I have deferred my blog page this month to a good friend with a great message. I mentioned Rob (not by name) in Journal Entry #45 “Cancer.” He’s the chief that put off his cardiac testing and went to play golf because he was told there is a 10% chance of a false positive so he couldn’t possibly be sick! He’s in great shape! Well, here’s the real story. I thank Rob for coming forth and sharing his tale with all of us so we can learn from it. Like I said at the end of #45, get checked, get tested, don’t put it off, don’t be a macho dope and get tests done whether the department sends you or not, career, volunteer or otherwise.
By Robert Ross-South District, Middletown, CT
I am 55 and I’m in great shape. My blood pressure is 105/64 and my cholesterol is never higher than 170. I’m a mere 8 pounds over my recommended weight for my height and I am as fit as a fiddle. On February 10, 2017 I found out how wrong I was about my health!
I was wrong about everything I thought about my own health and most likely, so are you. We as fire service members are inherently passionate about a lot of things. We fight for a lot and we fight over a lot. I think to myself how frequently we have fought over the wrong things over my 37 years in the service. Our own health and wellness is one thing we are often reluctant to address. Why? Like the homeowner who fails to embrace their own safety by failing to have a working smoke alarm in their home because it will “never happen to them,” we are as stubborn and take on that same “it won’t happen to me” attitude.
Here's my personal story about my stubbornness and my denial. (Ron told me “denial is a river in Egypt-Da Nile!) Don't quit on me now despite Ron’s bad humor. Give me a few more minutes of your time so you can hear my story and perhaps learn from it. The life you save could be your own!
Since I was about the age of forty, I have taken a preventive approach to my health. (Don’t wait until 40. Do it as soon as you can.) I had an annual physical and then I added a cardiologist appointment with periodic stress tests. During this year’s annual exam, it was recommended that I repeat my stress test. It seemed unnecessary to me as I had one in 2014. My cardiologist is the best around. I could have no finer doc but honestly, I had given him enough concern during my annual exam based on my work load and stress levels for him to order a stress test. Yet, despite my initial objection, I would get it done. However, being stubborn and a bit busy at the firehouse, I postponed my first scheduled test. A lot was going on and I was going away soon so I canceled it. Then the doctor’s office called with an appointment cancellation and was able to slip me in late in the day on Tuesday, January 24th. Did I have time for this? Of course not. I had so much to do that week. I had to wrap up a bunch of things and get them done before I left on the 26th for a golf trip in Florida, followed by a Chief’s conference in Alabama. I remember thinking “oh what the heck, yes schedule me in and let’s get this over with.”
Tuesday came and at 1530 sharp, I hopped on the treadmill. Twelve minutes and 15 seconds later the treadmill was winding down and I was walking off the test. “Good numbers on the timing for a 55 year old” I thought to myself. Then they sat me down asked me how I felt. “Great, never better!” The cardiac PA who conducted the test left the room and returned a short time later. She said she just got off the phone with the doc and had another cardiologist review my results. They all agreed that I had failed the stress test. There was for the first time, an abnormality in the results as compared to the four other tests I’ve had in the past. They told me there was a ten percent chance I had a false positive. Big mistake on their part. I locked in on that ten percent. Yep that’s me, Mr. 10%. Has to be ‘cause I’m as fit as a fiddle. They wanted to do some further testing right away. I said I would be happy to, just a soon as I got back from Florida. After a lengthy discussion (more like pleading on the PA’s part) I was put on a heart pill and my test was scheduled for when I returned. I went on my golf trip to Florida and to my conference in Alabama. What possible problems could I have? I was in the false positive 10th percentile!
February 10th at 0800 sharp, I climbed up on the table in the catheterization lab for an angiogram at Hartford Hospital. I was so convinced that I would be in that ten percent gang for a false positive, I didn’t let my wife take the day off from work to come with me and kill a half day with a bunch of strangers. I had a friend drop me off with a pick-up time around noon. As they prepared for the procedure, I was told the plan was simple. They would do the test which should take 45 minutes to an hour and if they found any issues, the procedure would go another hour or two to make any repairs. At the start of the procedure, I was given light sedation. I remember looking at the clock at 0810. The next time I remember looking at the clock it was 0926. Could I have been wrong? What was going on? Packages were being opened, numbers were being called out by the staff doing the procedure and then I heard the word “balloon.” Given the time on the clock, I remember thinking “those aren’t get well balloons they’re talking about.” How can this be, I am fit as a fiddle, right? The anesthesiologist must have seen the look on my face and sent me back under.
At 1035 I awoke again to the doc who performed the procedure informing me that I was all set. I had two blockages, one at 80% and one at 70%. He cleared both by ballooning them and installed four stents. I would be staying the night and he had already called my wife to let her know I would not be home for lunch.
Today I am a graduate of the Middlesex Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, am 10 lbs lighter, have changed my diet and most of all, I worry less about the little things that used to drive me crazy. I feel less stressed and much healthier.
The lesson for you to learn from this is that the stress of the fire house, family and the everyday rat race of our hectic lives do not count as a stress test. Every Cardiologist I have met through this episode has attributed my blockages to the stress of being in the fire service. No matter how healthy you think you are, get your stress under control, learn to manage it and get tested often. The life you save will be your own!
Good luck, be healthy, take care of yourselves and be safe,
Thanks again Chief Ross for this eye-opening personal account. Hopefully, we’ll all pull something from it. By the way, best of luck on your retirement and we all wish you a happy, healthy and very long retirement at that. You look better already!