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Highways of the Heart

August 2, 2010

This is my Lee, racing down a highway. Surely she’s racing off to save the world. She always wanted to be a superhero. She got what she wanted.

My Crestor experiment continues; my experiment to see if the drug meant to keep the highways of my heart open, is messing with my muscles. So far, it’s looking like the Cholesterol lowering wonder drug might, indeed be the culprit of my muscle cramping, and late day achiness. Both are significantly improved. I don’t want it to be, the culprit, that is. As sure as I am that the large amount of fish we eat has helped, the thought of not taking something that may have helped me live this past year is terrifying. I’d be more frightened about not taking Plavix, but not taking the Crestor is scary still. I have committed to giving it a week. Then, well, I’m not sure. We are also in a precarious financial situation. Without insurance right now, if I do stop the Crestor, I hesitate to try something new, something I might not tolerate, something just as expensive, perhaps even more so.

Right before I had emergent triple bypass in February of last year, the staff at my GP’s office said they’d never seen a cholesterol so high. If I  remember correctly, my total cholesterol was close to 400. HDL, the good stuff was negligible and LDL, the bad guy was over 300. After surgery and subsequent graft failure, stents, angioplasty, a few months of Zocor another Cholesterol med, there was little improvement. The Zocor also caused muscle problems. About a year ago, I was switched to Crestor. There was almost an immediate improvement in LDL, but not in HDL and not enough to bring the LDL below 100. They doubled the Crestor. That’s also about the time we started eating fish several times each week.

Lee started grilling the fish and quickly became a master griller. Salmon, MahiMahi and Tuna were our favorites. On the rare occasions when we ate out, we were more and more disappointed as the fish we had at home was, well, frankly, much better. We weren’t extreme in our healthy eating intention. In fact, our late night chocolate craving was frequently fed. After so many months of loss, we weren’t about to further deprive ourselves of life’s simple pleasures. My giving up cigarettes I considered my great self-sacrifice.

By the time I had blood drawn and tested earlier this year, our eating habits had evolved, including this new-found love of cooking and discovery of the adventures of trying new recipes, making up recipes,, experimenting with techniques, flavor combination’s and the art of a beautiful meal. Seldom did we eat red meat. Even chicken had become a rarity. My HDL had finally risen above fifty and LDL was well below 100. To what was due the credit? Who knows?

Now to our healthier eating regime, we’ve added mostly all fresh fruits and vegetables. We eat out at the most twice a month. We don’t eat much of anything prepackaged. Only our sweet tooth and occasional need for a salty crunch interrupts our heart healthy culinary habits.If the Crestor does prove to be the cause of the muscle problems, I’ll have to hope that the dietary changes have been the primary cause of the blood level improvements. Something major happened, though.

Many years ago, at least twenty or twenty-five, I had my cholesterol checked as part of an employee physical. I don’t remember the exact number but it was close to 300. I was only around thirty yrs old then. I went to my primary doctor who wanted me to take the Lipitor. It was new on the market then and I’d read all sorts of horror stories about it destroying ones liver. I refused to take it but did agree to see a nutritionist. She had me keep a food diary for a month or so. I was completely truthful, listing  absolutely everything I ate. After that month, she determined that my cholesterol was genetic rather than dietary. At the time, I weighed about ninety pounds and was extremely active.

So, that I had high cholesterol was no surprise. My father also died of a heart attack in his mid thirties, along with his father before him. My brother has congenital heart problems, high cholesterol and had a valve replaced several years ago. On my mother’s side, there was an uncle that died during his third bypass, one who had a heart attack in the shower and an aunt who died from a stroke in her late sixties. It was just easier to ignore a genetic history so intense and frightening. I hope my children don’t ignore it. I also hope they develop a taste for fish.

So, I did, until I came nose to nose with my genes and my arteries and my cholesterol.

Of course there are all sorts of theories. The inflammation factor certainly plays into the heart attack scenario. It’s not simply plaque from the cholesterol that kills. It’s when a piece of that plaque breaks off that heart attacks happen. Then there is the spasm factor, no occlusion just a spasm that causes pain, or even more symptoms or even sudden cardiac death. Of course arteries completely occluded are no picnic either. They certainly played havoc with my living.

It does amaze me tho inside those arteries to change how they provided my heart with oxygen so suddenly. One day I could walk, even run without pain, without dizziness,ugh, the years I must have lived with occluded arteries and didn’t know it.  My first, in my face, symptoms were severe enough to bring my world to a grinding halt. It would be six long weeks later that I had a cardiac cath  turned triple bypass. During six weeks, the symptoms I experienced were too severe to allow me to work, to go anywhere alone. The smallest task became enormous and I could no longer trust my body to carry me, support me, sustain me.

I wonder what happened without nausea, and the next day, even later the same day, I no longer could. Was a critical mass state suddenly reached? Had my level of stress and of heart-break suddenly climbed to the actual breaking point? I know a 90% blockage of an artery probably provided me symptoms before that fateful day when I could finally no longer avoid noticing. Were symptoms there all along? Was I in such a state of dissociation that I was not aware of how starved my heart had become?

I suppose heart attack survivors ask those same questions. My cardiologist tells me that despite all that’s happened and despite the bizarre state of my arteries, all of them, my heart has not suffered significant damage. I have one tough heart it seems. I guess I knew that all along. I have to remember though, that it’s not just my heart I have to protect. I have to protect what feeds my heart. I have to make sure it gets what it needs, all the time, not just drugs and fish, vegetables and grains, but love and kindness, compassion and tenderness. Real food for the heart.

I’ve gotten so off track here. This was about the Crestor experiment. I wonder if in fifty years research will have proved that all we thought detrimental to our hearts is, in fact, beneficial. All we now believe to be beneficial is someday found to be harmful. Can you imagine a day when our recommended daily allowances include milk chocolate. How about commercial reminders to eat five servings of cheese and bacon? Instead of salad bars, the heath conscience would flock to fried food bars. Ahhh, and let’s not forget the dreaded cigarette. It could be restored to its pre Phillip Morris, rightful place as a religious experience.

We could all go to church and smoke our favorites. Denominations could include the Menthols and the Lights. Just as there are Baptists, Southern Baptists and Primitive Baptists, there could be the Virginia Slims, the Salems and the Marlboros. Believing as I do that all paths lead to God, I’d have to visit them all. In fact, I’d probably be there every time a church door opened.This could be what finally unites the religions of the world and brings an end to war and destruction.

Before you wonder about the state of my Carotid arteries, at last check, they were fine. I am feeding my heart with humor.

One Comment leave one →
  1. New Allie permalink*
    August 3, 2010 5:26 pm

    I LOVE YOU!~ Lee

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