Well, it’s a long story. Indulge me here for a few…there is a personal defense message near the terminus. As some of you know, I am a dentist by trade. I have worn other hats in a fairly exciting life. I had the distinct displeasure of contracting tuberculosis WAY back in 1999 whilst working as a fireman/EMT in Western Washington State. I had to take a handful of HUGE pills, everyday, for six months. The pills (Pyrazinamide and Rifampin) made me itch, feel nauseous, and made my food taste metallic and not good. I was exhausted, and spent most of that six months feeling like a sweaty, miserable, mess. After the six months had passed, I still didn’t feel great, and it took some time until I was able to, “feel,” right again.
Fast Forward to 2012…it was an ugly year. My dear friend, “Uncle,” Paul Gomez died suddenly, on a training trip to the Pacific Northwest, after leaving my house. Around the same time, my marriage ended. I had terminated my contract with one dental service corporation, and started up with another (which I obviously wouldn’t have done had I known that my immediate future would be, “uncertain”) that didn’t pay nearly what I had hoped it would. So my life went from stressful to nearly pegged. If you’ve never had to live that kind of life, I’m happy for you; I don’t recommend it. One of the worst side effects of having your life simultaneously turn into a nightmare, is that you sleep very little. I would get MAYBE one to two hours a night, and sometimes I wouldn’t sleep at all…for days. It was awful. My immune system wasn’t up to snuff. I contracted a flu virus from a Central American patient that had a very severe abscess from a neglected tooth, and that virus ran me down. I would go into coughing fits so severe, that I would have to double over at the knees to keep from blacking out and losing consciousness. But, like most viral infections do, it eventually passed. Until it came back…
In February of 2013…I awoke one morning to start my daily routine of personal maintenance, before preparing a lunch, and getting my child dressed for school. I had to ascend/descend a steep staircase about 15 times during the various trips to the kitchen, the garage and laundry room. After those 15 trips, I was having trouble staying on my feet. I sat on the staircase and I could feel my heart flopping around, hitting my sternum. I felt my jugular veins. They were not distended. I would perform a val salva maneuver on myself to see if my heart rate would drop, and it would not. I started to get really worried. The only time I had seen a patient with the signs and symptoms I had was when I treated a Malaria patient with myocarditis during my residency training. I decided to pack up the car, skip going to school, and head to the local cardiac specialty hospital. I had to have help getting out of the car and across the parking lot. When I reached the volunteer at the intake desk of the ER, I said, “My name is Dr. Sherman House, and I need you to code me. I am having chest pain.”
Almost immediately, I was whisked via wheelchair to the back of the ER, where I was descended upon by a team of what seemed to me to be about 26 capable hands. It felt surreal…how many times had I been one of those sets of hands, in the past? I couldn’t accurately recall, but probably in the thousands. And now, the tables had turned. In a short span of time, I had two IV’s, several EKG leads, a defibrillator pad set, heparin injections, and a myriad of other treatments. My final diagnosis that day was viral cardiomyopathy (secondary to the flu virus…aka the, “Spanish Flu,” aka H1N1, which was responsible for the epidemic of the first part of the 20th Century, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 40 million people of middle age and GOOD health), left ventricular dysfunction (my left ventricle ejection fraction was 12%…”normal,” is 55-70%, and, since my heart was effectively shutting down, it kicked into atrial fibrillation as a last resort to maintain itself. I wasn’t well. In fact, the cardiologist came into the room and told me to, “Get my affairs in order.” Ever called your attorney and told him to come to the hospital to, “make your arrangements”? Needless to say, that day didn’t end how I thought it would when it started.
But, something odd happened. I started to get better. My cardiologist would come into the hospital daily, and tell me that he was frankly baffled, and that only time would tell where I will end up. So, with a semi-optimistic attitude, I left the hospital Cardiac Care Unit after nearly a week, where I was sent home to recover. I had to go back to the hospital every other day for several months, to have my blood levels checked, and to monitor my Coumadin blood levels. I was still in a state of atrial fibrillation, which was later (albeit temporarily) fixed by a synchronized cardio-version procedure, two months later.
Being in atrial fibrillation is an ugly feeling. Imagine the feeling of having a living King Salmon, suspended inside of your chest, with its tail stapled to the back of your spine, and the fish isn’t happy to be there. It flops around incessantly, and it is nearly impossible to get used to. Remember that your left atrium is closely associated with your esophagus, so you feel a fullness in your throat that is really annoying, and interferes with the enjoyment of food. The ONLY time I felt comfortable was when I would get my heart rate up high enough that I didn’t notice it was grossly out of sync. I did this by running on the treadmill or on a track. It is exhausting, since the aberrant rhythm prevents normal cardiac function. So, if I could have, I would sleep well at night. But I didn’t.
I went back into atrial fibrillation two more times (for a total of four times) in July of 2014, and again in November of 2015. After thinking about it extensively, and discussing it with my girlfriend and TEAM of cardiologists (yes…I have a team) I opted to elect for a procedure called, “cryo-mapping,” and ablation, using RF (radio frequency) radiation. During a six hour procedure, a team of capable nurses and surgeons guided several instruments into my heart, through the large veins and arteries in my groin. Using cryotherapy and RF, they essentially created an, “electrical fence,” around my pulmonary veins, where they return from my lungs into the left side of my heart, through the atrium. The damage that the Spanish Flu virus had caused left extensive scar tissue inside of my heart, that impeded the proper electrical flow impulses that allow my heart to beat normally.
It’s been about 40 days since I had the procedure, and every day, I get a little better. There are still times when I am exhausted, and I just have a day where I lay low (and write articles, crank on guns, or read). So, the moral of the story is this (these):
- Take care of yourself. You are YOUR first responsibility. You CANNOT take care of your family, your job, the public or anything else, if you are literally dying. If you get sick, take time, get rest, and feel better. Your body will thank you. If you work in a job where you are constantly around sick people, take care not to catch it. Even though I am SUPER meticulous about wearing my personal protective equipment, I still caught two, life threatening conditions. And as much as I hate to say it, read history books. “Westerners,” traveling to far off places and attempting to cure the sick and injured, has often resulted in dead Westerners. I used to be very adventurous about helping the sick, wherever they were, but now, I am a bit more cautious. I’m sure there will be those out there that think my xenophobic, but I don’t have to get bit by a snake three times to figure out that my life works best when I avoid snakes.
- The BEST FIREARMS ACCESSORY you can buy is a gym membership…and then USE it. I have never been, “miserably,” out of shape, but carrying around extra weight isn’t smart when you constantly think, “Oh, I’ll get to that TOMORROW.” That day may never come. Or, when you get to the point where you NEED to get weight off, you can’t, because your heart can’t support it. I am continually amazed at the number of folks that stroll into the gun shop looking for a piece of equipment that will, “save them,” from the street hoodlum horde, when they literally can’t touch their own toes, or even pick up their empty magazines off the ground without getting lightheaded, face ablaze in red, and profusely sweating. I’m glad to help anyone out there I can better themselves, whether through marksmanship practice or by just getting out to the gym, or hitting the park for a 5 mile walk. I have a girlfriend that I love and absolutely want to grow old with, and a ten year old boy that I want to continue to see turn into a young man, who needs his Dad. I have to be HERE to do that. And that requires a lifestyle change.
- Eat to LIVE, TRAIN to win. If you eat 21 times a week, make 19 of those meals worthwhile, from REAL food, that isn’t full of chemicals and awful ingredients. GO pursue some kind of physical exertion, everyday. It requires a lifestyle change/adaptation, but it makes everything else work better. If you needed to ascend 20 flights of stairs, because the elevator was out, could you? If you exercise, you should be able to! Shooting is SO MUCH easier and more enjoyable when you are in good physical condition.
“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.” -John Wick