Tag Archives: cardiomyopathy

The Infinite Monkey Theorem

28 Mar

An infinite amount of monkeys, locked in a room with an infinite amount of typewriters. Eventually, one monkey will accidentally bang out the complete works of Shakespeare ( the rest will produce documents as relevant as the USDA “My Plate” nutrition guidelines). I can relate to that one monkey…

Earlier this week, I received a completely random email, from a completely random person, that stumbled across my blog and rather enjoyed it. My first instinct was to question this individual’s sanity but upon further review of this email they seemed to be genuinely inspired by what I had to say. It is quite remarkable to me that anything that I write could have an impact on another human being, as I often struggle with just writing things that can actually be read and understood by people that speak some form of the english language. I can only chalk this up to the Infinite Monkey Theorem. To prove my point, I will now type the remainder of this post with my forehead. Enjoy.

 I had an EKG done and the results were…less than encouraging. My resting heart heart was 46 beats per minute, way outside the normal 60-80 that is expected. I had a definitive “third sound”, a noise other than the “BA-DUM” heart beat sound. I was told this could be a heart murmur. Even the electrical impulses coursing through my heart were abnormal. The EKG revealed a Right Bundle Branch Block meaning that electrical signals where not traveling along the path along the right side of my heart. This by itself is not an issue but could be an indicator of disease. I would have to wait for an echo cardigram (a sonogram of the heart) before any diagnosis could be made.

I returned home to stew over my fate. I felt fine. BETTER than fine! I felt like I was in the best shape of my life! Vigorous and capable of remarkable physical feats. Certainly the doctor was mistaken.

Several weeks later I showed up for my echo cardiogram. The results were….less than encouraging.

The echo cardiogram revealed that my heart was slightly enlarged and the walls were thicker than “normal”. This looked eerily similar to the disease my Father was diagnosed with, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. The cardiologist was also concerned about the velocity at which my heart pumped blood. Almost as though it was beating “to hard”. She asked if I was a runner. I despise running. I answered honestly, sort of.” I lift weights a couple days a week and run a 10k once a week”. A lie. I run a 10k maybe once a month. I didn’t want to hear, “you need more cardio”, so…. I lied. She seemed satisfied with my answer. I was scheduled for a “stress echo”. They wanted to see how my heart would do under load. A couple weeks later I arrived at the hospital wearing Vibrams and gym shorts.

The test would be done on a treadmill. I hate treadmills.

It goes a little something like this: Several nurses come in and shave all the dignity off of your chest (it took me 28 years to grow that hair) then hook up all kinds of fancy gadgetry and start you walking on the treadmill with a slight incline. Your heart rate and other vitals are monitored as they slowly increase both the speed and the incline of the treadmill. The idea is to achieve your maximum heart rate (220 – your age, mine is 192), at which time they will quickly pull you off the treadmill and perform an echo cardiogram (heart sonogram). Periodically the ask your perceived exertion level to make sure your not gonna croak mid-test (my words, not theirs…).

I ask how long the test will take. The nurse informed me that most people make about 7-8 minutes. The test times out after 15 minutes and she had only seen one person make it the entire 15 minutes. He was a 45 year old marathon runner. I hate running. I decided at that moment that on this day, she would see a 28 year old, bacon eating, cross trainer make it as well. Why? Because I’m stubborn as hell and I like a challenge (blame it on my Ackerman DNA). Only, as the test wore on, I realized it was not very challenging at all!

After 12 minutes, the treadmill was full tilt. Completely maxed out on speed and incline. I was trying to start a conversation with the nurse partly to fight off the hampster wheelesque boredom induced by the treadmill and partly to prove to her that I was unfazed by this “test”. As I ran my heart rate was steady at 142 beats per minute. After the complete 15 minutes I was pulled from the treadmill and the echo cardiogram was performed. 152 beats per minute was all the treadmill could muster, a far cry from the 192 they were looking for. Beast mode confirmed. I would have to wait two weeks for the doctor to analyze the results of this test.

The official diagnosis? “Athletic Heart Syndrome”. Not a disease at all but a physiological changing of the “normal” heart to cope with the increased demand of repeated athletic activity. A big, muscular heart capable of moving a large volume of blood when asked. During rest the heart rate drops dramatically due to increased efficiency. The “third sound” was no heart murmur but caused by a higher volume of blood flowing through the heart chamber. The Right Bundle Branch Block was merely a harmless rewiring of the heart found in nearly half of people with Athletic Heart Syndrome.The results were surprising to my cardiologist. Normally this diagnosis is found only in “highly trained individuals and distance runners”. Not 28 year old, bacon loving, cross trainers that might run 10k every 60 days… The relief I felt was unimaginable. Everything that seemed to indicate disease, dysfunction, or abnormality, was actually a physical change for the better. My heart was better than “normal”. If it sounds like I have a chip on my shoulder, it’s because I do. I was made to believe that something was wrong with me when in fact, there was no problem at all. Why did this happen?

When I reflect on this ordeal I can’t help but wonder what guidelines are used to determine a “normal” or “healthy” human heart. It seems that “normal” means small. Weak. Inefficient. Untrained. It seems the “normal” human heart is the “sedentary” human heart. A heart built from too much ass time, a life lived in climate control, a life where you put the master bedroom on the ground floor so you dont have to climb the stairs twice a day. I would argue that the heart beating in the chest of our ancient ancestors was not “normal” at all. Much like that of this 28 year old, bacon inspired, cross trainer.




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.