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Michael Maher

I Still Have a Defective Heart

Atrial Septal Defect - Image from Wikipedia (Creative Commons Image)

Atrial Septal Defect – Image from Wikipedia (Creative Commons Image)

Let me start this post with a correction: I misheard my cardiologist last week. I thought he said I have a ventricular septal defect. He actually said I have an atrial septal defect. Today when we went over the results of my tests, he told me I have, not 1, but 2 holes between my atriums.

The human heart isn’t that big. How is it possible that I have 2 holes in one little area?

The rest of my tests were unremarkable. Nothing unusual showed up when I wore a heart monitor for 24 hours and my stress test looked good. Overall, my doctor is unsure what’s causing my symptoms – the chest pain, the fatigue, and the night sweats. He prescribed me a low-dose beta-blocker and said I can go back on ibuprofen for pain. (Yay!) My beta blocker dose is so low my pharmacy had to special order it. Since I’m so small, my doctor’s having me only take half a pill every other day for the first five days to see how I adjust to it. (He said it could make me tired.)

My cardiologist also referred me to another heart specialist to evaluate whether my heart defect is causing my problems and whether they should be surgically sealed. Apparently this guy specializes in these types of defects. I hope it doesn’t take weeks to get an appointment. If my defect should be patched, they go in through the groin, not open heart surgery. That was good to hear.

My doctor said I’m allowed to try running again. I was pretty nervous to see how my stamina is after not running for nearly 3 weeks. I was slated to do 5 miles today and I opted to do it on the treadmill where I could control my speed. I ended up doing a run/walk combo and finished in 53:58. I think that’s a good start. My chest hurt a little bit at first but settled down by mile 3.

I’m scheduled to do 14 miles on Saturday and I think I’ll do it on the treadmill again where it will be easier to manage speed, take breaks, and have snacks. For now, my plan is to keep following my marathon training program, but modify it by walking and running my miles as needed.

I Have a Defective Heart

Who has two thumbs and a heart defect?
This guy!

Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) - Creative Commons Image from Wikipedia

Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) – Creative Commons Image from Wikipedia

I feel like I’ve been living at my cardiologist’s office this week. I was in this morning for my stress test when my doctor pulled me aside to share some news about my ultrasound. (That raised a big red flag since I wasn’t expecting any results until next week when all my tests were done.) He told me that I have ventricular septal defect (VSD), better known as a hole in my heart. It’s a genetic defect where there’s a hole between the ventricals of your heart. My doctor said ~10% of the population has it, and not everyone has health problems as a result, so we don’t know if mine is causing or contributing to my chest pain at this point.

(Of course you know the moment I got out of my doctor’s office, the first thing I did was call my parents and say, “It’s all your fault.”)

Then he reminded me not to run this weekend – I can walk instead.

Once I was done talking with my doctor, I got to have my stress test – that’s the one where you run on the treadmill with electrodes attached to your chest. They gave me a half gown thing to wear over my electrodes, but I was in a sports bra and I have no modesty issues so I opted to run without it. I had 8 electrodes on my chest and a blood pressure cuff on my arm where my tech periodically took my blood pressure. We had to go up four levels to get my heart rate up high enough – the speed and incline increased with each level. At each level, the machine produced an EKG printout. When it got challenging, the real issue wasn’t the speed, it was the incline. My calves and hamstrings were burning. I’m glad it only took 14 minutes to get through this.

The worst part about doing a stress test is you can’t have caffeine for 24 hours before the test. I popped a caffeine pill the moment my test was over.

My Holter ECG

My Holter ECG

After my stress test, they stuck a Holter ECG on me for 24 hours. It’s a heart monitor with 5 electrodes that connect to a recorder box that clips to my hip. When I saw the box, my first thought was “1990 called. They want their pager back.” With all these cords hanging off me, I feel like I’m wearing 5 iPods. For the duration of this test I’m not allowed to shower or sweat and they gave me a log to record any pain, dizziness, or other symptoms. I ‘m afraid one of the electrodes will come loose so I keep pushing on them. I probably look like I’m molesting myself. We’ll see how easy it is to sleep with this on my body.

I’ll see my doctor next Thursday to get the results of all my tests and hopefully he’ll have a proposed plan of action to deal with my pain. Until then, I’ll still train for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, but I’ll be walking my miles.

New Mystery: Why Does My Chest Hurt?

My new drug of "choice."

My new drug of “choice.”

As many of you know, I’m training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Arizona in January. Unfortunately, I haven’t run a step since November 29th. I feel fine when I run but I started having chest pains after my long runs. After the second time it happened, I felt like a giant lumberjack stomped on my chest while wearing his work boots and then kicked me in the ribs. The night sweats are a bitch too. I woke up soaking wet halfway through the night last night.

I saw my general practitioner who referred me to a cardiologist. They couldn’t get me in for a week so I had to walk last week’s miles. Do you know how boring it is to walk 8 miles?

My friend Bill warned me that I would look very out of place at the cardiologist’s office – and he was right. The only person who looked close to my age was a woman who was there with her father. All of the patients were at least 25 years older than me.

My doctor seems like he knows what he’s doing. He asked a ton of questions, took lots of notes, and listened all over my torso. To my dismay and frustration, he didn’t have any answers for me yet, and if his has any hypotheses regarding what’s wrong with me, he didn’t share them. He created a solid-sounding plan of action to figure out what’s going on:

  • Ultrasound of my neck and heart
  • Stress test (that’s the one where you’re on the treadmill)
  • Heart monitor for 24 hours
  • Prescription for Prilosec in case there’s an acid reflux issue
  • He told me to switch from ibuprofen to acetaminophen (Tylenol)

I think taking me off ibuprofen is evil. Every woman I know (except those with stomach issues) swears by it. It’s the cure-all for everything – headaches, cramps, sore muscles, etc. I was not happy to hear that instruction. When I filled my prescription, I bought the biggest bottle of acetaminophen in the store. Between the headaches I’ve been having and the pain I get in my legs from working out, I’m going to need it.

My doctor echoed my general practitioner’s instructions that I can walk but I shouldn’t run until we figure this out. All of my testing is this week, but I won’t have my follow up appointment to get the results until next week. So I will be walking for the next 10 days – including the 18 miles I’m scheduled to do this weekend. 18 miles of walking?! This is going to suck.

Since I deal with the world and my life through blogging and social media, I’ll be documenting this whole process.