17 September 2014

Recovery Journal, Vol. 48: Report From Cardiac Rehab, Red And Me

By: Jon Katz
Recovery Journal

Recovery Journal

This is my third week of cardiac rehab, the first time I brought Red – a certified therapy dog – to one of the rehab sessions. He was his usual remarkable self, greeting people who wanted to be greeted – this was everyone – and keeping a close eye on me, as he has since I came home from the hospital on July 4. I was reluctant to undergo cardiac rehab, I still am uncertain about it, but I am still going, three times a week, and I am definitely getting something worthwhile from it.

When I arrive at 1:30, a nurse or physical therapist takes my blood pressure and hooks me up to a heart monitor (I remember them from the hospital) and my heartbeat pops up on a big computer screen along with the other rehab patients. The nurse goes over my medications, asks me how I feel, how things are going. It is an easy place to be, but in some ways, a hard place to be, a sad place to have to be.

Do I belong here, I keep asking? Is this really me?

There are so many people in the room who are much sicker than me, it is humbling and offers perspective and makes me grateful for what I have. I see some of them struggling to do just a few minutes on the bike, or five minutes on the treadmill and I root for them. They are cheerful, friendly, generous, they are all rooting for me.

It is awkward sometimes being well known. They have figured out who I am, what I do, they are bring in books for their daughters and sons to have signed, they tell me about their dogs, their donkeys, they read my blog. At first, this made me uncomfortable, I felt conspicuous, embarrassed, but now I am just one of the rehab patients, we are all in it together.

Red was a big hit, everyone kept smiling, Red has a genius for knowing how to behave, even in this room crowded with beeping and whirring machines, people on walkers and in wheelchairs. He is welcome any time, I was told, I liked having him follow me from machine to machine – he has become a guard dog – and sitting down while I do my work. Red and I have been to the hospital together, he has visited there as a therapy dog, he seems to know exactly what to do.

Basically, I am doing three things in cardiac rehab. I am turning a resistance wheel to strengthen my upper body and challenge the heart, pumping on a pedal machine for 20 minutes to strengthen my legs and get my heart working hard, and then 20 more minutes on a treadmill that gets harder and faster every week. The nurses come around with a card asking me to number the degree of difficulty – one is easy, 10 is the hardest. They take my blood pressure during each exercise, and they watch the heart monitor closely. If the exercise gets very hard to do, if I go above six or seven, they will stop me. That hasn't happened yet. In addition to cardiac rehab three times a week, I am walking once or twice a day. On rehab days I walk once, in the morning. Otherwise twice, for four or five miles.

Three or four times a week, or when it rains, I do 20 to 30 minutes on a stationary bike. I feel good, my periods of exhaustion are getting shorter and less frequent, I am handling the medications well generally.

I was happy to bring Red to rehab, I confess it is still hard for me to go. Sometimes I get depressed being there and seeing the brave and good people struggling so hard. The nurse asked me if I was liking it today, not yet, I said, but I am not disliking it as much as I thought. It is a pleasure to have you here, she said.

I did 20 minutes working my arms, 25 minutes on the pedal bike, 23 minutes minutes on the treadmill. They made me stop, my heartbeat was rising a bit. No need to push things, they said. They should only know. It is a lonely feeling, being there. They try and foster a sense of collegiality and community there, but we are all very different, not in the same place. Yet we are, all working hard to get healthier. Some of the people around me work so hard, it seems so difficult for them, so much of an uphill battle.

I have learned a lot in cardiac rehab, about my heart, how it works, how much it can handle, how I am progressing. It is easy to talk to the nurses, they are much easier to talk to than doctors and I learn more from them. Cardiac rehab goes on for three months, I don't know if I will last that long, or if I need to. For now, I feel I belong there, it is helping me heal and recover, I am stronger and healthier than I have been for a long time, and I will continue working hard every single day to get stronger and healthier yet.

I am loving walking, it is never a chore for me, and my legs are growing stronger all the time. My heart also.

Posted in General

In The Meadow: See The World Anew

By: Jon Katz
See The World Anew

See The World Anew

I've walked by these meadow almost every day for several years. I never really saw it until one morning in June, when I stopped, gasping for breath, and could not make it past the meadow to the top of the sloping hill. It was the first time I understood that something was wrong with me, it was the beginning of the journey that led to my broken heart and my surgery. Standing by that meadow, trying to breath, I saw it for the first time, and I remember making myself this resolution. If I ever made it back to the hill, to the road, to the meadow, I would see it anew, I would never walk past it again without seeing it's beauty, the shades of color, the life within, I would not be so blind again.

I am keeping my resolution, I cherish my meadow, I give thanks every day I go sailing past it, full of breath and energy. I am a lucky man, to be able to walk up that hill, to see the beauty, to capture it and to see it anew.

Posted in General

Deb, The Spiritual Sister, The Fearless Sister

By: Jon Katz
The Spiritual Sister

The Spiritual Sister

Deb is different from the other sheep I have known, she was a twin, Jake's sister, I thought the two of them were the most spiritual lambs I had seen, there was something ethereal and calm and still about them. Deb is older now, she has evolved. She is a fearless animals, intelligent, I think for a sheep. She is not afraid of Red, she will not be herded by him, but there is nothing defiant or aggressive about it, she is very calm around him, and he does not disturb her or challenge her.

And then there is me. She does not move away from me, or run. She is not afraid of my camera, she walks right up to it. She remains a spiritual animal, calm and apart from the others. She studies things, watches them closely, tries to comprehend them. I knelt on the ground this morning, and pointed the camera at her and she walked right up to it and seemed to understand what I wanted. I do not know if she misses Jake, but I miss him. He was smaller than her, shy and more fearful, the two were inseparable. The real world of animals is not always a pretty place, it was hard to shoot Jake, a gift to release him from his suffering. In my mind, the two of them are still together, two white lambs.

Posted in General

Farm Off A Country Road: The Top Of The World

By: Jon Katz
Farm Off A Country Road

Farm Off A Country Road

I call this the farm at the top of the world, a place Maria and I walk, a place that has become special for Red, it is where he does his great and soaring outruns. I love my farm, but this farm is the farm of my dreams.

Posted in General

Morning Meeting. Talking To Animals

By: Jon Katz
Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting

Maria has always understood how to approach donkeys and talk with them, so have I. Most donkeys do not like to be approached face-on and directly (neither do most dogs), it is often a sign of aggression in the animal world. Simon is an exception, he loves to be approached any way, face-on or sideways. Donkeys show their affection by standing close, leaning against people, it is always good to stand still and let them approach, they will tap you in the butt with their nose or simply learn into you when they are ready for connection. With donkeys, it always has to be their idea.

Maria communicates with animals intuitively, she gets down low, is calm and patient, her emotions are close to the surface, easy for the animals to sense and smell.

Posted in General