July 10, 2010

Hallstrom's Log, Earth Day July 10, 2010

It seems that I get more and more behind on keeping my blog updated. A ton of things have been going on in my life since I last posted in January.

At the end of April, Abby and I finally received our greatest gift from God...we found out that she was pregnant!!! Everything we had been working for the past two years had finally paid off and we have a little bundle of joy on the way. When we went to the doctor's office in early May and they told us that our baby would be due around the end of the year on December 28th or 29th. How fitting is it that Abby and I would have a baby around Christmas, which is Abby's favorite time of the year? It would also be born near the anniversary of our first date--December 30.

At the next appointment in early June, we were able to have our first ultrasound. It was incredible to hear the baby's heartbeat and see the baby's arms and legs move on the monitor. It really made everything seem real and that it was definitely happening. Here is a picture of our baby, who we are affectionately calling "Peanut" until we know for sure what we are having.
We have already chosen names if the baby is a boy or a girl. We have decided not to reveal the name choices to anyone but close friends and family for the time-being. At the ultrasound, the tech said that the due date based on size would be December 26, which makes it closer to Christmas. The OB-GYN, though, has kept the due date the same as before.

So, needless to say, we are very excited. We are beginning the process of cleaning out the office to make it into a nursery around August or September. Abby's parents have already bought a convertible crib and changing table for the baby.

In April, I had an appointment with my cardiologist. He said that everything seems to be going good. He wants to see me again in October to have another MRI and appointment with him. If everything looks good at the surgical site in the MRI, then I may be able to start seeing him once a year. Speaking of the surgical site, it is approaching the one year point since my surgery on July 20 of last year. My, it seems like so long ago to me since I went through the surgery. I am doing amazingly well. Abby and I joined the YMCA earlier this year and I have managed to keep up with doing cardio to keep my heart healthy and strong. I have gained some weight back but I plan on working it back off and getting down again.

Since Memorial Day weekend, it has been really killer to keep up with eating healthy and exercising. All of the delicious food at holiday cookouts has been too much for me to resist. Also, we recently went on vacation with my parents to Myrtle Beach and nobody can really not enjoy the array of foods that one can find on vacation. The food is incredible!!! Another thing that has hampered my healthy goals is the heat of summer. Working out at the YMCA wasn't so bad in February and March when it was really cool inside there. Now, though, it is scorching hot and I start to sweat before I even begin to exercise. It is not fun to exercise in conditions like that. The fan that, in the spring, was near the equipment I normally use is now gone from that location and it just makes it very difficult to enjoy working out. My bottle of water that I drink while exercising doesn't really help, either. I don't like summer-time exercising one bit. I feel obligated to go, though, because my aunt was nice enough to pay for Abby and I to have a membership there for six months.

This Thursday, Abby and I are celebrating our four-year wedding anniversary. It is hard to believe that four years have passed! They have flown by! In that time, we had our first "kid"--our dog, Sloopy. We also bought a nice house in a nice neighborhood. And, now, we are expecting our first human child in December.

We are both still pursuing other jobs to make our careers feel more fulfilling. Abby is still looking to get into an actual school district rather than being at a charter school that pays about $10,000 less than she could otherwise be making as a starting teacher in a district. I am still looking for a job that would utilize my education, experience and abilities.

A lot of my goals for the year have been coming true. Hopefully, more goals will be fulfilled in the remainder of the year!

January 31, 2010

Hallstrom's Log, Earth Date January 31, 2010

Again, it has been a long time since I have blogged about what has been going on in my life. A new year has come and, with it, I hope new things come into my life.

To update my health, things are going very well. I have successfully completed cardiac rehab in September and a maintenance program that went through October. My heart is strong again and I am able to do the things I did pre-diagnosis of my most recent heart condition. Recently, I have just started working out at the Gahanna YMCA thanks to my aunt buying Abby and I a 3 month membership there for Christmas. I want to not only get my heart stronger and stronger, but I want to lose weight and improve my body image. I'm tired of being seen as fat and overweight and I want to know what it feels like to be average, if not better than average.

One thing I have continued to strive to do is improve my lot in life by trying to change careers. I am so tired of retail and of working for Meijer. It is all I have done since high school. I've applied for many jobs since graduating from The Ohio State University in December 2001, yet have yet to land an interview with a company. I know that I have so much to offer any company that hires me. I just need to get the chance to convince them to do so.

I have so much education and experience that would make me a great asset to many companies, yet they can't see that in my resume. It is so frustrating. I graduated high school tied for fifth in my class. I was in the Honor's program at The Ohio State University and graduated with Honors in the Liberal Arts with a 3.48 GPA. I majored in political science and minored in history. While accomplishing all of that, I was involved in many extracurricular activities at Ohio State. My freshman year, I was the Publicity Chair for the Stradley Hall Executive Board and was a first year intern in the Undergraduate Student Government. My involvement in USG led to me becoming a part of the student-run radio station as a radio personality/disc jockey. My love for Ohio State athletics got me involved in Block "O," which is the largest student organization on campus. That involvement led to me taking on an officer position as the Public Relations Director for two years. As P.R. Director, I promoted the Block to local and national media outlets as well as publicized events for members. My USG involvement continued as a student representative to the OSU/COTA Partnership Advisory Committee, which oversaw the partnership agreement between the university and the Central Ohio Transit Authority, and as a representative to the OSU Library Council, which oversaw the libraries. As a member of the Library Council, we had input in selecting a new director of libraries and voted to start the renovation processes of the main library, which finally was unveiled last year. My involvement in Block "O" and relationship with one our advisers led to me helping the OSU Athletic Marketing Department as a member of the Buckeye Brigade. The Buckeye Brigade was a group of student volunteers that helped perform promotions at athletic events. I was mostly involved in promotions at men's ice hockey games but I also assisted at baseball games, women's ice hockey games, one women's basketball game and two spring football games that were held at Columbus Crew Stadium.

Most people who would have been involved in all of these groups probably couldn't maintain as high a GPA as I had done. I took difficult courses in the honor's program and was actively involved in the university. All the while, I continued to work part-time at Meijer. I think that says a lot about me. I am able to multi-task very well.

I just want to feel wanted and appreciated at my place of work. I am tired of getting things done and the store director never heaping praise on my team and I. I am just exhausted when I get home from work most afternoons from breaking my back and running around the store rampantly to get everything done that I have to do as part of my job. Just a simple "thank you" from my superiors would make the job more bearable. Instead, all I get is nothing but a paycheck every week, which I am glad to receive, but wish that gratitude accompanied it every week.

Anyhow, that is not the only thing I am hoping for this year. Abby and I are still waiting on that day to come when we discover that we are going to be parents. We have tried so much the past couple of years to make that happen. My heart situation put a temporary halt to that process as we concentrated on my health for a while. Now, we are continuing in earnest to make our dreams of having a little bundle of joy happen. We've picked names out and all we need is just for that little gift from God to happen.

I am getting ready to turn 31 this coming month and not much has changed from last year at around this time except for the heart surgery. I still have some of the same goals that I didn't accomplish in 2009 that I hope to achieve in 2010. "2001" was the "Space Odyssey" where I graduated from college. I hope that "2010" becomes the sequel to that successful time of my life.

August 17, 2009

Hallstrom's Log, Earth Date August 17, 2009

Well, it has been a month since my original surgical date, which got postponed three days until July 20 due to an emergency surgery and lack of space in the Intensive Care Unit. I have been recuperating these past few weeks at home after a week long stay in the hospital. I feel great and everything is healing now. The only problem I still have is some pain in the bones of my upper chest, which, I was told at my last appointment, take about six months to fully heal. I feel so good that I have been approved to return to work on Thursday, August 20, with restrictions placed on what I am allowed to do. I got a letter a week and a half ago from Meijer corporate saying that the original Short Term Disability was only approved through August 19 rather than the beginning of September that my surgeon wanted on the form that I submitted. But, I feel well enough that I don't mind going in and completing the paperwork aspects of my job including running of planograms, stapling them, item locating them and filing them as well as preparing them to be set by my team. I won't be allowed to do many of the other things that I did prior to my surgery until October 1, which is when my cardiologist said the restrictions could be lifted.

My wife has many wonderful details and pictures of my post-surgery in her blog, which is located at http://tidbitsofabby.blogspot.com. I can't begin to thank my wife for all that she has done for me during this difficult time. She kept forcing me to stay positive and believe that I would be alright instead of taking my usually pessimistic train of thought. In the hospital, she helped me in many ways by helping me reach things, helping me change clothes, helping me walk down the hall and just spending time with me. When we got home, she helped in changing out my bandages, making great meals for me to eat, helping me get up and down the stairs and much more. She has been wonderful throughout this entire ordeal.

I also want to thank all of those that kept me in their thoughts and prayers and sent me well-wishes during the whole time before and after my surgery. I truly believe that those things helped me to recover faster than the surgeons and doctors believed that I would recover. I'd like to thank those that came to visit me during my hospital stay. I may have been out of it at times or in a bad mood when they visited but it left a good feeling in me and boosted my spirits.

I also want to thank the staff at Nationwide Children's Hospital. They provided excellent care for me and I wouldn't have gotten better without their trained expertise. I just wish they wouldn't have come in so often during the night. At times, I would have just fallen asleep when they came in to check my vitals and give me some medicine.

After the surgery, it has been hard to fall asleep. I can hear the artificial valve ticking as it operates and the sound can drive one crazy when all else is quiet and one is trying to sleep. Hopefully, I will one day become used to it and it won't bother me. Until then, though, I lie awake for a while at night trying to fall asleep and sometimes it takes a while. At first when I got home, I was sleeping downstairs in my recliner. I left the television on with the sleep timer set just so there would be some noise to help drown out the constant ticking in my chest. Now that I have returned to our bed, Abby can't sleep with the t.v. on and I only have the sounds of a fan to drown out the noise and it is not as effective. Also, still being on a water pill to remove excess fluids from my body does not help as it causes me to get up several times during the night to use the restroom. Not fun at all and I am looking forward to the time that I don't have to take the pill.

The other day, I watched an episode of The Tonight Show that I DVR'd and I learned that Robin Williams actually had his valve replaced recently and he looked good as well. He was able to find the humor in the situation of having a new heart valve and that made me feel better about myself. He had his surgery in Cleveland at the Cleveland Clinic. He was joking around with Conan O'Brien about how he first was given the choice of a pig valve like I was given and his Jewish friend said not to take that. He then made a joke about a horse valve that was hilarious. In the end he said he took an artificial valve so it is very fitting that I can relate to him. Here's an example of his humor from things that he said in a different interview with David Letterman back in May: "I have one new valve and a repaired valve," Williams said. "I have a cow valve — which is great, and the grazing has been fun." He added, "The mechanical valve is great, but if someone uses the remote control, you fart." They say that laughter is a great medicine and he seems to be doing great with it but, when I laugh, it still hurts my chest like hell. Nonetheless, the pain is worth it!

I start a cardiac rehab program on September 1 and follow that up with visits every Tuesday and Thursday for at least 4 weeks. I am hoping that the cardiac rehab helps me to fully recover and allow me to get back to where I was pre-surgery. I also have to have my INR level checked each week to make sure my blood thinner medication is working properly and get it at the correct level that my doctors want it to be. Eventually, it will be checked once a month after it gets leveled off.

Overall, I am in good spirits. I am looking forward to returning to work and looking forward to Ohio State Buckeye football season to get here. I am looking forward to ushering at all of the home games and this year have gotten tickets to most of the road games through the OSU Alumni Association. The only road game I will probably miss this year is against Michigan. The Buckeyes are picked by the Big Ten media to win the Big Ten again and are ranked #6 in the pre-season poll of college coaches. The first game is Saturday, September 5, against Navy and that game is followed up by a big re-match against USC at the 'Shoe on September 12. Hopefully, OSU can get some payback following last year's blowout loss out in L.A.

Go Bucks!

July 17, 2009

Hallstrom's Log, Earth Date July 17, 2009

"Due to an emergency, we're going to have to postpone your operation until Monday," Dr. Phillips said as I sat on the bed in my surgical outfit waiting for 8 a.m. to roll around and for them to take me to the surgical room to begin my procedure.

With that, Dr. Phillips continued to explain that there was also another reason that it would be good to postpone the procedure.  He said that the ICU where I was to go afterward was pretty full and that the weekend would allow them clear some of the beds in the ICU to free up room for me.  So, after comforting Abby, whom was crying after the doctor left, I changed back into my clothes and we walked out to meet our parents, who were waiting in the surgical waiting room.  

It was a frustrating experience to say the least.  After a night where I barely slept, got up at 4:30 a.m. to leave the house at 5:15 a.m. to make sure that I was there to check in at 6 a.m., I had to go home and endure 3 more days of waiting.  

After checking in, Abby and I were taken to a room where the nurse gave me a pair of pants and a hospital gown to change into.  I was told that I could have a scent added to my anesthesia mask and I chose Root Beer as a smell that would allow me to drift off to a deep sleep.  We were told that each of our parents could come in to see me in shifts before everyone would have to be kicked out about 7:50 a.m.  

I visited with Abby and her parents and then my parents came in to see me.  I was very scared and nervous about what was to come.  During my parents' visit, the doctor came in and told us that there was a possible emergency that he would have to check on to see if he was needed to operate.  He said, he would come back and let me know.  My dad went out to get Abby and shortly after Abby came in, the doctor came back and told us the bad news.  

It is very frustrating when things happen that aren't in your control.  I just wanted to get all of this over with and get on to recovering.  Now, I get to go through the entire weekend with the matter weighing on my mind.  

Hopefully, we can find some distractions to take our minds off of things.  We may rent a movie tonight and have some pizza with the in-laws and we already ordered tickets for Sunday's Columbus Clippers baseball game at the new Huntington Park in the arena district.  So, we shall see.

I want to thank all of the friends of the family and friends from high school, college and work who left me Facebook messages of well-wishes and saying that I'd be in their prayers.  They mean a lot to me and I am using them to stay positive in this difficult time.  Now, just shifting them a couple days forward in time as I continue to wait for this operation to be started and completed.

God Bless!

July 13, 2009

Hallstrom's Log, Earth Date July 13, 2009

It has been a long, long time since I have updated my blog.  A lot has happened in the past couple of months that have kept me from wanting to write but now I feel is the time I should start doing so.  

When I was a baby, I was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve and a coarctation of the aorta.  The bicuspid aortic valve is where my aorta has two segments inside where the normal person has a tricuspid aortic valve, which means it has 3 segments.  There is nothing really anyone can do about it.  The coarctation of the aorta is where the aorta was kinked like a garden hose.  To fix this back in 1982, they had to cut the aorta to straighten it out and put a patch on to complete the blood vessel.  Ever since then, I had to go to the doctor to get updates as my heart grew.  Through adolescence, I went every year.  As a young adult it got pushed to every two years.  A few years ago, I was told to come back in 3 years.  It was this past April 2009 when I went back for a cardiology appointment after 3 years. 

It started off as a routine examination where they listened to my heart.  During the course of the exam, they commented that my blood pressure was a lot higher than it has been in the past and they said it could be a correlation to the bicuspid aortic valve in that most people with the condition usually develop high blood pressure in their lifetime.  They told me that they wanted to do a blood draw to see how my cholesterol was doing.  The doctor scheduled a stress test and an MRI.  

I attended my stress test and felt that I did really well.  I went to the 12 minute point and the technician shut it down and I still hadn't even gotten to a jog yet but my heart rate was up to the optimal point that they wanted to see.

The following week, on a Thursday, I went to the Ross Heart Hospital at OSU to have my MRI done.  Abby was teaching that day, so my parents went with me as the letter that came said that I may need someone to drive me home following the test.  I got prepared for the MRI and had to wait a while before I was able to have the procedure done.  Cramped in the little tube, I had to hold my breath when they told me to and lay there for about an hour.  When it was over, my parents drove me home and I went about my normal activities. 

On Friday when I got home from work, I had a message on our answering machine that was from two doctors at OSU and they said that they wanted to see me as soon as possible and told me that it was urgent.  The doctors said that they found something during my MRI and wanted to talk with me about it.  I called back and made an appointment for Tuesday, May 5.  

On Tuesday, May 5, Abby and I went to the OSU Ross Heart Hospital and met with Dr. Stephen Cook.  He was a congenital heart specialist who worked at both the Ross Hospital and Nationwide Children's Hospital.  He told us that they basically found an aneurism in my aortic root.  It was probably caused by the high blood pressure that resulted from my bicuspid aortic valve.  He said that there was the possibility that working at my job and lifting more than 50 lbs. could cause the aneurism to burst and kill me within seconds.  He said I should stay away from physical activities such as softball, which I was planning on starting that evening with my friends Shawn and Karen.  I was still able to start a summer bowling league that I was planning on doing with Abby, Shawn and Karen since I told him that I had bowled all year during the fall, winter and spring without any problems.  He also said that they also found a small tear in the patch that was fixed when I was a child.  He made both of these matters sound very urgent to Abby and I and said that he was going to present the case that week in hopes of having the surgery in 4 to 6 weeks.  He said he wanted to schedule a CT scan to check the blood vessels around my heart and brain as they would need to be okay during any surgical procedure.  He scheduled this test for that Friday.  He also put me on a slew of medications to start lowering my blood pressure and my cholesterol to prepare for a future surgery.  I also had to cut the sugar and caffeine out of my diet as much as possible to help the medicines work faster.

I went for my CT scan and it was a frustrating experience.   Much like my MRI, I had to get prepared for the CT test in a room where an IV was put in so that they could administer contrast during the procedure.  They said that they had to get my heart rate down to the high 50s or lower 60s for the CT procedure to work correctly.  Sitting there, my heart was racing at about the 80s to 90s.  The more it kept going, the more I got frustrated.  They had to call the doctors to see if they could give me something to lower my heart rate.  They did so but it still wasn't working.  Someone went out to update my wife and my wife insisted on coming in to help calm me down and said I was probably getting frustrated from all the waiting.  She came in and sat by my side as I lay on the bed.  After giving me two or three more doses of medicine, my heart rate finally got down to the lower 60s.  They rolled the bed I was in to the CT room instead of me walking so that my heart rate wouldn't climb again.  

After the CT scan, they told me that during the prep period, I had 3 irregular heart beats and they wanted to put me on a heart monitor for 48 hours.  So, I had this device strapped to my chest for the whole weekend and upon turning it in, I later discovered that it ended up showing only 1 irregular heart beat during that time, which is normal for most people.

After the CT scan, I began playing the waiting game.  I didn't hear back from the doctors and my calls weren't returned.  My wife and I began getting really frustrated and angry.  The doctors made it sound very urgent but they weren't getting back to us and letting us know what was going on.  I wanted to know what the results were of my CT scan and when the surgery was going to be.  

Finally a nurse called me back and scheduled an appointment at Children's Hospital, which is where they would be doing the procedure since they were more attuned to fixing these type of congenital defects.  She revealed that Dr. Cook wasn't going to be doing the surgery as he wasn't a surgeon.  Instead, a Dr. Phillips would be performing the procedure.  They scheduled an appointment for us with the surgeon at Children's Hospital.

On the day of the original appointment, the hospital called to cancel due to an emergency that had occurred.  They rescheduled and, on that day, my wife, parents, and I went to Children's Hospital and waited to meet with the surgeon, who we were told was still in surgery when we got there.  We waited and finally they said that he was going to be in surgery for about another hour and a half.  We asked to talk to somebody to find out what was going to happen because we were tired of not knowing anything.  One of his nurses agreed to talk to us and explained that they were going to replace the aortic root.  She didn't mention anything about fixing the tear in the patch, though.  We were more confused than before and we asked about it and she said she wasn't aware of any plans to fix the patch.  Eventually, though, we found out that the surgical date would be Friday, July 17.  So by the time they will finally do the procedure it will be 2 and 1/2 months rather than the 4 to 6 weeks that they were hoping for when we first me with the doctor.

We contacted Dr. Cook's nurses about the lack of communication we had received and told her that we wanted to meet with him.  We met with him and he told us that the patch situation wasn't urgent and could be fixed non-surgically.  Today, they have the technology where they can go up through a catheter and put a stent in the aorta where when I was a child, surgery was the only way to fix it.  He said they might not fix it anyways because there was a calcified build up around the tear, which kind of seals the tear.  He said the main concern was the aortic root replacement and that was where they were going to concentrate their work.  He and his nurse promised to set up another appointment with Dr. Phillips on a day where he wasn't going to be in surgery and also get us an early look at the ICU, where I would be after surgery, so that Abby can begin to get a feeling about what she will encounter following the surgery.

We finally met with Dr. Phillips at the end of June and he seemed to be a nice, experienced surgeon.  He said that the surgery time would be dictated based on what they encounter when they get inside.  The best case scenario would be where the aneurism is located below a certain point where they could put me on a heart by-pass machine.  They could then just flow my blood to the rest of my body and then cut out the aortic root and put in the replacement and sew it up.  The worst case scenario would be where the aneurism is above the point where they can use the by-pass machine.  They would have to ice my body down to lower my heart rate and send only blood to my brain while they fixed the point where the by-pass machine can be hooked up to first.  Then, they would have to replace the root once the by-pass machine was running.  The first scenario would be about a 4 to 5 hour surgery.  The second scenario would be about a 7 to 9 hour surgery.  I also got to pick out how I wanted the root to be repaired.  I was given the choice of a mechanical or bio-mechanical replacement.  The mechanical choice was  fully artificial.  The good side of this would be that it would last forever.  The down side was that I would have to be on a blood thinner for the rest of my life.  The bio-mechanical choice was basically a part from a pig.  The good side was that I wouldn't  need to be on a blood thinner.  The down side was that it only lasted 15 to 20 years and another surgery would be inevitable.  Regardless, I chose to go with the mechanical version because I would rather go through taking medicine for the rest of my life rather than having to go through another surgery.  They also revealed that they usually do surgery on an adult patient at least once a week at Children's Hospital, so that was comforting.  He also said there was 1% or less chance of about five things happening during or after the surgery, so that gave me a positive outlook that there was a 95% chance that I'd be alright.

Afterward, we went on the tour of the ICU and got to see what it was like.  It was really hard there because a lot of the patients in there were tiny babies and little kids.  It was hard to see them because they were just starting out in life whereas I've been around for 30 years.  But, Nationwide Children's Hospital is one of the highest ranked children's hospitals in the country and if they can successfully repair children's hearts, than an adult heart should be no problem for them.   

So, now the surgery is 4 days away on Friday morning, July 17, at 8 a.m.  The time is getting closer and I am trying to stay positive.  

Last weekend, my cousin Carla, her husband Rasheed and their 15 month old daugher Marie came into town from Chicago to celebrate the 4th of July festivities and to see me before my surgery.  Marie is an adorable little girl and I enjoyed spending timme with her and watching her play with our dog, Sloopy.  It kind of makes me depressed that I have not become a father yet and I so don't want to miss out on being one.  

My last day of work was on Friday and I feel terrible that one of my co-workers is getting the burden of my incredibly hard job on top of her incredibly hard job.  I had asked my store director to see about obtaining a replacement for me for while I am out but apparently the only managers-in-training that the company has in Columbus would be impediments to the job rather than helping out.  But, I was able to accomplish getting the things set for Back To School season that I wanted to get set and ready for them.  Hopefully I'll be able to go back 4 weeks after surgery with restrictions so that I can relieve some of the burden placed on my co-worker while also getting paid full pay as my short term disability pays only 3 weeks of full pay and 70% for weeks 4 and after.  That is why I am taking a second week of vacation after this week to make sure I can get 4 weeks of full pay.   

We had a community garage sale this weekend to get rid of a few things we don't need anymore.  I got some things from my aunt's house that I keep there and found my Curious George plush.  He went with me to my heart surgery in 1982 and I plan on taking him again with me to this procedure.  

Abby threw me a party on Saturday night called "Chris'  Tickerpalooza" and several friends shown up to have one last party before the surgery and before I'll be out of action for a while.  They wrote encouraging messages on a pillowcase that I will be able to take with me to the hospital.  

This Wednesday, July 15, my wife and I our celebrating our 3 year anniversary.  We will probably go out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory and then take in the new Harry Potter movie that opens that day.  These past three years have been wonderful and a lot has changed.  We went from living in a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment to owning a beautiful home.  We went from having just each other to having a wonderful dog to take care of as well.  We went from being healthy adults to one of us having medical problems.  We are literally living the vow of "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health" right now.    

So, this week will be full of lots of things to do before my surgery and it will have its ups and downs.  I love my wife, I love my family, I love my friends, and I love Sloopy, Heidi (parents' dog) and Sammi (aunt's dog).  I love all of the people that have touched my life in some way and have given me encouragement along the way.  They say that God has a plan for all of us and I hope that God's plan is for me is a positive plan and that he watches over my family and I as we go through this rough time.