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Book Review: “The Simplified Handbook for living with heart disease and other chronic diseases”

Posted Apr 16 2010 12:22am

By Warren and Donna Selkow

Review by Scott Keith

A Glendale, Arizona man, who had to learn the hard way that the heart can only take so much stress, has co-written a book that’s designed for the newly diagnosed coronary artery disease patient. Blending tough love, honesty, humor and encouragement, “The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases,” by Warren and Donna Selkow, promises to take the heart patient on a step-by-step journey along the long and hard road from diagnosis to recovery.

Selkow’s lead up to heart disease started in the 1990s when he was diagnosed with high blood pressure. In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Selkow says he ignored the news, as many men do. “I said, ‘big deal,’ you’re supposed to have hypertension in a high-pressure job.” He admits he was not eating any of the right foods. “Why bother. You entertain clients, you have a steak,” says Warren, adding that while fatty foods taste good going down, your arteries are getting clogged. His first heart attack, which revealed serious valve disease, came in October, 2000. “My aortic valve was on the verge of completely failing.” Told by his doctor that he would be dead in six months if the valve wasn’t fixed, Selkow’s response was that he had to start teaching a class on Monday, then be a keynote speaker at a conference in Atlanta. His doctor’s terse reply: “Well, you may be going to Atlanta, but you won’t be coming home.” Selkow was to have a second open-heart surgery. Throughout the ordeal, Selkow received two artificial valves and became totally dependent on a pacemaker.

One day, as Selkow was listening to a nurse, he realized he could have saved a lot of time, trouble, grief, pain and anger if he had known more about the disease from the beginning. So he wrote “The Confessions of a Foodaholic” with the thought of providing information for patients. His cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Caplan, asked Selkow to expand on the topic, and the result is a refreshingly blunt and remarkably concise 244-page book that has been thoroughly vetted by medical professionals.

So blunt, in fact, there’s a warning at the start of the book: This book is extremely blunt. It deals with the subject in a manner that some might find shocking. If you are easily offended by tense situations presented in a no-holds-barred manner, than do not read this book.

In his book, Selkow describes his battle with chronic heart failure, or CHF. “CHF is an end-game disease. You do not live with it. It will kill you, because the heart muscle wall deteriorates over time, so the question is what can you do to prevent that from happening, or to mitigate it. There are a lot of things that can mitigate it, but nothing will stop it.”

In a unique and thoughtful style, Selkow’s wife and co-writer, Donna, provides caregiver notes. As equally candid as Warren, Donna writes: Your life as a caregiver begins immediately upon diagnosis. This diagnosis will be as hard on you as it is on you patient. In some cases, it will be even harder on you.  Selkow admits, “I would be dead if it wasn’t for her.” When it comes to the vital role of caregiving, Selkow says, “You need somebody to look after you.You are going to need a lot of emotional help, because after open-heart surgery, you are massively depressed.”

In the second section of the book, you’ll be introduced to the Three-legged stool. Selkow says the three legs are diet, exercise and medications. The hardest thing to get on top of, according to Selkow, is diet. “We have such bad eating habits and we don’t want to hear that we have to eat five fresh fruits and vegetables a day. We don’t want to hear that we can’t eat all the french fries.”

Selkow describes the Rules of Acceptance. The first rule is to accept the problem as your own. “If you don’t really accept what the situation is, you can’t get better. It’s like trying to deny the laws of physics. Things fall. You can deny things fall, but they still fall.” Selkow lists ten other rules, including a rather firm one: If you smoke, you are a moron.

“The Simplified Handbook for Living With Heart Disease and Other Chronic Diseases” is a magnificent reference book that every family member must read in an effort to guide the heart patient through the struggle of recovery. At the end of the book, Selkow offers encouragement in the form of Perseverance Dictums. Among them: Exercise, Laugh and laugh hard, Sing, Give and get pleasure.

Just in case you happen to be an overweight, inactive couch potato, consider the following from Selkow: “You’re not going to change until you have to. If you don’t want to change, I can’t make you. I can laugh at you, I can point at you and call you a moron, I can be abrasive, I can be nasty. … however, if you reach a point where you say ‘I need to do something about this,’ my book will tell you what you need to do.”

244 pages, paperback, available at Amazon.com and www.simplehand.org


Filed under: Heart health Tagged: aortic valve , arteries , artificial valves , CHF , chronic diseases , chronic heart failure , coronary artery disease , diet , exercise , heart disease , high blood pressure , Hypertension , medications , open-heart surgery , pacemaker , valve disease
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