It’s Friday afternoon, and I thought it would be a good time to update my Caring Bridge site since we hadn’t written anything for a while. During the past three months, my heart has been quiet, and Noelle (my new ICD) has enjoyed a slow and uneventful transition in taking over for Fiona (my old ICD). By the way, did you know that some people take their old heart devices and turn them into things like belt buckles, brooches, and wall hangings? Go figure. My Fiona now resides in the back of my sock drawer, along with a few other treasures.
Stephanie and I spent two and a half wonderful months in San Diego this winter, where we rented a condo on Mission Beach. We started our personal rehab/boot camp program right away, walking on the boardwalk along the beach every day and doing some light strength training in our living room. Stephanie also played pickle ball regularly and explored the city on her new electric bicycle. After my previous events, we had changed our diet significantly, but now we decided to focus exclusively on a whole foods, plant-based diet. We spent many hours looking for new recipes, shopping for fresh foods, and cooking many new dishes along with some old favorites. In the late afternoons, we always paused to enjoy the sunset, either as we sat on our balcony overlooking the ocean or as we walked on the beach. It was a time of day to be thankful for the beauty of nature, for one another, for friends and family, and for good health.
Late in January, I was able to see an excellent electrophysiologist at the University of California San Diego Medical Center, and I found out there was a spot for me in the Dean Ornish Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Program (https://www.ornish.com/undo-it/). I had done cardiac rehab after my first event in 2016, but I did the rehab on my own after the second event in 2018. I was eager to participate in the Ornish program because its goal is to prevent and reverse heart disease and type 2 diabetes by focusing on four main areas:
a whole foods, plant-based diet (low in fat and refined carbohydrates)
stress management techniques (including yoga and meditation)
moderate exercise (such as walking, strength training, etc.)
social support and community
In some ways, I wasn’t a perfect fit for this program because I don’t have the more common heart disease issues, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, heart failure, etc. Rather, I have electrical problems with my heart that cause ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest. The doctors still don’t know what causes my arrhythmia, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to see whether this program could be effective for me. After the first session, I knew that it would be transformative for me. To be honest, it makes me nervous to use the word transformative because we are only three months into this lifestyle change, but we are feeling strong in body and clear and calm in mind. However, bear in mind that it remains to be seen whether the program will have any impact on my arrhythmia.
Let me tell you a little bit more about the program. My cohort of about 15 participants met two days a week for four and a half hours, which is about double the amount of most cardiac rehab programs. We spent the first hour and a half working out on the various exercise machines while wearing heart monitors so the nurse could keep an eye on vital signs. The exercise physiologists – all young, fun, and enthusiastic – would circulate around the room, checking blood pressures and offering advice and encouragement to the participants. We also had time to talk with one another as we walked on the treadmills, rode the bikes, did the ellipticals, and engaged in strength training. The next hour was stress management, where we practiced meditation and chair/floor yoga. Some people had done yoga before, but spending an hour at a time each day in meditation and yoga was new for most of us. The next hour was everyone’s favorite – lunch. In addition to the staff offices and the exercise room, the program space included a full-sized kitchen where our chef and nutrition coordinator cooked amazing plant-based meals for us, including falafels, quinoa burgers, smoky bean tacos, pasta with white sauce, chickpea and potato curry, and many more. During the lunch hour, family members could join in, so Stephanie was able to meet the other participants and their families, as well as have lunch and listen to the nutrition lectures while we were eating. After lunch, the program ended with an hour of group support, led by two facilitators. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this part of the program, but it turned out to be just as helpful as the other three areas. It was a safe space where people could feel free to be vulnerable as they talked about what had happened to them and what they were experiencing as the program progressed. Even though we only made it through four weeks of the nine-week program, I feel very connected to all the participants and staff in a way that surprises me. I have had a lot of amazing support from Stephanie, my family, and friends, but there is something helpful and rich and wonderful about being able to talk with others who have experienced similar health crises of a critical nature and who are working hard to make significant lifestyle changes.
When March arrived, we were becoming more and more concerned about the coronavirus news. At first, we thought we would stay in California and ride out the storm there, so we went to the store and bought a lot of groceries (and fortunately, toilet paper). However, just a few days later, the news became even worse and I woke up on Friday, March 13 with the clear feeling that we needed to go home. It took us all day and the next morning to pack, and fortunately Stephanie is a jenga master and thus was able to get everything in the car. We were nervous about the trip home since we would be driving through many remote areas with fewer hospitals in case of heart issues. We also didn’t want to catch the virus. As a result, we brought all of our own food for the trip home and had picnics on the hood of the car, and we stopped otherwise just for gas for the car, restrooms for us, and hotels for sleep.
However, as we passed through Utah, we decided to take brief trips into the four national parks close to our route home: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, and Canyonlands. The beautiful natural features in these parks soothed our nervous souls and the hikes in each were an extension of our beach boot camp. Fortunate with good weather and little traffic, we arrived home to a quiet and deserted St. Paul on St. Patrick’s Day.
So, here we are, sheltering in place and doing our best to keep our spirits up and stay in touch with our families and friends. It strikes me that I have similar feelings about cardiac events and the coronavirus. Both seem to lurk in a threatening way with the power to strike when least expected and the ability to cause deep fear and anxiety in all of us. I often lie awake at night and read medical articles about arrhythmia and news articles about the coronavirus. Bad idea. I worry for our family and friends. I worry about all the people who are sick, both with heart issues and with the coronavirus. I worry about how people will pay for their medical bills. I worry about what people who can’t work will do when they run out of money. My worries are many, seemingly endless, most of them about things that are far beyond my control.
What to do? When fear threatens to overcome me, I find that beauty is one of the things that saves me. I listened to Oprah’s introduction to her new meditation series with Deepak Chopra the other day, and Oprah quoted Maya Angelou, saying: “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.” I love that sentiment and find it to be true. But even more, for me, I would say that “beauty and fear cannot occupy the same space.” I often have trouble sleeping at night because two of my cardiac events occurred then, and it’s easy to start remembering what happened and then thinking it could happen again. To be honest, I can’t always make that fear go away, but one of the things that helps me is to put on my headphones and listen to beautiful music. I love Bobby McFerrin’s version of the 23rd Psalm, Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” hymns by the St. Olaf Choir, among other things. I also love reading poetry, looking at paintings and photos, and being out in nature. All of these things represent beauty for me, and in the presence of that, my fear recedes and I regain my sense of balance and perspective. In beauty, I also rediscover my sense of the sacred.
In addition to seeking out beauty, I can reduce my fear and anxiety by focusing on other things I can control, such as keeping close contact with my family and friends, exercising daily, making healthy meals, and meditating. These last four activities have been part of my life for a while now, but they came into sharper focus during cardiac rehab since they are the four pillars on which the program is based. This post is the last one I will make on this Caring Bridge site for now, but in the days ahead, I plan to write on my blog about each of these five strategies as a way of documenting this time of the coronavirus and my cardiac rehab. You will find the blog here: nancyaarsvold.com/blog
I want to reiterate my thanks to all of you who have supported us in the past few months via email, comments on Caring Bridge, phone calls, visits in Seattle, and visits in San Diego. You give us strength, love, laughter, and so much more.
Much love from Nancy & Stephanie
Gina H. | Apr 11, 2020 Stephanie and Nancy: It is great to hear an update from you. Nancy, your rehab program sounded very beneficial and I‘m glad you have had a couple of enjoyable months near the beach. Happy Easter to you both.
Ragnhild J. | Apr 7, 2020 Thank you, Nancy, for sharing. I am happy for you that you are safely back home. What a journey the two of you have made in these months! Warm greetings from Trondheim 🙂
Sveinung S. | Apr 6, 2020 Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring report!
Kris D. | Apr 4, 2020 Thank you, love.
Shirley F. | Apr 4, 2020 You are a rock, my dear, and an inspiration. I am glad you were able to make some side trips along your way back home and hope you find joy and peace now that you’re there. Waiting now for the best time to make the car-trip home too.
Colleen A. | Apr 4, 2020 Thank you for posting, Nancy! I loved hearing this and am so thankful you are in a good spot right now. Your self care is inspiring. Keep up the good work! Love you!
Heather C. | Apr 4, 2020 Yay Whole Foods plant based diet! I love Dr Ornish and find his work so inspiring. It sounds like you all have had quite an adventure to get home, and I’m glad you made it safely! Be strong and healthy!
Shelley C. | Apr 4, 2020 Wow that was really inspirational! You gave me lots of ideas! So grateful you and Stephanie are doing so well and made the most of your situation!❤️Stay healthy and go with HOPE!
Gloria B. | Apr 4, 2020 Nancy, your words were just what I needed to read this morning. Not only am I thrilled that you and Steph have made it home, are healthy, and are walking this new path together, but I’m calmed by this message of peace, beauty, and hope in these uncertain times. I know we’ve never met, but I feel drawn to your open, thoughtful words. God bless you both. Stay well.
Robert E. | Apr 4, 2020 Welcome home! You’ve had quite a adventure. Good luck for your recovery – it sounds like a great program.
Judith T. | Apr 4, 2020 Beautifully written, Nancy! Thanks for the inspiration and welcome home.
Connie F. | Apr 4, 2020 So good to hear from you, Nancy, and to know you are back in St. Paul. What a remarkable journey you’ve taken. Be well.
Patricia S. | Apr 4, 2020 How wonderful to have you safely back home! Your journal entry touched me. I felt love in every sentence and look forward to a mutual hug when it is safe to do so. Peace, love and blessings to you two!
Joan H. | Apr 4, 2020 Beautiful beyond words. You are amazing Nancy & Stephanie! And you even included the link to Bobby McFerrin! Welcome home. Now it’s time for me to meditate.
Marcia S.-S. |Apr 4, 2020 What a remarkable journey you’re on. Thank you for sharing so much of it with the rest of us. I’m happy to hear you’re safe and back at home in St. Paul. Sending hugs and love to you and Stephanie.
Roberta L. | Apr 4, 2020 Welcome home. Sending love 💕 your way!
Marsha F. | Apr 4, 2020 Thanks so much, Nancy, for this amazing update. The way you are handling life right now has so many good suggestions for ALL of us during this time of great uncertainty. I will come back to your newsy post several times because it is so helpful to me, too. Hey, Steffen Foss, whoever you are, do you think we are related?
Steffen F. | Apr 3, 2020 Nancy, so happy to hear you are home and doing well. I think of you and Steph often among the many friends I wonder about in this strange time and hope you are both hanging in there. Sending you both hugs and good spirit as we trudge through these next several months.
We hope you are having a peaceful holiday! We have now been in our rental home in the Ravenna neighborhood in Seattle for almost two weeks, and all is going well. My heart and Noelle have been quiet, and my wound and my ribs are healing nicely. We have been spending our days going out for walks in the neighborhood, enjoying visits from family and friends, reading, watching some Netflix, and doing puzzles on the large dining room table (currently on our fifth puzzle). I graduated from the walker to the cane about a week ago, and while I’m not speedy, I have been able to walk 7000-8000 steps the last few days. It feels good to get my strength back.
We had an especially nice Christmas this year. Stephanie and I went to Duke’s on Lake Union for a salmon dinner on Christmas Eve and then enjoyed a lovely Christmas Eve service at Gethsemane Lutheran where our friends Kari Lipke and Joanne Engquist are pastors. I have always loved singing Christmas hymns by candlelight, and we sang with extra gusto and gratitude this year.
On Christmas Day, we decided to brave the three-hour drive to Vancouver/Portland to visit my folks who are 91 and 90 years old. On the way, we stopped in Dupont and had a nice visit with my daughter Tina and her wife Jessica and Jessica’s folks and then continued on to Vancouver. We visited my mom in memory care at lunch and then went out for a lovely brunch with dad, my brother, and his family. Afterwards, my uncle and several of my cousins came over to dad’s apartment in assisted living, and it was fun to have part of the family all together. There were a lot of jokes and laughter in the room with that group! Afterwards, Steph drove us home to Seattle while I put my seat back and snoozed. Have I mentioned how well Stephanie has been taking care of me? She is the best, and I am very fortunate.
Thanks again for your comments on Caring Bridge, your emails, your texts, and your prayers! You make us laugh and give us strength and courage as we move forward.
All the best from Nancy
UPDATE FROM STEPHANIE
Hello and a Happy New Year to All!
Nancy’s recovery compared to her two previous “events” in August 2016 and March 2018 has been nothing short of remarkable. She’s worked her way up 7000 or 8000 steps a day at around 60 to 70% regular walking speed already. I admire her tenacity and effort daily.
We’ve been in close contact with Nancy’s electrophysiologist (EP) team back home and, with their infinite assistance and medical referrals, next week we will journey (fly!) on to what we have begun to call “our winter home” — sunny San Diego.
Nancy will see an EP doc at UCSD (Univ of CA San Diego) in La Jolla in January. We’re aiming for continuity of care and arranging an advance strategy should Noelle decide to make a ruckus this winter. My hope is that Nancy’s antiarrhythmic medication (amiodarone) will protect her heart for the duration. And once we are back in Minnesota in the spring, we will make a revised medical plan with her EP doctor there, Henri Roukoz at the University of Minnesota.
Nancy’s ex-husband Bruce and his spouse Joyce will drive our car down to us in early January as well. We are grateful to them for stepping up to do this for us, especially since we have slim pickin’s when it comes to warmer weather clothing with us here in Seattle. And, of course, there are a few other items we’d like to have, too, as well as the car itself. So things are falling smoothly into place.
Noelle, the new ICD, seems to be settling in post-surgery as well — hopefully for a long, looooooooong period of inactivity! We asked the doctor if we could have Fiona after she was removed, and, much to our surprise, they were able to give her to us. She’s been a genuine pain to Nancy, yes, but she’s also saved her life over and over and over again. So we live on together enjoying the miracle of Nancy’s life. It’s hard not to feel more and more afraid — each of us has our own fears. Nonetheless, I only feel more and more determined to live as fully as we can together, to continue to enjoy one another and our family and friends as much as we possibly can. To live a life of no regrets. I heard a baseball metaphor a few years back, some time after Nancy’s first cardiac arrest in our living room. It went something like this — You never know what life will throw at you next, so swing hard. We’re swinging away…
Thank you for all your support along the way.
Lisa F. | Dec 31, 2019 See you both in San Diego the end of January! Hugs all around and Happy Peace-filled 2020!
Kris D. | Dec 30, 2019 Your recovery is amazing, as are both of you, Nancy and Stephanie. You two have such a beautiful, rich life. Continued good health and happiness!
Amy B. | Dec 30, 2019 Happy new year and love to you both. Wishing you an abundance of health and happiness in 2020!
Susan D. | Dec 30, 2019 Sounds like it’s been a strong and happy recovery. So happy for you both.
Judith T. | Dec 30, 2019 We are so happy to hear of your great progress and that you were able to have a good Christmas even after the events of the past few weeks. I hope that San Diego weather will be mild, but we’ll miss seeing you in St. Paul. Happy New Year!
Liz H. | Dec 30, 2019 So good to hear of your continued recovery and your time with family. Love to you both, Liz
Ann D. | Dec 30, 2019 What a nice update, girls! After seeing you last week, I can attest to the fact that you’re both looking forward, not back — and am happy that you can continue your winter in the really nice climate of SOCAL! Will watch for more updates here unless you’re too busy walking on the boardwalk 🙂 Lots of luv from MN.
Patricia S. | Dec 30, 2019 You two are simply amazing! You move through these “events” with courage, grace, and tenacity. Love to you both from both of us and happy 2020! 💕
Mary C. | Dec 30, 2019 Thank you to both of you for these words, and pictures, which speak eloquently of the importance of love, family, loyalty, gratitude, and the wonder and beauty of life.
Gail K. | Dec 29, 2019 Hi, Nancy and Stephanie! So happy to see the latest news from both of you – you have been in prayers, and I am smiling, here, to learn that things are going well. I am especially happy that you were able to see so many family members on Christmas! That is fantastic. Love the pictures, as well. I enjoyed the photos that Jen posted , including some from the wedding. Continue all the positive progress! I live in Apple Valley, in case you want to visit the high desert any time this winter. Much love and a fantastic New Year!😘
Kathy S. | Dec 29, 2019 Nancy, It’s great to hear how well you are doing with Noelle. Just keep her in shape so she behaves! All that walking and travelling is amazing. I’ll think of you and stop compaining to myself when I go out for my walks! You’re an inspiration. My thoughts are with you both. Love, Kath
Spring is just around the corner in Minnesota, so we have been able to enjoy some walks and bike trips in St. Paul and Minneapolis. If you haven’t tried the Nice Ride bikes yet, we recommend it. On Saturday, we rode from the Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul to St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis to have dinner on the patio at the Aster Cafe and attend an album release event for Rachel Kilgour, who performed with Sara Pajunen, Chris Koza, and Liz Draper. So convenient to get bikes from the station near our home and then return them to the station near St. Anthony Main. No worries and no fuss, plus little expense and good exercise!
I hope the sun and warmth of spring helps to get me going on my cardiac rehab program again, after a bit of a plateau after Christmas. Here is one of my favorite spring poems by the Nobel-prize winning Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Below each line is my own, very literal translation, intended to convey some of the meaning of the poem but not its poetic rhythm and beauty.
Jeg velger meg april! I choose April
Jeg velger meg april I choose April I den det gamle faller, In it the old falls, i den det ny får feste; in it the new gains a foothold; det volder litt rabalder,- it causes a bit of a ruckus,- dog fred er ei det beste, yet peace is not the best, men at man noe vil. but that one wills something.
Jeg velger meg april, I choose April, fordi den stormer, feier, because it storms, sweeps, fordi den smiler, smelter, because it smiles, melts, fordi den evner eier, because it has abilities, fordi den krefter velter,- because it overturns powers,- i den blir somren til! in it summer is created!
CaringBridge journal entry by Stephanie Fay — 10/18/2016
Week by week, Nancy has continued her amazing recovery. The proof is in the pictures! We just finished walking 5.2 miles from our house to Longfellow Grill via Summit Avenue. We are ecstatic to be sitting outside for supper in mid October!!!
Last week Nancy had an appointment with the electrophysiology cardiologist (the doc who placed her defibrillator before she left the hospital in August), and he discovered her kidney numbers were back to normal and her heart MRI could be scheduled. So she will have that tomorrow afternoon already. Please hold her extra tight in your thoughts and prayers for both a calm and easy test as well as a NORMAL result. We are not sure if we will get results tomorrow or not.
Thanks to all for your continued support. We are grateful for each day, each other and all of you!
CaringBridge journal entry by Stephanie Fay — 8/24/2016
Nancy continues to recover here at home. She remains an amazing and patient, well, patient. There have been a few wee bumps along the road to recovery — namely a bit of an infection and a whole lot of hives from a new antibiotic — but, to no one’s surprise, she has persevered.
First day of cardiac rehab earlier today. She had to take a 6 minute walk while they monitored her heart. That led quite seamlessly to a 60 minute nap upon returning home.
We also went on a short walk together this evening on our block. She’s looking pretty amazing, don’t you think??? 🙂
I’m just happy she’s alive, happy she’s home, and happy she’s getting stronger every day.