Since we're in the holiday season, I thought I’d take the time to first wish you all the very happiest of holiday seasons, and thank you for your continued support of Bleeding Yankee Blue. I and many of the other BYB writers have often said we consider this site, and all who participate (either reader, contributor, supporter) in it to be “family”. We might never completely agree with each other, but in the end, it is our differences that define us as whole.
This is a time of year in which we all tend to look back and appreciate what we’ve accomplished or what we have, and share that appreciation with those around us. It is truly a time meant for “family”. Normally – not always, but “normally” – BYB focuses on baseball, and in particular its primary obsession is the New York Yankees. However, this article I write is not going to be one of the “normal” ones. I want to share an experience with you because I care about you, my BYB family. I ask that you humor me just this one more time before the end of the year, and bear with the fact that this one isn’t going to be a lament about Girardi, Cashman or Drew. It’s not going to be about the youngsters outplaying the veterans, or about the desperate need for pitching help. Those articles will come later, I promise.
Instead, let me tell you about the beginning of this past year for me. If what I describe helps just one of you, then this article has served its purpose, and as always, I thank you.
Wednesday, January 28th.
It’s a date I’ll never forget, because it’s the date I had a doctor’s appointment to check out what I thought was a bad cold or bronchitis. For the previous two weeks I was in Pittsburgh for work, and during that entire time I fought with congestion in my chest. It was particularly bad at night and first thing in the morning. I would feel “bubbling” in my chest, and desperately tried to cough it up with no success. I found a convenience store and loaded up with extra-strength Mucinex, thinking I’d kick the cold with its help. Only it seemed to have little or no affect, and I’d get very little sleep in my hotel room as I battled the constant feeling of whatever-it-was in my lungs. There were other symptoms that I fought with as well.
Up until my trip to Pittsburgh, I would take my dog for walks – approximately 4 miles at a time – three or four times a week. It was a chance for both of us to get some exercise, as well as take in some of the beauty of the waterfront in Oswego, New York. While in the Steel City, I began to notice that, in addition to the “congestion” in my chest, I was no longer able to walk very far without having to either catch my breath or stop for a quick rest. My room was on the second floor of the hotel, and just walking up the 16 steps (yes, I counted them because they became such a struggle) to my floor sapped me of my strength. I’d actually stop at my door for a moment or two just to regain my composure. I vowed that when I returned home, I’d make an appointment with the doctor. Perhaps it was more than just a cold or bronchitis – maybe the flu?
The Monday (Jan 26th) I returned to Oswego, I made my appointment. Things really struck home when I couldn’t walk to and from my driveway without stopping for a rest. It was a far cry from the 4-milers I was accustomed to, and I was getting worried.
As with every doctor appointment, mine on that Wednesday afternoon began with a check of my weight and blood pressure. I was somewhat shocked to learn that in six-month’s time (my best guess) I had gained 45 pounds. I stand at a whopping 5’3”, and my weight ballooned from 163 to 208. In addition to that, and even more shocking was my blood pressure. They checked it twice, and while I do not remember the exact numbers, I know that the higher number was well above 135. Following a discussion with my doctor where I described my symptoms, she had an EKG done in the office. In looking at the readouts, she noticed a slight difference with one that I had done 4 years earlier and told me she was going to send it to a local cardiologist for further analysis. She sent me home with some stronger decongestants and said she’d be in touch.
Rather than head back to my office, I knew I had to get my daughter to dance early that evening, so I went home. The doctor’s office is just a few short miles away from my home, so the trip to the house took all of about 10 minutes. I had just removed my jacket and was about to get changed into more comfortable clothes when the phone rang. My doctor was on the other end of the line. “The cardiologist recommends we get you into the emergency room. I’d like you to head over there. We’ll let them know you are on your way”. A certain numbness comes over you when your doctor is telling you she’d like to check you into the hospital right away. My only reply to her was “well, I need to get my daughter to dance….”. She interrupted “I think that needs to wait Steve. You need to get to the hospital”. I quickly called my wife and headed to the ER.
I’m not going to make this long story even longer by going into every detail. I spent the next three days in the hospital. The doctors initially thought I had a blockage in my arteries, and went in with a stent only to realize I did not have a blockage. In hindsight, a blockage would have been the easy problem to deal with. Instead, what they found was that my heart was gradually drowning in fluid. You see, there’s something they refer to as “Ejection Fraction”. According to the American Heart Association, EF is “A measurement of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction.”. Or as they further explain, “An ejection fraction of 60 percent means that 60 percent of the total amount of blood in the left ventricle is pushed out with each heartbeat.” A normal heart will register an EF between 55 and 70 percent. Mine was at 30 percent.
What does it mean? Well, according to them, I had what they called a “silent heart attack”. Somewhere along the way, the combination of my blood pressure and weight took its toll on my ticker, and unbeknownst to me, my heart stopped working as hard. It simply couldn’t take it anymore. My percentage indicated that I may have caused damage to my heart’s muscle. I had one doctor say that most people only partially recover, some never recover, and only 6 percent fully recover.
At that moment I vowed I’d be in the 6 percent.
(In Photo: Johns Hopkins)
To further cement my determination, after receiving prescriptions for blood pressure and diuretic medications, my cardiologist said he wanted to see me in six months. If at that visit there was no indication of improvement “you are young enough where, there are hospitals in Cleveland, Johns Hopkins, even in Syracuse, that do good work with transplants”.
Until you hear the “T” word, you don’t fully grasp the gravity of your predicament. It’s probably a good thing that no one snapped a photo of my face, or my wife’s face at that moment.
As I said, this article is about family, and mine means everything to me. They are what define me – my past, present, and future. When all is said and done in this life, I want to only be known as Sarah, Matt, and Kristen’s dad, and Kris’s husband. That’s all. I live for them, and need to continue to live for them. I’m 51, with a hell of a lot of life left in me. I want to be around when Heathcott, Gregorius, Bird, Sanchez, Severino, and Castro are celebrating another Yankees title.
So, here we are, 11 months later. I’m 73 pounds lighter than I was on that Wednesday in January, and quite frankly, in the best shape I’ve been in since high school. I work out five days a week, watch EVERYTHING that I eat (yet still enjoy it!), and best of all, have an Ejection Fraction above 50 (cardiologist – who’s a Red Sox fan – doesn’t want to see me for a year). Yeah, I’m gonna be one of those fuckers in the six percent, and I’m not looking back. To put it bluntly, I NEVER want to put my family through that again. I owe this to them.The family tradition of cutting down our Xmas tree continues.... Representing @BleednYankeeBlu proudly! pic.twitter.com/2ICc26OcLK— Steve Skinner (@oswegos1) December 12, 2015
Please know I’m not writing this to pat myself on the back. Far from it. In fact, it was my own damn careless attitude about my health that put me in that predicament. Love of life, family and friends is what pulled me out of it. Instead, I write this for you, my BYB family. Please spare yourselves of the problems I had, and use my experience as a reason to pay closer attention to your own health. I genuinely care about all of you, whether you agree with my views or not, I love the banter that happens on our site. We are family and I don’t want to lose any of you.
I’ll now return you to your lives, and again thank you for taking the time to read this. I leave you with this: Don’t take anything out of the ordinary with your health for granted. Keep an eye on it, and get it checked out, and should (God forbid) anything be wrong, face it head-on and fight it. If not for yourselves, then do it for the ones you care most about. You’ll be amazed at what you truly have deep inside you and what you can accomplish with the right driving force behind you.
We at BYB wish all of you a very wonderful holiday season, and hope that the New Year brings good health, happiness, love, and a New York Yankees World Championship!
BYB Senior Writer
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