On August 28, 2018, my life was turned upside down . . . for the better. The story begins last year when I turned 45 years old; at my annual physical in May, I asked my doctor about checking into a few things.
I have spent a better part of my life outside. When I was a kid growing up farming I was outside working all the time. Through college and my career as a sports field manager, more than 20 years, I have spent outside working. During my 20’s and 30’s I thought I was invincible, I didn’t need to get checked out, right? I’m young and in shape, I don’t have time anyway, and I’m working all the time, etc. Field managers are typically hardheaded and we can let things slide, too.
But over the past 10-12 years, I have thought better about it and have had an annual physical, with about the same results every year. Cholesterol not bad, with a slightly elevated blood pressure. Over the years I thought I could manage my elevated blood pressure with exercise and diet, but let’s be honest, sometimes that is hard to do. And I do have some hereditary links such as my grandpa quite possibly died of a heart attack, and my father and younger brother take blood pressure medicine. So I got on blood pressure medicine this past July. Check #1.
I also wanted a skin cancer screening, for good reason. We sports turf managers of all people should be getting checked out, because working outside is what we do. I have always wanted to do a screening at the annual STMA Conference booth is set up, but never made it there. But I was worried that I was going to have to have chunks cut out of my face and arms. I hardly ever wear sunscreen even though I make it available at work for our employees, and have plenty at home. So when I saw the referred dermatologist I was surprised to hear that this fair skinned kid of Scottish descent kid had no issues. Check #2.
I also asked my primary care physician when do I need to get checked out for “wink-wink” those things men my age are supposed to get checked out. My doctor said not until I was 50. Whew! Check #3, I get a pass for 5 years.
The last thing I asked my doctor about was a stress test. I had heard about them, but really didn’t know what they were all about, and frankly didn’t think it really applied to me. Not that we work in high stress jobs or anything! For a stress test they hook you up to about 50 cords to your torso and make you run on a treadmill, and they make you run pretty hard, as they monitor your heart. I hadn’t run so hard since wrestling practice at Fort Osage High School in Independence, MO.
A couple weeks go by and I revisit my cardiologist to discuss my results. I puff my chest out thinking I overachieved for those 11 ½ minutes and everything is going to be fine, and she tells me that they didn’t get all the information they were looking for. Great, gotta run again, I think. But she says no; this time they are going to inject me with dye and scan my heart, like an MRI. Ok cool no problem, I think.
In a few weeks I visit my cardiologist again. She tells me that they just want to double check and do an angiogram on my heart, just to make sure everything is good. What is an angiogram/cardiac catheterization? This is where they stick a tube with a camera into your artery either through your leg or your wrist so that they can, in this instance, check your heart. I asked, “Do I have to?” She tells me if that if she was my wife, she would say yes. And of course my wife, Loida, said yes too.
A couple more weeks go by and it’s the last week of August, the week of the home opener at OU. I’m thinking, “Oh this will be a simple procedure and I will be back to work the next day, no problem.” This was my mindset. And that was my wife’s thoughts as well, because the cardiologist was “just checking.” So I get all prepped for the angiogram and in the process, fill out some paper work that definitely elevated my blood pressure. The doctors sedated me pretty good and sure felt like I was in a good deep sleep, finally relaxed and was on the operating table at noon. Before I was awake and headed to recovery, the cardiologist told my wife that while they were scoping my heart they had put in three stents! My wife’s jaw hit the ground. Three stents. Wow. I had 90% blockage and two other places of 80% blockage in my left coronary artery, better known as the widow maker. I was on borrowed time. My cardiologist said most people with 90% blockage have already had a heart attack.
Needless to say I missed my first football game in my career that weekend after my surgery. Not that big of deal that I almost orphaned my wife and kids, right? My wife and I were shocked, how did this happen? I give a lot of credence for my being proactive in getting checked out to the late Darian Daily, as his tragic early passing served as a wake up call.
How did I get this way? Let’s be honest. We sports turf managers worry a lot, work long and irregular hours, often have bad eating habits, and work under a lot of stress. And if you are unlucky with the genes like me, there may be some hereditary history that complicates things even more. After my episode, I am now on a carb-free diet, getting regular cardiovascular exercise, and taking multiple medications to keep my blood pressure in check and blood flowing through my stents. I am very lucky, but need to continue this regiment to alleviate this condition in the future.
So I urge you that if you haven’t recently, go get checked out. It could save your life.
Jeff Salmond, CSFM, is Director of Athletic Field Management, University of Oklahoma, and a Past President of the Sports Turf Managers Association.