Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Al's Big Mistake

By Alan Burkhart

Well folks, I've now officially learned the lesson that most of us have to learn sooner or later: All that stuff the doctor tells us about watching what we eat really does matter.

You'd think that as a Type II diabetic I'd have learned that lesson already. And I do (really, I do!) watch my sugar and calorie intake. I avoid sugared cereals, honey buns and Krispy Kreme donuts. I rarely cook with butter or margarine. I never have bread and potatoes with the same meal. And my blood sugar has stayed well within the limits set by my doctor (91 when I last checked it). I told myself I was doing just fine, thank you very much.

What I wasn't doing was watching my cholesterol. I'd still have the occasional sausage -n- gravy breakfast, bacon cheeseburger, or cheese omelet. I'd drink whole milk when 2% wasn't available. I'd still eat a ton of smoked sausage along with all those healthy green vegetables. And I just knew that those Lipitor pills the good doctor gives me were all I needed to counteract my dietary indiscretions.

Last Sunday night, I paid the price for my stupidity. I was in Fairfield, TX at a little Shell truck stop. I have family in that town - I was born and raised there. But I arrived rather late in the evening and Mom doesn't see well enough at night to drive. I would have to leave rather early to make the last 50 miles of my trip (to Waco) anyway, so I elected to stay in the truck.

About 10:30 that night I was all comfy in the bunk, watching a concert DVD ("Steppenwolf - Live at Louisville") and tapping my feet to the rock-n-roll beat. That's when someone grabbed my heart and lungs and dropped them in a steel vise. Whoever it was also saw fit to hit my chest cavity with a blow-torch and stick my left arm full of knitting needles. No one had to tell me what was happening - I figured that much out for myself.

I remember being incredibly weak at that point; I couldn't pull myself up to a sitting position. And I remember thinking about how I’d planned to visit my son in Waco after delivering Monday morning, and how I might not get to see him or his family again if I couldn’t manage to reach the phone. I finally just rolled off the bed and plucked the phone from its belt pouch on my pants and called 911. I was shocked at how weak I was. My voice was barely audible as I explained to the operator that I was fairly certain I was having a heart attack. She kept me on the line while radioing for an ambulance to visit my location.

Two cops and an EMT helped me down from the truck and onto a gurney. In short order I was rolling toward East Texas Medical Center whilst two EMTs checked my vitals and administered my first dose of nitro. If you're unfamiliar with nitro pills, they're a tiny oblong white pill that you put under your tongue whilst having chest pains. All I can say here is that nitro pills evidently stop a heart attack by transferring the chest pain to the top of your head. That was the damndest headache I've had in a long time. They also had me chewing copious quantities of children's aspirin for the same purpose.

At the hospital, I was fitted with one of those sexy night gowns and subjected to a variety of torture methodologies which included drawing out most of my blood (after first rooting around for a vein), fitting my arm with a blood pressure cuff meant for a #2 pencil and attaching electrodes to my somewhat furry chest which of course would be unceremoniously ripped off later. And more aspirin. And hospital food. And more nitro (and more headaches).

In the end, they decided that I didn't quite have a heart attack, but that I have an artery very nearly totally blocked. As such I am soon to be back home so that I may be subjected to the medical equivalent of a Rotor-Rooter in my veins, followed by a procedure to install a stent to get rid of the blockage. By all accounts, I will feel much better than I'm feeling right now once all this is done.

Look folks: If you're still eating gravy on everything but ice cream, still chomping down those sausage biscuits and chili-fries, you have two choices: You can moderate your cholesterol intake, or you can end up where I am right now. Hopefully I'll be home in a few days and have the procedure done. But at the moment, I can't even walk more than a few yards without being out of breath and feeling like an anvil is perched upon my chest. And just in case of emergencies, I have a tiny bottle of nitro pills in my pocket. Heaven above... the last thing I want is to endure another bone-crushing headache. They hit within five seconds of placing the pill in your mouth and last 15 or 20 agonizing minutes. You literally feel your heartbeat in your eyeballs.

So is that second round of hamburger/cheese/macaroni casserole really worth what it's doing to your innards? I used to think it was. Now I know better. Please do consider what you're pumping into your bloodstream before you revisit the buffet. I’d not want to see any of my friends (and only a few of my enemies) in the situation I was in last Sunday.

See ya'll on the road

I'm feeling fine and back working. Had a stent procedure done once I got back home. Took 10 days off from work and then another week at work on "light duty." I now take a boatload of pills every day to stay alive, but that's ok given the alternative (being dead).

Each day I take the following:
>Metformin (2)
>Januvia (1)
>Lipitor (1)
>Metoprolol (1)
>Isosorb Mono (1)
>Plavix (1)
>Aspirin (1)
>Chantix (2)

All the above, plus a total of 3 vitamin pills each day. Plus a fairly strict diet (I've dropped close to 30 pounds!) and drinking a minimum of 1 liter of water per day.

The up side is that I'm no longer fatigued like before. I can work longer, which is $$$ in my pocket. And even with the good insurance at my job, I'll be needing some hard cash to pay the bills I've run up after all this.

Best -