Once you have had a severe heart attack your outlook and your life undergo many radical changes…or at least probably should. While you cannot do anything about the genetic component of your vulnerability to heart attacks there is a great deal you can do about the lifestyle part. Before I go on, allow me to introduce myself so that you know who is writing to you. My name is David Herman and I am not a doctor by any stretch of the imagination. I have no medical 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 judgment. I had a severe heart attack at 44 years old, resulting in a fair amount of permanent heart damage. My career, while something I loved to do, was highly stressful, required very long hours for success and the lack of time and focus available for other areas of my life left me very off balance, alone, unhealthy and vulnerable to a heart attack. I did not know or feel any of that at the time. All I knew was that I was doing well in my career and working to build a solid future.
Then, out of the blue (not really but it felt that way to me at the time), heart attack! As the days after stretched on, I was not initially getting any stronger and the medication side effects seemed to weaken and scatter me even further. I simply had zero ability to do my work and when I tried, up shot the blood pressure and on came the pressure and pain in my chest. This situation was not exactly in line with the demands of my work. Within a month or two I had lost the vast majority of my clients. They were nice about it but they moved on to consultants that could produce what they needed when they needed it. I do not blame them. Quite frankly I would have done the same back then.
I was very tempted to reduce or remove the medications that were interfering with my energy, memory and ability to focus. However, these are the same medications that are protecting my heart from further damage! In the end, I turned out to be smart enough to follow my medication plan to the letter (and activity plan and diet plan but those are not part of this particular set of musings). It was then and is now my intention to live out a long and fulfilling life both personally and in my career and there is no way I can do that if I am not alive or if my condition deteriorates in any area over which I have any control.
So, before I finally get to the purpose of this letter to the world, let me just say this. It is hard to follow the doctor’s recommendations on diet and activity. It is hard, and expensive, to follow the medication directions (especially when they turn you into a zombie part of every day) but DO IT! It is worth it in reduced vulnerability to further trouble and it is worth it in allowing your body to heal what it can. The side effects of the medication can be overcome with some discipline and reordering of how you conduct your life. And as far as food and activity, we all should be following those recommendations even if we don’t have a heart attack. They are simple and healthy. Give up the crap food and follow the doctor’s orders and the cardiac rehab therapist’s exercise plan.
Back to the question of how to safely continue your career after suffering from a severe heart attack…
Take a good hard look at what you have been doing for a living and see how it lines up with the new requirements of your life. In order to heal and recover as quickly and completely as possible the work component of your life should be flexible enough to allow you to produce when you can and rest when you must. Your work also will need to be something you feel good about, or at least not bad about. Your healing won’t thrive in a negative environment, especially an internal one. Last, you need work that allows you to maintain the balance in your life and spend time with people you love and who love you. Let’s take a closer look at these to enable you to see how your current work lines up or could be made to line up and so that you understand why these are important to your life now (they actually always were but now you need them a whole lot more!).
The first characteristic of your work that you need now is flexibility. You need to be allowed to produce when your mind and body are in gear and allowed to rest when your blood pressure is on the rise and you are fatigued or scattered (and in some jobs that is just plain dangerous in its own right). To a small extent you can schedule when you take your medications (with your doctor’s approval) so that your strongest side effects are at times when it is okay to be the least productive. However, that is not much of a solution and if you are anything like me at all in your reaction to the medications…that alone won’t be able to match up your productivity and your energy and focus in a rigid work schedule. You will need to do your work according to your new inner cycles and schedule if you want to be as productive as you were. Also, your work needs to be flexible from a physical perspective. While you do need to exercise to regain your health, the demands of physical activity at work can easily go beyond your current capacity as dictated by both your doctor and your body (through fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain or pressure among other things). If your job is entirely hard physical labor this is going to be a tough road on which to find balance and regain health.
Your work needs to make you feel good (or at least not make you feel bad). If you can see how your work is making a positive difference in some way then it will be far easier to maintain the positive outlook that is so important to the healing process. It might have been okay to hate your work before your heart attack. However, now the level of stress caused by hated work and the lack of positive energy around you are only going to slow down or stop your healing at best and, at worst, can be lethal. Don’t put yourself through that. Either find a way to see something positive in what you do now or do something else. Job satisfaction is largely an internal thing. If you are not interested in a career change but still have (and hate) your old job, it is time to look at that job long and hard and figure out why it has positive value in the world and to you. Your heart is counting on your success in this challenge!
Last, and in my opinion most importantly, your work MUST allow you to achieve balance in your life. If you are anything like me at all, there was work, then both before and after that there was thinking about or preparing for work and then there was sleep (sometimes). You cannot heal well in that environment. It is a very long road to getting back to as much strength as your heart is capable of…don’t make it longer by being out of balance as a person. The healing power of being around the people you love and who love you is immeasurable. Make absolutely sure your work leaves you with focus and energy enough to truly be with your loved ones, not just in the same room dozing off. This quality time with them will pay huge dividends in terms of finding the balance in your new life and allow the healing process to take you as far as you can go.
So, can you safely go back to what you previously considered a normal work life after a severe heart attack? How did your work stack up with the information in the last three paragraphs? Can your work be modified to allow for these things? If not, are you willing to live with the consequences of putting your work before your health? I used to be very willing to put my work before my health, until my health suffered. Now I want only to live a balanced, happy AND productive life and get as strong as the condition of my heart will permit. In order to do that I looked around and considered working alternatives that offer the necessary flexibility, positivity and balance. I also promised my mother I would outlive her so I better follow my Healing Plan!