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Life and Treadmills

 

Hello again, Ricochet. Sorry I haven’t written for so long. I do have a good excuse. It’s been a busy Spring. Also, I almost died.

I write the above not as hyperbole nor the start of some clever device. (Those come later, hopefully.) It’s fact. It is the first time I’ve written it as fact. I’m trying it on for size, like the tuxedo my daughter will no doubt someday force me to wear at her wedding. It will never seem to fit and I’ll never be ready to wear it. But there it is, hanging across my shoulders, staring back at me in the mirror. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m writing this from my MacBook in my hospital bed, watching CNN (sorry, it was that or MSNBC and seriously, CNN, what’s with you?) catching up on the story of a far worse fight for life than mine – although mine was no small potatoes. I have an IV still in my left arm, six bandages from previous blood tests, three bee sting sensations from Lovenox stomach injections and a heart monitor strapped to my chest for proof of that.

I’m 45 years old. Today. I kid you not, people. It’s my birthday.

What landed me here has a number of medical explanations: genetics, pharmaceutical interactions, stress-induced episodes. I’ve settled on a simpler cause: stubbornness.

Let’s start with the treadmill. Such a great machine for metaphors, right? There are treadmills and there are treadmills. The garden-variety gym models to which some of us voluntarily subject ourselves, and the others onto which the invisible hand of life drops us.

I specialize in both. For several years, the belt of my life’s treadmill has stretched across two Maryland counties: Harford, where I live in its northeastern corner, and Baltimore, whose northwest part holds my office. Most months have a regular cadence: west for morning coffee and Program Management work on the sixth floor, east again for family time with my wife, teenage daughter and son. Forty miles each way in mid-Atlantic state traffic. Ten hours in the office. Fourteen-hour days, with the occasional graduate class tossed in. It’s a busy life, but a good one, and there are busier.

Then comes the Spring. Anybody reading this have teenage children in that sweet spot of life where they’re too young to independently drive, yet old enough to have activity levels that rival adults? Are you out there? Raise your hand. Now why the hell did we not invent Uber? We’re volunteer Uber drivers. What’s your route? My route is travel baseball practices-to-voice lessons-to-orthodontists-to-musical rehearsals. Of course I don’t do these by myself; except for the baseball practices (I’m the coach) my wife helps a great deal. Except when she doesn’t. No fault of her own — her consulting practice involves travel, and considering her field is education Spring is her peak traveling season.

In the midst of all of this, I do my best to stay in shape. What I lack in performance I make up for in consistency; I’ve lifted weights and run middle distances in a varied but weekly routine dating back to my early 20s. A staple in my running diet is the interval training session: light warm-up, followed by five-minute periods where, in 60-second increments, I run at a slowly increasing pace. Finish one “interval,” then drop back to a slow speed and do it again.

A typical interval for my 25-year-old self involved a warm-up at five miles per hour and involved increasing speeds until, at peak, I reached a full-out sprint before finishing.

Me at almost 45? Folks, I’m an athlete. I’ve been doing this for years. I know my limits and how to push them. That it’s the busiest time of year’s a factor, but nothing I haven’t handled. Allergy season making me take more medication than normal? No worries, I’ll drink extra water.

(Stubbornness.)

And now we come to the very literal treadmill that, one Spring Tuesday, fueled by stubbornness, quite literally almost killed me.

At about 6 PM, I was finishing minute 18 — the top of an interval — and began reducing the speed to a walking pace to cool down and get ready to stretch my aging hamstrings. My heart didn’t get the message we were done, and began its own race without my permission. I stepped off of the machine to grab more water from the nearby cooler. I never made it, sinking first to my knees, then to an all-fours position. My chest began to hammer — not rhythmically, but with middle-school drummer nonsense.

It is only now, trying to recount this for the first time, that something I had yet to consider comes to mind. This wasn’t a commercial gym; it was a fitness center on the lower level of my office tower. My phone was in a locker. I could have been alone. There were times exercising on that very treadmill that I was alone. I’m only typing on this computer and reclining in this bed and going home to hug my wife and children because right then, I was not.

None of this occurred to me on the floor. I was trying to breathe slowly to see if my heart would settle. When that failed, I remembered what happened to Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, why she was on the cover of Time and promoting her book Plan B.

I thought of my brother-in-law and daughter and her wedding dress, tears in their eyes, getting ready to walk her down the aisle. My son not listening to his new coach while not looking at the game he’s playing.

I did something that I, an admitted agnostic and recovering Roman Catholic, had not done since my Father passed away in 2003: I started to pray. To my surprise, I received a response.

It was in my own voice and as simple as simple gets: if you want to live, ask for help. Right. Now.
So I did. And the gears of emergencies started turning, without a single slip and even with some extra torque. One of my fellow exercisers was also a security guard for my building, who also just happened to be studying to be an EMT, who helped me to a seated position and began pouring ice water down my spine. Less than fifteen minutes later, 911 was called and I was on my way to a Baltimore City hospital specializing in cardiac care. Scott, the EMT for my ride, kept me calm and helped me stay conscious. For the first time in my life, I was a priority one Emergency Room case.

No ER lines for cardiac emergencies. Find your silver linings where you can, folks.

As I write this, the final analysis of what happened is still not fully complete. Data’s still rolling in, doctors and nurses keep filing in and out. Here’s what I know: I suffered an episode of Severe Ventricular Tachycardia, or SVT. As one of the five (!) cardiologists who has seen me explained, the combination of cardiovascular stress and new medications caused my heart’s electrical system to short-circuit. Following the most acute phase of the attack, once prompted by emergency medication my heart settled into atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, where it remained for almost a day before spontaneously converting back into a normal “sinus” rhythm. Stubborn as always, but eventually it found its way back on the road.


Later now. I’m home on my couch after being discharged. My children are playing a game outside my window where one bounces on a trampoline while the other takes shots at the moving target with bursts from a garden hose. The chosen game of the young Summer. I watch them having a ball, and I’m having a ball watching. My wife is folding laundry, and I’m having a ball watching that too.
Don’t judge. I get to enjoy that today.

Before my official release, the morning nurse surprised me by bringing in her staff, clapping and singing me a birthday song. She apologized for the lack of candle in my cupcake, it being a hospital with oxygen tanks and all. Good idea, I said.

My wife arrived moments later to hear the good news that I would be coming home, then settled in with me to wait the customary two hours for paperwork to be finished. No high priority discharges, alas. She asked how I am, and I told her I was … processing. As a way of explanation, I show her the first part of this post.

She closes the door to my room and we hold one another on the bed, sobbing, thankful.


So. What to learn? I’ve lived and read enough in my life to have encountered my share of stories involving those who emerge from their own stops on the reaper’s doorstep with their own life lessons. I’m not there. Three hours home and I’m vulnerable. The stairs make me tired. A deep breath makes my chest feel sore, and it takes me a moment of panic to remind myself that it’s only soreness – no tightness, no arm pain.

Some big changes are a-comin’. My site handle here, CoffeeDogHouse, is officially ironic. We won’t be on a first-name basis with the owners of the local pizza joint anymore — we’ll likely barely be acquaintances. I’ll start rehabilitating soon. My baseball coaching and playing aren’t stopped, I hope. Merely paused. These are all superficial concerns, and I try not to be hard on myself for knowing I’ll miss things. Aging gracefully is its own game, and needs its own practices.
As for the not-so-superficial: I have two nagging questions.

The first is how I can leave both of my treadmills behind. Being slower, more careful, is a skill I’m going to need help learning. My body is what it is now. I’m embarrassed by this, but I’m reminded of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, which is to say I’m reminded of Judi Dench reciting it in Skyfall: “We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.” I’ll work on it. I have good reasons.

The other question concerns the voice in my head that told me I needed help, right then, right there. It could have simply been common sense. Or survival. Just like it could have been coincidence that the gym wasn’t empty. And that another person running was a security guard studying to be an EMT.

I’ve had a hard time believing in God. I have a much harder time believing in so many coincidences.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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Members have made 36 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Happy birthday.

    • #1
    • June 17, 2017 at 8:47 am
    • Like17 likes
  2. Profile photo of Front Seat Cat Member

    Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! God bless you – what a wakeup call. Glad you are ok, but what a way to get a different perspective on life. Please let us know what the final diagnosis was, was it the medications that triggered it all? Do you have a family history of heart issues? Thank you for your story. PS What allergy meds are you on? My husband has terrible allergies.

    • #2
    • June 17, 2017 at 8:48 am
    • Like2 likes
  3. Profile photo of Arahant Member

    Brian Ruff: I’ve had a hard time believing in God. I have a much harder time believing in so many coincidences.

    It’s a good step. There are no coincidences.

    • #3
    • June 17, 2017 at 8:57 am
    • Like26 likes
  4. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Brian Ruff: As I write this, the final analysis of what happened is still not fully complete. Data’s still rolling in, doctors and nurses keep filing in and out. Here’s what I know: I suffered an episode of Severe Ventricular Tachycardia, or SVT. As one of the five (!) cardiologists who has seen me explained, the combination of cardiovascular stress and new medications caused my heart’s electrical system to short-circuit.

    In recent months, I’ve been caring for someone off and on whose tachycardia is caused by rogue pacemakers in the heart and treated with laser ablation surgery to remove them.

    Multiple portions of the heart can create an action potential to make the heart beat, but the sinoatrial (SA) node is supposed to set the pace of the heart by setting the fastest pace. Ventricles, for example, are only supposed to kick in with an “escape beat” if the SA node hasn’t triggered in a while. If, however, one (or several) locations outside the SA node start pacing faster than the SA node, they will pace the heart instead. The good news about tachycardia caused by rogue pacemakers in the heart is that catheter ablation can be a complete cure. The bad news is it often isn’t, since it’s common for surgery to miss some of the rogue tissue.

    I wish you luck on your cardiac journey. You may find that you’re not giving up on treadmills altogether, but instead resigning yourself to the fact that you’ll have to use them at a more boring, time-consuming pace.

    • #4
    • June 17, 2017 at 9:02 am
    • Like1 like
  5. Profile photo of Kozak Member

    Just a question. Did you have SVT, supraventricular tachycardia, or ventricular tachycardia? Two very different entities.

    • #5
    • June 17, 2017 at 9:29 am
    • Like3 likes
  6. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Just a question. Did you have SVT, supraventricular tachycardia, or ventricular tachycardia? Two very different entities.

    It sounds like he might not know yet.

    I realized what I shared about my loved one might not pertain to him – apologies for venting, although sometimes ablation is used to treat SVT, too. The phrase “short circuit” in the OP might suggest SVT.

    • #6
    • June 17, 2017 at 9:44 am
    • Like2 likes
  7. Profile photo of Paul Erickson Member

    Happy birthday, Brian. Today is my 59th.

    Minor disagreement with @arahant. I think there are coincidences along the side roads and rest stops of our journey. But not for the big stuff. I could tell you stories . . .

    • #7
    • June 17, 2017 at 10:00 am
    • Like3 likes
  8. Profile photo of Andrew427 Member

    Happy Birthday and upcoming Father’s Day.

    We can’t always differentiate what is in our consciousness and what is an inspiration from God. But the same Lord, in whose name we were baptized, wept over the death of Lazarus and brought him back to his family. If God is eternal, there is no reason why he would have less concern for us. That the thought has crossed your mind, makes me think it is significant.

    God Bless your recovery along with you and your family.

    • #8
    • June 17, 2017 at 11:08 am
    • Like15 likes
  9. Profile photo of WI Con Member

    Happy Birthday but just as important, Happy Father’s Day.

    • #9
    • June 17, 2017 at 11:13 am
    • Like7 likes
  10. Profile photo of Kevin Schulte Member

    Brian, I don’t believe in coincidences ether. I see God in your circumstance. Pursue Him, He will reveal himself to you. Count on it.

    Best wishes for your new life.

    Kevin

    • #10
    • June 17, 2017 at 11:42 am
    • Like18 likes
  11. Profile photo of PW Member
    PW

    Wonderful witnessing whether it is easy to acknowledge or not. Thank you for sharing.

    Gratitude for your Blessing is a always a good place to start on your path to understanding and reconciliation.

    As a fellow member of Ricochet, I am grateful for your being here with us. Happy Birthday!

    • #11
    • June 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm
    • Like10 likes
  12. Profile photo of Doug Kimball Member

    You have a second chance! And after that escapade on the dark side the old heart held up, no thanks to your overall physical health. Drop that chemical nonsense and seen an herbalist if you need chemical tweeking. We are medicated quite literally to death. And keep up the good habits. This kind of thing should pass.

    Good luck, happy b-day and Father’s day.

    • #12
    • June 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm
    • Like5 likes
  13. Profile photo of AUMom Member

    Happy Birthday, in both senses of the word. I’ll pray for you.

    One of my favorite passages in the gospels is “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” I cannot tell you how often I pray it.

    *Yes, it does always make a difference.

    • #13
    • June 17, 2017 at 4:17 pm
    • Like13 likes
  14. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor

    So good to hear from you, Brian. Don’t get ahead of yourself; you don’t know yet what you will or won’t be able to do. You might be surprised. Happy Birthday and a quick recovery.

    • #14
    • June 17, 2017 at 5:44 pm
    • Like4 likes
  15. Profile photo of ctlaw Coolidge

    Did the EMTs defribrillate you? Commercial gyms generally have defibrillators.

    • #15
    • June 17, 2017 at 6:06 pm
    • Like1 like
  16. Profile photo of iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Thank you for this.

    I also do not believe in coincidences – for others or for myself. So I have taken this story as an “action item” to get a panic button or equivalent app that will tell others my house that I am in trouble (and vice-versa), since I usually exercise alone.

    If anyone has a recommendation, I would welcome it. My thought is an app that sets off a high priority “screech” in paired phones, similar to those obnoxious weather alerts. But if someone has a better idea….

    • #16
    • June 17, 2017 at 6:10 pm
    • Like5 likes
  17. Profile photo of PHCheese Member

    Wow. Close call. What we do for our health.

    • #17
    • June 17, 2017 at 6:33 pm
    • Like1 like
  18. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member

    One perspective I offer: whatever your final cardiac condition(s) are, you are not on borrowed time. From the moment you were cared for and revived, you are on gifted time. Every new day with your wife, with your kids, is a gift. Revel in it. This, gratitude, more than anything else, will set your feet on the journey to faith.

    • #18
    • June 17, 2017 at 6:58 pm
    • Like20 likes
  19. Profile photo of Chuckles Thatcher

    Brian Ruff: I’ve had a hard time believing in God. I have a much harder time believing in so many coincidences.

    And what you do now with this is much more important to you and to your family than what you do with the treadmill. Ignore the gainsayers: You have been given a chance many never get – don’t turn your back on it. “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.”

    • #19
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:12 pm
    • Like8 likes
  20. Profile photo of MJBubba Member

    Brian,

    keep praying. Pray for your kids. Pray for your wife.

    You have been out of practice and need some catching up.

    • #20
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:27 pm
    • Like4 likes
  21. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! God bless you – what a wakeup call. Glad you are ok, but what a way to get a different perspective on life. Please let us know what the final diagnosis was, was it the medications that triggered it all? Do you have a family history of heart issues? Thank you for your story. PS What allergy meds are you on? My husband has terrible allergies.

    Actually, I’m on no allergy medication right now – Doctor’s orders. We’re trying to get settled on a good regimen, and everything else is secondary behind the heart meds. I WAS on Zyrtec and Flonase.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    • #21
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:47 pm
    • Like6 likes
  22. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Just a question. Did you have SVT, supraventricular tachycardia, or ventricular tachycardia? Two very different entities.

    It sounds like he might not know yet.

    I realized what I shared about my loved one might not pertain to him – apologies for venting, although sometimes ablation is used to treat SVT, too. The phrase “short circuit” in the OP might suggest SVT.

    Please feel no need to apologize for venting – that’s been my entire MO at Ricochet. 🙂

    The Electrophysiologist (a specialty I did not know existed until three days ago) leans toward SVT. Still have more follow-up to do, though.

    • #22
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm
    • Like3 likes
  23. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Andrew427 (View Comment):
    Happy Birthday and upcoming Father’s Day.

    We can’t always differentiate what is in our consciousness and what is an inspiration from God. But the same Lord, in whose name we were baptized, wept over the death of Lazarus and brought him back to his family. If God is eternal, there is no reason why he would have less concern for us. That the thought has crossed your mind, makes me think it is significant.

    God Bless your recovery along with you and your family.

    Thank you for your kind words. Yep – consciousness v. divine inspiration are deep philosophical/theological waters I usually don’t tread.

    • #23
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:53 pm
    • Like2 likes
  24. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):
    Brian, I don’t believe in coincidences ether. I see God in your circumstance. Pursue Him, He will reveal himself to you. Count on it.

    Best wishes for your new life.

    Kevin

    Thanks, Kevin. It’s definitely a new project.

    • #24
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:56 pm
    • Like1 like
  25. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    One perspective I offer: whatever your final cardiac condition(s) are, you are not on borrowed time. From the moment you were cared for and revived, you are on gifted time. Every new day with your wife, with your kids, is a gift. Revel in it. This, gratitude, more than anything else, will set your feet on the journey to faith.

    So true. I feel like it’s Day 1 in my life. Think one my first new prayers will be for help in holding on to that perspective.

    • #25
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:58 pm
    • Like6 likes
  26. Profile photo of Cow Girl Thatcher

    Wow. Amazing story. And, yes, keep praying. It’s already helped you this time, and I can assure you, it will help again. God is good, and I, too, think He gave you this special BirthDay. So happy for your family, and you, and everyone who loves you.

    • #26
    • June 17, 2017 at 7:59 pm
    • Like5 likes
  27. Profile photo of Brian Ruff Member
    Brian Ruff Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    So good to hear from you, Brian. Don’t get ahead of yourself; you don’t know yet what you will or won’t be able to do. You might be surprised. Happy Birthday and a quick recovery.

    Thank you, Susan. Time will tell. Forums like this really help the recovery, if only from a psychological standpoint.

    • #27
    • June 17, 2017 at 8:00 pm
    • Like4 likes
  28. Profile photo of DocJay Member

    Brian Ruff (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):
    Just a question. Did you have SVT, supraventricular tachycardia, or ventricular tachycardia? Two very different entities.

    It sounds like he might not know yet.

    I realized what I shared about my loved one might not pertain to him – apologies for venting, although sometimes ablation is used to treat SVT, too. The phrase “short circuit” in the OP might suggest SVT.

    Please feel no need to apologize for venting – that’s been my entire MO at Ricochet. 🙂

    The Electrophysiologist (a specialty I did not know existed until three days ago) leans toward SVT. Still have more follow-up to do, though.

    You almost certainly had SupraVentricularTachcardia , an occasionally serious but usually fixable issue. It is a ‘narrow complex’ tachycardia and you will be presented options if meds or fixing. A fib is a bit harder to fix but worth trying usually , especially at a young age. The meds aren’t awful but annoying in bleeding or fatigue for many

    Ventricular Tachycardia ( which can be severe ) is not SVT , it’s origin is lower down in the heart and produces a ‘wide complex’ tachy and usually you get an implantable defibrillator placed inside you to shock you.

    EPS docs are nerds. Finding out their experience and success rate is important w a fib. They are not all equal.

    Take care cowboy.

    • #28
    • June 17, 2017 at 9:11 pm
    • Like12 likes
  29. Profile photo of James Gawron Thatcher

    Brian Ruff: I’ve had a hard time believing in God. I have a much harder time believing in so many coincidences.

    Brian,

    You hit the Bull’s Eye. When I was much younger I had a very hard time believing in Gd. Then life happens and you are forced to ask yourself. Does it make sense to believe in a large set of incredibly unlikely coincidences or does it make more sense to believe in a transcendent Gd who has been trying to get your attention so he can help you?

    We the stubborn know the feeling of that Gd tapping you on the shoulder to get your attention. He was always there waiting to help we just wouldn’t let him.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #29
    • June 17, 2017 at 10:16 pm
    • Like9 likes
  30. Profile photo of ST Coolidge
    ST

    Happy Father’s Day and a belated happy birthday. I’ve had a couple or more close encounters with death. Not joking, did you have an out of body experience?

    • #30
    • June 18, 2017 at 2:14 am
    • Like3 likes
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