Posted by: wrmcnutt | January 18, 2012


UT Cardio Vascular Institute

UT Cardio Vascular Institute

It’s hard to believe it, but it’s been about ten weeks since I’ve written anything about my heart issues and my recovery.  Mostly it’s been because I can’t imagine you being interested in hearing that “I went to the Cardio-Vascular Recovery Center again today.  As an athlete, I still suck, but I got a tiny, but noticeable bit better than last time,” over and over again.  But that’s what’s happened.  Since I completed my home-bound convalescence I have attended twenty one workouts over seven weeks, missing a total of five:  one because I over-scheduled myself that afternoon, and three because of various holiday closing that had the Recovery Center closed.  I have five sessions to go.  By a strange coincidence, my recovery period will be over on the exact same day that my insurance coverage for supervised recover runs out.  I’m shocked.  Shocked and appalled.  But talking about how health insurance works is a whole ‘nother day.

The procedure works as follows: 1) Weigh in.  This is the time that I make it a point to leave my shoes and electronics on the bench.  I home I weigh naked, but I’m guessing the staff and clients at the Recover Center don’t want to see me in my altogether.  2) Once I’m weighed in, I select a three lead heart monitor and hook up, announcing to the trainer at the computer that I’m “On the air.”  She checks my heart rate and then dispatches someone to  check my blood pressure.  Once that’s done, the workout begins.

My current circuit is:

  1. 6 –  minute brisk walk on the walking track
  2. 7 – minute run on the treadmill, 3.9 mph, 2.5 degree incline
  3. 6 – minute arm crank, 30 watts
  4. 6 – minute step-up, 6″ tall doing simultaneous two-hand curls with five pound weights
  5. 7 – minute run on the treadmill, 3.9 mph, 2.5 degree incline
  6. 6 – minute cycle on the air-bike, resistance 3
  7. 7 – minute cycle on the reclining Nustep – resistance 7, 160 watts
  8. 5 – minute cool down.

They monitor my heart rate the entire time. Mostly I’m left to my own devices, but today we had a little excitement.  Apparently a heart rate of 165 is considered “excessive” by certain authorities, and I got told to dial it back during my second session on the treadmill.  I’m still getting slightly funny looks from my trainers.  I’ll get up on the equipment and light it up (for a fat middle-aged cardiac patient) and they’ll take my blood pressure:  120/80.  Utterly normal.

After ten weeks of this, I’ve made considerable progress.  I’ve lost about six pounds and have gone from walking at three miles an hour for six minutes at zero incline to running at four miles an hour for seven minutes at a 2.5 degree incline. For a heart patient, I’m weird.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating.  While I technically have “heart disease,” my issues are with the nerves that drive my heart not tracking the proper signals.  I have no blockage, tears, or muscle damage.  We afib patients are unusual among cardiac patents that way.  Perhaps the most important thing about all of this is that since I’ve started, the monitoring team hasn’t seen a single “off” rhythm.  Straight, normal sinus rhythm, no matter how hard I load myself up.

You find your silver linings where you can, and the fact that I’m in a cardiac recovery unit at 48 is not good.  But at least I’m in the recovery unit.  Moreover, for the first time in a long time, I’m not just “the new guy.”  I’m the young guy.  My fellow patients call me “the kid.”  I’m also the strong one, the flexible one, and the fast one.  And that’s kind of fun.  Until I remember that the reason I’m running with this particular pack is because there was something wrong with me that got a twenty-year head start on me.  And then killed me.

My youngest fellow patient’s easily got 20 years on me. They’re recovering from blocked artieries, multiple by passes, open heart surgery, stents and a host of other procedures that have left them a wreck.  They’ve got chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral artery disease, and plain ol’ “bad hearts.”  The men around me, and it’s mostly men, women number about 5% of us, were soldiers, sailors, cops, and athletes.  There’s even a couple of Marines I see from time to time.  Most left that kind of work behind and became successful businessmen and teachers at the University.  Many are wealthy.  All are lucky.

And they envy ME.

I’ve got a pretty accurate self-image.  I’m carrying 50 – 70 pounds too much weight.  I have a receding hairline, I’m thinning on top, and I have more chins than the Hong-Kong telephone directory. I’m not only middle-aged, but I’m in the middle of middle age.  Youth and athletic prowess are just a memory.  And, rose-colored glasses aside, I never had that much prowess to begin with.  But I do remember the guy I was when I was twenty.  I also remember the guy I was when I was thirty.  And I envy the guys I used to be.  I’m working hard now to do things that I could have done casually ten or twenty years ago.  Hell, I envy the guy I was when I was 40, and HE thought he was fat and old.

With all of that running against me, they envy me.  I’m not projecting.  I’ve been told that more than once in recent weeks.  All of these alpha-male types around me, decorated veterans and wealthy industrialists, want to be like ME.  Able to run a lousy 7 minutes at 3.8 miles an hour, up a 2.5 degree slope.

Sobering.  Humbling.

There’s a lesson here somewhere.


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