By Jim Armbruster
I came across the Long Bridge for the first time on the morning of March 22, 1976. I was 20 years old. My traveling companion and I had left the Los Angeles area on March 6, hitchhiked to St. Louis, and then hitchhiked up here, looking for our version of the American dream.
Sandpoint was in the middle of the one of those remarkable spring storms we sometimes still get. Snowing hard enough that standing in front of the Middle Earth Tavern you couldn’t see the PastTime Café and Sport Shop across the street. It was a very interesting time to be here, a lot of new blood and ideas moving into this conservative north Idaho logging town. But those are stories for another time.
What I hope to accomplish today is more of an unofficial public health service announcement and some acknowledgements of gratitude.
On Feb. 21 of this year, I had open-heart surgery. (I believe, from a journalistic standpoint, this is called “setting the hook.”)
My open-heart surgery involved a double bypass to two different coronary arteries on my heart (one which was blocked at 80 percent and the other at 90 percent) and a repair of my Mitral valve which was leaking severely, causing 30 percent of my blood to flow in the wrong direction. The fact that these issues were discovered in the first place was remarkable and good news . . . but I’ll come back to that!
I am not a triathlete. I cannot skate ski up the Schweitzer Road. I don’t put in 75 mile loops on my road bike after dinner. Hell, I don’t even rock climb. But, I am in damn good physical shape. At 61, my work is very physical. I can keep up with almost anyone on a hiking trail. I ran Bloomsday a couple of years ago with my son. I garden extensively. I find reasons to move and not sit. After a full day of installing carpet, it would not be an unusual for me to climb on my bike for a 10- to 12-mile bike ride, just because. That is, up until the last year or so.
The last 12 months, I found myself feeling tired. Looking back now, my wife would say, “I wish I had a dollar for every time you said this year “I’m just so darn tired.”
In December 2016, I had my annual physical that, like a lot of men, happened because my wife harped on me until I make the call to schedule it.
It was during this routine annual visit that my doctor discovered a heart murmur. I was referred to a cardiologist and so began this rapid journey. A subsequent test a week later showed a severe leak in my Mitral valve. I then had a cardiac catheter which provided greater detail about the leaking valve and further uncovered two severely clogged arteries. Surgery followed soon after. A rapid eight weeks from thinking I’m just getting old and tired to getting my chest cracked open.
So . . . how is this good news? Because I didn’t have a heart attack. I wasn’t two miles up the Mickinnik Trail this spring, or out in the middle of the Selle Valley on my bike where I could’ve dropped like a stone. This was the best way this was going to turn out!
I’m that guy. I eat well, I’m very active. I take darn good care of myself. I’m kind of that guy you’d least suspect would have serious heart issues.
My message is simple: Don’t miss or put off your annual physical. If you have cholesterol issues, keep tabs on them. Get a stress test. Eat well, get off your couch. Listen when your body is saying something to you. My heart valve issue was just bad luck, and the blocked arteries are hereditary. And while there’s very little I could have done to avoid this, the reality is (and what I hope others will hear) is that my recovery was much faster, easier and more complete because I caught the issues before my heart muscle itself was damaged and because I am in good physical condition. Who knows if these issues might have caused severe problems much earlier, had I not been taking good care of myself.
A lot of good has come from this experience. The outpouring of love and support has been very humbling. Cards, letters, texts, flowers and well-wishes from so many people have meant a lot to me. I simply want to thank everyone for everything. But extra love to mom and Bill, Tom and Jean, each four sisters and my brothers. John, Eric and the crew at Sandpoint Furniture, our incredible neighbors, the Brass family, Ed, Amber, Joe and Robyn. To Kathy and Jenni—again! To my remarkably strong kids, and to my rock: my wife who gives me the blessed life I have today. And lastly to Dr. Dan Meulenberg: physician, friend, commander of ships and grower of good things. He won’t take credit for it, but to me, he saved my life that day when during a routine physical he looked up and said, “Jim, have we ever talked about you having a heart murmur?” Shooting for 30 more years
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