Tuesday, April 8, 2008
An ultra runner in the emergency room
I have been battling with a chest infection for the last month. I finally seemed to be winning after a week of antibiotics and even having the chance to run a 20 miler on Saturday. The run was slower than normal but it was fun to be out in God's creation running with friends. Sunday was a casual family day with church and hanging out with friends.
Then on Monday, when biking into work, I had sharp pains on the left top part of my chest. Hmmmm. Lasted for about a minute and then faded away. Deep breathing made the pain worse.
This repeated around 11 am. Thought nothing more about it. Did a casual lunch run with my running buddy Rick with no issues. Finished up my work day and prepped to head to the kid's track practice, when I was hit with the pain again. Then I made the first of my mistakes: I looked up the symptoms on-line :-)
With the symptoms and with just finishing the antibiotics for the possible chest infection, the web MDs were telling me that I might have an infection of the pericardium (the sack around the heart) called pericarditis. Not good from what I read. So trying to be responsible, I phoned Trisha and then phoned the doctor's office. Relayed my symptoms and was informed to head to emergency room...bummer.
My running buddy Dave gave me a ride to the ER, and I once again tell my little story and very quickly I am sitting down getting my vitals taken. Everything seemed to go well: normal blood pressure and heart rate...for me. And therein lies my next mistake: my normal resting heart rate set off all kinds of alarms for the triage nurse. My resting heart rate is 38-41 bpm. 10 years of distance running will help do that for you :-) This worried the triage nurse (bradycaridia) but we never talked about me being an ultra runner. The result: back into the bowels of the hospital with a nasty hospital gown on. EKG was next, then a chest x-ray and blood work. From the x-ray, the doctor could see that I have an enlarged heart. The doctor knew at this point that I have done a fair bit of running but he could not tell whether my heart was enlarged from the exercise or from an infection. So we finished off with an echocariogram: an ultrasound of my heart. This was really cool to see my heart valves in action and, using Doppler, the blood moving around the four chambers.
Test results: no pneumonia, no infection or swelling of the heart, no leaky valves, no anemia, and minimal heart enzymes in the blood (no heart attack). Nothing. Just got to take my health insurance out for a spin.
So what caused the chest pain: likely a irritation of the lining of my lungs possibly from the infection...nothing conclusive. What to do about it: nothing really. Rest for a couple of days and take some Motrin/Advil. Running is fine and running the Boston marathon poses no risk.
The short of it is that I have a very healthy, enlarged heart with a low resting heart rate. And I have learned my lesson to always state right up front that I am an ultra runner if I ever go to the emergency room again.
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