Well, where do we start. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (have I even spelt it correctly?). I've got one of them!!! When I was first diagnosed, I didn't have a clue what it was all about but I knew that it wasn't good. I expected the worst, prepared myself very quickly for it and waited.....and waited.....and waited. Well, I didn't pop my clogs (which didn't unduly upset me) and after 4 and a half days on the Friarage Hospital Cardio Unit at Northallerton...they let me out. Beyond being given an appointment to go back to see the Cardiologist the next week and a prescription covering drugs whose names I could hardly pronounce, nobody told me anything, so I thought it best to take the following week off work and put my feet up. That was in January 2003.
I first started to feel unwell when I was a soldier serving in Kabul towards the end of 2002. I had developed what was termed locally by the Brits as the 'Kabul Cough', which the vast majority of us had a one time or the other. My cough however didn't go away and I brought it back home with me to the UK at the end of my tour. A few weeks after, I was still coughing and on one occasion, I felt dreadful and as if there was a fluid running over my chest. I went to see my GP at the Catterick Garrison Medical Centre, a retired Royal Army Medical Corps Brigadier called Mark Conroy (I hope he doesn't mind me naming him), who was very quick off the mark, was very accurate in his diagnosis and had me up in The Friarage Hospital within the hour. My resting pulse at that time was 160bpm. I hadn't wanted to go to see the GP as I felt that all I had was a chest infection. My wife forced me to go. I'm glad she did, and I'm glad that I met Mark Conroy. Had I not went to see him, I might very well not be typing this blog right now. They reckon that my problem was caused by a viral infection. I'm not disagreeing with them!
The administrative wheels of the Army set about medically discharging me, and again Dr Conroy was in a position together with Lt Col John Timothy from the RAMC to prevent this and I was allowed to serve out my time, completing 24 years of service in December 2005. I have to say that I've been pretty lucky with the Medical Staff whom I have encountered through this journey. They have been great people. I just can't say enough good about them. That most definately includes the German Medical Personnel at the Gilliad Krankenhaus in Bielefeld where I had a short stay in early 2005 when we were posted there. I've been less fortunate with employment since leaving the Army however. Whereas it may not always have been the case behind me being turned down for jobs, there were a number of applications which had asked for medical history and where despite being exceptionally qualified and experienced for the roles I had applied for, I was never interviewed. I get the feeling that some Occcupational Nurse perhaps took fright at the mere mention of Dilated Cardiomyopathy and Atriel Fibrilation...........perhaps because I consistently spell them wrong!!!
To be frank, the first few weeks after being diagnosed were somewhat novel. I had infrequent strange sensations in my chest which caused concern...especially amongst the other blokes in my unit. We'd just lost our Officer Commanding to a cardio episode and our Regimental Sergeant Major was still recovering from his heart attack and now here I was floating about the barracks with DCM. We were a unit of less than 20 people and I'm sure that some of the younger lads believed that the unit was cursed and had regretted not joining the Air Force when they had the chance.
Anyway, the family has adapted to it, as have I. I've been pretty lucky I have to say. Apart from the daily drugs regime and the monthly INR tests, I more or less carry on as I did before I had DCM. I never did get a job, so I took myself back into University where last September I graduated with an MSc and then went straight on to a 2 year Senior Status Law Degree, which I complete next summer, the intention being to complete the Bar Vocation course in 2010. We'll see where that leads us.
As a family we've had a lot of unrelated stress since I was diagnosed, but we've managed to get though it all. We've done this as a team. You need a team. I don't really give my DCM a second thought nowadays. It's just there. For those of you who have just been diagnosed you need to occupy your mind. I appreciate that it's easy for me to say and that sadly not everyone is or will be as fortunate, but don't give up on yourself. Think positive all of the time. I came to terms with DCM very quickly. The only time I got upset was after I had collected my first prescription. I sat in the car with this big brown paper bag....it looked like I'd been to McDonalds! I'd never been ill in my life, beyond the stuff you contract as a kid. Now I was 41, sat in a car and crying into a big bag of drugs! Bloody marvellous. I started to read all of the websites that Google could throw up where even the merest mention of DCM appeared. I scared myself some nights. Best advice I can give you, is once you've got your head around what DCM is.....stop reading about it. You can become obsessed by it and besides you'll miss what's happening Coronation Street. You've got a family to be with and your time is better spent with them. It helps them cope as well. Remember, that you are not alone and they are just as scared as you. You need to occupy your mind with something which you enjoy and that'll help you quickly regain some form of normality around the house. The sooner you come to terms with it, the sooner they will. Oh, and before I forget....the having cups of tea brought to you every 10 minutes and being in charge of the remote for the TV doesn't last long! But on a brighter note...DCM comes in handy when there's DIY to do! I've got the 'old ticker playing up' routine down to a fine art!
I don't drink anymore due to the Warfarin and thankfully I gave up the fags a year before I was diagnosed. I hate that Caliber lager but Becks do a cracking alcohol free lager which tastes like the real thing and you don't embarrass yourself after copious amounts of it! I do need to lose weight though. I was walking up to 3 miles a day up until about December last year but it gets so bloody cold up here and I got a bit lazy and stopped. I've just started again now that the weather is better, so hopefully I'll have shifted some of the weight by August as my eldest who will be 9yrs old then, wants to go to London for her birthday and I don't want to go looking like a Teletubby. I'll keep you posted on the diet. Shamefully, I'm a 40 inch waist right now. I'd like to get down to 36 again by August.