In the latest in a continuing series of posts, Tom Howard tells us that he was returned to duty after recent cardiac issues. Although he is “cleared” physically, thoughts still tumble around in his head as to what’s next.
If you haven’t been following, I had developed what I called a “feeling” in my chest at a recent fire. In all honesty was chest pressure. I hesitate to call it that, after all I’m 49 not 69. Anyway, its official, I have returned to work full duty with no restrictions. That’s what the paper from the doctor says, with the added bonus from the city doctor that it was not duty related. According to my cardiologist when I am under a severe physical load the arteries around my heart go into a spasm causing the pressure and the feeling of fatigue. I cannot duplicate this on a stress test as it’s just not stressful enough. I think it is important for us to really understand that the stress levels we encounter cannot be duplicated outside of doing what each of us, as firefighters, are prepared to do every day.
While the paper from the doctors may say no physical restrictions, I can assure you there are now some major mental restrictions. I, as a man of faith, will be the first to raise my hand to admit my broken humanity. Yet the fact is, deep in the recesses of my brain I still felt that when I put on my uniform and wrapped myself in my black coat with the reflective strip, I was still invincible. I have spent the last couple weeks trying to wrap myself around where I now find myself. Now to be clear I don’t feel like I’m going to die, and I certainly didn’t have a near death experience.
I was explaining how I was trying to wrap my head around what I thinking through all of this to my wife the other day. I told her that I feel as though I bought a house with a balloon payment and the balloon came sooner than I expected. I have known ever sense I began in the fire service in the eighties, that one day the constant abuse, both mental and physical, would take its toll. I call it my “windshield wiper theory.” A wiper is made to last 100,000 wipes, so if you leave them on after the rain stopped you are wasting them and they will quit working before expected. This is why at 46 years old when the orthopedic doctor looks at my MRI and says, “You have the back of a 65 year old man,” I’m not surprised. I have had my life on fast for longer than normal so the payments are starting to come due.
I had mentioned previously that I would now describe myself as broken, or weak stock and yet I now have paperwork that says I am fit for duty. Unfortunately they can’t see past the physical. They tell me to take a daily pill to keep my arteries from going into a spasm but no one has anything or thought of offering anything for my growing anxiety of my looming balloon payment. As I put my gear on my rig yesterday I couldn’t help but wonder if I can still do this and how much longer. What will break next? What effect will taking the medication have long term?
Honestly one of my biggest disappointments has come from the same people that only a few months ago shook my hand, gave me gift card and thanked me for my dedicated years of service. Now though, even with no history of heart decease in my family and not yet at the 50- year mark, I have a cardiac issue that of course is not duty related. This is not a surprise but it is a disappointment. Never the less I would not trade my years of serving back. I cannot imagine having spent my years doing anything rather than “living the dream.”
Some of this might sound maybe a little heavy and I guess it is. Before I get too wrapped up in what can be overwhelming details that can drag me down I like to keep it all in perspective. I often think about the book of Matthew and Jesus is talking to the disciples and says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I like to think that as fireman, how much more we offer ourselves for complete strangers. Remember none of us are alone. We all carry a heavy burden in one way or another. Reach out, ask for help, it’s there. If we can lay our lives down, one call at a time, how much more can we be there for our friends and brothers. IFFPS!