Friday, October 21, 2011

A PHOTOGRAPHER LIVING AND WORKING WITH ATRIAL FIBRILLATION

I really consider myself an extremely lucky man. I have been blessed in many areas. I have a wonderful family, I am able to work at something I truly love by being a photographer and I am married to my best friend. But there have been times when I did not feel so lucky.  In July of 1993 and then again twice in September of that year, I had a heart attack. Not an unusual event for a man in his forties but still not one of those moments you look forward to or enjoy when it happens. 


One of the reasons I say I'm a lucky guy is that after those three attacks, I have been able to live a normal life. I have climbed mesas in Arizona, hiked three or four miles in the Alaska tundra and swam in the beaches of Hawaii. I have not had angina ever unless you count those three pesky attacks. 


One night a few weeks after my third and last attack, I was sitting in our home after dinner and felt something in my chest. I had no idea what it was and it only happened once but it felt like a small blip of pressure. Once I realized it was not happening again, I went on with the night and forgot about it. 


Then early one morning Phyllis and I were driving to an area of Massachusetts for a photo shoot and I started feeling funny, not ha ha funny but unusual funny. I was out of breath and I was feeling that same blip in my chest but this time it was happening over and over again at a very fast rate. When I felt for my pulse, I found that it was racing at a extremely fast rate, about 200 beats a minute 


I told Phyllis to drive back home, about an hour's drive. When we arrived at our neighborhood, Phyllis drove straight to our hospital's emergency room. I didn't think I was having another attack but I knew something was wrong. The doctor in the emergency room, after checking my pulse and doing a EKG, informed me that I was in Afib or Atrial Fibrillation. He also told me I was not having a heart attack. 


Later I found out that Afib was the most common cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) and involves the two upper chambers of  the heart. The name comes from the fibrillating (quivering) of the heart muscle in the atria, instead of a coordinated contraction. While Afib is not in itself generally considered immediately life threatening, it may result in palpitations, fainting, chest pain or congestive heart failure. People with Afib have an increased risk of stroke (up to seven times that of the general public).  


The doctor decided, because of my history, to put me in a room to stay. On the way to the room, I realized the racing had stopped and I was back in normal rhythm. The doctors sent me home and told me to see my cardiologist. When I did, I was told there were different paths we could follow. 


One, I dismissed out of hand, was being put on a pacemaker. It just seemed like another step towards being a victim and I could not handle that so soon after my heart attacks. My cardiologist put me on a few new medicines. One was to help my heart from going into afib (not entirely accurate as I would later find out) and the other would be coumadin. That drug is used to prevent blood clots from forming or growing larger in your blood and blood vessels. While very helpful, it carries some risk if the directions are not followed correctly and even if they are. They include going to a lab two to four times a month to have your blood checked and then readjusting the amount of coumadin you take. 


In order to keep your blood levels right you really should keep your diet consistent. You can eat whatever you want but it is better if you do not change the amount of greens you eat. They have vitamin K and K helps with blood coagulation. Normally this is great but not if you have Afib. With Afib, you need to thin out your blood to reduce the risk of stroke. Coumadin pretty much takes all the vitamin K out of your system.  


Another drawback is that people tend to bruise easily and if you cut yourself, you may not easily stop bleeding and may need to go to the hospital. This includes bleeding inside your head. You obviously need to worry about any major accidents. Coumadin and myself had an ongoing battle for about ten years. I was working a eight to ten hour day which made getting my blood tested difficult. I like to be out in nature and sometimes in nature cuts happen. 


I also like to travel. On two trips, I started bleeding, once through my nose and once through, well I'll let you guess the other area. Both times I ended up in the hospital. The first was in Tennessee which involved a few hours in emergency. The other incident took place in old Quebec and landed me in the hospital for two nights.


About eight years ago, when we moved to New Hampshire, I needed a new cardiologist. After reading my history, that doctor took me off of coumadin. He felt that an aspirin a day would be okay and my risk of bleeding outweighed my risk for a stroke. 


Throughout all those eighteen years, I would continue to have episodes of Afib. Phyllis could tell because she would see me taking my pulse or I would tell her in case the worse possible outcome happened. The episodes would last as little as a minute or as long as eight hours. That was until a little over a year ago when I had one that lasted around seventeen hours. 


After that time, I started noticing more frequent episodes and realized I needed to do something. It was beginning to intrude on my life. I started seeing a cardiologist in Florida and after some tests to check out the health of my heart (which was in excellent shape), a visit to a specialist was suggested. After speaking with this doctor, we decided to schedule a catheter ablation. This is a procedure that has really evolved over the last half dozen years and has a 90% success rate of stopping Afib. 


The procedure involves a surgeon cutting two small holes in your groin and inserting a camera in one and a catheter in the other, both traveling up to your heart. After mapping your heart, the surgeon burns cells in your heart and ultimately creates scar tissue. This scar tissue blocks the abnormal heart electrical impulses from being conducted through your heart and after one procedure, 60 % of patients are cured. In others, a second ablation is performed and then a 90% success rate is reached. At the same time, a probe is put down your throat. 

I was really excited about this and not that worried. Well, I wasn't until we scheduled the procedure for seven days later. As the day got closer, I did notice a certain feeling coming over me. I won't say I was scared but the more I thought about what was actually going to be performed on me, I did become a wee bit apprehensive!!! 


The day came, the procedure went fine and I was able to go home after one night which I was very happy about. My biggest problem during the next week or so was really, really bad acid reflux which is a fancy word for heartburn!!!  I did see the humor that after burning parts of my heart suffering from heartburn seemed perfectly obvious!!! I also had trouble breathing and some leg pain. This was all normal for people going through this procedure.

I stopped writing my blog the day before I went in and took a few weeks after to rest. The first week I was just too tired. The acid reflux prevented me from sleeping more than an hour or two each night and I was frequently waking up to cough. After about ten days the medicines seemed to have helped the reflux and I'm feeling back to normal. 


My camera has been close by but I didn't pick it up much. That will be stopping today!!! The day before I was going in, I was having my morning coffee on my patio and saw a rather large bird in a nearby tree. I grabbed my camera and walked onto the golf course to see how the bird looked. This is what I saw!





For those of you who do not know, these birds are vultures!!!  Vultures feast on dead animals including humans. lol This is not a bird you need to see hanging around your house when you're heading out for a heart procedure lol. 


I am feeling much better now and in the next few weeks, I will find out whether I need to have the procedure a second time. It really makes you appreciate living in a world where the medical procedures have come so far. It is truly amazing to think of what doctors can do with the new technology.

I've just read that Barry Manilow lives with AFIB and is trying to educate people about it on a new website. Check it out at http://www.getbackinrhythm.com/.    He also has a video where he talks about AFIB and about a test you can take to see if you might have it. 


Afib is not a death sentence, you can live a fairly normal life with it. Phyllis and I have traveled all over the US, Canada and Italy photographing some beautiful sites during which time I had AFIB. Now with new medication, including a coumadin substitute  'Pradaxa' which performs the same task without all the drawbacks of coumadin, it is even easier to deal with AFIB. Plus with strides made in the ablation procedures, it is a whole new world for people with it. If you think you have it, see your doctor. It could save your life!!


After seeing vultures, I needed to photograph something a little nicer so I stopped by my garden and took these images. I hope you enjoy them! I'm sorry I was gone for so long but I'm back now and will be photographing a lot, including an upcoming trip to Miami!!














30 comments:

Roy Durham said...

Jim i am like you with afib . they had to put stints in it 2008 to open up the arteries in my heart, i have been doing good every since and i have not had to use the nitro but one or twice do what they tell you and the bruising will go away in a week or two. take care and god bless

Jan said...

What an experience, educating yourself and finding the right doctor to work with your specific needs, is all too important. Thank you for this post and the beautiful photos. Vultures are not so pretty, but you captured them beautifully. I am glad you are well and will be back. I love your photos. <3<3<3 Jan

Leah Griffith said...

These are amazing photos! I have a similar one of the vultures that I took recently. They look so much more ominous when they perch on a dead tree. LOL!!
I always enjoy my visits Jim!

Bongo said...

ahhhhhhh was missing your blog..now i know..glad you're doin ok..and I kinda like the vultures LOLOL..As always...XOXOXOXO

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

Jim, I have definitely missed your voice and your spectacular photos and wondered what was going on. Thank you for sharing this and I am so grateful that you are on the mend.

Like you, my husband (didn't know him then) suffered a heart attack when he was 45. The culprit? High cholesterol. He has had bouts with the quickened heartbeats, but they have receded. He does have a "defib" device in his chest which hasn't shown any deviance since it was placed there five years ago. That is, indeed, a blessing!

It is a blessing, too, to have you back here with us. Thank you for sharing your personal story and touching the lives of others in such a unique and special way.

May God bless always!

FherYmas said...

Thanks for this Jim...info rich and touching at the same time.
Yes sometimes we can draw inspiration and strength even in our weakness and sufferings.
Nice images.

Jim said...

Thanks for the explanation of the condition JIM and the wonderful photos.
I think everyone has missed having you around.
BTW, those vultures are a good sign...a sign of life! Essential in the cycle of life. In India and Pakistan, 95% of vultures have been wiped out because the veterinary use of the common drug Diclofenac is poisonous to them. Yes, the very same drug prescribed to humans.

So when you posted that picture, you gladdened my heart to see them in such numbers.

Bec Owen said...

You are an inspiration, Jim! Thank you for sharing your story with all of us...I (and many others, I'm certain) am so pleased that you are enjoying your well-being and moving into full health.

And thank you for sharing your beautiful images, too.

AJ said...

Your heart, Jim! :) Every day, indeed, is a blessing. But the vultures...wow that would've creeped me out! Especially before a heart procedure as you've said. :))

Btw, thanks to you too for telling me to see a cardiologist. I'm taking maintenance meds for cholesterol now.

Alpana Jaiswal said...

I missed u a lot Jim...and I know that a person with such a wonderful heart will always stay healthy and good. i have seen all kinds of heart problems in my family...ever since I was 9 years old...Just take good care of yourself,that is what is most important,you have a wonderful life partner,Phyllis with you...what more do u need.I love the pictures...love u always.

Jessica M said...

I will pray for continued health for you. Great photos :)

blognostics said...

Good to hear all is well mate. Take it easy for a while then come back to me with fists flying! lol

A

Rimly said...

Thank god you are alright Jim. Missed you. These pictures are awesome. Take care and god bless

Susan Deborah said...

Glad and quite glad that you made us partake of your life's story. Being healthy and joyous is a gift of the almighty.

And for the pictures, they are wonderful. The details are amazing.

Happy to have you back in the loop.

Joy always,
Susan

Portia said...

It is complecated, I mean your text and accompaning photos.
About the text, I'd say,I like your attitude to look at the things happening to you as a mere observer.It lessens pain and increases your resilience according to my mom.
About the photos, well the vultures are God-appointed scavangers, nothing much.I found them to be forming a 'question mark' in you photo as if asking,'why are we so maligned?'
-PORTIA

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Welcome back, Jim. Your 'comeback' photographs had my heart skipping a beat ;) So glad that your procedure went well.
Your post was personal and yet so informative. But that's what makes you special, Jim.

Both my mother and brother have this problem and also have one leaky heart valve. Despite the fact that both of them ate healthy and exercised, their cholesterol levels were really high and arteries blocked. As a result, they had to have bypass surgery. Sorry I went on....

JIM said...

Thank you all...
Roy you might speak to your doctor about the procedure I mentioned. Good luck with your health

Bongo lol I actually like the vultures but thought it was funny seeing them that day!!
Martha it is really amazing how many people live with this and from my doctors have told me they really have no idea what causes it!!! Glad to hear your husband is doing well
Jim I actually love watching the vultures a really interesting bird. Thanks for the kind words I appreciate them.
AJ I'm glad to hear you saw the doctor we really need to keep our heart in shape especially with the trips and photography we all enjoy!!!

Stay well all my friends. Thank You for your welcoming me back I have missed all of you!!!

Larry Lewis said...

Jim i am used to being impressed by your photos, you never fail to do that, but today you have ceetainly revealed a totally different side, and it was fascinating to read, and i'm so happy to see trhat you have carried on throughout, and now please god you are doing well. I must say one part started to make me squirm, and hold on tightly to my marbles.

JIM said...

Thanks Larry I gave a lot of thought on if I should post this. I thought maybe it would help someone who is having this problem deal with it!! Lol I think I know the part your speaking about lol

Simran said...

So refreshing :)

Jewell said...

Wow! You know I was wondering where you had gotten off to, but I didn't dare post a comment or try to locate an email for you lest you thought I was some sort of creepy stalker type! =)

I was shocked to see what you posted and yet relieved to hear how well you are doing!! It really is amazing how far things have come medically speaking isn't it? Today a pacemaker is usually one of the last options for heart problems, and yet when you started this part of your journey it was one of the first.

Well know that I missed you, and I will send you much healing and strength! Give Phyllis a hug from me...I can't imagine how scary and stressful it was for her all those emergency trips to the ER.

(((( Jim ))))

PS...I added your badge to my LensTripping.com site. =) I don't get a lot of traffic at the moment, but it's there should I mysteriously get boat loads of it! =)

Ravenmyth said...

First of all Jim I am happy you are doing well and I feel education on your health is the best healer...it takes away the mystery and lets you make conscious choices...I had noticed you were not active on your blog...so welcome back and the photo's you took before you went into the hospital are as always a beautiful capture of nature in all her wonder...so happy you are doing well...see you out there in Blog World my friend...Always...

Techmaker said...

JIM, your photos are awesome. I don't have words to explain my emotions on your pics. Great man. Love your photos.

Andy said...

Hello Jim.
What an experience you've been through. I'm happy to hear you're doing much better.

Your photos are awesome, even if those vultures look pretty mean on that tree! I find it refreshing to stop by here.

Look after yourself, my friend & just take it easy.

Thanks for visiting & commenting. Much appreciated.

Undress Me With Your Sultry Eyes

short poems said...

These pictures are beautiful, I so love your blog. Great work!

cath said...

Glad to see you back and glad the Afib has been controlled. :D And glad to see your wonderful photos online once more!

Tameka said...

Jim, I love your attitude. Any health condition can be scary and a challenge and you still have it within you to educate us about your condition and to share your photos with us. I pray that all will be well and you will heal up soon and get back to blogging. We miss you. Take good care!

http://lyricfire.typepad.com/lyric-fire/2011/10/lyric-fire-look-at-my-fabulous-life-episode-10-.html

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

Gosh, I wondered where you've been! I've missed your posts. So glad all worked out with the tests (they sound ugh!!. The photos of the vultures has a certain macabre humor. Would not have liked to see those outside my window after the tests. I much prefer your garden series.

So happy to know you are well. Hope the acid reflux is gone.

My best to you and Phyllis.

Debbie said...

Glad your well JIM and hope you hear good news of not needing the procedure again ... I've seem many vultures ... but for some reason your photo makes them look so much better, than the images of them running across the roads for road kill...

melissa said...

You are definitely a wonder Jim. An angel tweeted about your condition and I felt so close to you in prayers. I think I need the prayers more than you do lol. You have a very healthy attitude towards life.

Thanks for all those info on AFib, I need a refresher's course :P.

My mom also experiences palpitations although we never caught her ECG readings, we also suspect atrial fibs on her. We do vagal manuever ~ carotid massage to calm her.

She's into Flavix and I understand how it is when you recounted your bleeding episodes.

On vultures: I was reading a post on symbolic meanings, and the author wrote positive things about vultures (http://www.symbolic-meanings.com/2009/04/25/vulture-meanings-and-nonconformity/).

Take very good care Jim :)