Thursday, July 31, 2014

In Which My Achy-Breaky Heart Rides 22 Miles

Late afternoon sun on Cedar Lake, it was a gorgeous day to ride around the lake and a gorgeous day to be alive.

As you know, blog pals, I had some disturbing symptoms on RAGBRAI. Mostly, they were on Tuesday’s long, warm ride.

A spasm in my chest. Fatigue. Dizziness. A burning sensation in my upper left arm. Pins and needles in my left foot.

Whoa, you might say. Did you stop? Did you catch a ride in the cherry-topped sag wagon, aka an ambulance?

Well, no. And I’m not totally cray cray, either. Each of the symptoms is something I've experienced before, and each has an innocent explanation. Fatigue and dizziness can be dehydration. Arm pain can be, well, arm pain. I fought a headwind in the first 20 miles of the ride, and my body was crouched in an unnatural position. Even today, my left shoulder and left upper arm are sore, and it’s muscle and joint soreness from that headwind 10 days ago, not cardiac arrest.

Spasm of pain? Well, I've been treated before for acid reflux, and although I don’t commonly have digestive problems, heartburn is an experience I've had before. So, I could rationalize, drink some water, rest a few minutes and solider on.

But, as the week wore on, the fatigue did not quit. My RAGBRAI team members envied my ability to quickly fall asleep, which is not unusual for me, but it is unusual for me to get 7 hours of sleep and still feel so totally lethargic.

I had little energy for the rest of RAGBRAI, and it worried me, so I went to my doc’s office.

My doctor, by the way, is a very nice lady, but I've rarely seen her. I’m almost always seen by a PA, but that’s OK. Anyway, the PA took my blood pressure (a little too high), listened to my heart (it must have been ca-thumping pretty normally because he said nothing and had no reaction) and took note of my symptoms.

Not classic heart symptoms, he noted. But, on the other hand: “I don’t think you’re here because your left shoulder is sore. I think you’re here because you’re concerned about your heart. And while the symptoms aren't classic, it’s hard for me to ignore a spasm and left side pain. Go to the hospital and get an EKG.”

So off to said hospital I went. The technician didn't shave me before she put the sticky sensors on—she explained that most patients don’t want to be shaved—but lady, I would have gladly been shaved because I knew that what goes on must come off. A few minutes later, I was done. And, OUCH!

Later that day, an aide form the doc called to say preliminary EKG results were just fine. But the office would call the next day with final results.

As fate would have it, the next day’s call was a bit different. I don’t recall all of the details—for some reason, when important medical information is given to me about me I start to quickly fade out into some odd mental limbo—but I clearly recall: "We've made an appointment for you with a cardiologist."

The problem isn't major or imminently life threatening. Or so I suppose, since the lady on the phone didn't seem to be in a hurry and she didn't give me any advice about living like an invalid. The EKG showed a “left anterior fascicular block,” whatever the heck that is. Google gave me lots of confusing disinformation, but the impression I get is that it’s a common problem and is either no big deal or indicates YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

Then again, my favorite Onion headline of all time is: “Death Rate Continues At 100 Percent.”

I’m not fatalistic about it. I intend to be very serious about getting and following medical advice. I want to live decades more and ride many more RAGBRAIs. And I’ll be calling the PA back, because right now we’re dealing with this one problem—I haven’t really had a full physical checkup.

And “left anterior fascicular block” or not, the real take away for me, the thing that in the long run is probably more personally dangerous given my family history, is the blood pressure.

Anyway, doc talk was Tuesday. I rode my bike 12 miles Wednesday. I rode it again 22 miles today. So far, no spasms of pain and no sudden fatal heart attacks, I’m happy to report.

I’m healthy as a horse. If the horse has an asterisk on its chart and has an appointment with a heart doc. And you knew, didn't you, that I couldn't resist:


  1. The hemi block is a partial interruption in the electrical flow on left side. Alone it is benign and not usually related to clogged arteries. It may be related to little larger left vent because of hypertension. If combined with other half of electrical system, it can cause slow heart rates. Controlling BP and weight are good ideas. You still got lots of kick left for a treadmill stress test!

    1. Thanks! That is a much clearer explanation than all of Google provided me so far.