 PM
  • 303
    Coach Dean, I think the waiting for something to happen is much worse then dealing with it once it happens. At least that's true for me; years ago a counselor told me I excelled in "anticipatory anxiety". Try saying *that* five times fast! In reading over the comments on this blog, the one I would focus on if I were in your place is what BOSTONROSIEJ wrote about actually feeling much better after the surgery. I have a natural inclination to see the glass as half-empty, but lately I've been re-training myself to start looking again to see if maybe it isn't half-full.

    Best of luck and keep us posted on your recovery! - 3/31/2009   4:37:20 PM
  • 302
    Oh Coach Dean, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways... Thank you for (ahem) always wearing your heart on your sleeve. We all learn so much from each other in this life and your honesty is a beautiful, wonderful thing. Enjoy the sunshine, catch up on your reading and don't forget your sunscreen. You're going to do great.

    Keep us posted! :)
    Lisa - 3/31/2009   3:22:31 PM
  • 301
    Hey Coach Dean,
    Look into Cardiac Rehab after surgery. It will get you back on your feet and exercising again, safer and quicker than you could by yourself!
    Best of luck! - 3/31/2009   2:54:43 PM
  • 300
    Wow - what a great experience!! You have NO blocked arteries, even though you used to be over 100# overweight!!?? Just a leaky valve??!!
    Feel free to enjoy your health, feel superior about such great arteries, excellent strategies to manage your days, and the knowledge that "experts" might have something more to teach you! Good for you for putting yourself in such good Spark'y hands!
    In the meantime - stress . . . A large sense of curiousity may help . . . after all, it IS your body and you ARE the one in the bed . . . Curious about what this test is about, what that exam finds, etc.etc. Curious about rehab after surgery. Curious about strength training after surgery. Curious about what you find confusing. Curious about what makes you mad. Curious . . . .!
    I remember that sometimes a thorough foot or hand massage was tremendously relaxing: non-invasive (important when you're a patient in hospital!), gentle, controllable by you, etc. Try it.
    Cheers - I'm sure you'll do fine and learn at least 3 new things about your life purpose!! All the best. - 3/31/2009   2:16:48 PM
  • 299
    Best of Luck Coach Dean! I hope you have a speedy recovery and that you are already getting back on your feet.

    Take care,
    Kathy - 3/31/2009   10:08:33 AM
  • 298
    Hope all is going good and you are well on your way to recovery.

    Sunny - 3/31/2009   9:15:10 AM
    Hi Dean,
    Best of wishes on your surgery. You are going to be amazed at how incredibly wonderful you feel after the first week or so. As a nurse, I've heard many people say that they feel like they have a whole new lease on life and that they never realized how poorly they felt before the surgery as they've lived like that for so long. Continue the positive attitude and know that we're all with you in thoughts and prayers. - 3/31/2009   8:38:23 AM
  • 296
    Dear Coach Dean,
    You're in my thoughts and prayers. You have been the go-to guy for my motivation and inspiration these past several weeks. Your generosity of heart and spirit has been so important in the small strides I've managed. Time to turn that generosity back in on yourself. Enjoy the silver lining of the week by the pool and you'll be back better than ever. God bless you. - 3/31/2009   5:06:11 AM
  • 295
    Good luck and know my prayers for a speedy recovery are with you. Remember, medical science has made great strides in this sort of surgery and I am sure you will be in good hands. How wonderful that you are getting healthy and that this condition is being dealt with before it turns into something worse. You'll do great and be back to your healthy lifestyle before you know it! ((HUGS)) - 3/30/2009   11:20:44 PM
  • 294
    May God bless you and keep you during this challenging time...get well soon - 3/30/2009   7:37:35 PM
  • 293
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery. You are in my prayers. - 3/30/2009   5:35:24 PM
  • 292
    Adding you to my prayer list - 3/30/2009   4:02:06 PM
  • 291
    We'll be praying for you, bro! "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight" (Prov 3:5-6). God bless you and thanks for sharing. - 3/30/2009   10:04:35 AM
  • 290
    Good for you on what you have accomplished. I wish I had lost weight before my back surgery. Moving would have been so much easier. Good luck on the surgery, and try not to let the needles and tubes intimidate you. You are bigger then they are! LOL - 3/30/2009   10:02:34 AM
  • 289
    Bless you, praying for a speedy recovery!!! Good time to practice visualization. We will miss you. - 3/30/2009   2:03:56 AM
    I've always been known as a worry wart,by my Grandma. I remember her telling me this many times. I don't look at the needles when I get blood work, either. I had to get an MRI earlier this year, I had to take a pill before I went ,and the other one right before getting in that contraption. Only way, that I could have the test done. Yea, I know where you are coming from on all of this. Hopefully, you can keep a control on your meals, like you have been to help not gain an unusually amount of weight. You've come to far to let that happen. I don't know if you like to read, but if you do, it might help if you could get interested in reading a good book for stress relief. I wish I had a perfect solution for stress relief. lol I hope everything goes well for you ,as it should, so you can get back to Spark ,soon. You write very interesting and worthwhile blogs. Everyone needs you. Bless you - 3/29/2009   11:09:18 PM
  • 287
    Thanks heavens you did lose the weight and do so much exercise...and the condition even waited for you to be ready to make this surgery easier on you! Surgical techniques have improved incredibly in recent years, and you'll reap the benefits! And you have the added advantage of knowing some pretty useful tools: TM? Visualization? Stress management techniques are extremely useful during post-op pain and frustration! Hope that this time flies for you and you're soon lounging by your poolside marveling at how much better you feel even then!

    - 3/29/2009   6:16:31 PM
  • 286
    Best wishes for a speedy recovery! - 3/29/2009   1:35:59 PM
  • 285
    Coach Dean, let me add my prayers and best wishes to the hundreds you've seen so far. Keep us posted on your recovery, and try to enjoy your "vacation." - 3/29/2009   12:47:37 PM
  • 284
    Coach Dean, best wishes for a smooth procedure and a thorough recovery! And yes, it took awhile even post cancer ops for me to feel comfortable investing time in passive enjoyment. For some of us, life needs to use a bigger 2x4 to wake us up to the beauty of "still" as opposed to the rewards of "make it happen". But we wouldn't have you any other way, Coach! Take care of yourself, *for* yourself and for those who care about you. - 3/29/2009   12:24:26 PM
  • 283
    Coach Dean--We will be keeping you in our thoughts and prayers as you go through this challenging time of transition. May God keep you & bless you. - 3/29/2009   12:22:34 PM
  • 282
    I hope the surgery will turn out well. Maybe you can do some relaxing things afterwards. :) - 3/29/2009   12:19:11 PM
    Well, at least you'll be asleep. I do hope you feel better. My father had two open-heart surgeries in the last five years, and I had a (comparatively minor) heart attack two years ago (stents, no chest cracking). From what I understand from my dad, after the first week (when the sternum stops hurting and just aches), you'll feel a lot better than before the surgery. I will caution you not to get moving too quickly, but work back up; I jumped right back in because I felt so well, and ended up back in the ER for another angiogram (not fun). When they tell you it takes 12 to 18 months to really recover, they mean it, although most of that is mental.

    I'm pulling for you; I hope everything works out great. - 3/29/2009   10:22:43 AM
  • 280
    Thanks for sharing your story of inspirtation. Good wishes for a very speedy recovery. - 3/29/2009   9:36:09 AM
    I hope all is well with you and that your recovery is swift and you are back at it in a short sure are getting alot of positive encouragement from your fans here at SP.......:) - 3/29/2009   8:59:18 AM
  • 278
    Coach Dean, My prayers and thoughts will be with you as you walk this path. The Lord has promised He will never give us more than we can handle, so if He gave you this, you can handle it. Rest well and be blest! - 3/29/2009   8:47:00 AM
  • 277
    Coach Dean - thank you for being you - for the progress you have made personally and even more for the on-going that you have given me personally. You make me laugh at myself which is a good thing. Recover quickly and enjoy the pool without an ounce of guilt! Blessings over you. - 3/29/2009   8:08:19 AM
  • 276
    Good luck with your surgery and you will do find. The unknown is scary but deep down you have the postive attitude to get though it. My Dad was 82 when he had to have major heart surgery. They did 6 different procedures and it was tough for him and a long road to recovery. But that was two years ago and for his age he is doing good. He still rides his stationary bike every day. Again good luck and remember a day at a time. - 3/29/2009   7:54:20 AM
    Very best wishes to Coach Dean. - 3/29/2009   4:47:50 AM

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