Sunday, January 24, 2021

What Time Is It?

I know you know what this is: 
It's a watch. Obviously. But it's also a heart rate monitor, step counter, sleep tracker, and activity tracker, and it does silent, smart alarms, too (smart: if you set the option, it will trigger its alarm based on your sleep pattern and state to attempt to wake you at the optimal point in your sleep cycle within your smart alarm window). It also has notifications from your phone (text message, caller, date, watch info like steps and alarms and heart rate, etc.) in the small upper window (which is a tiny, monochrome LCD), as well as noting the percent toward your defined step goal in the lower small circle (yeah, I'm a bit deficient in my steps today; I could say I'm over, but I don't want to lie to you, my faithful reader). 

Big deal, you say. My Fitbit does all that, or my Apple watch or Galaxy watch does that and more, with a larger screen. But, I ask you, how often do you have to charge your watch? Every five days (Fitbit), every day (Apple or Android watch)? Not me... I only have to charge my watch once every three weeks or so (and it doesn't require any particularly long recharge time). Granted, the heart rate tracking isn't continuous (it can be, if you're working out, but throughout the day it's intermittently doing heart rate tracking). And, it looks like "just another nice looking watch" rather than either a fitness device or a high-tech wearable. Which I kind of like, and it doesn't really tie me to my device like some of those others might. Withings Steel HR (I have the 40mm version). 

But, oh, that battery life. Oh, and they fit standard 18mm or 20mm watch bands (depending on the watch face size), not some custom band connector.

And it's about to get better: Withings (the company that makes this watch) will soon release the Scanwatch, which will include ECG and blood oxygen saturation monitors, and will do respiratory monitoring as well. Still with an "up to 30-day battery life" (I get 3+ weeks on mine; I don't think I get quite 30 days out of it, although the current Steel HR information only shows to have a 25-day battery life, so I think I'm on track with that). Withings also offers an ECG watch/activity tracker called the Move ECG which uses a standard, replaceable watch battery to provide a year of operation without having to charge, ever.

I think I'm get the Scanwatch when it's released. 

I also have to say, customer support from Withings has been really good. I bought one of the first release Steel HR, which had a problem with the watch face fogging up. I had contacted Withings customer support, and they reassured me that the watch was still waterproof, and it should clear on  its own. It never really did, and I'd contacted them a few other times, both before and after Nokia bought the company (the second release of the watch changed the branding from Withings to Nokia). Then the founder of Withings bought the company back from Nokia, and I contacted them once more. They said that without a receipt, they would have to go from the device production date, which unfortunately made it out of warranty, but they did offer a 25% discount on a new one. But when I mentioned that I'd contacted them within the first year of ownership, the rep said that made it a claim under warranty (I'd already sent them a picture of the cloudiness in the face), and if I'd send back the current one they'd send me a new one. Which they did. About two years after I'd originally purchased it, and after the company had been sold and bought back. What great customer support!

I like Withings, and I like my watch, and thought maybe you'd want to know.

Tomorrow starts week two of my cardiac rehab, week two of getting up much earlier than I'm used to. Week two of the evil machine. I may not write much tomorrow. See you in a few days!

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Aesthetics vs. Function, plus the evil machine

I have a 2015 Chevy Volt. Well, my wife does, anyway. Regardless, we love it; it's a great car, and great for us. It's a plug in hybrid, which we charge overnight in our garage (just 110v). Usually we can go weeks without using any gas, but when we have a long trip, we can just gas it up and go like a "regular" car (and it gets good gas mileage when running that way, too). It's relatively comfortable, reasonably sporty and fun to drive, and both economically and practically (it's a hatchback) nice to boot. There aren't a lot of things I dislike about the car, but here is one of them:

Yep, the steering wheel. It looks really nice, but those looks have a drawback: the bottom "spoke." You see, Chevrolet didn't make a true three spoke wheel here; the bottom spoke is too wide to split one hand's fingers around. They also didn't do a four spoke wheel; there isn't enough room between the two pieces of the bottom spoke to fit your hand (you can sort of cram your two middle fingers in there). And, yes, I get that 10 and 2 (my preference) or 9 and 3, two hands on the wheel, is the best driving dynamic, and this wheel feels great when doing that, but come on: we all drive one handed from time to time. Usually I go for the top center, which is fine, but on longer trips, especially on the interstate, I often like to go for bottom center.

Not possible with this steering wheel design. Aesthetics beat out functionality here; why, oh Chevy, couldn't you have given us a proper three- or four-spoke steering wheel, one that would be functionally better than the one you gave us? Yeah, it looks nice, but I'd have preferred one that I can use the way I want to use my steering wheel. There are places where form over function is fine, even preferred, but the steering wheel of a vehicle is one place where I think function should trump form, as it's an essential control device for the one thing a car is really designed to do.

So, as I sit here eating my low sodium chili (my wife is an AWESOME cook, by the way- perhaps too good in times past, contributing to my larger than ideal size owing to my own lack of self control regarding the food she makes), I must share with you the evil machine. This machine, the SciFit Pro1000 Seated Upper Body workout machine:

If ever a workout machine was going to take over the world, this would be the one. This thing is just EVIL. Oh, it starts out innocently enough, as you go forward on the arm cycling, adding resistance to get your expenditure up. But then you switch to reverse mode. You've already been working out those arms (you know, the things that normally just hang limply at your side or hold a phone while you scroll through Facebook, play Pokemon, or  type out a blog post), but then there's a revolution (and I'm not talking about the circular cycling you're doing with those arms that are  begging to go back to hanging limply at your side), and you find that your arms are not made for this. Typing at a desk is more your style. (Or maybe it's just more my style.) This thing really puts the work in workout! Treadmill? Piece of cake. Seated stepper? Please, it's more work to slice an apple. This guy? Can I just go back to the hospital bed instead?

So goes my cardiac rehab. There's also some warm-up using hand weights (I'm starting easy this week with the 5 pound weights... Did I mention that I never really  exercised my arms much?), then a sequence of treadmill, evil arm killing machine, and seated stepper (although today I swapped that for an exercise bike as one of the two good steppers was down for maintenance and the other was occupied), followed by two or more walking laps around the cardiac rehab facility for cool down.

Short version: if you like your arms, don't have a heart attack. They'll make you work them afterward!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Two Days

Two days. That's the number of days I've participated in a cardiac rehab program. Or, really, any type of directed exercise program. Something I've learned in those two days: my arms don't particularly like exercise, especially with any type of resistance. Oh, it's alright for, say, a few minutes, but by the time I get to "reverse" mode on the circular arm exercise machine (sort of like an exercise bike for your arms), my arms, and the rest of me, are asking, "Why are you doing this? We're not accomplishing anything; nothing's getting closer, like a fish, and nothing's being created, and there's no obvious external benefit to what you're doing, so can we please stop, and maybe do something that accomplishes a tangible, observable, immediate result?"

No, arms, no. Just keep doing what you're doing. You'll be alright, eventually. 

Don't tell my arms, but we'll be back in another two days (cardiac rehab is Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday) to do it all over again, at a slightly higher resistance level.

And, with that, I tire of writing this. I'll see you, probably, in another couple of days, loyal reader, as I try to be more consistent with my blogging. My wife may soon return to blogging, too, with lots of new material to share.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

My two cents. Three and a half adjusted for inflation. AKA the budgets, bargains, and toilet paper post.

Budgets. Wonderful things if you can stick to them. 

Bargains. Wonderful things if you can live with them.

What do these have in common? Besides the letters b, g, and s, one helps you with the other, and one helps you not always have to have the other. That said, while a bargain is a good thing, there are a few things you should probably consider going ahead and paying for what you want. One example: toilet paper. Is it really worth that sacrifice to save a few pennies? Personally, I feel you should go ahead and pay for the toilet paper you like. For us, it used to be Charmin or the Sam's Club "Member's Mark" brand (which is a really good, bargain substitute for Charmin), but recently (within the last few years) we've become Cottonelle users, and have also noted that Quilted Northern is a close second to Cottonelle. For our purposes, I'd MUCH rather be using one of those than one of the single ply sandpaper substitute "bargain" varieties. It's just one of those things. Now, if you don't mind (or even, shiver, like) the newsprint grade toilet paper, then by all means go for it and save those pennies (which you can spend elsewhere). But if you don't like that, is it really worth saving a buck or two every other week or however often you replenish your supply? And, you can still get bargains on your preferred brand: build your supply, and buy whenever you find it on sale.

Similarly, say you have a favorite soda. Buy when it's on sale, but is it worth the savings to buy something you don't like? How is that a bargain? Again, if you like, or if you "like enough" the store brand, save the money. Coffee: why save half a dollar to buy coffee you don't like? How is that a good start to your morning?

Bargains: find them when you can, but be reasonable about your likes and dislikes. Some store brands are perfectly acceptable lower-cost substitutes (e.g., for me, the Member's Mark toilet paper and paper towels for Charmin and Brawny, or Publix gummy bears or ice cream for brand names), while some are more compromise than bargain, leaving you with something you don't really like.

Budgets: highly recommended to use them, in conjunction with bargains, to help you afford the handful of items where you want very specific brands or items.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Are You for Sale?

Last night I watched "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix. If you have the streaming service, especially if you have kids, I recommend during the hour and a half (a little more) to watch it. It's not really a conspiracy theory type documentary, but more of an elucidation of how social networks (and other "big tech" industries) have evolved under the advertising revenue model to the point that they now actually engage, subtly, in behavior modification. It also reminds, if you're not already aware, how social media can help to polarize individuals and groups (you are presented with stories, highlights, advertisements, etc. based on your own likes and dislikes, helping to further engrain those ideologies in your mind, while minimizing exposure to things that you might not agree with, or at least presenting things that you vehemently will argue against, rather than simply presenting everything news-worthy on an even, level scale). Something worth thinking about.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

it's cold in here

That's the current temperature in my living room. Well, close: that temperature detector is on the mantle just over the gas log fireplace, which has a constant pilot burning, and the remote that turns on the fireplace, over on an the table, shows about a degree lower. So, roughly 70 degrees in here. Yet, as I walk around the living room, I'm wearing a toboggan on my head, covering my ears, to keep them from being too cold. (I wasn't wearing it before starting laps around the house, but the motion of my head through the static air in the house is making my ears cold.) Seems strange, but it's probably a result of the blood thinners doing their job, I reckon.

Progress is being made, although I wish it were quicker. Monday at too early (I'm not used to leaving the house early, as I normally work from home) I'll be heading to the cardiac rehab center to have observed and monitored, and hopefully directed, exercise to strengthen my cardiovascular system (with, hopefully, additional benefits of overall healthiness and lower weight). Until then, I'm trying to get in some steps by pacing through the house on my own. I'm also doing ok in terms of sticking to a healthy diet (for a change), both in terms of content and consumption, quality and quantity. That effort is largely being championed and supported by my wife, who is spending a lot more time researching, shopping, prepping, and preparing heart healthy meals (currently based on the DASH diet). And while I don't recommend "heart attack" as a weight loss program, between that and the healthier eating since I'm down about 12 pounds so far. Progress!

I haven't been good about blogging in the recent past, but maybe I'll be better these days, probably chronicling my post-heart-attack journey, at least for a while. Hopefully I won't bore you with these things. And a reminder: be aware of the signs of a heart attack, and get assistance right away. Better to spend for an unnecessary trip to the doc/ER than to not spend and have your family spend for the funeral instead. Eat healthier than you think you need to, exercise, and keep up with your cholesterol levels and other blood work, especially if there's any genetic predisposition in your family history for high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

I'm ... back?

Good morning, world. Maybe I should write "Hello, World!" since I'm a software guy by trade. Whatever. Perhaps I should write "Hello, World!" because it's shorter, and AT&T won't bring broadband to my neighborhood (per the FCC definition, broadband requires 25mbps download speed and 3mbps upload speed, but AT&T UVerse, the only available option in my neighborhood, doesn't meet the upload speed requirement, so we're technically not provided broadband by way of AT&T UVerse). The sad part: AT&T already has run fiber right past the entrance to our subdivision (years ago) in order to bring fiber to the neighborhood behind us - which has fewer lots than our neighborhood to begin with, and of those, probably less than half are actually constructed upon (compared with our neighborhood which has a much higher construction completion rate), and several of those are not even occupied (last I checked, anyway). So, they brought fiber to a smaller neighborhood with fewer homes and much fewer occupied homes, and left our neighborhood "in the dark" despite a much higher potential sale rate for high speed internet access here. And, they're the only game in town - no cable providers, no Verizon fiber or Google fiber or Verizon home internet via cell... just AT&T UVerse at a max of 25mbps down/1.5mbps up. I've been complaining to AT&T for, literally, almost a decade about it, as have many of the others in my neighborhood, and they just won't do anything, just keep saying "soon" (the last two times I've complained, via chat, with AT&T, they promised it was going to be available within a month... but one of those times was, guess what?, more than a month ago, and it's still not available). Now they're blaming Covid for the slow going, but they've been saying "soon" for way longer than Covid has been an obstacle, and now AT&T is just using that as yet another excuse.

Time for AT&T to actually do something and service their loyal customers (I've been w/ AT&T internet for close to two decades now, and they just don't seem to want to provide good, modern service to my home).

In other news, I had a heart attack last year. To close out 2020, I went to the ER about 2 in the morning on Dec 31 while on vacation in Destin, FL, and was subsequently admitted to the hospital and had a heart catheterization procedure in which they found one of my coronary arteries to be 95% blocked and inserted a stent to open the artery. This was classified as a "mild" heart attack, and fortunately does not seem to have done any real damage to the heart (because it was caught and the artery opened up quickly), for which I'm very glad, and fortunate. It could have been much, much worse. (Unfortunately, at least a portion of the bills will be assigned to my 2020 insurance, but hopefully the majority of the hospital stay will apply to 2021, since I wasn't discharged till 1/1.) Very grateful for the staff, doctors, and medical team at Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast where they were able to prevent any serious issues. Especially the nurse Erica, who was my caregiver throughout the day on 12/31; despite only recently graduating from her nursing program (which neither my wife nor I would have guessed), her care, attention, and bedside manner were phenomenal. Note: all the staff/nurses/doctors at Ascension were very, very good, but Erica went above and beyond, such as when the doc came to explain that I was going to have the heart cath procedure, and the possible outcomes (find nothing, find and open some blockage, find and insert a stent, or find and determine a bypass would be needed, but for which they'd transfer me to Panama City to have that done), after the doc and his team left, during the two minutes before they came back to take me down to the Cardiac OR, Erica made a point to alleviate any anxiety that my wife and I were having (in particular for me, so that I would be calmer going into the procedure, since that could affect how they perceived things and the outcome), and explained things in a clear manner for us and was very reassuring. She was great, even when my dinner came and I was going to have to try to eat a turkey burger with only my left hand (as, having had a heart catheter go through an artery on my right wrist, I was supposed to keep that still until the artery had healed), and she stopped to assemble the sandwich, with recommendations on the condiments to keep it as heart healthy as possible, and then to cut the sandwich to make it easier to handle one-handed (initially she started to cut into bite-sized pieces to eat with a fork, but then we decided I could probably handle half the sandwich one-handed since that cutting wasn't going to plan). We did attempt to nominate her for the Daisy Awards, but only by first name (since I still don't know her last name).

Anyway, if you're going to have a heart attack, Ascension Sacred Heart Emerald Coast is not a bad place to do it.

That said, I don't recommend a heart attack, even a mild one. And if you're wondering, here's what I experienced leading up to it:

The 30th, just before lunchtime, I started having pain in my left shoulder blade area in my back, which I tried to attribute to having played disc golf with my youngest (adult) son and two (young adult) nephews on the 28th, but it was pretty intense pain, and I just didn't feel good. (I kept trying to "pop" it loose by stretching my shoulders toward each other behind me, but it didn't really alleviate the pain any.) Later that day, toward dinner time, I started having pain in the left side of my jaw, which I couldn't really explain, and started to feel a little clammy (skin). I also just "didn't feel right" - not quite nausea, but couldn't really put my finger on it. I ended up going to bed a bit early, as I was tired, and tired of the pain, and thought if I could sleep, it would just all be better in the morning. But I couldn't sleep; no matter how I turned, the pain just wouldn't let me get to sleep. I considered talking to my wife at that point, but it sounded like she was having an enjoyable time with the family playing games (we were on vacation, with my parents and most of my adult children present).

Sometime after she came to bed, and got to sleep, I eventually decided to wake her; it was around 1AM, and I was starting to have a little bit of discomfort or pain in my chest (sort of circling around the center). It took a while for her to fully wake and understand what I was talking about, and we discussed it for a while. When she mentioned going to the front desk and checking if they had any medical facilities on campus of the condo, or if they could tell us where a hospital was, and I mentioned that the hospital was 12 miles down the road, she realized, from the fact that I'd already searched out where the hospital was, that we needed to go. I mostly still didn't want to, as I'd been to an ER previously a few years back for some back/chest pains, and it wasn't anything they could really identify and it was just a huge medical bill (we have a very high deductible insurance plan, thanks ACA). But she wouldn't let me talk her out of going to the ER, even as we approached the parking area, for which I'm very glad now.

FYI, if you feel signs that may be related to a heart attack, go ahead and go to the ER. Better to pay for confirmation that it's not a heart attack than not to pay for emergent medical services that could, literally, save your life. Had I not gone, I probably wouldn't be writing this today.

Once at the ER, they hooked up an ECG and drew some blood. The ECG was normal, and I thought it was just going to be another "waste of money," but soon they came back with four chewable baby aspirin, and I realized that probably this wasn't going to be the same as last time. They came back a little bit later and said that the troponin enzymes were a bit elevated, indicating something was going on, and they were going to put a nitro patch on my chest and then (after a Covid test, which came back negative) admit me to the hospital for an echocardiogram and more monitoring.

The troponin levels at the ER blood draw (circa 2:30am) were 0.05 (we were later told by a nurse friend that normal is 0.001 or lower; troponin is one of the enzymes that indicates cardiac distress, whether it's damage to the heart muscle or just some other stressors on the heart). At the 7am blood draw the levels had risen to 1.89, and they did the echocardiogram around 8 or 8:30. While the lady was doing that, she kept checking one area, it seemed, and then asked, "have you had anything to eat or drink since last night?" which was a telling sign. She wouldn't discuss what she saw (indicating the doctor would have to do that), but we knew something was up. The 11am blood draw saw the troponin levels at 3.25 (note: major heart attack is still a much higher level, in the hundreds, but clearly this was a trend in the wrong direction), and about the time we got that info (I don't recall if it was before or after), the doc came in and started talking about the heart cath they were going to do to find out what was going on. At that point (I think) we got confirmation that a heart attack was in progress.

I remember going to the cardiac OR, moving over to the surgical table, them taping my right hand to something (to keep it still; for the heart catheterization, they go in either through an artery in the wrist or an artery in the groin, the wrist being preferred if they can get it that way, but they prep for both), the prep for the procedure, and the insertion of the catheter at least a couple of inches into the artery. You're awake for the procedure (at least that's my understanding), but with one of the drugs that makes you not remember it after, and so the next memory that I have is back in the hospital bed in the room I was in before heading to the cardiac OR. With a cool pressure bracelet on my right wrist, which is clear for viewing the catheter insertion point, and pumped up with air to apply pressure. They slowly, in steps over several hours, remove air from the pressure bracelet and observe the catheter insertion point to make sure it's not bleeding (internally or externally, since it's a high-pressure artery, unlike the low-pressure veins used for drawing blood). If it doesn't close and heal on its own, your hospital stay gets a lot longer. As for me, everything seemed to go according to plan, and less than 24 hours after having the stent inserted I was discharged from the hospital into an overcast, grey, rainy day, a day that I was extremely happy to see. We went back to the condo (it was actually the last day of our stay, and my dad had arranged for late checkout), then back toward home, stopping at my parents' place in Pensacola to watch the Alabama/Notre Dame CFP semifinal. They had chili; I skipped that and had some chicken pasta stuff leftover from the condo instead, and then we headed home after the game. Fortunately our youngest son had travelled with us, and was able to drive back from Destin to Pensacola and then home. I wasn't allowed to drive (because of the non-use of my right hand, not to mention the heart attack and the meds I was now taking), and my wife was exhausted from the ordeal (neither of us had a lot of sleep from getting up Wednesday the 30th until we got in bed the evening of Friday the 1st). I guess kids are good for something! 😄

Since then we've had a lot of life changes going on. I've been to my primary care physician and to a cardiologist (who said he didn't see any real signs of damage to the heart because they got things opened up so quickly in Destin), and will be getting in touch with cardiac rehab to follow up with a monitored exercise program to strengthen my cardiovascular system. And maybe lose some weight. I've already lost about 10 pounds since the heart attack (note: not a recommended weight loss program), and we're starting to eat much healthier, both in portion sizes and content. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was one of the first recommendations by the doctor at Sacred Heart, and it's what we've started with. Mediterranean diet is the second recommendation (she also mentioned a plant-based diet, but said it's not something she personally could adhere to, and neither can I!), and we'll probably try to look at that at some point, but first things first: reduction of the sodium, fat (especially the saturated variety), and cholesterol intake, by way of what we can glean from the DASH diet. So far, I'm coping well with the new diet plan, although it's a lot more work for my wife to prepare meals in this fashion. I also have more follow ups scheduled with my primary care physician (and another follow up with the cardiologist in about 4-5 months). He adjusted some of the medicines initially prescribed at the hospital (the blood pressure one) to try to alleviate some of the fatigue that it may be causing.

Life is different now. But hopefully different in a good way, as this seems to have been a wake-up call (I was already planning to improve my diet & exercise this year, but now it's much more urgent and mandatory that I do so, and I have more motivation from various perspectives). Hopefully this may be a cautionary tale to you, as well: don't ignore the signs, and take care of yourself. I thought I would make 50 years of age before dealing with this level of medical issue... but you really never know.

So, until next time... a topato!