YOU DON'T LOOK LIKE YOU HAVE PAD!I often envision a wood match being lit when I think of my life story and how I got where I am today. The hard part is figuring out at which point the match was struck. Was it when I was born into a family with a heavy history of coronary artery disease? Was it when I started smoking at 19? Or, was it a combination of not living a healthy life in any form or fashion put together with my family history? That would be my guess.
I used to say all the time when I was a smoker that “I was going to die of something – might as well enjoy life until then”….the problem is that sometimes you don’t die – you end up with multiple chronic conditions that you have to LIVE with, and that affect your quality of life.
I had smoked since I was 19 years old. I started smoking when I was a nurse’s aide at a hospital. In 1976 the nurses, doctors and patients all smoked in the hospital. The nurse’s lounge was a fog of smoke. I would sit with my surgery patients at night and have a cigarette with them on my breaks. At first I didn’t smoke much, but I started smoking menthol cigarettes from the very beginning because they tasted better to me. My habit would grow to a 1-1/2-2 Pack a day habit for the next 35 years. I would change from regular…to light…to ultra-light, but looking back all that made me do was smoke more.
I tried on multiple occasions to quit using many methods. The only time I was genuinely smoke free was when I was pregnant with my children, and after I had a minor stroke at 42. One year after my stroke I started smoking again, even when I continued to have TIA’s for the next 10 years. I was under the constant care of a neurologist for all those years.
My feet were cold all the time. When I tried to walk for exercise my feet would go numb. Eventually I had to just stop and start all the time. When I stopped the feeling would come back in my feet. The doctors all told me I had Plantar Fasciitis. They said I needed special inserts – do stretches – lose weight. So, this is what I attempted to do. It was such an ordeal for me to walk that I would always give it up pretty quickly. This went on for ten years or longer.
Eventually, when I decided to quit smoking one more time – I put a patch on one morning and asked God to help me to quit. I was tired of smoking. It was getting so expensive and one by one all of my friends had quit and I was the “last girl standing” so to speak. That was February 6, 2012.
About two weeks after I quit a man that I had met at some recent high school mini reunions called to ask me out for a date. While we were on our date my son and his then girlfriend came to where we were at – it was a restaurant bar type establishment that allowed smoking. My son asked me “mom how are you doing in here with all the smoking”? I told him I was doing fine – that I had my patch on. My date said you smoke? I said well I am trying to quit. I have been smoke free for two weeks. He said “well that’s good because if you were a smoker that would be a deal breaker for me”.
For the next year it was always a question in my mind when I was tempted to smoke – him or a cigarette? Lol – Anyway I give him credit for helping me to quit because I never picked one up after my quit date. We married in January 2013. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I went through a depression like nothing I had ever experienced. I know if not for my husband and God I would not have made it.
When we married I moved two hours away from my former home to Dallas where we are both from, and where lived. I had to change all of my physicians because of the distance. I went to my husband’s primary care physician so that I could establish care and get my blood pressure medication and the like taken care of.
During my initial new patient visit with him he casually asked me after my history and exam if there were any other issues I might want to talk about or address. I told him that I had quit smoking after 35 years and that I had attempted to start an exercise program again to keep from gaining weight; however every time I tried to walk my calves would cramp up and my feet would go numb. I told him I had been diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis in the past, but nothing I ever did helped it.
He said take off your shoes and let me exam your feet. He felt around for a few minutes and I noticed a look of concern on his face. I asked him what was the matter and he said well it would seem that I am unable to locate a pulse in either of your feet. He said at times he could feel a faint one. He said he was going to send me to have an ABI test done. He said that he felt I might have a condition called “Claudication” and then he explained to me what it was. It was exactly what I had. I could not walk ½ a block without my legs cramping.
When the test came back in a week or so he told me that he wanted me to come in right away. When I went back he said that he was sending me to a surgeon for evaluation. He said that my ABI test was severely abnormal and that it was imperative that I have more extensive tests done.
I went to a surgeon and a cardiologist and they had a series of imaging tests performed on me along with a nuclear stress test etc.. The results were a shock to me. They informed my husband and me that I was 80-90% blocked in my lower Aorta and both femoral arteries and I that I needed to have surgery immediately. They diagnosed me with Severe Peripheral Artery Disease.
So, on May 1, 2013 I underwent a bi-femoral aorta bypass. I have to say this was the most horrible experience I have ever had to endure. It is not a surgery for weak I assure you.
I would like to leave you with this. I will never be the person I was before PAD. I struggle with this a lot. I was only 53 when I had my surgery. I am 57 now. But the girl that could only walk ½ a block three years ago can walk 15,000 steps a day on a treadmill now. I am not pain free. I push through the pain because I know that it will help keep my bypasses open, and it’s good for my health in general. Every step I take I am reminded that I could have lost my legs…or my life.
I will always be grateful to an old school primary care physician that decided to feel of my feet….he saved my lifeJ