Six Unbelievable Months

When Dr. Markowitz first told me that my aneurysm had at best six months before it would have ruptured and killed me, I contemplated heavily in that first month of recovery that this could have easily been my last months alive.  I thought of how far away that six month anniversary of my surgery seemed at the time. I wondered if I could successfully get there. I thought about  if and when I did get there I would really be starting my new life.

So the anniversary has arrived and I feel a sense of relief and empowerment that I faced my demons and emerged victorious. My scar has faded some but it reminds me daily that life can be snatched from our firm hold more easily than we think.  I realize that my body has been changed forever.  I sometimes dwell on the “imperfect” me that now exists. Kathy continues to remind me that the old body was the imperfect one, I just didn’t know it.

I went for a five and half mile run yesterday and as I begin the run I think nothing of the long distance in front of me. I am thankful that I can approach the road or the day of work or whatever lies before me with an optimism that I didn’t have a few short months ago. The finish lines when I started were measured in days and weeks and now I hopefully will measure them in years. I run strong and without pain or fatigue.  I run with a different body; lighter, and just different.

Not all my hours and days are filled with positivity and optimism. I sometimes feel a new weakness or fragility that I have never felt. I get a bit sad reflecting on the struggles over the past few months and again Kathy is there to remind me of the hurdles we have overcome.  This journey is a process of discovery and self realization.  I have to remember that I doubted getting to this day six months ago.  When tomorrow’s sun sets the day in the books I will begin the rest of my life. I am more aware then ever that the amount of time we “get” is not predictable. We control those aspects of our life that we can and let the rest play out as it should.  The next six months will only be better than the last  and I will continue to step forward each day with the attitude that this new body works better than the last and has given me the opportunity to see my children grow, my practice flourish, and my wife and I become better friends. These second chances are rare.  Embrace them!

Five Months Strong!

It’s been almost two months since my last post.  If you are still checking in, welcome back; if not, I am writing to myself.  Life has been a wonderful buzz of activity.  I look back to my past few months and cannot believe what has transpired. The blessings of family, work, friends, sports and everything else life has to offer me remind me of how truly precious is each day.

The family has been enjoying a busy spring. Lily continues with horseback riding. She really loves the ponies. Kathy rides as well and their smiles and the fresh smell of their saddle makes me realize they are in this for the long haul.  Lily also was selected to Solon’s gifted program for next year. A very nice honor for her, but she will take on some more homework.    Hugh is playing baseball and still doing tae kwon do three times a week. He is up to a green belt.  Ella is a sprouting five year old. She starts kindergarten in the fall. We will miss our little baby next year!

My work is extremely busy. I am booking patients into November. My six weeks off seems a distant memory as my days are very long. We started our EHR this week and will just say my days got longer along with patients’ wait times.   All of your doctors will be doing the same if they haven’t already. I love ophthalmology and am extremely grateful that I continue to be successful after my surgery.

I am playing golf a little more regularly and just played with my surgeon, Alan Markowitz, on Saturday.  The changes in my body are quite obvious and my game is adjusting. I continue to run and workout four to five times a week. Still putting in about 18-20 miles a week running. I haven’t really put any of my weight back on, but I don’t miss it as of yet. My endurance is tremendous and I definitely realize the unrecognized symptoms I was experiencing preoperatively. I have been a high energy person for as long as i can remember.  In retrospect, even though i was performing at a high level, my endurance was lower than it is now.  My advice is to try and listen VERY closely to your body and answer any of its calls.  I certainly didn’t know, or expect, the trouble I had, but it is so clear that everything was very close to being taken away.

I would like to think that there is a morning ahead of me where I wake up and don’t think of my heart surgery. My eleven inch scar along with my conscious active role in keeping in good health remind me all day and every day of my surgery.  I stay positive as best possible and enjoy the continued well wishes of friends, family, and patients.  My six month anniversary is fast approaching and I will post again around then to reflect on the gift of quality life that has been preserved for me.

Happy St. Patty’s Day

Well it’s been a while since my last post.  If you are still following, I have been very busy at work now to a full schedule in clinic and surgery.  I had a lot of wonderful patients waiting in the wings for me and I haven’t had an open slot in my schedule.  My schedule is booking into september. We continue to struggle with our transition to an EHR and the office is very anxious about our go live date in May.

As far as my heart goes, I continue to put in some good miles running and working out about every other day. I took my first outdoor run last Thursday and ran about 5 1/2 miles without incident. My stamina seems to be excellent and I continue to surprise myself with what I can do.  Last week I went to Florida with three friends for the golf trip which I had been aiming for throughout my recovery.  We played 27 holes a day for three days and finished our last day with a relaxing 18. The weather was fantastic and the courses were challenging. I had a great time and was very thankful that I was given the chance to enjoy the game that I love.

Kathy and the kids continue to be great sources of inspiration and I am trying to embrace my days as the treasured gifts that they are.  I spent an afternoon with my surgeon, Dr. Markowitz, and we went over numerous photos of my surgery.  These were taken by the anesthesiologist, Dr. Avery.  The pictures are as raw as you can imagine and are not for the faint of heart. The level of pathology and danger is a bit overwhelming to view and the razor’s edge I was walking is quite obvious. The kids enjoyed looking at them, especially knowing that the aneurysm and valve were no longer a part of me.

My goals over the next few months are to continue my rehabilitation with strength training and running.  We are planning plenty of family time this summer to celebrate my new life.  I am looking forward to Hugh’s first pitch baseball team and Lily’s continued horse shows.  Ella is very excited for her June ballet recital.  We plan to golf, fish, camp, bike, and just enjoy ourselves this summer.  I hope the best for all of you.

Positively Positive

It was a busy week in clinic and I really enjoyed being back to “normal”.  We are transitioning to an EHR (electronic health record) in the office and it can be a nightmare.  The process takes almost 12 months and we are nine months in.  The learning curve for the staff has certainly been stressful, but in the end we are hoping for a smoother running, more productive office.  I also really missed operating and have bumped up my volume.  I have 22 surgeries next week. My yoga instructor told me to watch how busy I get and offered a quote from a Buddhist teacher, “young people of today are sacrificing their health to assure wealth, and when they get old will sacrifice their wealth to assure their health”.  I appreciate my health more than ever before and will try and heed this advice.  Unfortunately, I happen to be one of those trying to assure people’s health. 

I have an exciting weekend with Ella and Lily with a Daddy-Daughter Dance at our country club.  The girls have new dresses and of course I will be wearing my tux.  They are very excited for the fancy evening and Kathy promised them some elegant hairstyles.  Kathy and Hugh have a big “date” planned of their own.  Hugh and I are planning our Star Wars I 3-D for Sunday. 

My physical rehabilitation continues to improve.  I have continued my 5 mile runs and starting to get under 50 minutes.  Still about 18-20 miles per week.  I saw the cardiologist who gave me a green light for more weight-toning/training.  He never wants me lifting really heavy weights again.  That’s OK.  I am awaiting the results of some tests, but hopefully everything checks out.  I haven’t gained much of my weight back and with my exercise schedule and improved diet, I decided to stay in this range.  I upgraded the wardrobe a little to accommodate.  My strength is really turning the corner and I have no pain.  I feel so good about my future.  This far out, as tough as it was, I have perspective enough to know I could do it again if some unfortunate relapse were to occur. 

The view I have of the world has continually changed throughout my life, as it should.  Experience in life, love, death, health, occupation molds the way we look at ourselves and those around us.  I think that the ability to adapt to the dynamics of life is what brings us a fuller appreciation of the world around us.  I don’t want to change my core values, but I do want to be able to adjust my daily activities positively as a reflection of my ability to see my pitfalls and potentials in a clearer light.  Facing your own mortality, real or imagined, is a very cathartic and awakening process and I encourage everyone to try and imagine your own life in this spotlight.  It will help you appreciate all that you have.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day to all.  It has been an amazing week getting back into full swing at work and still continuing my aggressive workout/rehab schedule.  I follow up with the cardiologist this week and hope for good news all around.  If I’ve learned anything through all this, don’t count your chickens too early.  I know I feel really good at this point, but I need some confirmation this time.  We celebrated the heart with some friends on Saturday and I am so thankful for all of the loved ones around me.  My message for the month is to get yourself a routine physical (or more if you need it). Being proactive undoubtedly saved my life.  I was not the model patient, but still managed to get diagnosed BEFORE major trouble.

I received a wonderful poem from a patient of mine this week.  She was a teacher and poet most of her life.  I share it with you now.

In Praise Of Pigs

Can we look gently at pigs, at the meaning of pigs?

Can we go below, break through the common stereotypes:

The grunts, the squeals, the squinty eyes,

The smelly slop, the muddy styes?

Can we get past fat pigs rooting, black pigs rutting

Dirty pigs rolling all around

Penned pigs lying on fretted ground?

Where is the meaning of pigs?

In pig parts roasted, pickled, fried,

Barbecued, crackled, baked in pies?

In pig tales woven:

Three wee piggies shopping, coping

Five piggie toes eating, running home

Miss Piggy crying, Geico pig flying

Olivia pig puzzling, Porky Pig growing

Wilbur pig gaining in “Charlotte’s Web”

Can anything fine be said of swine?

When the pancreas of pigs creates

The first usable human insulin

Then pigs are big in the medical field

When pig valves provide safe, healthy

Passages for human hearts pumping

Then all pigs transform the meaning

Of being alive

There’s no need for viewing with human disdain

The hierarchy of pigs on this worldly terrain

Now we can pause, give thanks as we breathe

Pigs save and sustain us

As we sense, explore, think, love, and live!

Hooray for pigs!

Written in honor of

Dr. Michael Shaughnessy’s Transformation!

Joan Neth,   February 2012

Have a great week everyone!  Talk to you soon!


The Patient Returns as the Surgeon

Monday marked my return to the OR.  This time I was the surgeon. A much more comfortable position to embrace. I had scheduled fairly light and performed just six cataract surgeries. After 10,000, I had little loss of confidence, but I was glad to get through the first one without a hitch.  Today, I was pleased to examine all the happy patients and their 20/20 vision. I had my first full day of clinic as well today and fatigue was a nonissue.  It was great to be busy again.

After work today, I managed a nice workout and a run of about 4.5 miles.  My arms were a little sore from playing Pebble Beach on Sunday (simulator). We had a great time at a Super Bowl party at our friends down the street.  Our active lifestyle seems to be getting back into full swing as Hugh returned to his tae kwon do this week. He didn’t skip a beat and was welcomed back.

I continue to embrace my incredible blessings since the discovery of my aneurysm and surgery.  I have been able to overcome my own predictions and my recovery is surpassing most everyone’s expectations this early. I am working very hard, but trying to be careful not to push too hard. Life is certainly a precious gift that cannot be taken for granted.  I find myself finally planning and seeing far into the future again.  As I enter into month three of recovery, I realize there is still work to be done, but so much has already been accomplished. Kathy and I are planning a long weekend in Las Vegas and then the whole family will head to Hilton Head in June.  I predict sunny days for all of us in the days ahead.

8 Weeks Out

A long time ago

In a galaxy far, far away

I had open heart surgery.

As I finished running 5 and 1/2 miles today, I reflected on how long ago and far away I seem to be from my surgery day.  I feel very good about my future as my body continues to respond in a positive direction.  Just four weeks ago, I had daily pain and was concerned I wouldn’t be ready by February for work.  This last week  was my first week back and it was great to get busy again.  I only worked half days, but had no problems with fatigue.  I did run a little behind in my schedule because of answering questions about my time off.  My staff was glad to have me back and quickly filled my inbox to the maximum.

Kathy and I went to a surprise birthday party for one of her good friends from college and we had a great time. I was surprised to find out how many people are following my blog.  I sure am lucky to have such a widespread support network. I have said it a hundred times, but I couldn’t have done so well without everyone.

Saturday also marked my return to golf.  My neighbor, Larry, my son, Hugh, and I went to the Chagrin Falls golf dome and I was able to hit balls with my new clubs for an hour. We all enjoyed the retreat from the winter chill.  We are going to play eighteen holes on the simulator this Sunday. By the way, any golfers reading this who are looking for new irons, so far I really like these Titleist AP2 712s.

My exercise rehab program continues to be a daily focus.  I am running about 20 miles a week, continuing my yoga with Kathy, stretching every day, and accepting my new me.  I still have yet to get all my weight back and don’t know if I want it, so I may need to upgrade my wardrobe soon.  All is well in Camp Shaughnessy and I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Also, February is celebrate the heart month and my cousin, Christine Pepoy (Shaughnessy), who is forever my hero for not only surviving her ordeal but inspiring me to get my heart checkup, is going to be featured in the Plain Dealers’s Sunday magazine detailing her story.  Check it out.

Back to Life!

This has been a very productive week.  Today is my last day sans work as I am starting back tomorrow. Two weeks ahead of schedule!  Physically, I am feeling really good.  I ran about 20 miles this past week, including over 5 miles on Friday in an hour; a new post surgery best.  Upper body strength training is still limited for the first 3 months, but I can feel the improvements every day.  My fatigue is becoming an afterthought and I am anxious to return to work this week.

My days will fill up faster than I expect, but it will be welcomed.  I will continue my exuberance with rehab while I get back to the hectic schedule of clinic and surgery.  My time at home has been a whirlwind of emotion and physical trials, but I am amazed at what the human body is capable of accomplishing.  I have my life back and I will embrace both my career and family with a new appreciation.

Although working at a less than full speed pace has never been my norm, I will try and take time out a little more frequently for the next few months.  Dr. Markowitz and many others that I have spoken to who have gone through similar surgeries tell me it may take a full year to get back to “normal”.  I can’t imagine waiting that long, but as a first timer, I will listen to my advisors and take heed.  On that note, I plan on taking a golf weekend in early March, which we do every year, and I have been given the green light by my wife and doctors.

As I continued to make strides in my physical and emotional recovery, I sense that I will expect more of myself going forward in life.  The perfect golf shot requires 100% attention at the moment of impact.  In life, I am going to try and hit those perfect shots at all my moments; knowing now that they all could have been taken away from me.  I hope to see all of you soon and I again thank everyone for the prayers and support.  I plan on blogging about once a week now so as not to bore you all too much.  I will continue my narrative journey until I am “normal” again.  As if that were possible!  Peace.

Happy MLK Day!

Progress seems to be following me lately. I had a very good weekend. Yoga on Friday was a new but interesting endeavor. I stretched a few muscles I never knew I had.  I was a little sore on Saturday but I am going to continue it once a week for a while. Saturday night I attended my surgery center holiday party and it was a lot of fun seeing everyone. It will not be long until I am back to full strength at work. My workouts continue to be rewarding and I am posting some good times and miles. Today, I ran for over an hour and more than 4.5 miles. I am very pleased with my improvements. I have decided to return to work two weeks early but on a limited schedule (per my surgeon’s orders) starting on January 24th.

Today was the first day I said to myself “I am a survivor” and really felt it.  I have been going through this recovery and seeing my goals and feeling pretty good about everything, but when I was running today, I had more of a lightbulb go off about the miracle that has happened. It wasn’t the logical side of things. I have been “in touch” wiith that aspect for some time. Today, I opened my eyes a little more to the survivor side and the now I am going to be OK attitude.  I think I passed the bit of lingering anger and “why me” part of the process that I am sure everyone goes through.

One of my favorite MLK quotes (and I might be paraphrasing) is “the true measure of a man is not how he behaves in times of comfort and convenience, but how he stands in times of conflict and compromise”. We all will have our falling days, but remember to try to give your best effort on every day. Talk to you all soon. Peace.

Good Report

Dr. Markowitz was very pleased with my progress to date. My chest x-ray looked terrific and my sternum is healing well.  He stopped my Coumadin, blood thinner, and gave me back my driving privileges.  He also stopped my blood pressure medicine so I’m down to a baby aspirin and a vitamin.  I still have to limit weights and lifting, but I’m green light for the aerobic stuff.  I start some yoga tomorrow with Kathy.  I’ll have my first outing party on Saturday when my surgery center holiday party is happening.  I have been also cleared to return to work on a limited basis a week or so earlier than planned.

I spent the morning at Kathy’s riding lesson sketching some horses.  It was a lot of fun and the time passed too quickly.  I will continue to get familiar with the horse form as I have never really drawn them before.  I am interested in doing a bigger piece, but I need more study.

Soon enough I will be back to my regular routine and moving forward with a normal life.  I will embrace the newness of old routines and cherish my relationships more than ever.  My family, friends, and even people I’ve never met have been the glue that kept my recovery from falling apart.  I appreciate the phone calls, emails, visits, meals, and more that have allowed my family and I to heal from the trauma of this speedbump in my life’s roadway.  My busy, cynical, and satirical self is on the mend and aching for a good golf game.