Archive | October, 2012

Just don’t call it a comeback

16 Oct

I’ve taken a break from writing for quite a while now. Part of that was intentional but mostly because I’ve been so gosh darned busy as of late! I had a pretty significant health scare over the summer and I wanted to wait for some resolution on the issue before I shared.

It is no secret that the medical establishment is not listed among my favorite people but the truth is that on an individual level, the vast majority of doctors and nurses are good, kind-hearted people who want nothing more than to provide us with top-notch, quality treatment. They possess a deep desire to help and heal the sickest amongst us. It is truly a nobel undertaking. However, that goal is distorted by misinformation, myth and flat-out lies produced by the dollars of Big Pharma, Big Ag and other corporate entities whose concern lies not with the good of the people but with black ink on the bottom line. Add to that our sue-happy, class action lawsuit culture and any doctor that strays the least bit outside of what is accepted medical wisdom or “normal” health and medicinal guidelines, however misconstrued they may be, this doctor is painting a huge bullseye on his or her forehead. The establishment has dictated that saturated fat causes heart disease and cancer, high cholesterol is an indicator of cardiovascular risk, red meat will kill you, whole grains are healthy. The staff of life! This is the doctrine, a quasi-religion that somehow creates ideal health and longevity yet goes directly against the diet and health protocols that have served  mankind well for millenia.

The medical establishment has decided what criteria determine a “normal”, healthy, human heart. This heart is of a certain size, the walls a particular thickness. It makes the “BA-DUM” sound ( yes, that is a scientific term… at least where I come from, it is). Even the electronic pulses that control the heart’s movements follow a specific pattern. A heart outside of these guidelines is considered abnormal for perhaps a million different reasons. Some benign, others extremely dangerous. The question is whether or not any abnormality is indicative of disease or dysfunction or if it is simply a harmless quirk that makes this particular heart just a little different from the other 7 billion beating hearts in the world. Certainly there is a certain amount of variability in the world, right? Well, according to these guidelines, my heart is “abnormal” in nearly every way.

Perhaps it would be best to start at the beginning… This is a deeply personal story and I will try my best to tell it accurately without over-sharing. Anyone close to our family already knows the details as my father is not shy and loves to talk to anyone with two ears ( and I am sure he does not discriminate against one-earred folks either!)

My father was recently diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart to enlarge and the walls to thicken, eventually decreasing the volume of the heart’s chambers and reducing it’s ability to pump blood. If that wasn’t bad enough, the thickened walls  impede the electrical signals that regulate the rhythm of the heart. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a very serious condition and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. I’m sure you’ve heard stories about young, healthy, highschool track stars or soccer players that suddenly and mysteriously drop dead during a sporting event? That is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at work.

Looking back, it’s really quite a miracle that my old man didn’t share a similar fate. He played numerous sports growing up, running track and cross-country in highschool and raced motocross, an extremely physically demanding sport, well into his 50’s. We are all very fortunate that his doctors caught this before it unfolded into a traumatic, if not deadly outcome. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic disorder ( some research seems to indicate that these genes lay dormant until activated by an outside stimulus, such as the Standard American Diet…. but that’s a tale for another day… ) There is no cure however the symptoms can be treated if it is detected early. It is a hereditary condition. My father’s doctor urged him to have all of his children screened.

Initially, I wanted no part of this. I don’t like doctors. I don’t particularly rely on their diagnosis and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of learning that I have this disease and could potentially drop dead the next time I am carrying a sack of groceries up the front steps. In my mind the knowledge of harboring this disease would be enough to drive me to an early grave. I would rather be ignorant because ignorance as they say, is bliss.

I enjoy very much being physically active. I exercise on a fairly regular basis, participate in Adventure Races, heck I even heat my house with a wood fired furnace. Someone’s gotta split all that wood and feed that beast! I didn’t want someone to tell me I had to give all of this up, that the next time my heart rate was slightly elevated could be my last moments on earth, even for my own preservation- I didn’t want to hear it. No. I was completely healthy. If I had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, I would have died years ago during those grueling two-a-day highschool football practices in the sticky August heat or on the side of Wintergreen Mountain while racing up a black diamond ski slope during the Tough Mudder event. Certainly that would have spelled doom for someone with this condition. I choose to hide from the knowledge, for better or worse. I would rather drop dead out of the blue, completely oblivious and happy.

That decision was stubborn, selfish, and short-lived.

I found that knowing that I MAY have this disease was just as troubling as having learned that do. Every time my heart rate got up I listened intently to make sure my ticker wasn’t trying to stop. Every workout, every run, I would ask myself “What if I died right now?” Every sore muscle from lifting weights, every random muscle cramp in my chest, back or shoulders became “Is this what a heart attack feels like?”

I have a beautiful wife and three wonderful children. I would rather exist on this earth in any form than to leave them without a husband and without a father. I was living my life in fear. Stubborn as hell and scared of what I might hear. I had to know. I had to find out once and for all.

I called a Cardiologist and made an appointment.