Everything in the universe has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. Logically, we all know that. Logically, we all know someday we will die. Logically, we know it could be any day. Referring to my first experience with arthritis my doctor quipped, “Arthritis is just a fancy word for the parts are wearing out.” Our demise is a given — one fine day a very necessary part will wear out. Until then, everything is fine. Oh, the arthritic fingers are a bother. But really everything is fine — until it’s not.
As someone who retired in good health, I expected the good health to continue for a very long time. Then, this spring I began having unusual difficulty getting a full breath. My dad was a smoker at the time when the vagaries of second-hand smoke were unknown. I often sarcastically refer to my allergies and chronic bronchitis as his legacy. On more than one occasion spring in the garden has sent me to the emergency room with what turned out to be pleurisy instead of a heart attack. This shortness of breath didn’t feel like that.
I have lived through my share of crises, health or otherwise. I rarely take flight but instead go into fight mode. On the Myer-Briggs scale my personality is that of a supportive controller. Martin tells me that means I’ll support you as long as I’m in control. I know there is much in life we can’t control, but I at least want to know what’s happening and ultimately make an informed decision. First stop toward that end was my doctor’s office.
When a lung X-ray and EKG showed all was normal, the doc decided to send me to a cardiologist. I also have a heart valve defect. Was my inability to get a full breath just a really bad allergy season or was the valve failing? Now, I was trying not to panic. Easier said than done as my mind swirled with images of a laparoscopy to replace my ailing valve, not to mention the drain on my bank account despite an excellent insurance policy. As negative emotions ran away with my brain my breathing became more shallow. I even felt a twinge or two of chest discomfort along with some palpitations. Stress was creeping in. Or was this the pre-cursor to a heart attack?
A super thin very calm man, the cardiologist was encouraging while at the same time ordering a stress test and echocardiogram. It had been some twenty years since my last ultrasound to look at my heart valve. He assured me with, “We know a lot more about this condition now. It was often misdiagnosed in the 1990’s.” Incredulous! You mean I might not even have the condition I’ve been worrying about?
Well, that was great news, but I still stressed, my mindfulness and meditation not doing nearly what I hoped it would in this situation. In addition, I was foregoing my daily walk, my labored breathing putting a damper on remaining active. Worry kept me up at night. I wasn’t sleeping well. The pounds I lost last year began to silently slip back around my waistline. Martin kept telling me it was all in my head. Thank you, honey. Yes, mindset I told myself. Mindset.
On tests day I got up at 4:45 so I could eat breakfast. My instructions were nothing to eat two hours before the test scheduled for 7 a.m. All stress tests were performed at this now-insane-to-my-retired-self hour. Having pre-checked in over the phone a few days prior, I dutifully showed up before 7 only to be told the technician assigned to perform my tests would be late because she was moving!!! And, the woman delivering this news didn’t know when she was going to show up for work. Whaaaaaaaat? I was already stressed over the stress test. This rude news sent me spiraling. After much ado, 40 minutes later, the department supervisor set up the testing.
My cardiologist appeared for the stress test, which revealed a heart functioning as it should under stress. Whew! One down. The supervisor did the echocardiogram, delivering the results to my cardiologist that afternoon. My heart valve defect turned out to be so minor, my heart is considered to be no different, than the heart of someone without the defect. Double whew!! The shortness of breath is attributed to a really bad allergy season AND stress. Stress further aggravated by the challenge of understanding hospital and doctor bills, an overcharge to me for my portion of the bill and the pulling teeth (only 3 phone calls with a lot of wrangling necessary) to get my money refunded.
Shortly after the tests, my breathing returned to normal. The Asthma Center reported record pine pollen levels this spring. But, by June, the thick pine pollen covering every square inch of my property, house and car subsided and washed away in a spring rain. I could get a full breath, returned to taking my daily walk and slept through the night again. My doctor prescribed a different medication regimen. I hope next spring is not a repeat.
Everything is fine now — until the next time it is not. This experience highlighted my mortal condition. We all depend on our physical and mental well-being to provide a happy productive retirement. Toward that end my goal is to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. The optimal way to live and leave this world is to be healthy and then, one day, you suddenly just die. Few of us will go out in such a way. Until then, everything is fine.
So glad you are fine now!
I love reading your blog. So many times, the subject pertains to something I’ve been wrestling with and inspires a solution or, at least, a better way to view it.
Thanks for your time and thought.
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Kathy, I’m so relieved that you are well. My daughter is developmentally delayed and has several staff to assist me with her care. One of her staff wanted her to spend the night at her house and she was so excited. Then we received the call last night that the plans were off. Her caretakers son in law was non responsive and on a ventilator at the hospital. My daughter was crying and I do understand. I explained there are different levels of sadness. Her sadness was real but that her staffs sadness was deeper. Her son in law had a tumor in his brain and she was losing him and there would be no more laughter with him. Her overnight was just postponed. We all have our mortality, but we just need to enjoy our moment and understand that we need to put everything in perspective. AGAIN I’m so happy it was something treatable. I enjoy your blog.
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Hi Kathy! So glad to hear it was something minor. We have no control, you know, and that is what is so very hard about life. Especially retirement , I think. We’ve planned for it for so long, and have it all pictured in our minds. Nobody’s plan includes a premature illness. Anyway, I’m not even retired yet, but I am reading your blog as part of my plan – but trying to remember I have no control. Glad you’re good!
Thanks for a helpful post! You’re not dead yet!!
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Bravo, well-written blog. The “I’ll support you as long as I’m in control” made me laugh.
Kathy, I’m glad to hear that your shortness of breath wasn’t caused by anything serious. The pine pollen was terrible here this year, too. It was a relief to finally get an inch of rain this week to wash it away.
One of the odd consequences of having spent my career in academia is that I’ve never taken the Myers-Briggs test, so I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a “supportive controller” — a description that seems to fit the bill for me!
Hi Jean, I hope you were not experiencing the same drought condition we had here this spring. Between the lack of rain and the high winds, the unusually high pine pollen count was only made worse.
The first time I took the Myers-Briggs test I was a young 33 working in a corporation that tested every employee. The psychologist administering the testing gave each of us a description like my supportive controller. I do not believe it was an invention of Myers and Briggs — it may have even been the invention of this psychologist – I don’t know. I do believe it was invented as an easier way for employees to relate to each other’s personality type without a lot of explaining about what it meant to be an ENTP, which is my type. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs four times, including once in 2014 during the Dynamic Aging Program at OLLI Furman University. I’m still an ENTP. I guess that goes to show that we do not change our basic personality over a lifetime. From our exchanges over the years and reading your well-written blogs, I would guess you are a thinking type, which applies to only 25% of the female population. Perhaps you, too, are an ENTP! K
I always say “You’re healthy until the day you’re not”! I really related to your post as I have always been so healthy and am now trying to figure out why I feel like I have UTI, but test is negative. Every diagnostic test (ultrasound, MRI, CT Scan) has had an error or omission in report! I always get copies of any test I have done, so I have been the one to catch it. It’s very frustrating. I work in healthcare and I highly recommend you always get copies of tests done. You must be you’re own advocate.
I’m retiring in 1 1/2 years. You’re posts are helping me prepare and I always look forward to reading them.
A “perfect” topic for me. It made my day better!
Whew! Glad you are well. You’re so right that logically we know we could go at any time, but emotionally we react as if a new development is both unbelievable and uncalled-for! It’s truly just a matter of time before each us experiences, again, what you just went through. And described so well.
Thanks to all for your best wishes on my health! I’m also happy to hear this post helped in some way. I appreciate your following kathysretirementblog and wish all of you the best in your world. K
Kathy, So happy that I found your blog! I am pleased to read about the positive outlooks regarding retirement. I was a nurse for many years- then returned to school for my BS., MS., and PhD. After being in academia for about 10 years…decided that I was not cut out for all the politics. I “retired” at age 61. I started work at age 14- so what a surprise to be “at home”. I don’t have children- so making their lives a big part of mine is not an option. I do have 2 step-daughters; however we do not have a close relationship and I am not looking to hang on to others. My husband retired a year and a half ago- and that also was not planned. He was in the oil and gas business and that has taken a down spiral. I am happy at home- we have a moderately large house and land. I garden- but that is not my best quality! We live in a very rural area and I miss people and being a part of something. Am starting to volunteer (today)! But living where I do- I have to travel at least an hour for that opportunity. Your blog is putting a positive spin on my future and making me think about my “new me” and my new and EXCITING life.
I am glad that you are well and all your tests came out with good reports. As the old saying goes…if you don’t have your health you have nothing…if you have your health you have everything! Thank you!
Hi Nannette, Thank you for all your kind words about my blog! I’m happy to hear it is helping. As you have probably read on the blog already, the key to reaching a happy retirement is time (about 2 years to re-program your identity) and finding a meaningful pursuit. Keep up the positive attitude and keep trying new activities. Best to you. K
I have just discovered your blog, Kathy, and this was the first post I read. Very apt for me as I have been referred for an echocardiogram on Wednesday, after complaining of palpitations. I am hoping that all will be fine and it will be down to stress. Glad you have had a good result.
Kathy, I love how you point out that health problems are so unexpected and also include the emotional aspects of this experience. I linked to your post in my blog post about fitness in retirement here: http://www.age-fully.com/best-way-invest-retirement/