Tag Archives: Heart Attack

Lucky (Part 2)

Eleven months ago I had a Heart Attack.  It was a bog standard, stereotypical Heart Attack:

  • Most Heart Attacks are caused by Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
  • CHD is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.
  • If a piece of this fatty material (atheroma) breaks off it may cause a blood clot (blockage) to form.
  • If it blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, this is a Heart Attack.
    Learn more at:  http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/heart-attack.aspx

This is what happened to me.  Nothing special.

heart_coronary_artery

What this means is that a year ago I was a walking Time Bomb.  I was unwittingly living with a partially blocked artery waiting to “let go”.  The event that triggered my Heart Attack could have happened at any time and any place.

I’ve said it before, but I was very lucky to have the Heart Attack when I did. where I did.  It was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me.

It obviously alerted me to the fact that I had Coronary Heart Disease and the emergency treatment addressed the immediate risk.

Possibly more importantly, the medication I’ve been prescribed will reduce the risk of reoccurrence.  In addition, the whole event prompted me to get off my fat behind and to get myself in shape, an act that will further reduce the risk.  A combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet has resulted in some dramatic changes.

I’ve been given a second chance, and I’m lucky to be in good enough shape to take full advantage of it.

imagesVT91YNPD

We each make lots of decisions every day.  I’m much more aware of the potential impact of my decisions than I used to be.  I’m hoping with the benefit of my experiences over the past year I’ll be able to continue to make some better ones than I’ve done in the past!

 

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!

I’m ready!

My preparations are almost complete.  I’ve successfully completed my final training ride.  The dirty kit is in the washing machine.  The train tickets are printed.  Time to put my feet up!

If I needed convincing that I am ready to start the Euro City Cycle, today’s ride was enough.  A steady 60 miles, however it featured an ascent of the Suie (from the North, i.e. the hard way).

The hill has become a bit of a mythical beast over the past weeks, not helped by the fact that it’s the feature climb on the Ride the North.  It’s an elevation of just over 230 metres at gradients of up to 12%.  There are more challenging mountains to take on, I just haven’t cycled up them yet.

The nerves were jangling as we approached the lower slopes, but it didn’t take long for them to be wiped out by the physical exertion.  In the end there weren’t any major dramas.  There was a bit of huffing and puffing, but a successful climb was never in doubt!

The beast tamed.  My physical preparations are complete.  🙂

The view from the top. Worth the effort in so many ways!

Logistical preparations are also complete, although a Tube Strike in London promises to make the transfer a little bit less predictable.  I’m going to have to just suck it and see.  Hopefully a considerate cabbie will take pity on me!

A few hours of focused packing will complete the kit preparation.  Louise thinks it’s hysterical that I’ve given so much thought to the kit and associated packing.  I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time preparing for travel.  I’ve always taken the view that as long as I have my passport and a credit card then nothing can go wrong.

For this trip, there are so many items that could ruin (or at least significantly disrupt) the trip in so many different ways, that I’m a bit nervous.  In no particular order:  bike, passport, medication, rail tickets, wallet, cycling shoes, towel, laptop, helmet, etc. etc.

As I say, a few hours of focused packing is required!

To Do List 2

That just leaves me with the small matter of “raising money and awareness”.  I’m really grateful to everyone that has sponsored me.  Together we’ve raised over £2,500 for the British Heart Foundation.  It’s not too late contribute… just click here.

As far as awareness is concerned, I’m also very grateful for your help!  I’ve been working on the basis that if my experiences help one other person than it’s been worthwhile.  The more people that are aware of the risks of heart disease, or able to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack, or understand that a major medical incident doesn’t necessarily take away hope, the better.

I appreciate I’m very lucky.  I’m hoping we can give other people a little bit of luck too!

Time for a service

With under two weeks to go until I start the Euro City Cycle, it seemed like a sensible time to get a pre-ride check-up for myself and the bike.

I was due a check in with my GP anyway.  It’s been almost 3 months since my last visit.  In fact, I hadn’t seen him since I went to the Cardiologist, so it was an opportunity to get some more feedback on that.  One of the potential side effects of my medication is diabetes so we had fasting blood test results to look at too.

You may feel a little prick!

You may feel a little prick!

It’s funny but, after everything I’ve been through, one of the things I look forward to least is giving blood.  I know it doesn’t really hurt, but I don’t enjoy the anticipation of the “prick”.  What a wimp!  The only good news is that my veins are a bit more prominent now so the whole process is a bit less traumatic than it used to be.

My check up was unremarkable.  My Blood Pressure was “perfect”.  My Cholesterol levels are under control (Total = 3.2 mmol/L, LDL = 1.8 mmol/L, HDL = 1.1 mmol/L) and there are no indications of diabetes.  In summary, it’s all good!

The Doc was, however, keen to remind me that I have recently experienced a cardiac episode, and I should bear this in mind when doing my various activities and challenges.  I recognise he had to say it, but I don’t think I hid my excitement about the fast approaching trip very well!  I guess he has to trust (or hope) his patients follow his instructions otherwise he’s fighting a losing battle.  He has little to worry about as far as I’m concerned!

***

I really haven’t done very much work on my bike since I got it.  Apart from a couple of puncture repairs and fitting a new saddle, I have used it, but done little to maintain it.  I know I should really learn, but I also recognise my limitations.  At this stage I think I would struggle in terms of knowledge, skills and perseverance.  The last thing I want to do is intentionally “break” the bike and not be able to ride it.

This is about the extent of my bicycle maintenance skills!

The main objectives of the service are to tune the gears and check the brakes.  The gears have become increasingly temperamental and noisy over the past couple of weeks.  It’s been helpful in telling me which gear I’m in (some are particularly noisy), but I have the distinct feeling that its an indication that all is not well!

So, the bike is booked in for a service tomorrow.  Hopefully it’ll come back feeling like a new machine, with the gears purring and the brakes secure.

If only it was as easy to tune ourselves up!

Living life on the edge

Don’t tell anyone, but yesterday I went on a Water Slide. Given my Heart “Condition” it was an illegal act, but one that was considered at length (well, considered at least) before I took the plunge.

I’m not sure exactly where the perceived risks lay; it certainly wasn’t too frightening nor particularly exhilarating, it didn’t require significant physical exertion, and it didn’t expose me to dramatic changes in my environment. Still, it was forbidden and I did it, and it felt good (apart from slightly battered elbows).

If the exhilaration doesn't get you, the stair might!

If the exhilaration doesn’t get you, the climb might!

Following the Heart Attack, it took me a while to get comfortable re-exposing myself to life’s risks. What I’ve discovered is that they generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Sudden trauma; “one off” events that don’t happen on a day to day basis. Accidents would fall into this category, events that are outside our direct control. I would also include extreme sports where the activity, situation or environment is a factor.
  2. Steady decline; day to day behaviours that are detrimental to our wellbeing or our health. The things we do where the numbers conspire against us over time. A single occurrence is unlikely to get us, but the compound effect might.

I’ve come to believe that the second category is most dangerous. It takes no effort, no thought but is guaranteed if you’re on that path.

Of course, there’s a third category… the risk of doing nothing; opting out, becoming irrelevant, out of touch. Becoming so cautious that life loses excitement, hope.

For many years, I was in steady decline, arrested only by the Heart Attack. It kicked my behind and prompted me into action.

Now I’m back on the right course, I’m not going to throw it away by taking silly risks, but at the same time I’m going to live my life. I will think about what I’m doing, weigh up the risks, and from time to time live life on the edge!

OK, so I won't be doing that any time soon!

OK, so I won’t be doing that any time soon!

Epic journeys

There are just 31 days until I start the Euro City Cycle (London to Amsterdam to Brussels, 300 miles over 4 days) and I’m entering the final stages of my preparation.

When I originally signed up for the event it really was a stretch target.  No-one was in a position to tell me I would be able to do it.  I was still in Cardiac Rehab.  The medical professionals weren’t going to encourage me to push myself too hard, and the rest of us had no idea what I’d be capable of.  I really was heading into the unknown.  To be honest, it would have been considered a challenge even without the Heart Attack given my lack of physical activity.

Committing to the event was scary too.  It set a hard deadline.  If I hadn’t been able to do it due to medical concerns it would have said something about the impact my Heart Attack was going to have on the rest of my life.  It would have been much easier for me to “wait and see”, to only to commit to something I knew I could do, but that’s not really me, and certainly not how I want to live.

***

Yesterday’s  cycle served as a reminder of how far I’ve come…

80 Miles

Having got a solid winter’s training under my belt, primarily inside on the Turbo Trainer, I’ve been slowly building the distance outside.  Yesterday saw a big jump to 80 miles!  If the truth been told, it was probably too big a jump (from just under 60 miles).  We weren’t really monitoring the miles, we just followed a route.  It was a tough ride, but good to complete!

A few weeks ago I took on “proper” hills for the first time.  My initial hilly cycle resulted in me walking for part of two of the three main inclines.  I hadn’t considered that I would need to develop a strategy for hills, to learn how to cycle up them, but that’s exactly what was required.  Now I’ve got to the point where I enjoy a good climb.  Each one represents an honest, visible and tangible challenge, laid out right in front of me.

Over time I’ve also become less obsessed by my Heart Rate.  I constantly monitor it, but I’m more relaxed.  The last time I visited the Cardiologist he was comfortable with me cycling and was happy that the medication would prevent me from pushing myself too hard.  It’s therefore become less of a concern for me, less of a constraint.

The drugs are working.  My short term recovery is amazing.  It’s a combination of the medication and my improving fitness but, after having pushed myself hard, my Heart Rate can drop off by 30 beats per minute in a couple of minutes.  I feel it too.  I enjoy regular breaks to eat / drink, but I don’t need long before I’m good to go again.

***

Having completed yesterday’s epic cycle I’m going to take a few days away from the Road Bike.  Instead, I’ll have some fun on the Mountain Bike, a machine that has been horribly neglected over the past few months.

MTB

There are just four more Saturday outings before I head south for the Euro City Cycle itself.  It’s just a milestone on my rehabilitation journey, but it’s an important one.  My key goals at this point are to stay fit and healthy.  Fingers crossed!

Spring forward

Changing the clocks to British Summer Time seems to be more significant this year than just the loss of an hour’s sleep.  For me it feels like it marks the beginning of an exciting new phase.

Hopefully this isn’t your first notification!

The fast approaching Cycle extravaganzas are a big factor.  I’ve been working on my preparations throughout the winter, primarily putting in the miles on the Turbo Trainer.  I’ve already been getting outside regularly over the past few weeks, the time change and the lengthening days will hopefully make this an increasingly frequent and pleasurable occurrence.

The countdown clock for the first event, the Euro City Cycle, will soon tick down to days rather than months,  As it gets increasingly closer it’s going to be difficult to contain my excitement!  I am really looking forward to it! (Did I mention that already? 🙂)

It’s nice to be reaping some of the rewards from the hours of training over the winter.  As the saying goes, “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster.”, but at least I’ve established a solid platform for the summer’s activities.

We’ll be heading off to a Holiday / Activity Centre for a few days during the Easter break.  This time I’m really looking forward to the things I can do rather than thinking about the things I can’t.  This is a big change from the last time we went away as a family.  I really enjoyed our time away, but my Heart Attack was still a major factor, both psychological and physical.  It feels very different now.

OK, so there may be some activities that I won’t be doing!

It’s all a little bit more “normal” for all of us.  We all have much more confidence in what I am capable of doing and my lifestyle choices are no longer “strange”.  It should lead to a much more relaxed time away, albeit active!  Again, I’m really looking forward to it!

***

I’ve generally tried to maintain a positive outlook on life since the Heart Attack.  I’ve never really found this difficult to conjure up, but sometimes it was more to make me feel good rather than because I was feeling good.

At the moment it doesn’t take any effort at all.  Life is good and there’s lots to look forward to!