Heart Failure: The First Episode

I feel good today, almost great, in fact. I’m breathing easy, no congestion. My head is clear. I am on the winning end of this cold I have had four the last three, almost four weeks. It was so powerful, so strong, so resistant to the regular three day cold-fighting regimen, I thought it was a flu. And I get a flu shot. News of the coronavirus did not help. I didn’t think I was infected but I thought I was losing against something that was maybe as powerful. It just wouldn’t go away.

I walked home today, part of the way, and my step was light, the way it used to be, energetic, youthful, bouncy, and effortless.

I still feel young.

I feel the same as I used to, and I don’t. I haven’t felt the same since my heart started failing. A diagnosis of heart failure isn’t the same as a diagnosis of cancer. But, it is life-altering. Only 50 percent of people with heart failure live longer than five years, so it feels like a death sentence, when you dwell on it. It feels dire.


It was 2016, the second week of March. I had taken most of Spring Break off, Monday through Thursday, believing I could and would spend that time righting what was wrong with my novel and putting some quality paragraphs down. But, the Thursday before Spring Break week, I started to get a cold. By the time my four-day vacation came around, it had intensified into something almost scary. I couldn’t breath when I sat for too long, when I was standing, when I tried to lay down. My own wheezing horrified me. My head stuffed and I couldn’t think clearly part of the time. An hour passed like ten minutes. I couldn’t concentrate of writing. I couldn’t stop coughing. I couldn’t sleep. I had no energy. I started shivering, then stopped, then started, with no warning, or clear reason. I was miserable, bone tired, sleepless, hungry (I had no appetite), and nothing was working for the first few days.

Then that Thursday, I somehow made it to the store. My legs were aching. I couldn’t walk far before they lost strength and forced me to stop. I t was even worse and more frequent on any incline. I made it to Walgreen and bought some Claritin, some Mucinex, some Vicks VapoInhaler. I walked to AppleMart, slowly (pride wouldn’t allow me to shuffle, no matter how much energy it saved), and bought some Sprite for my stomach and some Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, maybe ten cans. Something worked, something broke. I vomited less than two hours later, felt a hundred times better, and enjoyed my first real nap.

The cold broke and I was back at work Monday, noticebaly weaker, especially inmy legs and lungs, and convinced that I had just survived a flu.

In fact I had just experienced my first congestive heart failure episode. My heart wasn’t pumping blood around my body and I mistook the symptoms, the signs, as a flu. Or I had a flu, as well.

I had a second episode before I went to the hospital for the first time and, truthfully…psychologically, I have never recovered from those two episodes or the diagnosis. I have never gotten to the point where I am not constantly reminded I have congestive heart failure, I’m not constantly thinking about it, and I’m not continuously monitoring my body, trying to sense my body, for any symptom of any, any sign of the beginning of the next episode.

I feel healthy and I don’t.

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