You know that thing, where you’re totally 100% motivated, crushing your workouts and ticking off the days until your next marathon with your Coach because GOALS when all of the sudden out of nowhere – POW! – you’re sidelined by your cardiologist for 5-7 days??? Benched. Grounded. Stop. Drop. And roll over and scream because WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO YOU?!?!? And not for nothing, why do I even have a cardiologist? About a month ago when I started blogging again, I posted about what I had been up to and alluded to a health issue that I had experienced. I was planning on posting about it because it was a terrifying experience that I wanted to share as a cautionary tale for athletes everywhere. The moral to the story I never told was: Don’t dismiss chest pain. Or chalk it up to a million other things. If chest pain wakes you up in the middle of the night – Go get checked out immediately. Don’t screw around. Note: I would like to state for the record that I am NOT a doctor nor am I a health care professional. But this much I know: if chest pain wakes you up out of a sound sleep, GO GET CHECKED OUT BY ONE.
Some months ago that’s exactly what happened to me. I woke up with a horrible chest pain in the middle of the night. I froze for a minute, pondered the thought of a heart attack and calmly took my pulse. I breathed through it and came up with exactly 42 reasons why my chest could be hurting me. I ran 10 miles yesterday. I raked a yard full of leaves. I did push ups. The list went on and on until I had convinced myself that I was fine. Until it happened again. Then I got nervous. I woke up my other half in a panic. The chest pain resolved. I hemmed and hawed about going to the hospital. I stayed in bed.
This is ridiculous. I can’t go to the hospital?!?! I’m fine. It’s gone. They’re not gonna believe me. What am I gonna do? Be the vegetarian, non-smoking, marathon runner who has a few minutes of chest pain and stroll on in?
Well guess what? That’s exactly who I was – a seemingly “healthy” athlete with a cardiovascular problem. The next day I called my doctor and made an appointment to be seen. I told them I had had chest pain. Oddly, an appointment materialized out of no where. Because that’s what happens when you have chest pain – they take you seriously, Colby. Myth busted.
What followed was a series of very scary events. I saw my doctor and was immediately sent to the emergency room. I was in a hypertensive crisis. Crazy high blood pressure and a very unhappy heart. After a host of tests in the Emergency Department, they determined that I was hypertensive and possibly had pericarditis- an inflammation of the fluid-filled sac surrounding your heart. I was referred to a cardiologist. I followed up immediately and within days had a monitor on, a stress test scheduled, a follow up appointment and a plethora of tests down the pike.
As for my stress test? I was unable to do it because of hypertensive crisis number two in one week. Mission aborted. Me, the runner, could not do it. I was beside myself and straight up scared. I’m gonna have a heart attack. I was immediately put on blood pressure medication. Why? Why is this happening to me? Shit. If I knew that I was going to wind up on anti-hypertensives I would have sat my ass on the couch, ate bloomin’ onions all day and smoked Camels. Either way, I’m here. Sometimes you swim in a crummy gene pool and sometimes you don’t. And if you’re wading in the deep end of that pool, all the kale in the world isn’t going to help you. Neither are the marathons.
What a scary, stressful mess. I was confirmed to have viral pericarditis. And I had high blood pressure- which was probably waiting in the wings to make it’s formal debut. It chose right then. I had to stop running entirely for weeks and take copious amounts of NSAIDs. And right now, as in TODAY? I have it again – recurrent viral pericarditis. My blood pressure is perfect. Thanks, meds! Why this decided to reemerge I am not exactly sure. But fortunately I am incredibly blessed to have excellent doctors and access to great healthcare which is something that I will never take for granted. I have no doubt they will figure it all out. For now, I have to stop running for a little bit to get this under control. Then we get to the bottom of it. *cracks knuckles*
My real reason for writing all of this was not to scoff in the face of HIPPA laws or to host a pity party, it was to tell you: If a health issue pops up, don’t ignore it. There’s such an emphasis on PRs, PBs, BQs – that sometimes its easy to forget that running – any kind of running at all – is a gift. The same goes for your health. Just because you’re a healthy endurance athlete, doesn’t mean you’re immune to cardiovascular issues, or health issues in general. While running and exercise has be proven to be beneficial to your health, it’s also not a “Get Out of the Hospital Free” card. Shit happens. And sometimes it can happen to YOU. Don’t ever take chest pain lightly. Or, try and talk yourself out of seeking care immediately because you’re a marathoner – they won’t doubt you because you look “too healthy to be here”. Issues can pop up out of no where. Listen to your body. Don’t doubt it. Respond quickly. It’s counting on you.