Six years ago, give or take a couple of weeks, I was told that I only had a few days left to live.
I needed help to walk the ten or so steps between my hospital bed and the bathroom, my lungs were filling with fluid and plans were being put into place to get me onto a heart transplant list. My heart condition was diagnosed as dilated cardiomyopathy, the "no identifiable cause" variety. I had not had a heart attack, my arteries impressed my doctors with their lack of plaque buildup. It was just an unknown "something" that had caused a very slow degeneration of my heart muscle. It truly was a surreal experience. I'd come into the emergency room the previous evening with a heartrate around 140 bpm and trouble breathing. I'd been told it was probably pneumonia and after several tests I'd been tucked into bed, just to be awakened what seemed like a few minutes later to find myself in a television medical drama. The elderly doctor with white hair and beard talking to an attentive pack of teenagers in white coats about the 49 year old female patient who had been admitted for pneumonia like symptoms but who in fact was in end stage congestive heart failure, cause unknown.
The way I understand it, (I'm not a doctor) the lower left chamber of a heart is supposed to be the powerhouse circulation muscle that fills with blood from the lungs and then with a powerful contraction squeezes the filled chamber, pushing all that oxygen rich blood into the circulatory system to spread throughout the body. Heart muscle strength is determined by measuring how much blood leaves the filled chamber during a ventricular contraction (Ejection Fraction). When a person's Ejection Fraction is around 45% they are considered to be in Heart Failure. I was told that 20% was generally considered to be the point of no return. My Ejection Fraction measured at 10%.
Well then, I obviously didn't live up to those doctor's expectations. Or would that be live down to them? Why did I survive when my doctor's had never seen anyone in my condition do so? Why did I not only survive, but actually get better? Those are questions that have haunted me almost every day of my life for the past six years. The doctors told me I was in heart failure, my first reaction was to ask, "well then, how do we fix this?" They told me that there was no fix, nothing could be done. I remember being quiet and reaching down into myself, curious as to what it felt like to be dying. This is so very hard to describe, but what I found was that "I" was just fine. That ball of energy that lived within me, that source of energy that had always sustained me in the past, that which was the "essence" of myself was as strong as ever. It was a contradiction, the doctors told me I was dying, but I knew that I was not.
I remember thinking then, that if I was not going to die, I needed my body healthier or my quality of life would be horrible. Anyways, be it the new modern medicines, prayers of friends and family, miracle from God, change of fate, my sheer stubborn determination (which I have always been told is considerable), or any combination of the above, I got better.
After a month I was allowed to leave the hospital (in a wheel chair), a few months later I was able to use a push walker and could walk a little ways down the street with it's help. I used the walker for about a year and then a cane for another four. It took about four years to go from my wheelchair to being able to walk around the block by myself with only a cane. Around another year and I could walk a lap around the mall by myself and go for a long grocery shopping trip holding onto the push cart. Although I could walk farther, I still needed to use a cane for extended walks and someone to load and unload my groceries for me. I was permanently disabled and living off of social security, had no job, no home of my own, the cardiomyopathy was affecting my cognitive functioning, I was sliding into a deep depressive funk.
Around this point in time, my son and daughter-in-law began taking lessons at Z-Ultimate in Bellevue with Sensei Jeriel Atterberry. I was in Spokane and my son James called me all excited about the martial arts program he and Andrea had just signed up for. He knew that I had always been interested in studying martial arts so it took very little persuasion to get me to try a free lesson.
Jeriel Sensei was not what I was expecting. I was expecting some arm twisting, both figuratively and literally as well as mental manipulation and a fight over my checkbook. What I got instead was a man who looked into me, not "at" me, but into me. He wanted to know who I was, what I needed in my life, and how could he help me reach my goals. As we spoke, I realized that I had given up a lot of my dreams and goals and one of the most important had been my lifelong goal to study martial arts. We found that the five or so years of sedentary living had impacted my overall body strength. I couldn't do even one girlie pushup, but somehow I walked out of that first lesson believing that I wasn't "too old", it wasn't "too late", and that I wasn't "too sick".
My one wussy almost push-up has improved to where I can do twenty in a row now. Instead of using a cane and always taking the elevator, I can now climb three floors of stairs, I can even carry in several bags of groceries after a shopping trip. I am now confident that I have enough stamina to pass my yellow belt test. I want to be clear, I am not claiming that studying martial arts is a medical miracle cure-all. In fact, the damage is irreparable, my heart will never return to what it was and modern medicine is keeping me alive. However, the change in my quality of life and outlook for the future is priceless.
My son had realized way before I did, that I had lost myself. I had become afraid of my own body. I had ignored that beautiful ball of energy within myself and it was withering. Thanks to James and Jeriel Sensei I have reconnected and am becoming stronger every day. I still have to fight my way through the occassional panic attack, but I never have to fight alone. My lack of stamina is slowing me down a bit, but it's not stopping me from learning, improving and having a heck of a lot of fun. -- Renee S.,
ZUSDS Bellevue Dojo
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