First off I’d like to say thank you to everyone providing well wishes, visiting and sending positive energy my way. It is a beautiful thing to be the recipient of so much positive. Breanne provided such a basis of support, comfort and confidence. I can’t say I went into the procedure calm and I’ll get into the details of that shortly. Again, thanks to everyone for their support, words of comfort, hopes for success and sharing your own experiences with AFib and other similar situations. Feeling connected with friends and loved ones builds strength. As always, there will be a lot of jump around.
It’s been quite the experience. Obviously there are the actual physical repairs involved. AFib is a malfunction of the electrical system of the heart so figuring out the repair isn’t as easy as looking at an image and making a decision on what to do. Yes, the images help point the doctor in the right direction. I think I’ll start off with the details shared with me about the procedure, such an interesting way of figuring out a problem contained in the center of the body…repairing a beating heart. Craziness! I’m intrigued and shocked still.
Thursday morning preparation started early and before I knew it I had a couple of nurses working on and IV, placing various leads to measure heart activity and asking many questions about medications. This discussion also included me talking about anxiousness around needles/catheters that I knew would be placed for extended periods of time. Haha. I mentioned that might be my biggest concern about the procedure over everything else. I was relieved to hear from the anesthesiologist. She reassured me I would be completely out before they started on any of the needles. Phew!
The access points for the working catheters going to my heart would be through both femoral veins at the top of my legs. They route through the femoral veins into the heart’s right atrium. Amazingly the next step is piercing the septum dividing the right and left atria. Crazy!!! It does get more better and intense. According to my hazy recollection and some reinforcements from Breanne, they then map the electrical activity at normal. Then they load you up with adrenaline and put your heart into AFib. Wow! This allows for electrical mapping while the heart is losing it, so to speak.
Let me do an aside of the type of doctor who does these procedures. They are MD’s specializing in Electro Physiology. Here’s a definition I like a lot: “Cardiac electrophysiology is the science of elucidating, diagnosing, and treating the electrical activities of the heart.” thanks google… My Electro Physiologist MD is not only genius, he’s quite entertaining and fascinated by the way Breanne and I live. There will be a Part “x” on that one. Spending 5 minutes with this guy and I was sold. Again, I’m not so worried about what he was going to do with my heart, I was so much more concerned with those needles going into my femoral veins. I’m not sure why that is such a phobia. Maybe it’s diagnosable. Even the IV in my arm was stressful. Haha.
So, back to the craziness. Once they are able to map the crazy electrical activity they somehow manipulate the catheters in your heart to burn the offending tissues. Sounds straightforward…except for your heart is BEATING!!! Interesting fact: I left the procedure 11 pounds heavier than before. Take a guess why? So they are burning offending heart tissue. The best way to keep things cool is cold water. Keeping things cool by water makes a lot of sense. Go figure.
I’ve got a lot more details to share. I’m going to leave it at this for now besides give an update on my current status. As you can tell, I’m a big fan of jumping around in my narrative. I am trying to deliver this message in the way it make sense to me. I really am trying to describe this as I see it and I realize it’s a bit all over the place. Work with me.
A quick summary of the early part of this week is I am stoked. I made it through this procedure. It was heavy. I realized I am repaired. I spent an hour on Tuesday practicing yoga. I felt better than I can remember in a very long time. I cried tears of relief and joy. Tears of hope for what is to come. I knew when I would share this with Breanne she would be overjoyed. I know I was. There are more tests to do on myself. I am confident they will be successful.
I’m still trying to contain my enthusiasm and handle my emotions. Since I realized how bad I’ve been feeling for quite a while it is disappointing I didn’t listen to my body. I am so grateful there are ways to repair the body. It’s slightly overwhelming. I am committing myself to sharing this process. It’s selfish, definitely. I hope it’s also useful as I share these deep feelings and realizations.
May you find a light to guide you. It may seem dim at times. If you trust it, you’ll realize you’re not following it, you are allowing it to assist your passage, allowing your energy to flow in a direction you may not have noticed.
I’ve always thought my obsession with endurance sports focused on cycling and running was a good way to manage my energy levels, stay healthy in general and be in such a large calorie deficit that I could always enjoy more tasty food. Not to say that it was a bad route. I just should have been a little more tuned in and aware of the quiet messages my body was sending to me on occasion. Turns out when you don’t pay attention to them the messages become a little louder, a little more frequent and then you realize something is really wrong. Here’s a bit of jump around.
Before I go into a lot of detail I want to say it’s a really good idea to listen to what your body has to say. Telling my clients to do this is very easy. Taking this advice to heart is not as easy. I’ve always rolled along with the motto “You’re invincible until you’re not”. For some strange reason I thought I would always remain invincible, relatively of course. Not in an egotistical way, I think I just moved forward in life thinking my body would always respond to every request I made of it.
After wearing a Holter monitor for nearly 30 days, most of the days…, I was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. There happens to be an interesting correlation to long time endurance athletes and AFib. Here’s what I can tell you about it: you’re cruising along crushing it no problem when suddenly you feel a really anxious feeling in your chest and the power drops severely. You feel like you should be significantly out of breath and it doesn’t make sense for the dropped effort you are putting out. Scientifically “AFib is an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating. Occasionally there may be heart palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath or chest pain. The condition can be associated with an increased risk of heart failure and stroke. It is a type of supraventricular tachycardia. The rate of atrial activation during AFib is usually between 300 and 500 bpm.
Results from an MRI with Angiograhpy (MRA) came back today. Overall the heart structure looks great. Pulmonary veins are in great shape. I did a Stress Echo test last week and was able to rally for quite a long time. They stopped the test because my heart went to SVT and then AFib. Results showed no arterial blockages and that I’m in good cardiovascular shape. An MRI at the end of December showed the heart overall to have no structural issues. AFib is the result of misfiring electrical signals in the heart.
There’s a lot of intricate detail in the operating system of the heart. I understand overall what the doctors are explaining. Something interesting in the results from the MRA was the percentage of scarring, 11.3%, making me a candidate for a potentially successful ablation procedure. If I remember the conversation properly (I try to soak in objectively all of the information passed along in phone calls and in person meetings, however I tend to end up in a bit of freak out), 15-20% scarring drops the success rate significantly. Above 20% the procedure isn’t recommended. Again, I start to mentally fade when these things are explained to me. Haha.
Sounds like I potentially overdid things in the long term over the years and didn’t pay attention to some pretty obvious warning signs. A good example was 2016 Crusher in the Tushar, one of my favorite events ever. Since I was on the Slate without a power meter I wore an HR monitor. As usual I didn’t want to see HR so I just recorded it. The first hour went amazing. As we started into hour two I suddenly lost power, felt like I should be super out of breath compared to the effort I was putting out.
Instead of taking this as a sign I should back off I pushed on, struggling and battling. You’ve got to keep pushing, right? Hmmmm. As I approached the end of the second hour I was for sure going to quit at feed zone 2. However, I went over the top of the first long climb and started to descend at high speed. I came up to FZ2 and felt significantly better. Why not continue?
I didn’t feel amazing, I didn’t feel terrible. Finished the race and Alex Kim told me at the finish line I was for sure on the podium of the 45-49. Bullshit I thought based on how I felt. Amazingly he was right. In the back of my mind I was worried about hour 2. Fast forward to looking at the data file. During hour 2 my HR didn’t go below 190bpm. Hour 1 was probably high 150s, hours 3-5 averaged 160ish. I just figured I was out of shape.
CX season came along. Of course I didn’t wear an HR monitor. Each race started out awesome. About 10 minutes into each race I would come unglued, lose power and have a mental battle for the next 35-50 minutes about how I needed to figure out my fitness. I finally crashed so hard in the Halloween CX that I wasn’t interested in doing much more racing.
At this point I reluctantly wondered if there was something wrong without mentioning it aloud. I decided to wear an HR monitor in House of Watts classes. About three sessions in my HR exploded unexpectedly and erratically. I tried to play it cool. I mentioned it to Breanne and she was immediately concerned. I asked her team doctor about it and this is how the chase down started. A few days later my cardiologist explained a variety of heart arrhythmias to me and hoped it didn’t turn out to be AFib.
The procedure to repair my heart is next week. I’m relieved to take the steps to make a repair, amazed they can do this procedure on a beating heart and terrified that they are going to do it on my beating heart. Haha. I’m really interested in how this process is going to turn out and want to document it so I don’t forget about it. Going through all of the tests is one thing. Hearing the diagnosis is a bummer. Realizing I’m physiologically malfunctioning is weird. Anticipating the procedure/surgery is mostly terrifying. Fortunately I have an amazing partner in Breanne and feel confident in the doctors taking care of me. I’m sure I’ll be fine in the long run.
I’m interested in sharing this experience. I hope maybe if you’re body is telling you something you will think for a moment longer than I did about it. Pay attention to what your body tells you. Listen to the small signs that you’re not serving your body properly. Take an extra rest day here and there. Consider the long term. There’s no specific correlation to endurance athletics and heart arrhythmias, however more and more long term endurance athletes are experiencing these physiological problems.
Hopefully I’ll stay interested in sharing the experience. It will probably be good for my psyche.