In my work in IT, every so often, my technical guys receive notices from software service providers along the lines of…
We have detected a software vulnerability on version “blah-blah” of *name of software* that could affect your data and system… This vulnerability can only be exploited from an IP address blah-blah… To address this risk, you will need to apply the following patches to your installation blah-blah…and assure continued functional operation blah-blah…”
This sets a frenzy of action in the IT shop as engineers apply the said patches – often, while the systems are running.
Last October 25, 2017, I was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), 3 vessels involved. It’s kinda similar to that software vulnerability thing and it got me like, “Ooops, … pause, wait lang! Patch needed!” Yup. Something, apparently, (no, scratch that, not apparently — rather certainly) …certainly, was (no scratch that again — is, not was) … is wrong with my heart. Yes, si Abet. “Si Abet natin?” said somebody, “yes, si Abet natin” said the other (sino pa bang Abet nila?). Disbelief is the common reaction of most people to the news, myself included. Because though I can’t claim to be the healthiest eater, I am rather known to be very active physically at my age. Two to three times a week tennis for 2 to 3 hours, 50 to 60 laps each session at the pool (I am even conducting free swim lessons and have been recently coaching 10 people, of various ages, millennial to boomers, on various strokes),
scuba diver, windsurfer, mahilig mag-dance and so on. I’m always moving. Despite having a desk job, my lifestyle has been far from sedentary. I’m also a known travel bug — some people even think I’m retired because many of my SocMed posts are from various parts of the world. In my most recent escapade, I (with my travel companions) reached the summit of 2 points in Canada — Sanson Peak (7,486 ft via cable ride and hike) and Bow Lookout (750 ft on foot). Early in January this year, I swam the length from the Boracay grotto to Diniwid Beach non-stop in somewhat stormy weather, a fave personal challenge in Bora. (I don’t know how far that is though, maybe around 2km?).
But ya, despite all that, even with people commenting I look fit, surprise, surprise, I had heart trouble. And by December, I would be scheduled for an elective Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) procedure to fix me up (triple bypass surgery, sweetheart, by the looks of it).
Guys, Take those Executive Check-Ups
And take them seriously, please. Thank God for that benefit from my employer. I took my Executive Check Up at St Luke’s this year, having had recent medical records in the hospital after my 8-day confinement there in January due to a bout with pneumonia. (That’s another story to tell, by the way. I contracted community-acquired pneumonia planting mangroves in Bicol.). Come to think of it, 2017 just might be “sick bay year” for me. I also had a bout with shingles (igugel mo na lang if it doesn’t sound familiar) in April, leaving marks on my leg and hip. Prior to that January hospitalization, I’ve never been confined in any hospital, as in “never”.
Bumawi naman ata ngayon. The first sign of my heart issues came out of the treadmill stress test in said Executive Check Up, which I had in June. From the results, I got a “follow up with cardio” instruction due to “abnormal treadmill stress test results”. (Read your check-up results and instructions, please. They don’t always advise you point-for-point on what the results are. You’re not just complying with a company requirement.) Ok, I tried to be a good girl, and went to a follow up appointment with a cardiologist, who advised me to take a Treadmill Stress Echo Test to support my results (it’s a combination of treadmill stress test using a modified Bruce protocol ek-ek with 2D echo sonography, sorry, di po ako doctor). I was supposed to take it last August 1, but I got sick again and had to reschedule the TSET after my US-Canada trip, which was coming towards the end of August till early September. I finally had my TSET when I got back from abroad, then consulted my cardio again with the results. I thought all the while the abnormality was a false alarm, having gotten up to stage 5 on the treadmill with a bp of 160/80 and no chest pains experienced. Not so, said my cardio, stunning the typically jolly optimistic me. “Magpa-angiogram ka, and you’ll probably need an angioplasty,” said the good doc. “Wut???” I asked. He said he too, was surprised with the results and so he described to me what an angiogram and an angioplasty were. He said I need to take those before my next travel. “Huh? What about my tennis and my swimming, Doc?” I asked. (Yun pa talaga una kong concern, ano po? E sa ganun e, yun ang pumasok, things I really love doing.) “No, you must stop all those until you’ve had the procedure,” said he adamantly. (Nawindang ako. As in “shookt” baga, ika nga ng millennials.) He did also mention the worst case scenario, which I just half-heard. He prescribed some meds that would help prevent a heart attack and reminded me not to engage in anything strenuous or stressful.
Research, Research, Consult, Consult
I got home, and of course, anybody like me would do what I did – research everything about my condition on the internet (I was careful to check out only the trust-worthy sites.). Based on my googling, it wasn’t all that bad. In some cases, an angiogram, or even an angioplasty, could be an out-patient procedure. It was quite routine at this day and age. Still, somehow, the thought of something intruding the surrounds of my heart bothered me.
I went to a trusted personal doctor, consulted her about the cardiologist’s advice. I wanted to get a second opinion. She endorsed me to her friend, Dr Mon Tria, who’s a long-time practitioner, an interventional cardiologist at the Heart Center. He has handled the care of several patients known to me and my doctor said he’s the kind who wouldn’t let me undergo a procedure unless it is absolutely necessary.
I went to see Dr Tria. After discussing my case and showing him my TSET results, he said one word. “Kelangan.” “Oh,” I thought, I was silent for a while. Then we discussed what I’m supposed to do.
I e-mailed Manang Cherry, who’s a nurse in the US, consulted her, and talked to her about how I’d share the news with my other brother, who has heart issues too. I also told my close friends about it and shared a post for other friends and loved ones to know. Everybody said I should go through it. It’s a good thing my case was diagnosed even before something more drastic and ER-bound even happened. I’ve read about healthy-looking athletes and health buffs dropping dead while on the court or amidst a triathlon. I personally know 3 tennis players who have experienced a heart attack on the court.
I had my angiogram scheduled on October 25, 2017, at the Philippine Heart Center (PHC). It was my first time ever to enter the facilities. The day before, I gave my consent to my doctor to proceed with angioplasty if it was necessary. “Angioplasty tayo?” he asked. “Yes, Doc,” I said. But he said he will discuss and confirm it with me while on the table if indeed it was necessary to get it done.
Wait……………….. (Patient, Be Patient……………….)
Paisa lang ha. Whew! Let me tell you – waiting for a room at the Heart Center was an ordeal! And I mean, patience-testing (“patient” kasi kami, di ba?), mind-rattling waiiiiiiitiiiiiiiiiing po. Time and again, I was half-thinking of walking out and moving to SLMC or MMC for the angio procedures na e. I came at around 9am and was #22 on the private room wait list and #9 on the semi-private list. Guess what time we got a room. Close to 10pm. Semi-private na, impossible to get a private room. The wait was sobrang nakaka-stress and I remembered all my docs reminding me – avoid stress daw. Avoid stress, e buti hindi nagkaka-heart attack ang patients dito while waiting for our rooms! (O hwag ganyan, Abet, bad thoughts yan. Some are in worse conditions than you. Umayos ka. — self)
When Bad News Turns to Worse, Keep Calm and Just Chill
So, I was wheeled into the Catherization Center at around 7am and the team went about their routine. Parang walk in the park lang talaga for them. I was partially sedated, but fully aware. Doc Tria even reminded me not to fight the sleepiness, so ok, I thought, chill lang. They tried catherization first through a cut on my right wrist. I think they tried several times. Both Dr John and Dr Tria, but they couldn’t get in. So they did it via the groin area. The angiogram took only around 20 minutes, but after the procedure, Dr Tria broke the news to me. You have 3 blockages. You’ll need bypass. Groggy me took the news surprisingly calmly (was it the sedatives?) and just thought – so it’s even worse than the original prognosis. And that’s how I learned I had a serious heart condition and needed serious surgery to keep surviving with it.
That was the worst-case scenario that my other cardio spoke of, actually. Well, come to think of it, it does seem like the worst-case scenario, but come to think of it again, it could even have been “worser” than worst (ano ba, Abet!). I mean, the worst would have been if I had no idea at all about having a heart condition and kept on engaging on all those activities and being in stressful situations that could have triggered an actual attack. (Di ba nga?)
It’s In the Genes
My Mamma Apping died last year. Her heart gave way. My Manong Louie died of the same heart condition at 53. My Manong Joe has the same heart condition. Everybody in the family is diabetic – from our grandparents on both sides to all of us siblings, and even members of our extended family. I’ve been on diabetic maintenance meds since around 40, the last one in the family to manifest bad sugar levels. All of us siblings also have very fine blood vessels, making it difficult to extract blood for our tests and making it challenging for nurses and techs to insert an IV line into our system.
Manong Joe also said that we are very asymptomatic. He said that he has already suffered an attack and did not even know. Our being diabetic, and my being used to pain in sports may cause me not to feel any pain associated with my heart condition. That would be dangerous because an attack could happen and I wouldn’t even feel the signs.
I’m not an ultra-disciplined eater. Though there were 3 years in my life when I was pure vegetarian just because I chose to be at that time. I love eating, but there are foods that I refuse to eat – ube, strawberries, apples, kalabasa, etc. I eat meat, and I had my own share of lechon, chicharon and crispy pata binges. But since around age 40, I’ve always removed the skin from the chicken, used sugar substitutes, preferred dark chocolate, ate enough vegetables, and in recent years, limited my rice intake to only around 3 cups for the whole week. So even when I’m not an only-good-food eater, I’m not really a bad eater too.
I don’t smoke, alcohol, yes, occasionally. And as I’ve said, I’m not lacking in the exercise area.
You see, still I am afflicted with CAD. I don’t really know if I would have been able to avoid it if I stuck to being vegetarian. I know that the body naturally produces cholesterol. (Sabi nga ni Manong Joe, tignan mo yung baka, vegetarian sya, pero ang dami pa ring taba haha!) I know of very slim people with high cholesterol too. So knowing my family history, I tried to “watch it”.
That’s the reason why I made sure I had my regular Executive Check-ups. You’d be surprised, but some employees, even if they are entitled to this benefit, even try to avoid it. How often do we hear – “Ayokong magpa-check-up, kasi pag nagpa-check-up ka, marami kang malalaman, maraming ibabawal sa you, and maraming ibibigay na gamot sa yo.”? Or “Saka na ko magpapa-check-up, magda-diet muna ako and exercise, para maganda-ganda ang results.” Then they forget about it. Guys, if kayo to, re-think this kind of mentality, sana.
Feel the Love
If anyone of you ever go through the same experience as I did (which of course I pray not), I advise you to be open about it, share it, not keep it a secret, not be ashamed of it, and talk to people about it. It will help you avoid dwelling on your condition. It will help people deal with a situation involving you if they know your condition. It will give you more people who remind you of what to do and what not to do.
Letting them know gives them the chance to express their support and love for you. In my case, I got somebody offering to drive for me, cheer-up flowers sent from abroad, a group hug from my co-workers, virtual hugs online and all sorts of loving messages and prayers. There was one message on my FB that really mattered and lifted me up. It said “You know everybody loves you.” I needed to hear (read) that.
This is a time you open yourself up, and just let the love flow. And it will. Profusely. It’s a time when people get to show their beautiful souls in many ways they can. In my case, it’s not pity, there’s no “you did that to yourself”, there’s no “buti nga sa yo”, it’s just real care, it’s “we want you to be well”, and “we want you to be around us pa”, “we want you to enjoy pa and we want to enjoy you more.” Salamat sa pagmamahal. Mahal ko rin kayo. (Alam nyo, mas naiiyak pa ko writing this, than learning I had a serious heart ailment.)
Store Up on All the Good. It’ll Prepare You for the Worst.
I’ve always had it so good. Blessing after blessing after blessing. Family, work, friends, intellect, skills, material things, travel, etc. I’ve never felt lacking in any way. I’m happy with single life, though never married, I have the love of many, and many to love.
But there were times when a blessing comes or some days when I wake up and feel so alive, happy and so favored by God that I asked Him, “God, why are you so good to me, why are you making it so easy for me while others have it really bad? Is it because you know I wouldn’t be able to handle the kind of tests that you’ve been dealing other people? (I know some people have been in and are being dealt with situations that can drive them to despair). Or is it because you’re just preparing me for something really unbearable in the future?”
“Lord, hindi sa nagcocomplain ako ha, ang siraulo ko naman pong sakim kung ganito ka-blessed and magcocomplain pa rin ako. Ano ba, self?” And then I stop and just appreciate what He has been to me and what He has been doing in my life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sun and rainbows and roses all throughout. Syempre, meron din emotional downs, work pressures, breakups, disappointments, … di naman nawawala yan, but never a hard depressing blow.
Style ni Lord, ha, nakakatuwa talaga. You see I think that’s what He did with me. Years of preparation. Blessing upon blessing upon blessing so that by this time, I know that He loves me and that He is always good to me. I think it’s really what made it easy for me to accept my predicament and face it head on. E sino ba naman ang magda-doubt or magke-question with how He has dealt with me. And He is a personal God ha. Because of what He has always been and for all that He has done for me, this ailment seems easier to bear than otherwise. Really, if it was just me, I would have easily broken down and sulked and complained and maybe wouldn’t have handled this as I am handling it now. I am reminded of that woman in the Book of Mark who courageously went for even just a piece of The Lord, His clothing. Ayun, ganun. Thank You, Lord, as in.
Patches Applied Soon – Abs v2
So kumusta naman. Basically, I’m over the not-so-much-shock. I’ve resolved on a few more lifestyle changes. Ayan, i-document para committed:
- No sports activities. No tennis, no swimming, not even slow pace swimming. Light walking lang.
- No travel, whether foreign or local. Cancel Bora (sorry, Sexies. Ako lang naman cancel, tuloy nyo lang.). Cancel Taiwan. Cancel Coron. Cancel Bora ulit.
- No late nights, no parties. No Hungerians outing. Skip Grepa reunion. Skip Tita Piriang’s birthday party. Skip B’s wedding. Skip J’s wedding (pero Ninang pa rin ako). Reassign ITIP and IT Council slots. Don’t book France and Switzerland yet.
- Stick to your meds. I’ve organized them by schedule. I’ve set alarms on my phone, on my computer, reminders on paper. I’ve given extra sets to best friend Nona, I have extra sets at the office, in my bag, in my car.
- Avoid bad food (you know what those are).
- Avoid getting angry. (As if naman. People know me as having a very mild temperament, most of the time cool, even under pressure. Naks. True – some people even say, “huy, magalit ka naman.”)
- Get a driver. Done. (But he’s new, I have to teach him some more, especially about road courtesy.)
- Take it easy at work. They’ve been very understanding at work.
- Get a temporary workspace in Makati. Be in Binondo only when needed. Done.
- Get all the additional and follow up medical checks as advised. Ongoing.
- Apply for Philhealth Z Benefit. (Bago to. Ongoing.)
- Get a nurse (near the schedule of surgery na).
- Be a little more dependent and not feel bad about it. (Whew! I’m so used to being independent and doing everything myself. This will not be easy. Pero kaya ko to.)
So, that’s it for now. I’m trying to be an obedient patient and trying to be very sensitive to what my body, especially my heart, is telling me.
In the meantime, while I’m preparing and getting my CABG scheduled and papers processed, chill lang muna. Thanks to my ever loving family for all the love and support. Thanks to my best friend, who’s been with me through all these. Thanks to my friends and loved ones all over. Kalat-kalat man kayo na nagmamahal, it’s so easy with all the connectivity we have nowadays. Marami pa tayong gagawin. Things are gonna be just fine.
Hinga lang. Laban lang.