Ultrarunner fighting Atrial Fibrilation (AF)

This blog has pretty much always been about running ultras, mostly Hardrock. It still is but now it is also about running with AF. I was forced to miss Hardrock in 2011 due to my AF but my long term goal was to get back to a level where I could enter the lottery for 2012. And hopefully help any other runners with AF who stumble upon this site. I never made it into Hardrock in 2012, or 2013, or 2014. I didn't have a qual for 2015. I ran Fatdog in Canada instead. That was tough. Now back to Hardrock.

The heart problems all started back on May 25: http://howmanysleeps.blogspot.com/2011/05/out-of-hardrock.html

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Countdown is over.

Last week I went through pre-admissions in preparation for my ablation. This is the stuff you don't think about but important for anyone facing this process.

I spent the whole day at the hospital having tests and answering questions. There is so much involved in getting ready. It is always a very humbling being a patient. After working as a health professional for over 30 years I still find being a patient very confronting. There is so much you don't think of. You are at your most vulnerable.

First up was the CT scan. This was of my chest with a view to providing a 3D model of my heart to help plan the approach and get an overview of my anatomy. After a long wait I found myself on the table with a cannula in my arm being hooked up to a pressure injector. This would inject a bolus of contrast that would fill my heart during the scan to outline the chambers and major vessels. I have performed and seen hundreds of CT scans involving the injecting of contrast media. But this was the first time I was on the receiving end. The standard warning goes something like: you will get a warm sensation, you might get a funny taste in your mouth and some people feel like they have wet themselves. Wet themselves? Holy crap, I thought someone had fired up a bunsen burner and applied it to my scrotum!

A couple of hours later I was in the Pre-Admissions clinic. After filling out one form I was whisked away through a series of back corridors and taken to the Professors private rooms in an adjacent building. After more waiting I had a brief consult with him. He was very reassuring and succinct.

Back to Pre-Admissions. A nurse took me into a very small room and did an ECG, check my blood pressure and temperature. Then a heap of questions.

Back to the waiting room.

Then the cardiology liaison coordinator (the lovely lady that got me the surgery date) took me to another room for a lengthy questionnaire. It was amazing how well she knew the answers to all the questions she was asking. Clearly I have classic presentation.

Next the young Cardiologist who will be assisting came and got me to swallow this ginormous pill with 2 cameras in it. This sent real time images to his laptop so we could see my oesophagus. This would be repeated after the ablation as part of a study into the damage caused by the scope down my throat during the surgery. The images were fascinating but I could feel the pill all the way down until it plopped into my stomach.

Finally another round of questions with the first nurse of the day and I was done. And very tired.

I went to a friends birthday afternoon tea on the weekend. She is a close friend with terminal cancer and in a very bad way. It is the saddest situation. A lot of my really old friends were there. I got talking to one lady I went through school with but have only seen a handful of times in the 30 years since then. Out of the blue she said to me "I have the same thing as you". AF? Yes. One of my daughters had been talking to her and told her what I had. I asked her for how long? 10 years! My god, I could never survive this for 10 years. I could see in her eyes the same frustration and pain that this illness brings. I am not sure whether it was the heightened emotions of the afternoon or just that sympathy you feel for a kindred spirit but my heart went out to her. As runners we talk endlessly about how hard some race was, how tough we were, how strong we have to be. Sometimes we lose perspective. Here was true strength. To carry on a normal life with the medication constantly dragging you down, the intermittent episodes throwing you into chaos, trips to the ED and cardioversions under anaesthetic and the continual fear of an attack. For 10 years? I have gone 5 months and are at my wits end. Apparently hers is not amenable to treatment with ablation. I was humbled yet again and given more perspective. And then there was my friend who doesn't have the luxury of any potential cure. That is the ultimate reality check.

Today was the last day before my ablation. I have been off the medication for 6 days. I was surprised how stable my heart was initially. But today was a shocker. I have been suffering arrhythmia all day. Tonight when I decided I was going for my last run for who knows how long, my heartrate was 135 bpm at rest. And I could feel it. But I ran. Very slow at first as I always do. But gradually when I realised my heartrate was already out of control I really wound it up. It was tough but felt good to cut loose. It may sound a little irresponsible but I needed to run. I am learning the hard way that you don't always get a second chance at things. I no longer have a bucket list. If there is something I want to do it is on my calendar. At the moment that calendar is all in pencil while I try to regain control of my heart but it is full nonetheless.

Lets start by seeing what tomorrow brings.