A weird thing happened to me a couple weeks ago. I was doing a checkup for one of my patients. In the middle of the appointment I got an annoying pain in the middle of my chest, pretty sure a good burp would make it all better. In dental school, they don’t teach you not to burp in your patient’s face but I have always assumed that is not a great practice builder. So, I held it in.
Well, it just got more and more uncomfortable. Being 61 I am well aware that my grandfather died at 68 from a heart attack. My dad had his first heart attack at 66 (he lived to be 87). Anyway, the feeling persisted and then I started to sweat.
Having taken CPR courses for many years I knew this was an ominous sign. Was it my turn already? Couldn’t be, since I am a runner and we runners know the rules don’t apply to us and we are invincible. I finished the checkup, turned around to fill out her chart and my next move was to wake up in my dental chair surrounded by my staff who all looked shaken up. One had a cold wet towel on my forehead, one was calling my wife and one was calling 911. The strange thing was that now I felt pretty good except they kept telling me how bad I looked. Very pale and maybe still a little foggy in the head as I was just coming out of it.
To make a long story just a bit longer, it turned out that I had just fainted. But due to family history I went ahead and took the ambulance ride to the ER and got checked out. The paramedics apparently weren’t too concerned as they let me walk out and climb into the back of the ambulance under my own power. At the ER, they did the routine bloodwork in cases of possible heart attack along with an EKG and chest x-ray. Then the bloodwork and EKG were repeated two hours later with the same results. NO HEART ATTACK! The ER doc said a gas bubble could indeed press on the nerve that led to a vasovagal response resulting in fainting. Turns out, a good burp would have fixed everything after all.
I learned a couple things that day. First, it is a bad feeling to hear a siren and know they are coming for you. It really makes you wonder if you are in bad shape after all. Also, it’s not a good thing to see yourself in the mirror and notice that you are wearing a hospital gown. Of course, they look really good but just like the siren, a hospital gown makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. On the other hand, I learned just how wonderful it is to be surrounded by people who love and care about you. My staff did a great job that day and my wife was at my side the rest of the way, not even taking the time to get lunch while we were waiting for more tests.
As I waited for the ambulance to show up, my first thoughts were about my family. How would they be if this was it for me? But feeling pretty good and being fairly certain that I had just fainted, I started to relax and my thoughts wandered a little bit and surprisingly early I wondered briefly if I would be able to run again. That seems like it should be a trivial thing to worry about, but it is what it is. I have run since then. They even had me wear a heart monitor for a couple days after that and I ran with that on. It will be interesting to see how that looks on the EKG when I go back to hear if they found anything else.
Despite everything apparently turning out alright, it made me think again that at some point I will go on a run and it will be my last run. All runners eventually stop running. It is inevitable. Yes, even you will stop running someday. Hopefully you will become a walker at that point or you may take the Jim Fixx route and collapse and die on your last run. I told my daughter with whom I share this blog that if it works out that when I am 90 and finish my final half marathon a couple steps ahead of the last finisher in the full marathon, that if I keel over and die at the finish line, that is okay. Just haul me away and know that I went out on top, doing something I loved.
Years ago, I read an opinion piece in Runner’s World asking the question of who is the winner. Is it the person who finishes first? Or is it really the one who finishes last? The one who keeps on running when all his or her friends have long since quit? I like to think it’s the latter. I intend to treasure every run from here on out and never take it for granted again that I am capable of stepping out the door, looking into the distance and knowing that I can run to the furthest thing I see without stopping. Luckily, I don’t live in Colorado and can’t see mountain peaks 50 miles away or I couldn’t make that last claim. Maybe someday when I am no longer the race director I will even get to run the Castle Run. Each short or long run, each race or even a jog out to the mailbox is a moment to enjoy. I hope you do too.
Keep running my friends!