The New No-Salt Zone

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As many of you know, on April 18th I was hospitalized and diagnosed with acute heart failure. After diagnosis and treatment the determination was systolic heart failure due to a viral attack on my heart causing severe damage to my left ventricle. The docs attempted to get my issues under control through various medications over a 90 day period, but with very little success.

On July 30th I had a device implanted to support my heart functions and keep everything beating. The unit is a CRT-D, which stands for cardiac resynchronization treatment and defibrillation. It’s function is to keep my heart beating using the defibrillator in the event of sudden cardiac death (yes, that is exactly what you think it is) as well as working with the heart muscle to stay “in tune” using the resynchronization part. It’s hoped that over time, maybe 3-6 months or possibly longer, I can recover a lot of what has been lost over this time period.

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Heart failure is a pretty broad term that covers a wide variety of issues. I didn’t have any of the somewhat common problems, like blocked arteries or afib or an actual heart attack. My health in general was darn good before the heart failure hit me, so it was a dramatic and immediate lifestyle change. 

I needed a nap, every day, without fail, usually right after lunch. This wasn’t an optional thing, I NEEDED to lay down from sheer exhaustion. And by dinner time each day, that was more or less the end of my day, period. 

I was (and as of today, still am) unable to play music, especially playing the upright bass. That thing is very physical and playing it requires a lot of stamina … something in short supply for me right now. I really hope that improves soon!

Of course, doing chores around the the house that require lifting or exertion of any kind hasn’t been working out too well. To be fair, it’s not like I’m some kind of handyman wizard, but I could always at least move heavy stuff from one spot to another or dig a hole to plant a shrub. 

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My dietary constraints were also immediate. No added salt, of any kind. I’m heavily restricted to an absolute maximum of 2000 mg, preferably 1500 mg of intake per day. As a real life reality check, just one McDonalds Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese is 1330 mg of salt (and that’s without the French fries)!  A Chick-Fil-A Deluxe Chicken Sandwich is 1590 mg of salt, again without fries. Thank goodness we don’t eat fast food as a rule!

no alcohol

Absolutely no alcohol. Limit caffeine intake. The salt is the real issue because it’s in very nearly every thing you eat. Forget about anything in the fast food world, that stuff is jammed full of salt. Prepared foods? Also very heavy in salt. 

But the positive news is that I don’t really need to worry about fat content or starches or so many other typical dietary restrictions … my only problem is my heart muscle, and since I have no blockages in my arteries and my cholesterol is fine at least I can eat pasta and creamy stuff. I just need to be sure the salt content is either very low or non-existent.

We have come to find out that diet restrictions can be worked around fairly easily once you get used to eliminating the salt. For example, every morning we have oatmeal for breakfast, but not the instant kind. Once a week or so we make up a big batch of regular oatmeal, just 4 cups of oats, 7 cups of water and some powdered milk. We refrigerate that and each morning take out two small dishes, heat it in the microwave and add raisins, cinnamon, honey (or agave syrup), and fresh fruit (usually a banana or peach or apple). Delicious, healthy and 100% salt free.

Mid-morning, on those days where Sheila is home (which is blessedly more frequent with her semi-retirement) (soon-to-be complete retirement), a snack might be something like a half bagel and cream cheese. That adds up to 380 mg of salt for me.

Lunch is almost always a salad with some form of protein (hard boiled egg, baked chicken, cheese) and dressing. Dependent upon what protein and what dressing are added, my salt intake is typically <300 mg. If we have avocado sandwiches on pita bread in place of the salad, my salt intake is below <200 mg.

Mid-afternoon is usually some type of fruit with zero salt.

Going into the dinner hour, in general, I’ve ingested approximately 650-700 mg of incidental salt, with no added salt anywhere within the food intake for the day. That leaves me at a minimum of 800 mg, and up to 1300 mg of salt for dinner. If we’re eating at home (most typical) then we don’t come close to 800 mg since we make everything fresh. If it’s a restaurant, at least I have some options when ordering.

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Sheila recently purchased an AeroGarden hydroponic growing unit that works great! If you eat a lot of salad or use a lot of fresh herbs, look into these units. Lunch for us involves clipping some lettuce from our AeroGarden grower, picking some cherry tomatoes from a highly producing bush out front and adding our protein. No salt anywhere in sight.

My other “must avoid” items are:

  • Chainsaws & other small engine fuel-driven tools

  • Swimming (at least for the next several months)

  • Car engine repair

  • Heavy magnetic fields

  • Lifting heavy objects (at least for the next several months)

  • No contact sports

  • No diving into water

  • Amusement park rides

  • Arc welding

Anyone who knows me well knows that I don’t do any of that, with the exception of swimming. And lately, since moving to tall pine central, using a chain saw (you’re forever cutting something down here in North Georgia) (My brother-in-law Bruce is in blessed good health and can drop a tree with the best of them, so hopefully we can keep up with these invasive pine trees!) As far as the rest? I can live with the “must avoid” list.

Now, 13 days after receiving my new CRT-D heart fixer-upper I’m pleased to say that there is definite improvement … not 100% cured, or anything even remotely like that, but slow and steady improvement. The heart docs said 3-6 months, so I just need to be patient and be grateful for the gift of continued heart beating rather than the fear of sudden cardiac death (again … yes, that is exactly what you think it is).

Do you think if my heart gets fixed I can start eating pizza, sausage, hot dogs, pork roll, and pepperoni again???

…. Yeah, Sheila didn’t think so, either …

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