After your heart attack you probably find yourself on a whole pile of medications. Some of these medicines have side effects that may leave you feeling less than focused. These side effects can include dizziness, fatigue, swelling and unreliable short term memory among others. In a nutshell, they can leave you feeling like a zombie in many ways. This can easily have a negative impact on your ability to perform your work tasks efficiently and accurately and can, in some jobs, present an outright danger to you and others. If you have one of these latter jobs you will need to work with your doctor and your supervisor to get something worked out where the danger is reduced to normal. You should NOT stop taking your medications! They are protecting your heart and your health. Without those you will not be able to work at all.
Before I go on let me introduce myself in case you have not read any of my other articles. I am not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination. I have no medical or related credentials at all. In fact, the only qualification I have is that I am living this myself. Everything in here is simply my experience and my opinion. It is my sincere desire that my words help you in some way but please do not wander off the path set by the professionals around your case or set by your own good judgement. My experience is simply that I had a severe heart attack at 44 years old and have been regearing my life and learning a new way of being in the world and working. These articles are my way of sharing my experiences with you in the hope that you find some nugget of value to you in your own unique situation.
Okay, now that you have decided that stopping your medication is not the way to go after a heart attack the zombie problem still remains. If you are finding that these side effects are severe enough to cause you problems in earning your living, and they definitely hit me that hard, there are basically three things that I have found helpful. You can work with your doctor to find a better combination of medications, you can learn to focus through the haze and you can alter the nature and timing of how you earn your living to match your new reality.
The first option, and one you should always be in touch with, is to work with your doctor to adjust medication types and levels until you find one that is both effective in protecting your heart and has minimal side effects for you. Remember … do not stop your medications! That is not the adjustment I am talking about here. There are many medications that offer protection for your heart and differ in their strengths and side effects. They are also fast acting so it does not take months and years to know if something is going to work for you. Also potentially in the mix of your medication adjustments is that the strength of your heart and body will be changing over time, causing the effectiveness of your medication to change as well. So, what works today may not work in a couple of weeks.
Keep monitoring your blood pressure and your side effects and working with your doctor to keep everything in the correct ranges. The benefits of taking the time to do this far outweigh the time it takes to monitor your situation, report the results to your doctor and to let your doctor know what your goals are. In my case, I also discovered that I was diabetic in the hospital when I had my heart attack (that was not a good day for me!). As it turns out that matters a lot in this particular area as many of the medications can be dangerous for people taking insulin. Make sure your cardiologist is aware of ALL your conditions and medications no matter who is treating you for them. This is necessary information in making decisions about what options and doses are safe for you.
The second approach to defeating the medication zombie really boils down to discipline and force of will. It is not fun but regardless of how you adjust your medications some days they are just plain going to hit you harder than others. If your work situation is not flexible and understanding enough for you to just let those times fly and stay in bed or if they are very frequent (like they are with me) you will find that you need to learn to power through them. In our society most people do that with coffee, energy drinks or both. Those are a big "NO" for us. Before you have any chance of being successful at powering through the zombie effects you need to have the basics in place of sleep, nutrition and exercise. Having your body and mind at their strongest and most stable is your best and only friend in this situation. The only way I have ever found that really works is to make sure I have had enough high quality sleep, that I have eaten the right foods in the correct amounts and that I have been walking regularly.
On the exercise front make sure you are following the program set up for you in your cardiac rehabilitation or in working with your cardiologist. There is a fine line we are walking on that one depending on the amount of damage to your heart and a professionally designed and monitored exercise program is a must for your safety. I have found that when I am in line in all these basic ways I can muster the strength and focus necessary to perform my work tasks well even when the side effects are smacking me in the head. Do not get me wrong … on those days I am absolutely wiped out when it is over but I can still earn my income and as long as I return to the sleep, eat and exercise discipline I get back to feeling stronger again pretty quickly. Sorry there was no magic solution to be found in this section. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to be strong and safe. You will know quickly if you can adapt to your work environment safely or if you need to adapt your work situation to your new reality. Above all else, be honest with yourself and put your health first and you will have the best chance of finding the solution that works for you and your unique situation.
Which leads me to the last point I want to make in this article … do not be afraid to consider changes in how you earn a living. Do you have a work situation with some flexibility in it? Take advantage of that flexibility to match the times when you need to be at your best with the times you actually are still at your best. If you are paying attention to yourself you will see the cycles you go through each day and know when you are most likely to be experiencing the least side effects. Keep a log. Know how your days typically go and match your work schedule to your daily cycles. What about stress levels? I have a different article out there on keeping your blood pressure under control. Does your work allow you some control over that or are you constantly bombarded with no way to take a deep breath and calm yourself? You need to have a work environment that is flexible enough to allow you to do your most important work when you are truly able to, positive enough to allow you to find peace during the work day and balanced enough to allow you to take proper care of yourself (yes … we are back to sleeping, eating and exercise again!). Either make your current work environment into these things or consider looking for a different way to earn your living.
If you are anything like me you have been ignoring your health and blindly pursuing your career all your life up until now. That approach carries the potential to cripple or kill you at this point in your life. It is now time to listen to your body, honor its limits, put your health first and do what work you safely can. As you get stronger you can make changes but if you run too hard and fast now you will not give your body the chance to get stronger in the first place. Your heart has given you the rare opportunity to re-evaluate how you approach life. I would say it makes more sense to seize that opportunity and choose a path with the potential for a long and happy life than to stay on the path that put you in the hospital with a heart attack.