Getting to the heart of the matter

* GUEST POST by Glenn, Michele’s husband

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams – John Barrymore

None of us are ageless. Eventually we will all be limited in one-way or another by age or circumstance. Not an especially cheery thought but something that I’m sure has crossed all of our minds from time to time.

I bumped into my first honest limit a couple of months ago.

We all have personal limits. The chances of me dunking a basketball outside of a video game environment or winning a singing competition are non-existent. When I say “honest limit” what I mean is that something I had achieved in the past (and in this case truly enjoyed) was no longer available to me.

Let me back up a little.

In December I ran 45 miles in one week to celebrate my 45th birthday. Shortly before I started I got pretty sick with a sinus infection and bronchitis. During my visit to the clinic to get some antibiotics the doctor mentioned hearing a heart murmur. I’ve had the murmur for quite a few years and even had some tests done a decade ago that said it was no big deal – so I wasn’t concerned. However, the doctor was insistent that I get it checked out by a cardiologist. So, after I finished my week of running I obliged.

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Finishing the “Holiday Half” marathon. This run was the start of my 45-miles of running for my 45th birthday week – complete with a sinus and bronchial infection. Good times!

The cardiologist called a few weeks later with the results and told me I could not do “any strenuous physical activity, no weightlifting and NO RUNNING” until further tests were conducted. My first thought was, quite frankly, “oh shit.” This was followed immediately by, “wait, did she say no running?” as well as “but Michele and I have a fitness boot camp class tomorrow morning!”

The fact that I was most concerned about the impacts to my workout routine as my initial response still shocks me. And I’m a little embarrassed by it. I guess it’s a testament to the attachment I have to my new lifestyle. Temporarily giving up my daily fitness activities was more distressing than if I was going to keel over from a heart condition or not.

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This earlier version of myself wouldn’t have thought twice about being told he couldn’t go running or to the gym for a couple of weeks.

After the heart imaging tests were finally complete I was diagnosed and given a few restrictions moving forward. The biggest of which is not to spike my heart rate. Ever again. No sprinting (Usain Bolt can breathe a sigh of relief). No biking or running up steep hills. I can exert myself but I have to work up to it gradually. Running from zombies is okay – but only fast enough to outrun the next slowest person.

I also can’t do any weightlifting or other core building activities that increase the pressure inside the chambers of my heart (e.g. things that make me bear down). Unfortunately a big component of the boot camp classes involved exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do anymore (planking, battle ropes, TRX straps, rowing machines, medicine balls, etc.).

I had to go down to the gym the next morning and tell the trainer that I could no longer attend class. This had a much more profound effect on me than I expected. I’m not sure if it was because I truly enjoyed the camaraderie of the classes (I did) or because I could never again engage in the physical activities that I wanted to do. The end result was the same. I couldn’t do it anymore.

It’s not a really big thing.

There are tons of people out there (many of them were seated around me in the waiting rooms when I went to get my heart tests done) with much bigger medical issues than I faced. I am in absolute awe of how some people can deal with much more dire situations not only with strength, but also good humor and grace.

Part of me thinks this might have been a sort of gift.

I can say with no hesitation that I look at life differently now. If this were a Lifetime movie I would now look at the camera for my monologue (possibly with the Titanic theme of “My Heart Will Go On” playing softly in the background) and talk about second chances, spiritual journeys, etc. But, Lifetime movies suck and despite my rugged good looks I would never agree to be in one.

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Well, maybe I’d do a Lifetime movie about how awesome broccoli is. I believe that broccoli is underrated in the vegetable world and I’m just the guy to change that image.

I did take a few items away from this whole experience, however. This isn’t advice (okay, number 1 is advice) but just some items I’ve begun doing.

1. Never research a heart condition on WebMD. At the very least this adventure into the ether should be saved for post diagnosis. Please trust me on this one. The scary crap you find on WebMD might just kill you from stress long before a heart condition would.

2. Whatever physically active things I enjoy doing, I’m going to do them more often while I can. Maybe I’ll be able to do them until I’m 95. I want to be able to look back at 96 and know I didn’t waste the ability.

3. I’ve become recommitted to staying as fit as I can (within reason, every once in a while you need something frozen with peanut butter, I’m just sayin’). I want to know I’m doing everything possible to enjoy this journey of life.

4. I’ve become a little more understanding of what I thought of as “slow people.” I mean that in the physical sense. My time in airports traveling for work contributed to an intolerance of people who were in my way and not fast enough. I still struggle with this a little, but now I try to consider that perhaps they aren’t slow by choice. Perhaps they’re still waking up. Perhaps they’re having a pretty cool daydream. Perhaps they’re taking in the experience and enjoying being there. Perhaps I’m the asshole in this equation. I like that. I might try to get that crocheted on a throw pillow.

5. I plan to live more. Kind of a vague statement and I think it means different things to different people. For me it means I want to experience, explore and appreciate. I like that as well. Who knows how to crochet?

This is not a sad story meant to break bad news or illicit sympathy.

All is well. I can still do many of the activities I enjoy such as running, biking and hiking. I just need to do them at a different pace. Michele and I have run two half marathons (including one in Croatia last month) since we discovered my heart condition, and we even improved our time by 11 minutes on the last one we ran. Granted that’s still slower than many of the elderly runners, some of the small children and one especially aggressive walker who entered the last race. However, that is not the product of my “heart condition” but rather my suspect work ethic and non-competitive attitude.

So, get out there and make the most of it. You never know when you’ll get a phone call that will change everything.

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Running the wall of the medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. Experience, explore and appreciate!

3 comments on “Getting to the heart of the matter

  1. Thanks for the post!! I’m a cardiac nurse and I’ve seen “a lot” at work (life wasted and etc.) With that being said, your post reminded me of what more I should be doing. One would think that I wouldn’t forget since I see it everyday at work. Your post is a great reminder for me to get off my butt!!

    • Thanks Darlene! It certainly helped put things in perspective for us and made us appreciate what we can do while we can do it.

  2. I’m glad you had the tests done and that you continue to work out, Glen. You are doing the right things with the knowledge and support of your medical professionals that hopefully will allow you to continue into and beyond your 90’s. I was at Willamette View having brunch in the dining room with family last weekend. A woman approached my father-in-law and congratulated him on “his good looking gang.” After the exchange of pleasantries, the woman left our table. Dad told us that she is 106 years old and going strong. We are living longer and living healthier. I think you should be the champion for broccoli, it’s clearly underrated. If I could crochet, I’d make two of those pillows, once for you and one for me. It’s a good reminder when people annoy us, that it just might be me that’s the problem! Seize the day, every day!

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