Couch to OK…

Let me begin with a disclaimer.

I’m not what you would call a slouch. I like exercise. I’ve grown up around it and I’m vocal about the benefits of maintaining health and wellbeing through exercise. Recently, I have been a bit of a slouch.

In a way, I forgot the golden rule that exercise serves to callous an individual against most of life’s stresses and strains. Instead, I gave in to those stresses and strains. Both exercise and diet suffered.

One of the [many] positive outcomes of finding out I’m not yet on my final path, was that my cholesterol level was quite high. Not wanting to bring on what I had feared was ailing me, I decided to buck my ideas up and get back on track.

Running

I’m on week two of the ‘Couch to 5K’ training program. I began while I was still under the perceived heart scare as in my head, 5k wasn’t a massive distance as I’d happily run 12 miles before; admittedly, it was a few years ago. I figured that it could only do me good and if I did have a heart condition, that distance wouldn’t tax me too much.

The program is an app that you download to your phone. It’s backed by the BBC Sport as part of their ‘Get Inspired’ initiative, aimed at getting Brits to take regular exercise. You get a choice of coaches, who happen to be personalities from the broadcasting world. They tell you when to run, how to run and how often. The only thing not provided is will power.

It seems to be working and more importantly, I’m enjoying being out on my feet. They do a ‘Couch to 10k’ too, for those without perceived heart conditions..

Follow me

Leading by example is important to me so I’m also sourcing Park Runs for me and the cubs. School has notified us with mild concern about their body mass index (BMI) and whilst I’ve never held much truck for the system I have noticed that both of my darlings are a little on the big side.

Rather than beginning to stigmatise and label them at such a young age I intend to just make them more active when we are together. This weekend they are coming to a Kung Fu session with me. I can’t wait.

Killing me softly

This Christmas just past a friend, work colleague and neighbour of mine invited me to his house for dinner with his family on the 27th. He has three children of comparable age to mine and we occasionally have play dates.

For the meal, we were accompanied by his partner’s family; her sister, her mother and her father. Her father was doing the majority of the cooking so we sat in the kitchen keeping him company. He looked in his late 70’s and had noticeable poor posture. He revealed the reason in a conversation.

’40 years of sitting at a desk has rendered my abdominal muscles useless’

That scared me. My job used to be more practical, but promotions have meant that I’ve been more managerial for the last decade or so. Work does give us the option of using ‘standing desks’ but I’d always declined, favouring getting up and moving around every hour or so. The only problem with this approach is that I tended to get stuck into a task and by the time I lifted my head, two hours had passed.

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I set my watch alarm to the hourly alert. The annoying function that I had disabled many moons ago. Now, every time the double beep sounds, I get up from my seat, perform 30 star jumps followed by 30 squats. In time, I hope this will become a Pavlovian response that will pay dividends in later life.

If anything good has come of my near miss, it was highlighting the fact that I had been taking my health and welfare for granted.

I owe myself and the cubs so much more than that.

BSD

…And breathe…

I never fail to marvel at the complexities of the human body; especially my own.

Over the past two or three months, I have been suffering. A nagging tightness in the chest that began to radiate. This eventually caused headaches and dizziness, but it was not too long before pain and discomfort spread to my left arm.

I have rudimentary medical training. It comes with what I do. I suspected cardiovascular issues, but in a ridiculous act of fear induced denial, I did no more than wait, for far too long. Eventually just before Christmas I finally sought medical help.

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The NHS wasted no time. I was plugged in, X-rayed, stethoscoped and generally very closely inspected by anyone who had served time at medical school. My GP even went to the extent of phoning me twice, in the evening.

I quickly received a letter from the Rapid Access Acute Chest Pain Clinic in my local hospital. They wanted to see me on the 21st. The letter stressed the importance of attending the clinic, but also attempted to reassure that an appointment was in no way indicative of a heart condition.

I could not ignore the pain; it was now a constant.

Sitting in the waiting room I held the company of many. Noticeably all much my senior and in varying degrees of failing health, I could not feel anything other than incongruous.

A nurse called my name.

It was ECG time again. I was asked to strip to the waist and lie down. For the ease of parking I’d travelled on the bike so my attire was a little of a hindrance as the nurse needed access to my feet for the sensors. It took longer to hook me up than it did to get a reading. Rather than getting dressed fully, I put my teeshirt back on.

Returned to the waiting room, I looked even more out of place.

I was eventually summoned by a more mature lady in scrubs, with a stethoscope around her neck. I duly followed.

She sat me down and asked me to remove my teeshirt again, so she could listen to my chest and back. I breathed in and out as requested as she moved her pre-warmed device to various locations on my torso.

She then prodded and poked.

“Does this hurt here?”

Yes

“Here?”

Yes

“Here?”

Not so much

“Here?”

Very much.

My chest spasmed and contracted away from her touch.

The Clinical Practitioner sat down. “Tell me when it hurts; for example, how do you feel on exertion?”

The pain usually subsides or is non-existent.

“Ok” she said, as she took off her glasses.

“It is my opinion that you have nothing wrong with your heart. Your ECG is fine; your blood pressure is fantastic and your bloods, although you show slightly elevated levels of cholesterol show nothing else”

I tilted my head in curiosity.

“You’ve torn a pectoral muscle working out”

So, basically, I thought I was dying, but I’ve just…ripped a tit?

She smiled. “Yes”

I laughed. Very, very loudly and slightly hysterically. She began to laugh too. This continued for some time, to the point where her colleagues came in to see what was happening.

I apologised to her [and the entire NHS] for wasting her time.

“Better to be safe than sorry” she reassured.

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Sitting astride my bike I reflected on how my mindset had changed at the impact of such a serious illness. I’d rescued my diet, taking Omega3 oils and eating a clove of garlic a day, as well as ensuring that I got my 5 a day.

I’d also considered creating video diaries for the cubs, should the eventual prognosis be, not so good.

I’m lucky. I already have a healthy regard for life and I try to remain grateful for everything I have, not less my gorgeous cubs. More importantly, it was the reality of my mortality while they are so young that weighed heavily upon me. Selfishly, I didn’t want to be without them. Watch this space…

For now, I’ve dodged a bullet but it served as a good reminder to maintain a healthy lifestyle; sleeping, eating and exercising well.

I might give the kettlebell swings a miss for now though.

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BSD

 

 

When hope isn’t enough.

Something’s going on and I’m not sure what.

About two months ago (maybe more) my body started to feel differently. When I say my body, I mean my chest. When I say my chest, I mean, the area where my heart is. I really couldn’t think of a better way to write that..

In the tail end of the last year, things started to really ramp up in both my personal and professional life. I changed roles in my workplace and was given a baptism of fire. It was more full-on than I had experienced in a very long time. My energy was being pulled in every direction; I had to relinquish some activities and my beloved BSD blog suffered neglect. I had to prioritise.

Two other elements of my life became neglected; my fitness and my diet. Skipping workouts became the norm as did convenience foods. Processed crap was back on the menu as contactless payments at a fast food outlet are a lot quicker than putting basic ingredients together into a decent meal.

I had my annual fitness test at work, which I scraped through. I put it down to age but decided that I would schedule some moderate workouts.

The intention to train three times a week was there, but the intent fell away to other pressures quite quickly. They were only short workouts too, but intense; I value HITT.

Dadding

Coparenting was failing. Apart from missing the cubs due to an inequality in access, things had taken a more sinister turn on the maternal side. Details aren’t for this entry, but I will disclose in time. It spurred me to take action.

More time; more energy needed; more stress.

The creeping realisation that my energy reserves were actually a finite resource was always a difficult premise; historically I’ve solved most things by going at them harder but this was getting more difficult as a game plan.

Something had to give.

Honesty

I’d been lying to myself about the pains I had been experiencing. Infrequent at first, then more regularly. A pressing feeling in my chest, towards the left and in the upper quarter. Easy to dismiss as anything too serious, but hard to ignore due to its persistence.

A gym session will shake it. Or a run. Or perhaps a bit of fresh air.

It didn’t.

At Christmas; it became almost impossible to ignore, worse still, I was now getting irregular, but strange sensations in my left arm. Then, one day, into my jaw. Even without any medical training, this should be a red flag to anyone. I went to see the Doctor.

Well actually, I registered with a new surgery and undertook a general assessment, as is the norm. I told the nurse of my pain; she immediately strapped me in to an electrocardiogram (ECG). It took longer to connect the leads than it did to take a reading.

The nurse ripped off the ticker tape, took one look at it and left the room. I didn’t take it as a good sign. She returned quickly, apologised and informed me that she had taken it to the Doctor for a quick look. we did the rest of the assessment, which turned out to be questions before she left the room again.

On her return, she said that the Dr wanted to see me in a couple of days. This reassured me slightly, as an appointment in a couple of days would be futile if I was in immediate trouble.

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The National Health Service (NHS)

Later that evening, my phone rang. It was my new Doctor. That worried me. He told me not to worry, but he was making sure that I was going to attend the appointment with him in two day’s time. Absolutely I was.

Later that week, sat in front of the General Practitioner, he went through a series of questions.

  1. Do I smoke?
  2. Do I exercise?
  3. Does the pain increase or decrease with exercise?
  4. Do I suffer from anxiety or depression?
  5. Do I suffer from pain in my calves?
  6. Do I have dizzy or vacant spells?
  7. Had I ever used drugs?
  8. Had I ever taken steroids?

Strangely, I took the last question as a compliment. I guess I hadn’t slacked off that much. Men’s minds.

He then asked me about what I did for a living, and my working hours. When I told him the hours I worked, he put his pen down and stared at me.

“Mr (enter real name); imagine you have a brand new car and over the space of two years, you put 150,000 miles on that car; what sort of state do you think that car will be in at the end of those two years?”

Is it a Toyota Hilux or Landcruiser?

He stared through my attempts to deflect from the truth.

“I would seriously consider reducing the hours you work”

Easier said than done. He then booked me in for bloods and a chest X-Ray.

Fear

Having answered ‘yes’ to a lot of the wrong questions I was asked, I went home to stew. What if the pain in my calves that I had experienced during training sessions wasn’t muscle soreness but thrombosis?

Had I been neglecting something obvious or had six month of prolonged stress (probably longer) finally started to take its toll?

Whatever the outcome I admitted to myself that I’d left it far too long before seeking help. So many ailments can be treated successfully with early intervention. I knew that, but had neglected to act in my own best interests early on.

Bloods done I was slightly annoyed that the nurse stuck me in the arm that I hadn’t mentally prepared. I hate needles. But, I’m pretty fond of being alive so I sucked it up. I had the day off so I immediately presented myself to hospital for an X-Ray. After driving round looking for a parking spot, I went home and transferred to two wheels. I was in and out extremely quickly.

The next day the Doctor rang me. Again. I think I might store him as a regular contact. My bloods were back and my Cholesterol was high. Very high. I reflected on a Christmas of biscuits and rich cakes. I was relieved.  High Cholesterol was a precursor to more serious heart conditions, but it was also treatable with lifestyle changes.

My Doctor, who was clearly not taking any chances and was an extremely thorough man had also referred me to the Rapid Access Chest Pain clinic at my local hospital. I was worried again.

I realise, and am reminded time and time again of how good the health service is in the United Kingdom.

Message

I don’t usually end a piece with a direct message and in fact, this is not the end as I have my appointment at the clinic tomorrow but, I want to ask anyone who reads my words to  make sure that you act early on any health concerns that you have. Don’t leave it, don’t try to walk it off and don’t wait. Modern medicine can do amazing things if given an early opportunity and dedicated health professionals will bend over backwards to ensure your wellbeing.

You only have to do two things:

  1. Be honest with yourself
  2. Don’t give in to fear.

 

To be continued…

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BSD