A Story with Heart

I know, it’s been a very long time since I have posted.  I have no excuse other than being distracted.  And that so very easy to happen to me.


I’ll tell you the story.  Not uncommon, nothing very special to others in particular, but for me it has profound effect and profound consequences.

It begins with of all things a ‘hot flash’.  I started to literally soak my sheets each night and during the day there would be moments where I would tear the shirt from my body because the sweat would overwhelm me, starting at the top of my head and then flooding all the way to my socks.  They came and went, sometimes just a brief flush, sometimes a flood.  It was very unnerving and was something I could not control.

Now, women have this happen as a matter of course – the dreaded menopause.  But I never knew that many men suffer the same things and with men it’s known as andropause.  Each has the effect of causing hot flashes.  Each is caused by the body’s lack of production of hormones.  In my case, it was something that wasn’t supposed to happen to me: an injury caused me to completely stop producing testosterone.

This went on for months.  I finally went to see my doctor and she gave me a physical, all the appropriate blood tests.  But it was what she found during the physical that’s important.  How does this all fit in with being bipolar?


Bipolar depression (and depression in general) can produce some very pronounced physical symptoms: a lack of energy, even exhaustion; the feeling that you’re moving through corn syrup is what I feel.  Confusion, lack of the ability to focus on tasks, feeling unable to get up and do what you need to do.  Sleeping at times when you should be up and doing chores.  Disinterest in the workings of ‘normal’ life.

This had been happening to me.  I thought it was all in my head.  I disappointed people by refusing to engage, I lost interest in life.  I felt the hopelessness and guilt that accompanies the depression.

When I went to see my doctor about the hot flashes, that was all that I had on my mind.  I knew something was wrong, but thought it might be a problem related to depression for after all, when you are bipolar there is a certain amount of confusion where it comes to these kind of symptoms.  It could be caused by either your body or your mind.


This grey area is confusing to say the least.  And if you’re bipolar, sometimes the first thing you do is blame your brain for any kind of problem.  Sometimes it takes a lot of work to come to the realization that some things are out of your control.  It takes a journey through your negativity before you realize you aren’t to blame.  You have to do the work to get there.  Stop beating yourself up over things that you did not do.

And this story changes here for when I went to my doctor, there was something more, a thing unexpected and life-changing.  Yes, I had stopped producing testosterone, that happens to many people and is corrected by hormone injections and then, voila!  Back to a semblance of normal.

But I have a heart murmur that’s always been there.  And that day my doctor said, ‘I’m sending you to see a cardiologist.”  She was concerned that my complaints of having no energy had increased.  And she heard something she did not like.  She ordered a Doppler Echocardiogram and off I went to have it done.

The technician let me watch the entire process and showed me in real time my heart beating away, and asked me questions during the test.  Had I ever experienced Rheumatic Fever as a child?  No, I had had not.  Had I been experiencing exhaustion more frequently?  Yes, but I have Bipolar Depression and that is often the cause of exhaustion.

And then he said that he would like to see me have this test on a very regular basis, perhaps every two or three months, and swept the pad to a place on my chest.

“You see that very bright area?  That’s your aortic valve.  I’m going to ask the cardiologist to discuss this.  You have aortic valve stenosis.  It’s not uncommon.  He will look over this test and discuss anything you may have to do.  But at the very least we will have to track it.”

OK, then.  Something else, something lurking.

mad scientist

I didn’t really know what to think.  Technicians and doctors are sometimes excessive worriers, mad scientists that insist on test after test.  But these can be alarming, and I risk falling into the pattern of negative thinking that I always do, and can amplify the danger.  This time I tried very hard not to do that, but I was worried.

Then there was the meeting with the cardiologist.  Not only was it aortic stenosis – where there is excessive calcification of the aortic valve in my case – but they wanted me to have surgery to replace the valve immediately because the situation was severe.  And that’s when I freaked out.  I needed time to consider this.  I was frightened.  I was alarmed.  There were a million feelings and fears, some quite intense, others less so.

So it wasn’t depression that was causing me to be exhausted, it was the fact that my heart was working furiously to pump oxygenated blood into my body.  I was out of oxygen.  It wasn’t my head, it was my heart, and literally so!  It was pumping very hard and was unable to get enough blood through the valve.  I was actually, really and truly exhausted for a reason that wasn’t depression!  It explained everything.  And it was the single most alarming thing I have ever had to face where my body was concerned.

emotional rollercoaster

Between the lack of energy caused by the cessation of production of testosterone and the depletion of any remaining energy caused by my heart problem, it explained it all.  But here’s where it becomes a problem from the perspective of Bipolar Disorder… life was endangered.  My life is literally in danger every moment that the surgery is delayed.  And that makes me ride the emotional roller coaster again, and again and again.

Had my doctor not arranged for the doppler test the severity would have remained undiscovered, untreated and could easily have resulted in my dropping dead from heart failure, and sooner than later.  That’s not an exaggeration.

The severity of the problem was underlined by the cardiologist’s insistence that the operation happen very, very soon.  So here it is: the operation will happen within the next three weeks.  I am headed tomorrow for a cardiac catheterization to place any stents and to check the heart function prior to surgery.  But surgery is required.  Tomorrow is just a preview before the big surgery.

Open heart surgery at the age of sixty. . .  It made me consider things I never really thought about, like dropping any bullshit in my life.  Seeing things as they are.  Making it known how much I love the people in my life.  Being certain that the way forward from here is positive, that it is creative and constructive, that there is life ahead of me that needs to be a good life and not weighed down by pointless pursuit, pointless emotional expenditure.

I must LIVE and not merely be alive.

These procedures are commonly done, and have good success.  But consider it from my point of view for a moment.

Someone is going to place me on a ventilator and a machine to bypass my heart to pump blood through my body,  They will cut my sternum, move my ribs, stop my heart and then for the piece de resistance, they’re going to cut into my heart, remove tissue and sew a valve made of tissue from a pig (no jokes).

They’re going to sew it all back up.  Put me in intensive care.  Poke, prod, test, measure, ascertain, record.  And it all comes down to the real truth:

If I make it, I am going to LIVE.  That, my friends, is EVERYTHING.


I must thank my doctor for without her concern they would not have known.  I must thank the doppler technician for showing me my heart problem as indisputable proof.  I must thank the cardiologist for his analysis and concern.  I must thank the team of surgeons and hospital staff for making it all happen.

Yes.  I think that being scared is natural.  And yes, there is a small chance that I won’t make it through the procedure, but I am not focused on that chance.  Instead I will try to embrace this for what it really is: another chance to be engaged in my life, engagement in a way that perhaps I may have never done had it not been for this discovery.

Still, this is open heart surgery.  Things happen and I am not ignorant of the statistics.  If I do not make it then there is one thing I will say:

I loved every goddamn minute of it, even the pain, even the sadness.  I embraced being human.  I had great joy and have been graced by it.  I have loved, been loved, and know how important that love is;  I have been and am eternally grateful.  Do not think I have been consumed by anger or sadness; I fought it and won.  Look around you.  Is this not a wondrous place?  Revel in it.  Remember me.  Smile.

But I’m going to make it.  I’m going to be better than fine – I am going to ROCK.

And one last thing. . . While I am in ICU, I will be on a ventilator and unable to speak.  I would take advantage of this opportunity if I were you…

Tickets for this should be made available because it may well be the very last time you see me unable to talk!  Honestly, how often does THAT happen!








2 thoughts on “A Story with Heart

  1. My dearest, beautiful, vivacious, magnificent shining ray of light! There are so many lessons of treasure in your bravely, and with such care, sharing this trial in your life. I’m so honored you did. It’s a trial that I’m confident you (and “we” will) advance through with flying colors–bringing all that you’ve mastered and gained from it with you to the next trial’s glorious, uplifting level; you still have so much to share, and know, and to the crux of it–live!

    Proudly I’ll selfishly say that I “need” you here to do just that: first, for you to continue exploring just what it means for your handsome spirit to truly “live” and experience fulfillment to the fullest! Second, to stand side-by-side with me in imparting unto a world besieged by catastrophic levels of slander, greed and parasitic madness, just what it means to accomplish more than just living–to thrive!–transcending familial and societal imposed political and religious corruptions.

    Of course I’d much rather be with you in person, caressing all of you with sublime whiskers to stimulate the molecules, warm restorative breath and life’s healing touch. I thank the essence of “fortune” that lively environmental forces of “protection”–Buddhism’s practical, “mystical” alternative version of “Gods”–celebrate our connection; having paved the way for our lifetimes of shared titillation in growth to once again intersect–forging transformation fire into the 21st century. Know that until then, during this trial, my potent “presence of embrace” cradles you, transcending time and space!

    I’ve been seeing a cardiologist the last 2 years. My doctor in trying to resolve my sudden re-surging blood pressure level recommended it and the cardiologist now works to come up with a medicinal restoring formula that somehow escapes my doctor. It’s been highly revealing. Medical practice is broken down into varied specialists who, more times than not, are very disconnected from one another–a frightening notion and absolute reality. Example: most physiological doctors are totally ignorant of absolutely influential “food nutrient’ reality–submerged and locked into their own field’s “technicality” (an unfortunate casualty of Western procedure tied into worshiping colonial protocol, which compartmentalizes it as a “business”; Eastern perspective “integrates” these varied health components, including the absolutely critical and essential one that you raise–“psychological!” I discovered that my cardiologist’s repertoire of treatment medicines dwarfs my standard doc’s by light years. Wow! First, he had me undergo the same Doppler Echocardiogram as a basis, which thankfully checked out fine. Then he could simply begin a trial of medicines to discover the most effective ones. Two years later I’m getting good “readings” at home, but in the office the “readings” are high (doctor’s office “psychological syndrome”) so to be safe I took another Doppler exam just last Tuesday so he can compare it with the recent trail of contradictory readings. We’ll see.

    Rare is it that clinicians move beyond their limitations (or, admit to them) recommending alternatives. Mostly they stay lethargically stuck in one diagnostic “perspective” (particularly if you are “poor” or ignorant of “alternatives”) when they do know their are many options. A totally intimidated and emotionally spent public must learn to be savvy, pressing for “possibilities” that may be unknown to us–or sadly doctors will let situations play-out on levels absolutely below the highest available possibilities. A tragic thing I learned in my mom’s medical situation: “outsider” therapists (Buddhist “Gods”) pulled me aside, informing me beyond “technically allowed protocol” of our patient’s “rights,” instructing me on what “prodding” to do to get (and demand) the highest in “care results.” Had he not doctors would have sent my mom home to a premature, agonizing death.

    These are but some of the lessons you raise to heal the world in your heartfelt disclosure. You’ve probably seen my latest eye-opening blog article on my extraordinary meeting with the revolutionary young Black psychology clinician Dr. Jonathan Lassiter who’s visiting SF. Such uncanny timing (but of course!). So much there connects to what you’ve share and implied here–especially the concept of “Social Therapy” to combat catastrophic mental health disorders, actually caused by our colonial system’s attack on humanity.

    Thankfully ambiguous medical reality has been made clearly crystallized so that effective “treatment reality” can be straightforwardly addressed. The immediate result to look forward to is that you’ll “feel” remarkably better! The Rockettes await your life directional “high kicks!” And we’ll expand our international “oasis,” where all can be “kicking-it” in high style–together!

    My love for you is greater than the might of thunder!

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