October 15, 2015
It’s now mid-October. The days are cooler, no longer at or above the 100 degree mark. The mornings, early, are lovely, so cool and fresh against my skin.
I mentioned at the end of my last post that I had had a heart attack at the end of May, followed by coronary bypass surgery. In medical terms, I had a CABG times 3. (That is, I had coronary artery bypass graft, times 3.) In coffee shop lingo, it was a triple bypass—the arteries that serve blood to my heart muscle had three blockages severe enough to nearly cut off the blood flow. The bypass part means the surgeons took a couple of apparently less-vital blood vessels from elsewhere in my body (from my thigh and from the right side of my chest cavity), and used them as tubing to redirect my coronary blood flow around the blockages.
The long straight scar down the center of my chest is the only external evidence of the adventure. Lifestyle difference—I’ve cut pretty much all animal products (meat, cheese, milk, etc.) out of my diet, in order to reduce my LDL (the bad form of cholesterol), and ward off the possibility of another heart even. I also now take some pills.
But I’m back on the bike. WooHoo! I had to wait three months to let my sternum heal where it is sewn together with surgical mesh, after the surgeons sawed my chest open to get at my heart. In the meantime, I lost most of my hard-won fitness, and I’m working to get it back. The first month after surgery, I did some light walking but not a lot more. During recovery months two and three, I attended a cardiac rehab program at the hospital, three mornings a week. There, the nurses monitored my heart patterns while I walked a treadmill or pumped hard on an exercise bike.
Finally, when my sternum was certifiably healed, I strapped on my helmet, pulled on my gloves, and headed out on my road bike. And a few days ago, I rode my first race since my heart adventure in May. 47 miles. I finished 39th in a field of 73, after having trained five weeks. It was a good start.
People have asked me why my enthusiastic bicycling didn’t keep me from having a heart attack. What good did it do me? I can’t say I have the answer to that. I’ve heard the word “genetics” a number of times since it happened, in the hospital, and in subsequent medical appointments. Genetics–as in maybe I inherited a genetic tendency toward coronary heart disease. Maybe so. For various reasons, I don’t know much about my family’s medical history.
Also, though I’ve gone through various life periods in which I watched what I was eating, mostly I’ve eaten what I liked. Burgers, steaks, French fries, fried eggs (over easy, rye toast, with bacon–mmm!). Writing that list gets my mouth juices worked up even now, but from what I’ve been reading (and I’ve been reading a lot), those were all major contributors. But now I avoid those most-favorite foods, and others, now.
Another major contributor could have been the long years of sedentary but stressful work in my career. I don’t know.
All I can conclude is that two years of pushing hard on my bicycle pedals weren’t enough to overcome the lifetime of cumulative injuries to my blood vessels.
What I do know, though, is that getting my heart in good shape made a big difference in how much damage it sustained (very little, if any, according to my newly acquired cardiologist). He tells me my conditioning also made a big difference in how quickly I have recovered. People keep telling me I look as if nothing happened. Well, alrighty then. I’m back on the bike.