Tag Archives: Health

Fighting back

Just over ten months ago I started my latest and most important attempt to get myself into physical shape.  Having just been discharged from hospital after suffering a Heart Attack it was long overdue.  Aged 42, years of neglect, complacency and idleness had taken their toll.

My quest for fitness started tentatively; a shuffle around the Cardiology Ward accompanied by daughter #1.  She was scared of her father’s mortality.  I was afraid of every twinge, every strange sensation.  We both pretended things were normal, trying hard to mask our fear.  Bravely, we managed a lap of the ward, perhaps 100 metres.  Afterwards I returned to bed, exhausted by the effort.

Tomorrow morning I will set out on a 280 mile journey to cycle from London to Brussels via Amsterdam.

I’ve come a long way!

***

So far there have been several distinct stages to my physical rehabilitation:

Stage 1:  Confinement

For the first 24 hours I was confined to bed, tethered to machines monitoring my heart, recording every beat.

Then I was cut loose of the wires.  I was free to move around but not in shape for physical exertion.  A shower was about all I could manage.

After four days of rest I was ready for the long shuffle out of the hospital to recuperate at home.

Stage 2:  Finding my feet

My journey really started with “Dad’s little walks”; shorts walks from the comfort of the house.  Five minutes was enough to start with, at a gentle pace.  Twice a day; morning and evening.  GTN spray to hand in case of emergency (fortunately never used!).

I added an extra minute each day as my strength and confidence grew.  Eventually I was able to venture out unaccompanied, walking further and faster, my independence slowly returning.  Occasional outings with Louise became a sociable evening stroll, slightly more relaxed each time, a pleasant change from anxious medical supervision.

Eventually I built up to 30 minutes twice a day.  A good walk at a strong pace.  The effort worked my heart, brought me out in a light sweat; proper exercise for the first time in a long time.

The results of the first 10 weeks

Stage 3: A helping hand

Eventually I was ready for Cardiac Rehabilitation, 40 minutes of supervised exercise twice a week. As part of a team, patients and staff, we worked together.  Week by week, for 8 weeks, the intensity increased.  My swagger returned as my stamina grew, as I was encouraged to (ever so carefully) push my limits.

My Heart Rate Monitor became my best friend, measuring my physical exertion, monitoring my well-being.  The magic number was 118 beats per minute, 80% of my theoretical maximum.

I started cycling.  Initially at home.  Stationary, In the garage.  I bought a Turbo Trainer and borrowed a bike.  At first it was painful in so many ways, the shoes were too small, the bike poorly adjusted, cleats at the wrong angle and the saddle… the saddle was a sadistic joke.

15 minutes was enough.  15 minutes and a walk, a stretch, some relief.  Day by day my tolerance levels increased.  I pushed myself.  Day after day:  “The Long Scream” over and over.

I invested in a bike of my own.

By the end of Cardiac Rehabilitation I could manage a full 30 minutes on a cross-trainer.  30 minutes of continuous exercise, at the upper end of my Heart Rate range.  It felt good.  I felt good.

It was time to sign up for a longer term challenge… the Euro City Cycle.

Before the winter hit we managed a few gentle outings, cycling’s equivalent of “Dad’s little walks”.  I was followed every mile by a good, caring and patient friend.  I started to find my legs; 17 miles became 25, then 30.

Cycling buddies… the early days

Stage 4: Laying the foundations

Continuity over the winter built my conditioning.  I exercised six days a week come rain or shine.  I rotated my cycling routines to provide a little variety;  The Long Scream, Angels, Hell Hath No Fury… “The Sufferfest” guiding every spin of the wheel, every turn of the pedals.

I ate well.  I looked after myself.  No alcohol. No caffeine.  Low fat.  High fibre.  I lost over 45 lbs.  A shadow of my former self, approaching my fighting weight.

I added swimming to the routine to provide some extra variety, to improve my flexibility and build my core strength.  Far from a natural swimmer, it worked me harder than anticipated.  It was a welcome rest for tired legs, and it’ll provide a challenge for another day!

Christmas came and went.  A brief relaxation of the strict regime allowed roast potatoes and gravy for Christmas dinner, a tasty treat!

Then back to the training, cranking the pedals, dreaming of warmer climes, of venturing outside.

Stage 5: Head for the hills

Emerging after a winter on the Turbo Trainer was literally a breath of fresh air.  The hours on the bike had prepared me well.

Flat and gentle at first, the weekend rides became increasingly long and challenging.  Hills were gradually introduced, providing a new challenge to my strength and stamina.

With reassurance from the Cardiologist, I became less obsessed with my heart rate.  I continue to monitor it, but focus more on the level of effort, my breathing.  Relieved of the tight constraints, my cycling has become less stressful, more relaxed, free.

Cycling has become part of my life.  It has made me strong and confident again.

Over 10 months of discipline, a new lifestyle, regular exercise have stood me in good stead.  It hasn’t happened overnight, no fads, it has taken time and effort.

With over 2,000 miles in my legs this year, I am ready to take on the Euro City Cycle.  A distant dream has become a reality!

I’ve come a long way, but my journey is not complete!

***

I am lucky.

I had a chance to fight back, a second chance.  A chance to make a difference, for my family and myself.

If I can do this anyone can.  I had a “wake up call”, but there’s no need for you to wait!

Falling apart (literally)

Yesterday saw my latest visit to the Doctor’s Surgery.  Unless anything unexpected happens, regular visits are scheduled every three months.  Recent appointments have been spectacularly uneventful, and I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s was too.

The only measure that’s regularly taken is my Blood Pressure, which was “perfect”.  My medications are at the “optimal” level and I feel fine.

Happy and Healthy!

We discussed some minor “issues” that under normal circumstances I wouldn’t give a second thought to, but that take on greater significance having recently experienced a Heart Attack.  Apparently they’re all “normal” too:  Light, but fairly regular nose bleeds are due to the anti-clotting drugs I’m taking, occasional dizziness is due to the artificially low blood pressure, again due to the medication, and the “sensations” in my chest are likely to be a combination of aches from exercise and an overly active imagination, they certainly didn’t appear to cause alarm.

So, it’s all good!

For the past 7 months I’ve been taking care of myself and doing all the things necessary to maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle… well, almost!  Until this morning I had not visited a Dentist.  In fact I hadn’t visited a Dentist for a while… a long while.  This morning this oversight (technically more of an avoidance I guess) bit me on the behind!

Having been to the pool for an early morning swim, I was enjoying a breakfast of Muesli and All Bran when one of my teeth disintegrated.  Not so good!

It could have been worse!

As it turns out, I have 29 teeth that appear to be strong and healthy, and 1 that is an absolute basket case.  I wasn’t in pain, but even I could recognise I didn’t have much of an option other than to visit the Dentist.  Fortunately they were able to see me immediately – I don’t know how lucky I am! (apparently)

The good news is it’s just a tooth.  It’s not a hugely prominent one either; it would more naturally feature in the “big cheesy grin” line rather than the “Smile” line.  I have a few days to decide what to do next but this whole “falling apart” thing does take a bit of getting used to.

At least it’s forced me to get all my teeth checked out.  On the plus side, it also allowed me to complete a medical form without having to tell any white lies, in particular about the “Units of alcohol consumed per week”… a big fat zero!

Hopefully this will be the final stage of the healthy new me, and my newly formed support team:  Optician. Dentist. GP. Cardiologist.  Fingers crossed that will suffice… for the time being at least!

The longest month

Is it just me, or is this January the longest month ever?  It feels like it’s been going on forever, and there’s still over a week left!  If it were possible to have a double Blue Moon, this is the month in which it would fall*.

What colour would a second Blue Moon in a month be?

Part of the reason has to be that it’s a genuinely long month, excruciatingly extended by the way the calendar has fallen…  New Year seems like a lifetime ago.  There was almost a full week before we returned to the routine.  Then there were four full working weeks.  It feels like we’ve had five Fridays already… and two still to go!

I think part of the reason is that I’ve got lots to look forward to.  Unfortunately none of it is scheduled to happen this month.  Patience isn’t my best quality.  At times I feel like a schoolboy again.  I’m excited!

Incidentally. most of the excitement is dull, grown-up stuff.  I’ll keep you informed of the interesting and / or childish activities!  Many of the things I’m looking forward to may be an anti-climax or a downright disappointment – you’ll probably hear about them too!

Perhaps the exercise and healthy living are contributing.  Maybe it’s the endorphins kicking in.  Is it possible to wind back the body clock?  Perhaps a little?

Anyway, I won’t wish my time away.  There are still 8 sleeps till February (For me that means, 5 rides, 3 swims and who knows what opportunities).  Let’s make the most of them!

***

*  I am not referring to two take outs from our favourite Indian Restaurant.  Most are double Blue Moon months by that measure.  For the record,  I continue to be good though (Mixed Tandoori, Boiled Rice, Lentils and Spinach).

Not very Festive

My wife says thinking about Heart Attacks isn’t very Festive.

I agree.

I also think that having a Heart Attack isn’t very Festive.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend one at any time of the year.  They can be inconvenient.

Unfortunately Christmas is a risky period.  Apparently Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are the three days on which you are most likely to experience a Heart Attack.

I’m no medical expert, but when you read about the contributory factors, there appear to be some fairly basic things you can do to reduce your level of risk:

  • Keep moving:  Make a conscious effort to keep up with your exercise.  Take the dog for a walk.  Go for a swim. Do something.  Don’t let the poor weather or the warm fire stand in your way!
  • Avoid excess:  Enjoy all the trappings of the Festive Fare, but be aware of when enough is enough.  Eating too much places strain on your Heart.  Do not eat and drink so much that you run the risk of “that heartburn feeling” being something other than “heartburn”.
  • Chill out:  Unfortunately the Zen Meditation Book you receive on Christmas Morning is unlikely to be immediately effective in relieving the stresses and strains that the Festive Period can bring.  Create some “me” time.  Maybe a breath of fresh air and a little light exercise?
  • Don’t overdo it!:  Exercise is good, but too much exercise can be dangerous.  For example, (and much to my wife’s annoyance!), shovelling snow is not great for the Heart.  It’s basic stuff, but warm up properly and don’t overdo it!
  • Keep taking the pills:  Keep up your good habits, like taking medication.  Don’t let changes to your routine or environment distract you.
  • Keep warm!

Possibly most importantly… do not ignore the warning signs.  Apparently it is common for people to ignore pain or discomfort, not wanting to “cause a fuss”.  As a result, they wait rather than seeking medical attention.  This can make the difference between life and death.  Don’t!

Reminder of Heart attack symptoms:  http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Heart-attack/Pages/Symptoms.aspx

OK.  Sermon over.  Now, where are the Mince Pies?

It’s all about me

I originally wrote the majority of the following on 28th June, within two weeks of having my Heart Attack.  At the time I wasn’t comfortable publishing it.  A post I recently read, written by the wife of a Heart Attack Survivor (Wherein the Sh*tty-A$$ Heart prevails), reminded me of it.

Life is good for us now.  We’ve come a long way since June.  So, no particular reason for publishing this now, but I thought I’d share it to help complete the story.

***

It’s all about me

Actually it’s not.  Not even remotely.

When everything is going well and life is “tickety-boo”, it too easy (for me at least) to get caught up in my own world.  Oblivious to most of the goings on around me, at least those that don’t impact me directly.  I look after myself, deal with my business, and expect everyone else to deal with theirs.

Up until now, this is how I’ve tended to operate.  It’s how I am.

I don’t feel so independent any more.  My bubble has been burst.  The whole Heart Attack episode has given me a heightened awareness of the many personal dependencies, connections and influences there are in my life.

Of course, there are the children; totally dependent, innocent, scared.  There’s never a good age, but my girls are too young to see their Dad in a hospital bed.  They are too young to have to deal with something like this, I felt terrible for putting them through it.  They have been very brave. They provide support and make us laugh.  Just being around introduces a sense of normality to proceedings.

Louise, my wife is now more of a Nurse, Carer and, of course, Mum.  She holds things together.  She is generally cautiously positive, planning my recuperation and beyond.  I’m sure there are times when she is scared too.  It sounds silly when you write it down, but me dying would have a much bigger impact on her than on me.  I don’t really think about it… she does, a lot.

Then there’s our Family and Friends, Business Partners and Clients.  The news of the Heart Attack will impact each and every one in a slightly different way.  For some the news will generate the biggest impact… Why?  How?.  For others it’ll be the consequences, immediate and longer term… So what?, What now?  What will change?.

After the surprise or even shock, with most people there is genuine concern for me combined with a hint of selfish curiosity; “What could this mean for me?”.  I totally understand.  What else would you expect?  Apparently the 40-somethings are concerned… sales of salads are rocketing in the office.

Even strangers pay more attention than normal.  They want to understand how it could have happened, how can they prevent it from happening to them.  I wish it was simple…

Me:  “I had a Heart Attack because I used to eat 15 Snickers a day.”
Them:  “Oh, that’d do it.”
Me:  “I’ve given up Snickers so I should be fine now.”
Them:  “Oh, that’s a relief!”
Me:  “Do you eat too many Snickers?”
Them:  “No.”
Me:  “So, you should be fine then.  You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
Them (Smiling):  “Yes, thanks.”

I wish it was that simple.

It’s tough because there are few easy answers.  I want to be able to get my head around it all.  I want to understand why it happened.  I want to know what the implications are.  I want to be able to explain it to everyone.  Then I want to get back to normal.

Unfortunately that’s not going to happen.  Some things may become clearer in time, others will remain a mystery.  That’s life I guess.

So ultimately it is all about me… but not just me me, it’s about you me, and her me and him me too… it’s all about us!

Make time to play

I think most of us spend much of the day being pushed for time.  As a result, exercise tends to get “fitted in” around the other commitments… a class in the lunch hour, or a run between dropping off / picking up the kids, a pre-work swim.  It’s admirable that so many people keep it up, but I’m sure it didn’t used to be that way.

The pressure’s generally on!

Personally, when I’m under time pressure I will tend to only do what I know.  I repeat exercise routines that have been tried and tested, that I know will get the job done and won’t take too much time.  I’m keen to get the work under my belt and move on.  The problem is, this approach doesn’t allow me to try new things, to practice new techniques, or to have “fun”.

When I was at university we occasionally used to get a day pass to a leisure centre.  The pass allowed us to do everything for the day.  We’d spend hours “playing”… squash, badminton, in the gym and in the pool (actually, not so much in the pool!).  We had mini-leagues and long running grudge matches to keep the interest levels up.  We didn’t ever have an exercise programme, when we were there we just played and the exercise came for free,

It was certainly a different way of approaching exercise than today.  I understand why; We have different levels of responsibility; Time is precious; It’s not all about us; Exercise is a means to an end.  Personally, I think it’s a shame.

The pool I usually swim at is closed for the week for maintenance. As a result, I will spend a little more time at a gym where we’re family members.  Usually I would only visit once every couple of weeks to fit in a weights session around the more focused cycling and swimming routine.

Today I spent an hour in the gym and then hit the pool.  The pool is shorter than my usual one… not idea for swimming distances, but good for practicing turns.  It was also busy… again, not great for swimming long distances, so I also took the opportunity to practice some of the drills and strokes that I’ve been shown at my lessons.  For once I didn’t worry about the effort I was putting in or how my body was reacting – my heart rate wasn’t a concern.

Make time to play in the water!

I enjoyed trying some things out.  I practiced floating… still not close to cracking it, but the drills are getting easier!  I also went back to the breaststroke kick that I’ve been struggling with… I just couldn’t get any “oomph” into it without it twanging the tendons in my legs.  After some playing around, I think I may have discovered the missing ingredient.  It definitely felt like I was being propelled more effectively.  This definitely wouldn’t have happened in my normal pool during a pre-work swim.

I also enjoyed my time in the water.  I ended up being later than I had anticipated, but it was time well spent.  It’s not something I can afford to do every day, but once in a while it’s something I’ll throw into the routine.

I think “making time to play” is something everyone should do from time to time.  Try new exercises or a new class.  Think of it as an investment… learning new things that may become part of your future routine.  If you can, free yourself from your normal constraints and time pressures (even just for a few hours).  You may even enjoy it!

Totes Emosh

Today I received some fantastic news…

I recently presented the medical form for my Charity Bike Ride to my Doctor for his consideration.  I had two main concerns:  (1) that he wouldn’t think that embarking on a 300 mile cycle was a sensible thing to do less than a year after having a Heart Attack and (2) that his insurance company might have an issue with the wording of the statement I was asking him to sign.

A “No” would have left me lacking direction somewhat!

On one level I would have understood if either of these issues had arisen.  I was potentially asking a lot given my recent medical history.  I would even have understood if he had asked me to come back in a few months so he could see how my health and fitness have progressed.

On another level, I would have been totally gutted if he had said “No”.  It would have thrown the ride into some jeopardy.  Given it’s been my main focus for the past few months (at least as far as motivation for exercise is concerned), it would have felt deflated.  I think I’m progressing well, and I want to stay motivated.  Having something to work towards really helps.

***

Today I received the form back, signed and stamped by my Doctor.  As far as he is concerned, I am “good to go”.  I just need to continue to gradually build up my training and listen to my cardiologist.

For the record, I have never used these words before!

It was just some ink on a bit of paper, but I felt quite emotional as I left the Surgery.  I’m not sure exactly why.  It may have been the removal of doubt about whether he’d sign the form.  It may have been the fact that the ball is now in my court as far as the ride is concerned – no excuses.  It may also have been the small vote of confidence that he recognises the progress I’ve made and trusts that it will continue.

Whatever the reason, it reinforced the fact that the ride is important to me.  180 days to go!