I lived a pretty normal childhood in terms of my health. I played in many sports leagues and was always playing in the backyard. That all changed when I got to high school. I always had trouble gaining weight, feeling tired, trouble breathing but things had become really alarming.
I ate whatever I wanted and never gained any weight. I was 5’11 and only 100 pounds. I knew that wasn’t normal. Of course, being in high school I could certainly forget about getting any girls at only 100 pounds. They always ignored me. I would literally flip a coin on many days to decide if I would stay home from school because I felt sick pretty much everyday. I had trouble going up stairs, heart palpitations, tired all the time, etc. I even told my mother that there’s no way I can feel like this and keep going. I predicted that I would be dead in the near future. She told me “no way” or something like that.
I went to the doctor for my normal check up and my life then changed. A nurse practitioner started listening to my heart and had a puzzled look on her face. She then listened for probably half an hour. She noticed I had a very noticeable heart murmur and then I was referred to a cardiologist.
The cardiologist visit consisted of many tests such as the ultrasound, EKG, stress test, etc. I remember running on a treadmill at an incline to test my cardio. I got so tired and out of breath, my vision pretty much faded to black. The cardiologist confirmed I had a very large heart murmur and a large Atrial Septal Defect. It turned out my prediction of dying in the near future was probably right. The doctor told me my hole was so large that it needed surgery in the next few weeks. He told me the risk of stroke or other problems was high enough to where they told me I might not live another few years if I did not have surgery. The plan was to have my hole closed with a septal occluder device.
The time for surgery came and my family was there for me. I remember we had to go through a bad neighborhood to get to the hospital and my parents told me to lock my doors and roll up my windows. I remember my parents waiting in the hospital room with me until a nurse came. She was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. She told me she was going to inject something into my arm. She tried a few times but kept missing the vein or something. Of course me being a young teenaged boy, I saw this beautiful woman and didn’t care one bit. It was just more time to look at her. She injected me with probably the same thing Walter White got injected with before his cancer surgery on Breaking Bad. I know this because my mother said it made me very loopy, giggly, etc. I think it’s just something to relax you before surgery so you don’t panic.
Next thing I remember is waking up and having the doctors tell me things about the surgery. It was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. The tubes they used to go down my throat were too big and it scratched up my throat. It hurt so much, I couldn’t even breath through my mouth without feeling terrible pain. I couldn’t talk either because of it. I’m sure my family was worried but I couldn’t tell them anything to comfort them. I remember my cousin stopping by to see how I was feeling. I think I remember writing down on a note that I couldn’t talk. I then remember not being able to eat anything because of my throat.
I was watching TV that night for my hospital stay and saw the Red Sox were on. It was an exciting game that came down to the bitter end. Jason Varitek ended up hitting a walk off game winner. It brought some light to a very trying day.
My mother decided to sleep on the chair next to me for my overnight stay. She has always been a very loving and supportive mother. We walked out the next morning on her birthday. It was probably the best birthday gift a mother could receive.
I had to refrain from any strenuous exercise for about a month before going back to the gym or doing sports. I did web and graphic design for money in high school, so I really went hardcore into that while I recovered. I was very talented at such a young age of only 15.
I made sure to tell my shop teachers in school about it as well. I would pretty much sit around talking to other guys in shop class and not really lift anything. When it came time to get back into things, I noticed a big change. I was able to lift about an extra 20 pounds on any exercise machine and run for longer without losing my breath. I pretty much felt like a new person. I’m sure some of that was mental but it certainly felt real.
The head of the vocational part of my high school had me meet with him in his office and told me he had heard about my surgery. He told me I could no longer be in shop class anymore and he was mad that I didn’t tell him. I did tell my teachers but I did not tell him. I basically never saw the guy so I didn’t even think of telling him. Rather than spending almost half the day in shop class, I returned to taking regular classes.
Another thing I missed out on besides girls or shop class was sports. I was always a great athlete but could not pass a physical because of the heart murmur I still had. I thought I could have had a chance at a scholarship if I ran track but couldn’t pursue it.
Sadly, I graduated into the great recession in 2008. There was no work for my brother in construction. The freelance web and graphic design work I was doing also dried up. My family pretty much pressured my brother into joining the military. I had always been close with my brother and did a lot of thinking about joining the military as well. We both decided on the Air Force.
My brother being the always healthy guy he is, got accepted pretty easily. Me, on the other hand certainly did not. I had a lot of trouble making the weigh ins because of my trouble gaining weight. I finally passed the weigh ins and had my physical. The doctor noticed my spine seemed to be curved too much and had me get an X-Ray. The X-Ray tech told me my heart glowed like a light bulb.
I met with the doctor and he told me they found my device and I could feel my face turn beat red and my heart beating. I told him about my heart and he said they couldn’t accept me.
I felt pretty hopeless for quite a while. I wanted to go in with my brother and start a new life. Here was another thing my defect had held me back from. First it was girls, then shop class, then athletics, and now the Air Force.
I spent much of my time playing basketball to help with my depression and anxiety. Every time I played, I had an escape from my troubles. I ended up breaking my ankle from having someone fall on me and needed surgery to repair it.
The anesthesiologist before surgery told me “you know you have a really big heart murmur right?”. That pretty much made my mind even worse. I was unable to walk for months and months without crutches. I felt terrible pain every day.
I saw my cardiologist and they ran a bunch of tests and told me my heart was fine. The chest pains were not from my heart. They said that I seemed depressed and the chest pain was most likely in my head. They had me talk to a psychiatrist right after seeing my cardiologist. I spoke to him about my situation and he knew that I had depression and anxiety. The chest pains I was having were from anxiety. He told me I could start seeing him if I had anymore problems.
My days consisted of taking pain killers, watching TV, going to the library with my mother and playing games. I had just moved to a different town and did not have any friends besides people I played basketball with. I obviously couldn’t do that anymore so I basically didn’t see anyone but my mother and my Aunt that I lived with.
My addiction the the Vicodin I was taking soon spun out of control. It basically fixed all my problems with pain, depression anxiety, eating, sleeping, you name it. I felt as if it made me a better person. I soon started taking 8-12 a day instead of the 4 or 5 I should have been taking. It was a lot for someone only weighing about 115 lbs.
As soon as my supply ran out and no longer had refills, my life completely changed. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and was in a lot of pain. It spiraled out of control in the coming days and didn’t sleep for 4 straight days. I was vomiting for 4 straight days as well. I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I had constant chest pain all the time. It was so bad, I thought I was dying. I wanted nothing else but to kill myself but I know I couldn’t do that to my family. I lost about 25-30 pounds from all the vomiting and decided it was time to face the facts that it was not my heart and it was in fact depression and anxiety.
I spent almost 2 weeks in a mental hospital for depression and anxiety. I found a combination of medication that worked well for me and I felt like a new person. My Aunt that I lived with told me it was the first time she had seen me smile in a long time.
As you can tell, my life has been one long struggle. I have had to fight through a lot in my life including my ASD, heart surgery, Lyme Disease, Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, a broken elbow, broken ankle, ankle surgery, constant back pain from Kyphosis, panic attacks, drug addiction, insomnia, the list goes on and on. I know this is not a cheerful success story, but I consider it a success to get through everything I’ve been through in my somewhat short life so far. I only hope everyone else will have a happier life than I’ve had.