Monday, February 23, 2009

Cardiac Rehab: Walking my dogs

So, here I sit. Once again on the couch, typing on the computer, with the T.V. on in the background. Everything that has been realatively familiar to me for the past five weeks. I say realatively familiar, because where I spent so much time in the hospital, I have to be honest and admit that being there is pretty familar too. When I got home from my first, quite lengthy stay, I felt like I had some twisted version of Stockholm-Syndrome. It felt as if I had forgotten how to function in my own home. I missed the people who were my captors (very kind doctors and nurses). Instead of being monitored by both machines and caring people 24 hours a day, I was now alone. Instead of having meal choices offered on a menu, I had to decide what to eat. And then I had to make it. No more deliveries of food between 8 and 9, noon and 1, and 5 and 6. It was an odd feeling; not remembering my life before being hospitalized. But one thing brought me back to the reality of being home. Well, two things I should say. My two dogs. I had to snap out of it pretty quick in order to take care of these two beings who depended on me so. I had to remember that they also needed to be fed. I had to get up and prepare their food too and then make sure that I fed it to them in a timely manner. (I probably would have fed them breakfast at noon time if I wasn't forcing myself to pay better attention.) And they also had to go outside. Now, they had been forced to hold it for quite a while while I was in the hospital. My mom was trying to get a little bit of work in, and because I was having so many prceedures and meeting with so many different doctors, she was spending most of her remaining time with me down in Boston. She wanted to make sure that she didn't miss anything. Although I ALWAYS kept my girls needs in mind ("mom, you fed them at 7 am, they probably need to go out soon", or "it's really late and the'yre probably really hungry for dinner"), no matter what was going on with me. My mom was worried about her child in the hospital, but I was worried about MY children at home. But there were still a few days that their needs were put on hold perhaps longer than they should have been. On days when I was in surgery, my mom needed to be with me before, during and after the procedure, in case something went wrong. But no matter how long they were left alone, they never had an accident. Never got into anything inappropriate, or chewed anything out of boredom. They were perfect angels; as was my mom who went home every day and not only took care of their basic needs (letting them outside and feeding them) but she also played games with them too.
So because they were really reliable and good, when I got home I had to remember that just because they COULD hold it for a longer time than some, didn't mean that I should let them do it. I had to make sure that I was taking care of them, because they had immediately started taking such good care of me. And they still are. Right now, as I type this, I have both snuggling with me on the couch. Now, Heidi isn't much of a snuggler. She's usually much more comfortable on the floor, in her crate, or on her memory foam bed. But when she does come up and sit on the couch with me and Shelby, she pushes her body right along mine, lies down so that I can feel the warmth and pressure of her body right through the thickest blanket I may have on, and sighs deeply. Im not sure if she knows just how comforting that this is for me. I think she does, which is why she still does it. I pet her, and tell her how she's such a precious angel, and how pretty she is. And when she isn't up on the couch snuggling, Shelby can usually always be counted on. For a very special hour yesterday, She curled up in a "Shelby ball" on the other side of the couch, and I had my arm draped across the cushion so that I could pet her while I read. She shifted her position just so that my arm was the curled into the ball as well: she had placed her paw and leg over my arm, and rested her head and neck on it too. Again, just the loving warmth that I felt her giving me was glorious. I immediately felt relaxed, and made sure that I wasnt moving too much, as to not disturb her.

So here I have sat, day after day, with both dogs keeping me sane and upbeat. But tomorrow this all may change. I am hopeful that it will, but at the same time fearful of how much "adjusting time" I'll need to get back to reality again. Tomorrow is the day that I see my cardiologist, and I have every expectation that he is going to let me go back to work next week. Now, I'm sure that I will go back either part time or with some restrictions, but just the ability to go back is a little overwhelming. I'll be leaving the comfort and familiarity of my home and my girls, and going back out into the real world. A world that will suddenly become completely open to me once more. Driving. Work. Walks. The thought is both incredably uplifting and terrifying at the same time. Needless to say, I'm a bit nervous about how tomorrow will go.

But, as money makes the world go round, as much as I fear it, I do need to go back to work. The medical bills have started coming in, but not the money to pay them. Luckily I have good insurance, and have had some money saved to keep me afloat while I've been out. And of course, because of my mother (I told you she was a Saint!) has helped out quite a bit: driving me back and forth from doctors offices and hospitals and fronting the money for gas and the parking fees. And I can't forget keeping food in the house! Now it is time for me to retake my responsibility and start earning my keep. My mom will need to be repayed, bills will need to be taken care of, and my girls will need to eat. (Luckily I bought their frozen food about a week before this all started, so the freezer has been well stocked while my mom was taking care of them. (No need for her to blend tripe!) So as nerve wracking as going back to work will be, I might as well start preparing myself for the return, right? I'll need to start figuring out what I can do so that I can tell the doctor in what capacity I can return.

Now, what better way to get up and moving than walking my dogs? I wanted to start by doing the river-walk a few towns over from us. The walk is a nicely level, paved path with the Merrimack river flowing on one side, and a stretch of grass dotted with trees on the other. It is well lit at night, when we would probably be going, with old fashioned iron post lamps. It's a nice walk; easy. A good place to start. Unfortunately when I had this brilliant idea, it was the night that I decided to make the inconvenient trip to the ER for uncontrolled bleeding. And then the next night, it was way to cold and windy for us to take that stroll for the first time. I still wanted to walk somewhere though. I spent a while trying to think of somewhere we could walk that was indoors; somewhere large enough for me to really get moving, and somewhere that would allow dogs. The mall was out. But what about the big-box pet stores? Those are pretty big and of course allowed dogs. My mom thought it was a good idea, and took us that night to PetSmart. I like petSmart. It just seems less like a warehouse than Petco. The first lap we made around the store was for shopping purposes. I went there not only for exercise, but with a purpose of buying a specific toy for Heidi. Our Blogger friend "Cosi" at "Shelties 4Us" said that this was his favorite toy because it was a ball that he could tug. So, I decided maybe Heidi would like it too. Shelby plays with toys too, but it is at her discretion. Where Heidi will pick up ANYTHING that she can play with, Shelby really has to be in the mood to play. Granted when she IS in the mood, she usually has a blast and ends up just as exhausted as Heidi.

So, we found our "Holey Ball" and continued to walk. About half way through our time there, we ran into another pair of Shelties. A blue merle and another Sable. Both were super sweet and close to Heidi and Shelby's ages. After a good round of "Sheltie sniff-butt", we went out seperate ways. (After I got in some additional Sheltie pats and snuggles, of course.) We continued walking, and I didnt have that bad of a time. I was tired after, but what can you expect from your first baby-steps, right? I certainly wasn't having as difficult of a time breathing as I thought I would. So, it was good! We got out; we walked. And I was eager to try again.

So the next night, we finally were able to take our river-walk. It was still a bit cold and windy, so I decided to go well prepared. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to go as long as I could, as far as I could, without having the cold stopping me before my body did. I also wanted to make sure that the girls were comfortable too. I put on their "Mutt-Luk" booties (I don't know what they use to sand and salt that path, so I wanted to be careful) and put on their fleece coats too. I wanted to make sure that the wind that was still a little biting didn't get through their double Sheltie coats. I know, I know. A little excessive? Maybe. But it made me feel better about bringing them with my for my 2nd round of cardiac rehab walking. So we got there, all bundled up, and we walked. The walk away from the car was beautiful; we were walking into the last light of the setting sun. Those vibrant oranges, reds and pinks were blending beautifully with the deep star strewn blue that was rapidly taking over. My "new" eyes brought me these pictures that before I might not have fully appreciated. And then my other senses sprung awake too. I could hear the soft padding of my girls bootie covered feet on the path, and I felt the cool breeze play lightly across the little bit of skin still exposed on my face. Everything felt great. And sharing it with my girls was wonderful.

Now this walk wasn't just about my recovery. I was also worried about how the girls would do because it was their first real exercise in a while too. I was especially concerned about Heidi. She had some type of shoulder injury that has since caused many of the joints in that leg to become arthritic. This is what stopped her from jumping: ending her agility career, and preventing her from reaching the upper levels of Obedience. (See "NADAC: the career saver" post.) So I was trying to keep my eye on her too. Make sure that she didn't become too fatigued or painful in that leg; usually noticable because she starts pacing instead of maintaining a normal gait.
But I was surprised to see how far we could make it. I did have to stop twice to take breaks on the benches that were strewn along the path, but I made it quite a long way. And although my breathing wasn't exaclty as easy as it should be, and in no way was it back to normal, I really did feel pretty good. The girls were WONDERFUL. They kept a pretty brisk pace, and checked back frequently to urge me along. I had them hooked up to flexi leads, (which I normally hate and only recommend for certain situations: situations where there are no other dogs or people around who can become tangled in the dangerously thin cord) which allowed them to be ahead of me with the freedom to keep driving forward, and the safety of still being on leash. (There is a busy, 4 lane road after the grassy knoll on the non-river side of the path.) I also wanted to make sure they didnt hit any joggers up for snacks, although the path that night was pretty deserted.

There is a boat house almost all the way at the end of the path where the regatta boats are kept. We almost made it there, but I figured that I still had to walk back, so I shouldn't push us too hard. We took that second break and walked back. After the turn back is when I started to feel fatigued. My legs were tired and felt as if I had just hit the stair-master for an hour. But the girls were great. They just turned right around, and drove me all the way back. Heidi slowed up her pace a little at first, as she tends to shut down on our walk back if I cue her that we're going back to the car. But I didn't cue her at all this time, and my ears were once again filled with that "tap tap tap tap" of their boots on the pavement. All the while she kept up the same brisk, driving speed and never paced at all.

Even though we were all pretty exhasuted after the walk, we all also felt really good. The girls slept on the drive home and I slept pretty good that night. Both my body and mind were at ease not only because of the walk, but because I know I have two furry angels by my side. I know that this is just the beginning, but I also know that my girls will be with me every baby-step of the way.

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