But you're so young and athletic

Me cross country skiing in Brighton Michigan at the Krazy Klassic 5k, coming around the corner for my second of two loops around the groomed trails.
I fully expected to be writing a few humble brag posts on my social media channels by now of my athletic prowess, or at least tales of how I survived my first couple of organized classic cross country ski races. I’ve long thought about what it would be like to participate in the Noquemanon Ski Marathon, but living in a snow-desert like Detroit makes training tough. Since I’ve never done a race in my life on skis, I figured it would be a good idea to take on some shorter distances to see if this was something I would really enjoy doing.

My training for the Krazy Klassic closer to home was fun. My walks with Barney were longer. So was my time on the yoga mat. When the race began, it was harder than I expected but I chalked that up to a lack of time on skis this year. Ultimately, I hit my goal, which was to finish the race. My 5k time was among the slowest that day, but I left the experience encouraged that my fitness was going in the right direction for the White Pine Stampede a few weeks later. 

It turns out, it was going to be the last race for me this season. Maybe longer. 

Before heading home from a work trip to Roscommon County the next weekend, I decided to hit the trails at Forbush Corner for a good training run. They have a great reputation for meticulously groomed trails and a little something for everyone on cross country skis, regardless of your age or ability. 

God Delivered Me

About halfway through their Badlands loop, I knew something was wrong. My heart felt like it was beating out of control and my vision was not right. I stopped and stepped off the trail for a few minutes to try steadying myself and to allow the prisms in my vision to subside. As my vision returned to normal, I decided to press on because I was getting cold and the only way to get back was to finish the trail.

I don’t remember exactly when I passed out. I do remember regaining consciousness at the bottom of a hill knowing full well that I needed to move out of the way quickly so I did not cause an accident. I made it to Oz’s Outlook and sat for a few minutes until my heart rate returned to something that felt more normal.

There have been a handful of times in my life that I’ve felt the presence of God. This was one of those times. Cold and scared, I prayed fervently for God to help me limp back to my truck with my bent pole. I prayed that I would make it home safely that night. 

God delivered me. 

Scared and tired, I got home that night and collapsed on the floor of The Kid’s bedroom. Once the adrenaline left my body, it told me I needed rest. For once, I listened. 

Monday morning, I sent my doctor a text. She immediately made time to see me that afternoon. I had finally told Gladys exactly what had happened because I knew this was more than just a fall, and I needed the support of my wife more than I ever had before. When we left Plum Health that afternoon, we had a plan of action, a referral to a cardiologist, and the reality that I would not be racing in the White Pine Stampede was starting to set in. 

Heading to the hospital

The next Saturday, I was getting ready to go to a barbecue with some friends I went through my MBA with. For 20 months, we spent every other weekend together, so I always look forward to seeing them when I get the chance. The shirt I wanted to wear was in the laundry room, which was in our basement.

Motoring upstairs after grabbing my shirt so I could finish getting ready, I felt the same thumping in my chest I felt the week before. My vision hadn’t changed. I did not pass out. But my heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. A few texts with my doctor later, and we were on our way to the hospital. 

The team at Henry Ford Hospital determined pretty quickly that I was not having a heart attack, which was great news. The emergency room doctor was concerned enough about my health and my fainting episode that they admitted me to the hospital that night. He was also the first person to say that none of this made sense because, “You are so young and athletic.” 

As a veteran young guy, I felt obligated to tell him to keep saying that because I had assumed years ago that I wouldn’t hear those words in reference to me ever again. 

Being in the hospital was a particularly strange experience. I’ve been in plenty of hospitals before, but only once before for myself. I’m used to being the concerned grandson, son-in-law, or friend who is making sure my loved ones have someone by their side. I’m not the one who usually needs support. 

I determined early on that I was going to be an easy patient. You don’t heal in a hospital, so doing what was asked of me was going to get me out faster than anything. Countless blood draws, dozens of conversations with resident and attending physicians, a physical stress test, and a heart catheterization ensued.

Aside from a sexist resident who was incensed that I followed my female physician’s well-reasoned medical advice, my experience was fairly tolerable. My roommate on the cardiac floor was awesome. We both had different and difficult roommates the night before, so we made the commitment that we’d let each other sleep as much as possible. Janet, our nurse the next day, was an excellent communicator that helped me feel in control of what was happening when Gladys wasn’t around. 

Come on, Dave. Tell us the diagnosis already! 

What was disappointing was leaving the hospital without a firm diagnosis. We ruled out several things, from heart attack to clogged arteries. Looking at things through the lens of my family medical history, that’s a pretty amazing outcome. I left with a few new prescriptions, the promise of a heart monitor, and an appointment with a different cardiologist in two months. 

This was not the outcome I had hoped for. 

So, I kept my appointment with the cardiologist my primary doctor recommended. When she walked into the exam room, she brought a stack of papers larger than one of Mitt Romney’s binders full of women with her. It turns out those were all my records from my hospital stay. She’d read them a few times. 

“I am so excited to meet you. You’re so young and athletic, and for this to be going on. Well, I’m going to help you get to the bottom of it,” she said. 

And she did. We repeated the stress test and we are currently working under the assumption that I have chronotropic incompetence. Essentially, when I start to exert myself, my nervous system tells my heart to start pumping more frequently. My heart is saying “meh” and maintaining a pace it’s more comfortable with.

We’re waiting for a few other tests to come back before making that final diagnosis. If it is indeed chronotropic incompetence, the treatment is a pacemaker. The best news, I will be able to resume the physical activities I enjoy once I’ve healed from that surgery. Aside from the pacemaker, I will have no long-lasting negative health impacts from all of this.  

Why are you sharing all of this? Fair question!  

I had a beautiful visit from my Pastor when I was waiting for a bed on the cardiac floor of the hospital. It wasn’t entirely unexpected when I texted him, we’ve become good friends the past few years. A few days after I was released from the hospital, he asked if I would let him tell our church members so others could pray for me. I had insisted that I did not want people to fuss over me, but he helped me remember that many of our church members are also my friends and they would like the opportunity to help in some way. 

Once I got over my embarrassment (yes, there was a lot of that), I decided I needed to tell some of my best friends outside of church, too. We got together a few nights after I’d been released, and the conversation was a reminder of why those men are so important to me. Since I can’t drive for a few months, on the ride home, one of my friends reminded me that we’re essentially family and that he expected to be asked to help. 

That’s why I’m sharing. I can’t do all of this alone. And even when I’ve got things covered, I’m going to need a little grace. I get tired faster than I normally would. I’m going to have a lot of medical appointments. I won’t be able to lift much after surgery. It is an enormous change, albeit temporary, that will take time for me to get used to. 

Random observations before you go

  • In hindsight, I think I recognized that something was not right with my body for some time before I passed out. I had been more tired than usual, so I cut out any caffeine after noon and almost all alcohol for a month before the Krazy Klassic. Even with a solid eight hours of sleep, I was not rested. I constantly felt wrung out like a dishrag after an hour of yoga, something that wasn’t happening to me in November.

  • Gladys snuck The Kid in to see me on my first night on the cardiac floor. It almost didn’t happen. Kids are supposed to be at least 12 years old, so Gladys coached her on what to say if she was asked about her age. They even agreed on what year she should say. When security asked, Gladys gave the real date and not the agreed upon date. Thankfully, they let The Kid in anyway. 

  • I knew The Kid would try to play tough and cool around me. She sat next to me in my bed the entire visit. I got a side hug or two, and a few answers out of her. When she got home, she broke down. I don’t think she knew what to expect and did not want to worry me, but it also was hard for her to see me this vulnerable. 

  • A few days ago, we had a chance to celebrate some of the work The Kid’s class has been doing as they learn about rainforests. One of the boys asked me how I was doing. When I said fine, he made it clear that he was asking about my heart and if I was going to be okay. It was an unexpected and kind gesture that I appreciated a little more than I normally would because what 5th grader asks those questions???

  • My family medical doctor asked if we wanted to bring The Kid to one of my followup appointments. My daughter didn’t ask a thing, but I could tell by the look on her face that she felt better about everything hearing from Dr. Orlich. I felt good about it, too because I want her to see how she has to be her own medical advocate. 

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