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From The Heart

I'm too young for this.

By Michael KinnalyPublished 2 years ago 10 min read
From The Heart
Photo by Eduardo Goody on Unsplash

Scared. Overwhelmed. And very much alone. That’s the way it appears I am starting 2022.

It’s been quite a long while, a little over a year in fact, since I last published anything here on Vocal. I had some drafts I’d been working on, including the last two installments of the 2020 story… but then I began a new job in January and had very little time to keep up with writing. The new job started off great… the first half of 2021 was probably the most productive few months I’ve ever had over the course of my 17 year career.

Beginning around Easter though, I began experiencing some subtle signs that things weren’t quite right. I used to always enjoy going on long walks… and on several occasions over the years, I’d walk (rather than drive) the 5 to 6 miles to church on Sundays whenever I was home. So when I arrived home a couple days before Easter in April, I set out do it again. But it was different this time. It was way more exhausting and even painful than it had ever been before. I brushed it off, however. I was just out of shape, I reasoned. Even though I’d just made that same walk (without any issues) the month before, and also the month before that. And the month before that.

I began wrestling with bouts of unusual fatigue in June. It wasn’t continuous; it would just come and go… for no apparent reason. Again, I brushed it off. After all, I work about 70 hours in a week. I just needed some extra rest…. and sometimes that really would help! Other times, though, it would not.

Finally, late in the month of August, I had a full blown panic attack while I was off duty and at home. I decided I was going to have to (temporarily, anyway) step down from my job… then make plans to get to a doctor and have it checked out. Although, as it happened, I didn’t… I brushed it off again. Stressful job, I reasoned. Long hours. Perhaps instead I just needed a break… not to mention a change of scenery too. I packed up my stuff and headed to Maine, living with family while I recuperated.

After a couple months went by, I began to feel more confident that I could return to work in my field… and so I did. I would have liked to return to my old job, but that would mean I’d have to travel all the way out to Ohio to start the orientation process all over again. So I found a trucking company whose main headquarters were in Maine and I applied to work there. It was a much smaller company than what I’d always been used to, but I was hired on relatively quickly. Right off the bat, I knew this was not going to be an easy transition though. It was the hardest trucking job I’ve ever worked at, as it was their practice to work all their drivers to the point of exhaustion… dictating exactly when, where, and for how long drivers were permitted rest breaks. Not exactly the autonomy and independence that is the norm for long-haul truckers… and definitely not what I was accustomed to.

Still, I made the best of the situation. It was the highest paying job I’ve ever had, and it didn’t take very long at all to build up a sizable amount of savings. I knew that they had other locations closer to my home state of Virginia too… so just after Thanksgiving, I made plans to move back home. I was approved to take a short leave of absence (despite the fact that I was still a relatively new hire) so that I could make the transition… and I arrived back in Virginia on Friday December 10th.

The following morning, Saturday December 11th, it hit me. Just before 11:00, I sat down at my computer and was suddenly hit with waves of nausea and lightheadedness immediately followed by a very painful squeezing sensation in the center of my chest. I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks before… but this was definitely not one of those. I had never experienced this before. It felt like someone taking their fist and reaching into my chest and clenching it from the inside… it was excruciating. And unlike anxiety attacks I’ve had before, in which I normally end up frantically pacing back and forth and pulling out my hair, all I wanted to do was lie down in bed in a curled up position. My very first thought in fact was “I wonder if I should go to the hospital?” I hesitated, while waiting to see if the pain and other feelings would pass. After all, I’m only 44 years old and hospitals aren’t exactly cheap. The pain went away after about 15 minutes, and thankfully didn’t return. Because if it had lasted any longer than it did, or came back again later, I would have gone to the hospital. I was unusually tired for the remainder of the day but I woke up the next morning feeling much better… and so, I went to church as if nothing had happened.

I ended up making an appointment, and going to the doctor to get it checked out anyway later in the week. He checked my blood pressure twice… the first reading was 146/104 and the second one was even worse at 158/99. Both being way too high, he put me on blood pressure medication immediately and referred me to a cardiologist as well. I was also required (by my employer) to have another physical exam to get re-certified before I could be cleared to drive again. I met with the cardiologist the following week, on the 22nd, where I took an EKG test. My blood pressure had been brought down to a more normal level by that time but I was told the EKG reading was “abnormal” and I’d have to come back in a few weeks for an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of my heart) and an exercise stress test.

The next day, on the 23rd, I went to Concentra to get the re-certification. I passed, and was given a new medical card good for one year. I never mentioned the cardiac incident from the 11th, or the visits with the cardiologist, to this particular doctor… only that I was on medication to control blood pressure. Which is all I needed, legally, in order to be cleared to drive commercially again. Perhaps, looking back, maybe I should have.

I made plans to return to work the day after Christmas. I actually had a very nice day on the 25th, being more thankful than ever before that I was around to see another Christmas… in light of all that I’d gone through over the past two weeks. I spent the late morning/early afternoon visiting with old friends I hadn’t seen since well before the pandemic began nearly two years ago… then dinner that evening with another group of good friends. Then, it was time to go back to work.

I was very unenthusiastic about going back though. I was quite uneasy actually… in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake off the thought that I’d indeed had a heart attack. What if it happens again? In retrospect, I should have gone with my instinct and headed straight to the hospital that morning of the 11th. It’s very rare for me to experience any kind of physical symptom and immediately begin considering emergency medical treatment. On the other hand, I knew the expenses of such would be sky high. Not to mention, with the current health crisis going on, maybe it was better that I waited it out after all.

My next week at work was even more physically strenuous and exhausting than it had been before. While it had been rather warm leading up to Christmas, the weather all over the place quickly turned much colder. So much so that parts of my truck began freezing up… parts that I needed to work properly. Like the lever I have to pull on whenever I disconnect from a trailer. An ordinarily simple task became a feat of strength as I’d tug on the frozen lever… and we switched trailers pretty often here. This can’t be good for my heart, I thought. But at least I only had to work for about 8 days before it was time to return home for my next round of appointments and tests.

The echocardiogram came first, on Wednesday January 5th. The exercise stress test would come the following day. After both were done, the cardiologist reviews the results with me. It was a mixed bag of good and not-so-good news. The tests revealed no evidence of any heart muscle damage caused by a heart attack but they did reveal an enlargement of the right side of my heart, a condition known as “cardiomegaly.” The heart doc was also concerned about the calf pain I began experiencing almost as soon as I began walking on the treadmill. He mentioned the possibility that I had a pulmonary issue which was causing the cardiomegaly and instructed me to continue on the blood pressure medication and to also make a couple lifestyle changes before coming back in another couple months to re-test. He forwarded the results to my primary doctor so I could follow up with him.

So, I went back to my primary doctor this past Monday… the 10th of January. Mostly so I could get some questions answered, as I was having some difficulty getting any straight answers from the cardiologist and I knew my regular doc could explain things much better.

A clear explanation is exactly what I got, but it left me feeling a wide range of emotions. My doctor explained to me that the cardiomegaly is a type of heart failure, often caused by high blood pressure, which causes a thickening of the heart muscle which in turn leads to the heart not pumping as efficiently as it’s supposed to. This was the reason for the bouts of fatigue, and the worse than normal pain experienced when engaging in physical activity (such as long walks). He assured me that it was a manageable condition, and that the bp meds are designed to treat this… and they’ll help stop (or at least significantly slow down) any worsening of the condition.

So there it is. I have a chronic heart condition. Manageable yes, but it’s still chronic. How do I even come to terms with news like that? I’m too young to have that. Granted, I’m not the young man I once was but… I’m not old enough to have this. I’m overwhelmed. What does this mean for my work and career now? Truck driving isn’t exactly my cup of tea (and hasn’t been for many years either), but it’s the most convenient and reliable source of income for me at this time. I’m all alone in this too. How do I even explain this to anyone else, when I’m having such a hard time fully believing it myself? And even if I could explain it, everyone has their own problems so why should anyone care? I have so many more questions and uncertainties… far too many to write them all down here. I’m too young to have this. I’m not ready for this… for any of this. I’m 44! I was just 24 yesterday! I was just 14 the day before that!!!

These are honestly really my very candid thoughts as I’m experiencing them at the moment. I know I’ll find a way to overcome this. I’ve overcome a vast array of stressful challenges over the course of these past five to six years… this one won’t be any different. At least, I hope so anyway.


About the Creator

Michael Kinnaly

Welcome to my world.

I write stories and tell jokes.

I'll make you laugh, but also make you think.

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