It’s my heart that’s on the run. Unfortunately, my heart is an overachiever when it comes to being fast, and that’s creating a problem.
I don’t know when my trek down tachycardia trail really started, but data-wise the first time I noted a high heart rate in my workout log was February 16, 2013, when I wrote off the much-higher-than-usual high heart rate I experienced in the last mile of the Flash 12K as a fluke.
Though the ensuing episodes of high heart rate, the cardiologist visit (when I was initially cleared), the blog post about the 2014 Turkey Trot (after which Shannon Sullivan, Mary Jean Yon, and David Yon insisted I seek other answers), the electrophysiologist visit, the implantable loop recorder, the electrophysiology study, and the year of attempting to manage my symptoms with a beta blocker (because an ablation was contraindicated), I kept identifying myself as a runner, kept saying, “it’s a pain but as long as it’s confined to my running,” I just need to make adjustments.
It was when I was “just” walking a 5K on October 2 that I hit a physical and emotional wall on this trail, and I haven’t figured out a way around it.
Besides the actual facts of what occurred over the hour which changed everything for me, my hesitancy to ask for help makes me want to kick myself in my OWN butt. I had not taken a beta blocker before the race because I’ve never needed one in a “walk” situation before. When my HR goes up precipitously, it does so with no warning. When it happened that day, I tried to stay calm, continuing to walk and do vagal maneuvers. I was passed by one couple who said “do you need help? And made some reference to one of them being qualified to help if I was having a problem.” Turned them down. I sat down on the curb (side note: I hate sitting down during races. I especially hate sitting down within sight of the finish line.)
I decided to walk back to the start area instead of trying to finish the 3.1 mile route. I walked past a man washing his car and made light conversation about his dog who was barking from the window rather than explaining I may be having a health issue. I was in a neighborhood where I know several people who probably would have come to help me if I had asked. During the attempt to walk back to the start area, my HR increased to an unhealthy rate again. I sat down on the curb, again. Throughout, I was texting my husband, explaining what was going on. I needed someone to be in the know.
I was participating in the race as part of a team, but I didn’t have anyone’s cell phone numbers I took my smartphone out and sent a message to the team’s event page on Facebook and one to our captain via PM. I explained that they should take their time (again, I might could have mentioned that I was possibly having a health crisis) but that I was going to need someone to pick me up. Eventually the race organizers sent a volunteer in a golf cart to come pick me up. Arriving at the finish line as a passenger in a golf cart rather than crossing it under my own power was so humbling (and, honestly, embarrassing).
Here’s where things stand for me at this point:
This Is Not Just About Running Anymore
It was one thing to change my approach to running as the tachycardia issue got worse. Now that it’s affecting walking, the situation has gotten more serious as it impacts a proportionally larger part of my life. I’ve always had a sort of “I’m not fast but I can hang with pretty much anything endurance-wise” approach but now I find myself evaluating EVERY activity, not just the ones that are labeled as “exercise,” on its likelihood to be affected by my issue. When I was at a conference at Disney recently, my companions and I were running late to get to a dinner reservation in EPCOT because of some transportation changes (the Monorail to EPCOT was not running). We were under the gun to get to the restaurant before our reservation was cancelled and my credit card was charged. It’s a pretty long way from the admission gates of EPCOT to “Japan,” and I was praying I could keep up with their brisk pace, and popping a beta blocker hoping that would help me hang with them (it worked out fine).
I need to be able to walk a mile without stopping, both for exercise and because my life just involves a lot of “going.”
Being Stubborn About Doing Things on My Own Can Be Dangerous
The double-pronged issue of a) loving doing things solo and b) being hesitant to ask for help is an issue that could just be classified as “that’s how I am” but now it impacts my health and survival. I’m grieving the limitations I feel now — I am not going to go out and spend an hour isolated on the Greenway — who would find me if I passed out? And although I would advise anyone in my circle to ask for help if they need it (and hopefully I would be the first to offer if they asked), I hate imposing. This is not an easy change to get used to.
We need each other. My biggest adversary here is myself, and I need to reach some detente with me.
The Exercise/Fatigue/Caffeine Cycle
Maybe none of this would be an issue if I had followed the cardiologist’s advice more than ten years ago and stopped caffeine altogether. I have tried a few runs without caffeine and still experienced problems, so I can’t say it’s the caffeine. But I am in a cycle (that I’ve almost always been in) of dealing with fatigue. I think some of it is low blood pressure — I’ve always struggled to stay awake … in meetings, singing in the choir (i.e., facing the congregation as a minister gives the message and dozing….THAT’S special). Lately I’ve had friends I’m conversing with say “you’re clearly tired” as I’m simply trying to stay with a conversation. Driving pretty much anywhere requires a cold brisk water, soda, or other beverage to keep me alert. One of the things I love about working from home is the ability to take a ten minute micronap when the fatigue hits — it makes all the difference and doing it in the privacy of my home doesn’t bring with it the indignity of getting drowsy in public.
If I don’t drink caffeine (or find some other way to not get drowsy/fatigued), my professional and personal life are impacted. I guess I should make a big summarizing point in this particular italicized sentence but: I love and need coffee and would find it almost impossible to break up with it. That is all!
The Gray Areas In Dealing With Cardiac Issues Are Vexing
It is irritating and a little humiliating to try to explain a health issue others can’t see. If I had a cast on my leg or some other outwardly obvious sign that I am working through something, that would be different, but as it is, many people start every conversation with “the usual”: “So when’s your next race?” “What are you training for?” Etc. Etc. Etc. My social network is largely comprised of runners. My social media content is liberally filled with running. The first place I head when I walk into a store is the fitness/running section.
When Running Is Bad for Your Health
Although this post has been percolating in my head (I had lots of time to think about it sitting on that curb in Southwood waiting for the golf cart (sigh)), I hesitated because I do not want it to be a whining, “poor me” post. I guess in a way it’s an attempt to put down in words the fumbling around I do when conversing about this when the zillionth person says “when’s your next race?”
I feel more keenly aware of the fact that I’ve spent years throwing out platitudes to other injured/ill runner friends: “you’ll get back to it,” “every step matters,” “people understand.” I feel aware of the challenge my father in law must feel when he is feeling faint and I’m screaming at him “PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON YOUR LEGS” because honestly, there was a moment there at Southwood on October 2 when the 1 mile back to the start line might as well have been 10,000 miles. No amount of willpower on my part would overcome the fact that my heart was done. with. ambulating. for. that. hour. DONE.
It’s a pain when well-meaning relatives say things like “well now that you’re not running but eating like a runner, there’s a weight issue.” (Yes, there is. I weigh more now than I did at the max of either of my pregnancies and my food consumption, especially the stress eating, really needs to be separated out (by me) from my runner persona.) It’s a process.
The Finish Line
This is not a post with a nice neat ending.
I guess my best advice right now is …..if your health enables you to fully engage in what you love for exercise and an outlet, do it and don’t take it for granted. If someone in your circle drops off the radar, give them an opportunity to try to process it and know that they themselves may not really be capable of explaining it or responding to their personal challenges, but they do still need you.
Their heart may still be putting in the miles even if their race reports don’t show it.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Robin C. says
Wow, Paula. I can tell that blog took courage to write. I, too, attempt to keep up appearances and rarely admit I need (or ask for) help (except from my family). I believe I understand your frustration. If you want someone to talk to, just let me know.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Robin. I’d love to chat more about this. I appreciate the comment and will see you soon.
Colleen Gehoski Steinman, APR says
I’m sure your doctor has checked your thyroid, but the fatigue you’re describing and the racing heart rate could be attributed to a thyroid problem too.
Paula Kiger says
Thanks, Colleen. I agree that needs to be explored. There are other things going on that match up with thyroid issues. As I discovered with the cardiologist who cleared me before the electrophysiologist confirmed there was a problem, sometimes we have to push harder to dig deeper with health stuff. THANKS.
Yes, Paula. Please have your thyroid checked by a well known and well respected Endocrinologist. Not GP or GYN. ASAP. Love you. Sending you good ju-ju.
Paula Kiger says
Agree — I need to push that with my primary — it’s been tested before but not at a specialist level. Thanks for caring.
Amanda Cleary Eastep says
Hi, Paula, I’m sorry you are struggling with this! My youngest has a similar condition and had an ablation before she went overseas. Her episodes had no rhyme or reason, which is frustrating since there seems to be little you can do to control the situation. And all the emotions and frustrations! But I’m praying you also find strength and encouragement…
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Thanks, Amanda. I am SO glad your child’s ablation was helpful in resolving the issue. This kind of thing can definitely play with your head as much as your heart!
Beth Ann says
I am so sorry that you are not able to do what you love right now. This is a huge lesson, isn’t it? Sometimes we just have to pull back and re evaluate and reassess. I can only imagine how frustrating this is for you . I hope you get some really good answers soon.
Paula Kiger says
So many lessons! I can get somewhat single focused and for years have thought “I could never leave our neighborhood because it has the perfect running route.” As we really need to be considering downsizing, there’s a lesson in all those times I stressed about “what if we have to leave?” because now losing the running route is somewhat irrelevant!
First of all, you’re not whining. I’ve had mitral valve prolapse since my 20s and take beta blockers. They make you tired, but eventually I think everyone gets over that hump. Chemo caused irreparable damage to my heart: A-Fib AND A-Flutter, plus I still have mitral valve. When I was physically in trouble, like you, I didn’t tell anyone because I can cope with anything. It took “greying out” while driving on the freeway, pulling over to get the ice out of my grocery bag and draping it around my carotid arteries to help shock my heart rhythms back to some semblance of normalcy, to force me to find an answer. It took many times of wearing a heart monitor and nearly passing out and several trial and errors of finding the right meds and dosage.Yes, I still get tired, but I don’t have any caffeine… ironic for a woman named “Coffee.”
As far as doing what you love, your real love is shining a light on people and causes. Perhaps you find another way to do that. Your voice is important, regardless of how you get it out there. xoxox, Brenda
Paula Kiger says
Aw, thanks for all of this Brenda. I am sorry you have enough experience to relate so closely but I do appreciate you having enough experience to empathize! Hugs to you and appreciation.
Your story is a public service message to many women and men! I know 2 other women who have had ‘issues’, their word, after exerting too much in a bike outing and a charity walk. We all must listen to our bodies!!
Paula Kiger says
We really must. If this post does nothing else except empower someone else to speak up when something doesn’t feel right, that will be enough. 🙂
I miss seeing you! Everything happens for the right reasons. What is your next adventure going to be? I’m sure it will be a pleasant surprise and a even brighter future for you.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Paula Kiger says
Same here, Lisa! I guess a strange reverse silver lining is all the free Saturday mornings. I know there will be something …. 🙂
Tara Geissinger says
Wow Paula — I had no idea! I am so glad you spoke up so that others can learn. Like you, I would have had a tendency to not ask for help. 🙂
Paula Kiger says
Thanks, Tara. I didn’t have room in the blog, but there have been MULTIPLE instances when I have been passed by the medic at a race while struggling and said “oh no I’m fine” when I possibly should have asked for help. It takes a few iterations to learn this lesson.
Judy Alexander says
Paula, Brenda said the first thing I was going to say. You are not whining; you are sharing. That’s what you would tell the person who wrote this. YOU are not a whiner. You also do not offer platitudes. There are only so many things one can say to someone in any given situation, & all of the examples you listed are encouraging & meaningful. You are one of the sincerest people I know. I’m sorry you’re going through this. Our body can certainly be our worst enemy. I’m sending healing & loving thoughts your way with the hope that you will conquer this soon & return to running the roads & trails. In the meantime, if you need a walking buddy out there at the Greenway, I’m available. I mean that. It’s not an imposition.
Paula Kiger says
Thank you, Judy. Let’s do that walk on the Greenway; I would love that. And I love you. <3
Diane Tolley (@StoryTolley) says
Everyone needs to read this! How many of us have made things so much worse because we simply weren’t comfortable with asking for help or telling people we were in trouble. Sharing . . .
Paula Kiger says
That’s exactly the thing. And for heaven’s sake I lost a sister in law to a silent genetic arrhythmia in 1993. It’s not that she wasn’t asking for help BUT the physicians and medical personnel could have been much more aggressive in searching for a cause — it was my other sister in law who kept digging after Ann passed away who realized many women on that side of the family were at risk. Now they can all take precautions and are likely to be just fine but had she not kept asking/researching, everyone would be vulnerable.