Episode 8: Fixing a Broken Heart

It all started with chest pains. Then the palpitations happened, followed by the light-headedness and drowsiness. Sometimes, my chest would pound heavily, and I would feel short of breath or have headaches. These have been happening to me for quite some time now, but I dismissed these as just stress and fatigue-related problems.

But a few weeks ago, the chest pains came back and didn’t go away. When I rushed myself to the emergency room the next morning, I realized something was really wrong.

It turns out that according to my ECG results, my heart was not beating properly. For once, I had signs of hypokalemia, or lack of potassium. Hypokalemia causes irregular heartbeats, muscle cramps, and elevated blood pressure. This may also have been causing my light-headedness and drowsiness, and partly responsible for my chest pains and other body aches.

While the lack of potassium is already something to worry about, the bigger problem was my blood pressure. I was already considered hypertensive since my blood pressure stayed most of the time at 140/90… Then there are the palpitations, which are connected with the rest of my symptoms. So if my heart’s beating irregularly and not circulating enough blood, this would be a bad sign already.

As I lay at the hospital bed that morning, I couldn’t help but think I had it coming. I inherited my mother’s cardiovascular problems, but I was too carefree to think of the implications that would bring to my health. I thought for a while that I was about to go the way of my mom.

Mom died of heart problems in June last year. Not only did she have high blood pressure (hereditary, to be exact), but her heart became overworked and had stopped pumping blood properly, which led to cardiac arrest. Ironically, Mom was health-conscious, and she exercises and watched the food she eats. She was on maintenance drugs, though, but it seemed she wasn’t taking them regularly because they were expensive.

It looked like I’m having the same symptoms as she did: chest pains, shortness of breath, high blood pressure, the works. Everyone was warning me of the possibilities.

Admittedly, my condition was the result of my previous lifestyle. Back in college, I smoked, drank heavily, and overate at every moment. It got worse when I started working, with the frequent drinking sessions and feasting. Beer and hard drinks were my staples, along with lots of meat and rice. Bad eating habits were rife as well, but that’s another story. “Unhealthy lifestyle” is an understatement.

Things didn’t change much when I returned to Manila years later. Working in front of a computer all the time paved the way to unhealthy snacking, smoking and drinking after work, and more irregular eating habits. Needless to say, not only did I grow fat, but the warning signs – palpitations and shortness of breath and such – began to show.

Eventually, my mom’s death, followed by some personal and family problems, also took its toll on my mind and body. Add to those all the stress that I’ve had, along with my lifestyle, and voila! I’m a sure candidate for death by heart attack.

Some time ago my mom warned me about this, and believe it or not, I was ready to follow her advice. I worked out at a gym, ate more nutritious food, and drank and smoked less. But my self-discipline would still slip once in a while, and I would end up eating and drinking more than what I’m supposed to. The stress I was receiving didn’t help me much.

The doctors have assuring advice, though: Since my condition is just at an early stage, it could be reversed.

I’m currently taking pain relievers for my chest pains, and thankfully I’m not supposed to take maintenance drugs. As of this writing I’ve stopped taking the pain relievers, partly to avoid dependence and possible side effects, and to see if I could pull through without the need for medicines.

I’m supposed to avoid stressful situations (as if I can) and stop smoking (this one’s unbelievable easy, though I can’t quit cold tukey). Liquor is prohibited as well, although whether I could drink “allowable doses” of them is something I never found out. Exercise is also in order.

I’m also not allowed eat pork and other red meat, have lots of rice, and engage in strenuous activity. I’m allowed to eat white meat (chicken and fish), and maybe moderate amount of seafood. Above all else, I’m supposed to go on a diet.

What does this have to do with my food adventuring? A LOT. That means my quest for the perfect meal, the tastiest dishes and the best drinks, and my eventual quest to learn how to write about them, is taking a dramatic shift. That’simply because one wrong bite and I’m kaput. How? I don’t know… Yet.

Maybe I’d be writing more about healthy eating habits. Maybe I’d start looking for food that’s good for the heart. Or I’d stay away from bars and look for alternative drinks and snacks and stuff to chow on. Most likely, the things I’ll be writing about will be low-fat, low-cholesterol stuff, with work-outs and nutritional facts on the side, or something.

Or I’d at least look back at the things I’ve eaten and the places I’ve been through, and rely on my memory to write about my past adventures. But that would be cheating. I don’t really know yet.

In any case, I can’t live the way I do before, with a broken heart that needs fixing and maintenance and all. Then again, I shouldn’t be whining about my heart. Bottled-up feelings much? Don’t worry, I promise I’d stay alive as long as I can.

Just when I wanted some of that lechon Cebu and tom yum soup, this happens. And that nefarious ice cream sandwich… Sigh.

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