It has been very quiet on my blog for a while and with good reason. Everything has changed for me and running is on hiatus for the time being.
In early February my training took me to 12K. I had a decent run on the weekend of February 8th. I went out a little too fast for the 12K but I felt good. The next day I went snowshoeing with Carla. It was a gentle 5K or so through the woods. Later in the week I did one of my fastest speed work sessions. I felt strong and well. I was on top of my game. Then it all went to hell.
The next weekend I attempted another 12K and at the 2K mark I was having trouble. I was white as a sheet, I had a warmth on the back of my shoulders, and I felt like I was going to toss my cookies. My lungs felt like they couldn’t get air yet I wasn’t gasping. It was almost as if something heavy was sitting on my chest. Bryan pleaded with me to go home and I agreed. At first I thought I was getting the flu. I took some ASA and had a nap. I continued to do yoga as well as my little speed work and hill training sessions during the following weeks but every weekend when I attempted my long run the same thing would happen.
My first thoughts were a combination of anxiety and anaemia. I worked through those issues and then I thought that perhaps it was something environmental at the indoor track. It didn’t seem to be happening at home. Eventually it got to the point where any exertion was giving me the symptoms and I started to have a very dull ache in the jaw. I did the thing you should never do… consulted Dr. Google. After reading an article entitled Elite Marathoner Runs After a Heart Attack, I thought it prudent to get checked out. Of course, I am not an elite but her symptoms sounded a little like mine.
I immediately called my cardiologist’s office and went in for a stress test. I was pulled shortly after 6 minutes. I didn’t even get up to a run. I was devastated. A few days later I got that news that Dr. J. wanted to investigate further and that I was not to exert myself in any way whatsoever. I knew at that moment that my plans to run the Toronto Yonge Street 10K and every other Spring race I had planned were squashed. This included my half marathon and Sulphur Springs 25K. This time off from training meant I couldn’t get the distance in. My intuition since that aborted 12K in February was that something was seriously wrong and I was right.
A week ago, on the evening of March 23rd, I was rushed to the emergency room. I had lifted my daughter Kaia up to comfort her after she fell. I was rocking her. At that moment I almost collapsed. When I got to triage at Brantford General Hospital I was taken in immediately. I was so frightened and worried that I would never see my children again. I had forgotten to kiss Kaia goodbye and Tobias looked so scared when I left the house. My jaw was hurting and the warmth on my shoulders and arm was incredible. Once again it was like someone snatched away all my air. I had never felt so awful.
Over the next 22 hours I was stabilized enough to be admitted to the cardiac floor. The good news was that I didn’t have a heart attack and we know this because my Troponin I level was not indicative of that. However, there is uncertainty about what happened the day I tried to run the 12K and had to stop and there really is no way to tell for sure. After examining me and chatting the doctor suspected that I had a blockage so he ordered a series of tests, blood thinner injections, and other medications to reduce my symptoms. A few days later I was transported to Hamilton General Hospital to undergo further investigation. During the angiogram it was discovered that I had more than 70% blockage in a branch off the left circumflex artery. This little artery loops around and mine is apparently abnormally tiny and curvy. It was determined that I needed a Percutaneous Transluminal Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA) which they did on the spot via my right wrist. I had a significant allergic reaction to the dye which was a little unsettling but other than that the procedure went well. The doctor had to use two stents to get around the bend and deal with the full length of the blockage. I was transported back to Brantford and released on Friday.
What frightens me is what a close call this was. Dr. T., who performed the procedure said that I likely had the beginnings of this blockage for a considerable time maybe even years and that it wouldn’t have been easily seen, if at all, on any of the other tests that were performed back when I requested to have my heart checked in 2012. Dr. T. said it was even difficult for him to see and that he had to look at it from several angles to be sure. I shared with him how frustrated I was that all of this healthy lifestyle was for naught. I was in a really negative place and disappointed because I had worked so hard to prevent this. He reminded me that this lifestyle is what saved me from a major coronary event and possibly a very grim outcome. He is right, of course.
The other side of this is that running has helped me become in-tune with my body. I don’t think I would have realized there was anything wrong if I was sedentary. Plus running improved my cardiovascular health and has made me stronger so that I will recover more easily from this. Normally PTCA patients are put on a beta blocker but running has reduced my heart rate enough that I don’t need to take it. I will have to take a blood thinner for about a year though. I also need to move… a lot. One would think that I would need bed rest after such a procedure but the opposite is true. I need to walk as much and as far as I can because the risk of blood clots is great. I managed to walk around about three hours after the PTCA was performed. I was exhausted and sore so I didn’t go much further than a dozen laps around the unit. On Friday I walked around the hospital and then yesterday I hit the treadmill. Yesterday was just under 1.5K. While it doesn’t seem like much, after close to a week in a hospital with what has transpired, it feels monumental. Today I’ve already done a 20-minute walk and I will do two more. I’m faster and can go further than I could yesterday. It’s a start.
There are risks for me as diabetic with heart issues when it comes to being physically active however there is greater risk if I just sit on my posterior. Dr. T. agreed and said that he didn’t see any reason that I would not be able to return to running and cycling as long as I stay on the path I’ve been on the past few years when it comes to lifestyle choices. Each day I feel a little stronger and in a few weeks I will see my cardiologist, Dr. J. and, hopefully, I will be told what steps need to be taken so I can start running again.
Carrie Woodard, the elite from the article I mentioned earlier, deserves a great deal of credit. It’s not easy putting your story out there and in her doing so she helped me tremendously. Not only did it make me think twice about writing this off as fatigue or anxiety, her story gave me hope about being able to return to an active lifestyle. Maybe some day she will read this and know the difference she has made.