Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fear of Night

November 28 will mark the two year anniversary of my dissection experience.  I am really glad it happened then and I am somewhat 'fixed', at least  for a while.

But aren't we all here only a 'while'?  So every day I wake and am breathing is a blessing beyond any words I could write.  Each new morning's light is like a coffee break (I'll take espresso) in the long day of uncertainty.

However at the end of the day, as the sun sets, a sometimes subliminal fear sets in, a fear of not waking up.  I think this dread of the dark is a weaving of many thought currents not the least being the memory of my late night dissection and the severe panic and pain accompanying the aorta tear.

So at night I do not welcome that visitor of disquietude.  Yet it predictably comes.

I do not understand many things.  But I know this; it is good to wake up and take a breath.  For every new sunrise I am granted absolution from a darkness once more.

Maybe for me this reprieve is what grace is all about. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Singing Aorta - Marfan Syndrome and Dissection

My aorta has been singing.  On top of the 'itchies-bugs crawling', the clickity-clicking, vivid dreams, insomnia, chronic fatigue and..., now my aorta is singing.  I call it 'harmonic pulsation'.  When my heart beats, I am thinking my torn false lumen is flapping in the blood flow like a piece of paper held taught between two fingers.  Since the tear extends down into my legs my entire body was humming last night every time my heart beat!  This is so cool to have a stringed quartet inside me! Wow!  I love life! xxx

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunshine and Cardiovascular Health

I find peace and God along my walks in the deep Florida sunshine and quiet nature, with camera, walking cane and whispering salty breezes.

Cardiovascular health can be found in nature walks
For someone trying to preserve the integrity of a severely dissected aorta, low blood pressure and slow pulse are so very important.

Nature's indescribable display of colors, forms, geometry, music and scents woven in simply complex life create peace for my soul, and I feel like there may be a chance my heart and cardiovascular system may hold on for a season more.

As can be found on the poetry page of my blog here, haiku and one breath words are my way of conveying the peace found along the path to you and others seeking cardiovascular health.  So here is my haiku for the Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis and the willow tree, Salix sp.:

Life Shared
dirt, dew, light fusion
shy moth and willow spring forth
weaving a story
Flagler Beach, Florida, October 2013
May you find peace for your heart today outside in the sunshine.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Yoga on the Beach - Sandpiper (Sanderling - Shore Bird Style)

One of my physical therapies for preventing the descending dissection in my body from further aneurysing is to take daily walks.  The Atlantic Ocean is one of my favorite spots for many reasons.
Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013
Walking along the Atlantic, the crashing waves calm my spirit and quiet any rising hypertension.  There is always plenty of wildlife and nature to take in, either with the camera or just sitting still and appreciating the amazing life around me.

Yesterday a small sandpiper was really happy to be alive and put on an amazing show of yoga (what I should be doing) in the sand just beyond wave's reach.

There is so much beautiful peace to be found in still quietness.  Enjoy the photos.
Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013
Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Sandpiper (Sanderling), Mala Compra, Florida, October 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Simple Spirituality, My Search for The Divine and the Meaning of Life

I have been looking for the meaning of life and think I have found it.

My search for true spirituality was long and complicated when it should have been easy
For me, the meaning of life can be found in love.  

When we love other people we have found The Divine.  That's it.  That's all. 

I could stop here because there is nothing else to say. 

But I going to try to explain myself in really simple terms because I need to try and be consistent with basic principles of western logic; for myself and for others and because, lol, my blog posts need to be a certain length.

First of all, for me ‘The Divine’ must be simple.   Because my cognitive level is damaged as a result of multiple open heart surgeries and my being on heart by-pass for hours I have a difficult time with complicated things.  So spirituality must be easy.

Complex liturgy and lists of things to do and not do may sound beautiful for a contemplative moment but the meaning quickly evaporates as the seconds tick by and my ADHD or stroke induced forgetfulness overwhelms my mind.

Fortunately, simple words like ‘I love you’ profoundly call out to my soul, my deep inner sanctum, my heart, the place where my self-realization and self-awareness reside.  When I am in the midst of love I am also aware of the presence of a permanent Divinity and the paralyzing fear (so typical of my humanness) of temporality fades.

Secondly, walking on death’s threshold with my medical condition, I want to know God.    I also need the Divine because I am scared of facing a cold, dark eternity alone, by myself.  Believing in The Divine alleviates this fear, even if doing so exposes my fragility.  But that is what love is for.

Let me be very clear here about a side issue.  It’s OK if you don’t believe in life after death or God.  I will honor your beliefs.   In turn I expect the same freedom to believe how I need to, of you.  And it is OK if you have a different religious belief from across the U.S. or the world.  I hold you in esteem for your beliefs and wish the same respect in return. 

Now, it is really hard to put what I truly want to say in written words.  As a sometimes writer and blogger I like to think words are the best way to communicate ideas.  But everyone perceives written words differently.  We can both read a sentence and not find the same meaning.

I can even tell you what a group of words is supposed to mean and after hearing me ramble you may still have your own understanding.  The words we use as a human race are terribly inadequate to accurately describe spirituality.

So, ‘The Divine’ is the term I will use here in this post mostly because for me the term ‘God’ has been permanently defiled with an image of an angry, scornful old man up in the sky waiting to strike someone in retribution for even a small misstep.

And I want to believe The Divine loves us no matter what feeble proper noun we choose to call it and won’t get pissed off if we spell or say the right name wrong or the wrong name right.

So, because I think on very simple levels and I am physically fragile with respect to cardiovascular health and realize each breath could be my last, I long for a really simple spirituality and a desire to know and abide in The Divine.  Complicated words are confusing.  Simple words may be the best.  Love is a simple word.

But perhaps words are not even necessary to know The Divine.  Yes, you can read scripture or verse over and over and tell me what it means.  Quite possibly I may be able to see The Divine in those words but I really do not need those words to know The Great Divine; for God is much more than words.

Likewise, you can take me to the top of the highest mountain, through the depths of rain forests or down into the oceans and show me wonderful handiwork, creation, amazing life.  Yes, I can feel God’s hand on my shoulders in the summit wind, or hear God’s voice inside flowing waters or calling birds but I do not need to see the brilliant handiwork of nature to know The Great Divine.

I may sit in a church pew and listen to elegant verbal illustrations of the theologian and catch a glimpse of God’s story.  But I do not need the preacher’s well rehearsed script full of those words validating his or her learnings, to really know God.

Historic Dead sea scrolls with dusty ancient Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic writings may hold special insight about God.  Yet none of these parchments from which much of the Bible is written are not necessary to know The Divine, neither is the Bible.  In fact I really think one does not even have to be able to read, and they can be deaf, dumb or even in a coma and still find The Divine.

When I float in our swimming pool with my eyes closed my St. Jude aortic valve sounds loud under water and something I reason that is probably similar to what I listened to in the womb for nine months.  But many of my other senses are shut down floating with eyes shut.  And even without my cognitive logic and senses operating as they usually do, I still know love. 

So to me, none of our human senses are required for pure and simple spirituality, or to be in a relationship with The Divine.

I find pure spirituality in love.  I believe God is love.  I believe love is of The Divine.  I believe love is The Divine.

And now I want to learn how to love, forgive, be forgiven, and empty myself of negativity, fear or resistance I may have towards others.  I want to live in love, nothing else. 

Going back to those dusty parchments called the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the texts have been interpreted to say God is love.  We should pay attention to these powerful words.  Weaving love into our life can be easy.  Martin Luther's words helped me understand this when he said, ‘Love God and do as you please’.  Meshing love and life can be easy (though we usually have a tendency to take the long, hard route) and as I said, my brain needs to operate on very base levels to be consistently functional.

Today I like to take Luther’s quote and adapt the words ever so slightly for my own benefit, saying, ‘love Love and be yourself’.

By loving love we are loving God because God is love.  By being ourselves we are acknowledging our humanity.  This is simple spirituality.  Not much to it.   To reside in the presence of God we should give and accept love.  By living in love I will be living in the presence of God.

This is not a separatism of dualities rather it is an emptying of self interest and replacement of our desires with love, help, friendship, kindness and placing our neighbor first, that brings us into the presence of The Divine. 

Acknowledging our humanity allows us to be who we are as a man or woman living in a complicated universe.  And I am going to write another post about my humanity, my animalness.  I am going to try and use words to describe why I am so much like the bear foraging in our swampy flatwoods, the osprey enjoying fresh kill from the salt marsh, the eagle ruffling his feathers and guarding his nest and female, the snake in the weeds or the wise old owl, the butterfly dancing in the wind and why I am also a human, one seeking permanency through love.

Suffice it for the moment of conclusion here to say I am drawn to another group of words from those old parchments found in a cave.  Paraphrasing, they say ‘when two or three come together, in my name, there I am also’.  I know when I am with others, uplifting them, I am in the presence of a great love and have found the meaning of life.

And I will be glad to share my bloody raw fish kill with you any day you are hungry.  Just don’t mess with my female or my kids and leave my territory as clean as you found it when you leave.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making More Healthy Coffee in a Sustainable Manner for Heart and Cardiovascular Health

I love good coffee.  One of first things I wanted after my aorta replacement surgery was a cup of coffee.
French Press made coffee has replaced our drip maker for health reasons
But I detest coffee made in the drip maker.  The product tastes like what I would suppose plastic and petrochemicals taste like.  Blah!

Furthermore, there are quite a few articles out there pointing out just how dangerous chemicals that leach from plastic may be, and the harm to our bodies (and cardiovascular system) that hot water carrying those leached compounds from the drip maker can cause.  Yuck! 

Moreover, it is possible that we are poisoning ourselves by using drip coffee makers.  There are many petrochemical related compounds, mold release agents, stabilizers and other substances that may be found in plastics.    Over time the hot water running through a drip coffee maker with plastic parts may leach out chemicals that should not be in our bodies.   For more information on plastics and chemical leaching check out the link here to an good NPR news article.

Fortunately we found a coffee press system that is stainless steel and glass.  The Mr. Coffee Press makes the best coffee I have had in a long time.  A coffee press without plastic is a great way for anyone to live a 'greener' and more sustainable life!

Stainless and glass instead of mostly plastic
And I am not worrying as much now about drinking leached plastic compounds every morning.  Less worry means less stress on my bionic heart and this is good news. 

So for those of you who are unfamiliar with this simple coffee system, here is a quick look at the way I make coffee in the morning now.

First heat water in a teapot, preferably filtered water.  Second grind your favorite whole beans into whatever grind size you like.  I prefer strong bold coffee so my grounds are relatively fine.
Heart Health and Coffee - Fresh Roasted Beans
Then pour your ground coffee into the bottom of your coffee press.
Heart Health and Coffee - Freshly Ground Beans
Add hot water.  I like mine about 160F, but I've found that as long as the water is steaming it should be hot enough.  Do not bring your water to a hard boil.  Experimenting around with different water temperatures will allow you to choose just how hot you want your brewing coffee to be.  Some mornings I just listen for the teapot to start making its grumbling noises and I then know the water is ready. 
Heart Health and Coffee - Fresh Brew
Let the coffee brew for about three minutes.  Add the plunger lid and gently press down.
Heart Health and Coffee - Pressing the Brew
You will be totally amazed at how delicious your coffee tastes! Sustainability and health go hand in hand.  Removing plastic drip coffee makers from our lives is a good start to better heart and cardiovascular health.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Psychosocial Stress, Competition and Happiness, Living With A Dissected Aorta

Imagine having everything you want.  In today's competitive world, the goal of having all one ever could desire is the dream of most people.
Finding more time for family and friends is important
From an early age we are programmed to accumulate things.  Our animal-like humanity teaches us about the importance of surplus.  Like the squirrels gathering up a supply for the winter, we spend much of our life stashing away for the coming future when we may or may not be able to accumulate any more.

Moreover, by turning on any television, smart phone, computer or radio we become immediately bombarded with advertisements telling us why a certain product or service is needed, important to have or necessary in our too hectic lives.  And the concept of continued accumulation is a fundamental premise our world's economy is based upon.

Keeping up with our neighbors and friends, brothers and sisters and the 'Joneses' is expected. A spirit of competition has become the norm now required in today's society.  This striving and desire to lay by in store can truly be good for many reasons.

Inventions that seemingly make our lives so much easier, like smart phones, airplanes, computers, air conditioning and processed foods are all products of the competitive marketplace.

Working hard and saving up for later is, in my opinion, the best economic outlook to have.  In many ways, this type of 'go-getter' attitude inspired me to develop and grow during my youth and young adult years and even continues to fuel my desire to write and learn more and more today.

But competition and accumulation's spell has a detrimental side too.   From a biological perspective, competition is energized in part by increased resting levels of plasma adrenaline.  Many studies have shown that over time chronic increases in adrenaline may likely cause hypertension and cellular oxidation damage.

I think of too much competition and an accumulation mode of thinking as correctly being described with the term 'psychosocial stress'.  A little psychosocial stress can encourage us to reach higher and do better.  Too much psychosocial stress can be self-defeating if we hurt our bodies from hypertension, chronic cardiac inflammatory diseases or even cancer promoted by excess adrenaline.

As with most things, finding a good balance between accumulation and satisfaction is crucial.  But with all the pressure we are under to buy and have, the odds today are stacked against ever really finding satisfaction, and instead we remain a slave to psychosocial stress.

So how much is enough?  How do we capitalize on our adrenaline in a healthy manner to lay by in store for lean or later times?  Identifying how much accumulation is enough is a good first step.  Today many people never stop trying to get more and more.  They cannot free themselves from the competitive stress of trying to have the most.  The cycle of 'finding', 'buying' and 'storing' ends only when the great after-the-funeral garage sale event is scheduled and published on Craigslist.

For me hypertension could now be a quick path to a way too early death.  I suspect there are a few others in a similar situation out across the world.  I want to share my solution to the 'how much is enough' question.

The first step in breaking the competition and accumulation cycle for me was to write out a list of every material thing I wanted to have before I died.  Being disabled I am at somewhat of an advantage over most because I know I do not have the energy to take care of too much.

My list ended up being pretty short.  I desire simplification and freedom.  The fewer things I own, the less time I spend fixing, maintaining, repairing or mending.  This means I now have more time to do the things I love, within the limits of my serious disability.

There are no correct limits of how much or how little one needs to have to break the hypertensive adrenaline cycle attributed to endless accumulation.  The key is establishing an 'endpoint'.  My list of things I wanted actually completed, finished my cycle of keeping up with the 'Joneses'.

With my list I now knew exactly what I wanted.  Surprisingly I found that I already had all I ever wanted.

Interestingly, the Bible speaks of Jesus telling a rich, young ruler "if you want to be complete, go and sell what you own and give to the poor".  For me Jesus' words here are not a challenge but a path to freedom, a path out of the accumulation cycle, a way of clarity and happiness.

My 'everything I ever wanted' list contains about one hundred items.  You can view the entire inventory here on my blog under the 'Project 100' tab.

For me my list means freedom from bondage to a bunch of things that would probably be eventually garage or estate sale sold, or passed down to someone else to store.

While others dust their things or pay the storage unit rent of future garage sale items, I am free to have coffee and an interesting conversation, help another or simply sit and focus on spirituality and each treasured heartbeat or breath.  Instead of spending time accumulating I can now walk on the beach or write haiku, spend time with my family or take wildflower photos.

Today, I am free.  I am no longer consumed with the competition and accumulation mindset when I lay resting at night.  Now thoughts of haiku and the beach and nature's beauty flood my thoughts.  Instead of psychosocial stress creating adrenaline charged oxidative stress throughout my body, a peace that surpasses all of my previous understand fills my chest.

Is this path right for you?  It probably depends on whether or not you've encountered that life changing health event.  With the onslaught of commercials we are exposed to every waking moment, the psychosocial pressure to buy more and more is stressfully strong.

In the meantime I am going to finish out my life in a state of blissful satisfaction, knowing I now have most everything I ever wanted, all listed in my Project 100 tab here on my blog that is accumulating all my many thoughts (some quite psychosocially stressful) and ideas and photographs and whatever.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Diet Implications of a Life on Metoprolol, Losartan and other Medications

I feel so much better when I am not carrying around a whole lot of excess body weight and when I am also involved in daily physical therapy.  My heart beats happier too when I do these things.
View from my bedroom window
Our bedroom window opens up to a magnificent view of the Florida flatwoods, complete with tall pines supported by an understory of thick saw palmetto, and this is where on the floor I sit when stretching.

Morning routine consists of about two hours of me attempting various aerobic stretching exercises and lifting two pound weights on a limited basis (wow!) all the while monitoring my blood pressure at varying intervals.  Last thing I want to do is a Valsalva maneuver or attempt anaerobic type lifting.  Keeping blood pressure down below the bursting pressure of my aorta is important here, and I really mean 'important'!

Rest comes next followed by mid-day pool therapy where I walk in the water, tread water and do the breast stroke for a moderate work out.  Lunch follows as does more rest.

Walking or bike riding is my afternoon physical therapy.

By seven or eight in the evening I am exhausted.  Problem is I usually can't sleep, for a number of reasons including my loud clicking heart valve and the complex combination of medications I take.

You'd think that with all the physical therapy I am involved in I'd keep my weight down to a lower BMI than the  twenty-two to twenty-three I hover around.  Yes, I know this is in the normal range but ideally I'd like to keep my BMI around twenty.  My heart and joints feel much better around the twenty number.

And you'd think with my diet keeping excess weight off would not be difficult.  I know that in my pre-dissection life, if I'd eaten then like I eat now, the weight would fly off.

But my severly dissected aorta, stretching from the present Dacron graft that has replaced the ascending aortic arch, down through my thoracic and abdominal areas into my kidneys and legs, complicates the situation.

So the doctors want my heart to beat as slow as possible.  And the doctors want my blood pressure to stay quite low too.  I call this one-two punch, 'Zombie therapy'.

And the knock out facet of this one-two punch are the medications that keep my heart beating sooooo slow and at a reduced pressure.  In and of themselves at normal concentrations they are widely used and not too terrible I hear.  However all thrown together and taken multiple times a day they have turned my once hot metabolism into a cold, practically frozen in time metabolic rate.

I told my daughter yesterday that I can actually get all the calories I need during a day just from breathing.  I was kidding of course, but even on the 1,000 calorie per day meal combinations I been treating myself too my weight maintains itself on an even keel.

Heaven forbid if I eat a dessert or treat.  I have done this occasionally and, OMG the next day I've gained three or four pounds that stay on.

If not careful I could gain fifty pounds over the span of two months.  I bet I could easily gain one hundred pounds in a year on a fifteen hundred calorie per day diet.

Food is one of the things I enjoy most in life, especially good food!  But now I have to eat lots of good-for-you-food instead of good food if I want to keep my weight steady, meaning lots of raw fruits and vegetables, staying away from sugar and moderate caloric intake and other boring 'control my eating' activities.

All this is frustrating, extremely irritating.  There are some days I am ravenous!  I am hungry, hungry and hungrier ever! Pavlov's Dog won't shut up!

I suppose that is why all of those zombies on the television programs now-a-days are constantly walking around looking for something to eat.

I am sure I am not alone.  So for all of you out there on massive amounts of Metoprolol and Losartan and other -olol's or -artans, I know what you are going through.

Check out the diet tab on the blog's homepage if you are interested in my rather dull diet.  And enjoy a cuke dipped in vinegar too!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Aortic Dissection Surgery and Short Term Memory Loss

I have been meaning to write several posts about connective tissue issues but every time I sit down with my IPad I seem to have forgotten just what I was going to write about.

Aorta dissection surgery contributed to my short term memory loss

Well, I am going to try and get through this post without forgetting what I actually wanted to tell you.

This is really frustrating, a cry for help from me, mostly to myself.  It is important for me to find ways to cope with not being able to remember things.  For one thing, the dread of 'am I coming down with Alzheimer's Disease' lurks in the not so distant background each time I have an episode of 'I can't remember'.  That means I worry about Alzheimer's Disease many times a day and worry is not something I am supposed to be doing.  Worry causes stress which in turn contributes to hypertension which in turn is not good at all for my seriously weakened and dissected cardiovascular system or the pseudoaneurysm on my coronary artery.

Mostly I deal with my insecurities about the fragility of my heart, arteries, memory, stuttering and connective tissue problems with a blend of persistent but low impact physical therapy and humor.  Certainly it is more palatable for me to joke about my short comings than to deal with ugly defensiveness on my part.  But today I  thought a frank discussion and sharing of experiences coping with forgetfulness would be the best route for me to take.

Sharing with others about one's shortcomings opens up vulnerabilities but in a safe atmosphere can become a healing modality too.  So I am sharing with you today some of the things I can remember enough of about my forgetfulness issues to record here before they disappear into wherever lost memories go.

Ever since I had unexpectedly been subject to two open heart surgeries, one where my heart was on bypass for quite some time, my ascending aorta replaced and a mechanical heart valve installed, I have struggled with short term memory recall.

As a blogger I used to have excellent recall of words.  My mind was part of a walking thesaurus; me. Not anymore though.  Now I keep a tab open to the thesaurus wepage on the computer when writing.

So several times over the past few weeks I've had some seemingly great ideas for a cardiovascular or connective tissue or Marfan post only to arrive at the IMac empty minded.  Sheeez.  That was so frustrating.  I have much to say and share but I just cannot remember what it is I want to say much of the time.

The other day I was leaving a business and headed to the pharmacy to pick up a refill on some my medications.  Exiting the drive I could not figure out which way to turn.  Do I turn to the right? Maybe I turn to the left?  Arrrrgh!  This is happening more and more frequently to me.

Then this week on the way to drop my teen daughter off for her college class where she was having an exam, I became wrought with irritation when I could not get out my answer to her question about the topic she was being tested on.

I wanted to share three very important study points with her.  I had them laid out clearly in my mind but they would not come out of my mouth in the form of words.  As soon as I started to tell her the first then the other two would disappear.  So I stopped and rethought the three facts through again, and once more, as soon as I began to discuss with my daughter the information disappeared from my mental recall folder.

Well, I have been considering this issue and exactly how my brain may have been compromised somewhat with respect to 'embolistic events' as my neurologist calls them, during my surgeries.  I have decided a couple of important things, and they are;
  • I need to stay active physically to keep good blow flow to my brain.
  • Diet is extremely important.  I must do 'brain' foods!
  • Plenty of rest is an important thing to add to my 'to do list'.
  • Daily mental exercises are a must.
  • Stress must be minimized (stop worrying about Alzheimer)
  • Support group interaction and participation (sharing) is required.
  • Creative solutions to improving short term memory are available for my use, and
  • I need to focus and stay away from multi-tasking.
One creative solution I've come up with solves the 'which way do I turn?' dilemma.   Instead of asking myself 'which way do I turn?', I first tell myself where I am headed.  This peels back the layers of a more complex question, simplifying the decision making process from a 'which way do I turn to go where?' to a statement 'I am going to the ...'.  Once I am focused on my destination it is easier to decipher directions.

And I tried this method all this week and it works!

For me, creative solutions to short term memory issues lie within my ability to adapt!  Now, all I have to do is remember these creative solutions from day to day.