Today is a very special day for me as I along with millions of survivors celebrate World Heart Day by LIVING and continuing to kick heart disease's ass!!! Heart Disease is the leading cause of death and yet this day will receive so very little media coverage since they are too busy wasting our precious time with bullshit than actually supporting something worthwhile like "Public Health Education". Yesterday was National Beer Day and I'll bet it got more publicity than World Heart Day will receive.
Since my heart attacks and triple bypass surgery 2 years ago back in June of 2014 I have worked hard to come back to the life that I know as a strength athlete and a strength and conditioning coach but I've worked equally as hard on acting like this shit didn't really happen to me!!! Denial.. yeah sure why not? Who in the hell wants to admit that they could possibly be mortal'?! It sure as shit ain't ME!! Well the Good Lord spared me that night when my heart had had enough of being ignored since it sent me warning signs for a couple of weeks or maybe more.
My question has always been how and why did I survive when 95% of the people with similar blockages do not? Seems like a pretty simple question only I'm learning that it comes with a complex answer.
I think that it's time to stop running away like it never happened to me and stand up proudly and sayâ€¦.
I AM A SURVIVOR!!!
I'd like to give you a little insight of when I rolled into Memorial Hermann Hospital at Memorial City here in Houston Texas about 2am on 7 June 2014 and when I say rolled' I mean on a gurney and not because I called EMSâ€¦nope not me I had Sally drive me to a MedClinic' because there was no way I was having a heart attack. Nope not meâ€¦.I looked that shit up on Google and only had a couple of symptoms!! Of course as we got going and I told her to hurry because I didn't think I was going to last much longer as reality began to slap the shit out of me as I pounded on my chest in an attempt to keep my heart beating since it felt like it was about to stop beating a few different times on the drive. Sally found a MedClinic and we pulled in and within a couple of seconds of being hooked up the the EKG the doctor comes in with the look on his face that told me something bad was about to happen. He asked me how I was feeling and I told him a little out of sorts and his answer was 'out of sorts? You're in the middle of a serious heart attack' as he handed me some pills to take then told me that they were sending me across the street to the hospital. I said okay and started to stand up and he asked what I was doing and I told him..'going to the hospital'. He said we've got an ambulance coming for you!! "Well shit it must be serious then" was all I said.
Please let me begin by saying that the nurses, doctors and staff in the Emergency Room of Memorial Hermann at Memorial City are unbelievable and bottom line in spite of my stupidity and ego they managed to saved my life. Within seconds of being wheeled in I was stripped naked and put in a hospital gown, blood drawn, IV in my arm and had these professionals calling out orders and responding quickly all while calming my fears and anxieties. I'd like to go back and give each and every one of them a hug and my sincere thanks.
Then Dr. Morris walks into the room and asksâ€¦
Doc: "what's the pain feel like?"
Me: "like a damn Rhino sitting in the middle of my chest"
Doc: "have you had anything like this before?"
Me: "WELL".....(the long pause sure wasn't for dramatic effect it was more out of embarrassment) yeah so 4 days ago I was running to catch a flight in Dallas and I had to stop a few times to catch my breath as I was sweating though my shirt."
Me: "hold on Doc that was just the first time!!"
Doc: "the FIRST TIME!!"
Me: "well yeah then it happened again when I realized I lost my boarding pass and had to go back to my gate and again when they announced a gate change, HEY but that was a few hours apart. Come to think about it while I was in Laredo speaking I took a late night walk to HEB for some stuff and felt the same way walking back to the hotel"
Doc: "so 3 times at the airport and it happened and a couple days earlier as well, so what hospital did they send you too?"
Me: "hospital? no Doc I got on my flight and came home"
Doc: "you got on your flight?"
Me: "well here I am ain't I?!"
Doc: You shouldn't be!! Listen, those were heart attacks and by all means any or all of them should have killed you and then you board a flight and come home the simple change in pressure should have stopped your heart"
Me: no words spoken by me just a prayer, a tear and a desire to hold Sally's hand!!
Doc: (with all the confidence in the world) "Ed, I think it's the artery behind your heart that is blocked but I won't know for sure until we get you upstairs to the Catheter Lab and your heart is in distress but we have to try and wait until the Heparin you were given at the clinic clears your system because we don't want you bleeding out"
Doc to Sally: "so do you guys have a Cardiologist?"
Me: "hell no Doc that's for old people"
As Doc hands Sally his card..."well you do now!!"
Me: "what are you selling used cars on the side?"
Doc: "it's 2am I got to get something out of this"
Me "shit Doc I like you!!"
Now to the more serious part of my story. In the elevator on the way to the Catheter Lab I don't remember much but I can vividly remember fighting to keep my eyes open and talk with the guys. It's difficult to think about it as you fight to keep your eyes open but you have no control and you can feel them beginning to close and you fight because in the back of your mind you know that you just might not wake up so you fight and dammit you fight hard. I remember the techs, nurses and Dr. Morris telling me to stay with them and to keep talking and to keep fighting. A couple of times I awoke to them tapping my chest telling to to stay with them. Dr. Morris prepped me to cut into my femoral blood vessel as he reassured me and I told him to hurry because the Rhino now had a couple of friends join him in the middle of my chest and I think they're drinking beer and eating BBQ. I struggled to breathe and the nurses and techs applied more Nitroglycerin paste, talked with me, held my hand and gave me a sternum rub as my heart struggled to keep beating while it was being suffocated from the blockages. Lord my eyes were heavy and I fought to keep them open.
I began to pray and to ask for forgiveness because I truly felt that my time here had come to an end. I told God that if he was ready to call me home I was ready to follow Him and take my place but I asked for more time on this earth but not so I could do things I wished I had done. Nope, I prayed and told Him that for the very first time in my life I felt that I was unconditionally loved. I finally had a family of my own with Sally and our Bulldogs Butters and Marsha Mellow and also our cats Miss Pissy Bitch, Miss Fatty and Mila. After such a long time being alone in this world I had a family that loved and needed me and to tell you the truth I needed them.
Finally the stent was inserted into the artery behind my heart but it takes some time for you to start feeling the weight coming off of your chest and while you're laying there fighting for your life it seems like time is standing still!! Finally, the Rhino took his friends and got off my chest. Dr. Morris began to explain that there were a few more serious blockages that he couldn't stent and that I was going to need bypass surgery. I really didn't hear much after that and the only thing I remember is asking for him to bring Sally in and explain it again. We were devastated but Dr. Morris looked at me and said, "usually with these kind of blockages especially the Widow Maker I tell the patient I'm going to make you as comfortable as possible' which means you probably won't be going home from the hospitalâ€¦.he told me "with you, you'll be good in 4-5 months and in 8-9 months you'll be back lifting with a cool scar down your chest."
Dr. Morris would later tell me that my heart was in some serious distress and the only real option was to stent that artery and hope it stabilized me so I didn't need emergency bypass surgery and they could wait and be better prepared for such a surgery. He told me my heart tried to stop a couple of times but I was one tough dude and he asked about my background and I proudly told him that I have been a Strength Athlete for the past almost 40 years and Strength and Conditioning Coach for 30 years but I am also a former Army Special Operations Solider and I've been known to throw some weigths, lift even bigger stones and lift some really big damn weights although that was some time ago. We talked about all I had endured in my life and how much I love lifting heavy weights and why I loved it so much. He looked at me and told my that I survived where others do not and it was because I was physically strong but more importantly I was mentally strong and the strength I have from a lifetime of perseverance is why I am still alive.
In private I am often left to wonder and pray asking God why He choose to spared me. I am learning that there is so much more on this earth left for me to do and through the His Good Graces I will do His work. I have discovered that I was left here to bring awareness to Heart Diease to us old dudes in the Strength World that refuse to give up or give in or do cardio!!! I am learning there are more of us' out there than the doctors and associations think and mainly that we are a different breed. We all don't fit into the same neat little box some of us are busy busting the seams of the box and out of our shirts!!! We simply don't have time to slow down when we feel like crap and we think that cardio is a few sets of 8 in the squat because if you can't get in shape with squats what the hell is the world coming to!!! If there were more doctors like Dr. Morris out there that understood not everyone wants to loose weight and go for a walkâ€¦.some of us love to lift heavy things and feel if you take that away from us we'd rather be dead. Lifting heavy weights, stones and throwing heavy stuff is simply part of my DNA and it's what I truly love to do.
In future blogs I'll share more of this journey to recovery I have been on since I took my first wobbly walk in the halls of the hospital 2 days after my bypass surgery. I'll also share the stupidity of not taking care of your heart and health beyond lifting weights, it really doesn't take much time or energy away from what you love like lifting heavy shit. We will talk about not self diagnosing by looking up symptoms on Google and then delaying medical attention because you don't want to bother anyone because it might just be indigestion not a heart attack!! How the delay in seeking medical attention could have and in all honesty should have cost me my life and how I survived in spite of my own male ego. Also the depression that is common from the heart and lung bypass machine that is used during the surgery to keep you technically alive while they stop your heart to repair it with a vein they rip out of your leg!!!
I AM A SURVIVOR!!!
Before I go and get back to living life on my own terms I have to tell everyone that while my Cardiologist Dr. Morris, my Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Gibson and the unbelievable staff at Memorial Hermann saved my life the real strength and leader of my recovery was Sally. Beyond my best efforts I survived and healed because of her. She rarely left my bedside often catching small naps in the chair next to my bed in CICU and if I moved she was right there to make sure I was okay. Hour after long agonizing hour she was there. She'd go home and take care of our family and try to sleep but when I opened my eyes in morning she was already there going over things with the nurses and doctors. When I was discharged 8 days later that's when the real recovery began for me not just the physical but the mental and emotional recovery. Sally would wake up after working all night and make me breakfast and we'd eat and talk then we'd go for a small walk but when we got home instead of relaxing and getting ready for work she had to help me shower and clean up as I could barely lift my arms to shave or wash. She'd then make me lunch and organized my meals for the day in the order when wanted me to eat them. I'd walk her to the car and once back inside I'd take my nap and she'd worry while at work until I texted her that I had indeed woken up. I know that this has been tougher on Sally than on me as she had to be strong for both of us. If I had succumbed to my heart disease I would have simply slipped into unconsciousness and been with God leaving behind my grieving Sally. That is what usually happens and why they call the artery that was blocked the widow maker'. I wonder if my using a CPAP saved me as it pushes air into my lungs while I sleepâ€¦guess it saved my life in more ways than one!!!
I don't think that I can ever repay Sally for the strength, love and encouragement as we continue on our journey together. She knows exactly what I need like when I needed a swift kick in the ass one day while I sat around depressed at what I was going through. She told me that wasn't the man I am and to pull my head out of my ass, get off the couch and move like the doctor told me. That day I decided to go to Memorial Park and just sit and watch people go by but as I drove into the park I somehow ended up in front of the Church and being the tough guy' I am I said "sure God you wanna talk then let's talk" as I kicked opened the doors to the Church I was hit with a feeling that took me to my knees and as I looked at the Cross on the Alter though the tears in my eyes I understood that God has a plan for me and that I am truly a blessed man. I have not had another bad day since that day at the Church. Ask me again why my Faith is so strong.
I have a very special place in my heart for David Anderson who dropped everything to bring Sally's sister to Houston from San Antonio. Sandra was Sally's rock and help throughout all of this. They'd be right by my bedside making sure I didn't need or want anything but when they'd leave the hospital and go home Sandra would help Sally with everything but mostly by being the big sister and friend that she is. She's another that I don't think I can ever thank enough of what she did. Don't tell her but I really love and admire her.
There were so many others that visited me in the hospital like Andy Vincent and Spencer Tyler who flustered my CICU nurse and of course made me laugh with their comments as they removed the catheter from my groin.
My dearest friends Dan and Dana Burk who came just to spend time with me giving me strength but also taking care of Sally. Sally said Dan's face when he was able to visit with me right after my surgery was one of serious concern to see me laying there.
My training partner, brother and friend Darren Williams who Sally called early in that morning after I was stabilized and by 5am Darren was roaming the halls of the CICU and when the nurses told him he wasn't suppose to be there he said "I'm looking for my brother". Darren was in the middle of training for Masters Pan American Weightlifting Championships but he was right there every day and when Sally thought I needed to rest Darren cleared the room!!! When I had my bypass surgery he took Sally and her sister Sandra to eat breakfast and for a small moment while I was in surgery they were able to somewhat relax and talk and he was there to listen, of course he had a plate of bacon while I was in surgery!! Back in my room he'd have us laughing especially when the Cardiac Rehab Nurse came in to talk recovery...anyone for checkers or knitting?!
Then there is my brother Chad Crawford who helped Sally so much by visiting and keeping all of my friends up to date on what was happening via social media and set up a GoFundMe to help us out. I still want to thank every person who helped us by donating. It's something that was, and still is, seriously overwhelming to us.
All the way from New Zealand in the middle of his All Blacks season my mate and brother Ben Franks and his awesome wife Genna and my cartoon buddy Annabel who checked on me via email and Skype making me laugh as Ben told me that there was nothing so bad that could happen to me that I needed to do cardio!!! I looked forward to his emails and messages and the care package they sent with my favorite puzzles, pictures colored by Annabel and a stuffed lion that is still next to my bed and of course they remembered Sally with New Zealand chocolates. What an honor it was for me only 6 months later to be asked to stand in their wedding in New Zealand.
My San Antonio Highland Games brother Larry Sears who came up from San Antonio just to sit with us to talk and pray. Our dear friend Cristina who would go by and check on the dogs and cats during the day for Sally. One of the wonderful young men I am blessed to have trained Edwin came by to visit and a couple of my oldest friends Rob and Nancy Kamman who both scolded me for not calling EMS then were joined by my CICU Head Nurse and I was educated' on the importance of calling EMS and not just showing up at the ER!!! Once in normal room my weightlifting buddy Mike Calley came by to brighten up my day and maybe he was gonna bring me some food and maybe Sally told him NO!!! I like to think he was going to if I had asked!!!
I want to Thank each of you for reading my story but it doesn't end here. My next blog will be about what I did to get back to the gym and start lifting in week 8 of my recovery and the support of my Brothers and Sisters in the Strength Community that made it all happen.
pictured is the man who saved my life Dr. Randall Morris of Memorial Cardiology Associates
Play Hard...Train Harder...NO EXCUSES