Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Giving It All Away
It's strange how you fall into things. Patterns of behaviour. Habits. Routines.
How you convince yourself that certain possessions are important. A house. A car. A pair of trail shoes. A ball of string.
It just happens. Life goes on, shaking along in the groove you've created for it, laden down with the baggage that might make things more comfortable, but, ultimately, in the long run, can only slow you down.
Then something happens that makes you stand back, reassess, contemplate a different path. What if I make a small pile of the things that are important - just a handful of people, places and possessions? What if I scoop everything else up into a huge stack - stuff that has become part of the way I live my life but aren't necessary and generally give me more hassle than enjoyment? And what if I take all of this and just give it all away?
Doctor W. calls me from the doorway of his office. I shut the book I'm reading, grab my sack and hop out of the chair. He gives me a warm handshake. I like Doctor W.
He goes behind his desk and I sit in the chair on the other side. He flicks through my notes and asks the questions he always asks.
'How are you?'
'Have you had any episodes of light-headedness, dizziness, blackouts, chest pain or breathlessness since I last saw you?'
I give the same replies I always give.
'No, none of them.'
He shows me the printouts from my most recent ECG and Holter monitor data. Points out the abnormalities. The missed beats. The slow pace.
I've seen it all before.
Then he takes off his glasses. Puts them on top of the pile of notes and looks at me.
'Chris,' he says, 'You really are an enigma.'
I laugh, uneasy.
'The last monitor shows a number of things,' he continues. 'Your heart rate is very slow. There's times during the night when it is consistently lower than 30 beats a minute. There's also times during the day when it stays at lower than 40 beats a minute for long periods. There's times throughout the day when the space between beats can be over 3 1/2 seconds. Your heart stops, then it picks up again.'
I nod, taking it all in.
'The various scans you've had show no evidence of structural damage to the heart. There's no hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, although your heart, particularly the left ventricle, is definitely enlarged. That, however, is to be expected in an endurance athlete.'
He's told me all this before. I wonder where he's going.
'If you were experiencing blackouts or dizziness, there would be no doubt about my course of action. But you're not. However, looking at your charts, it certainly appears that the electrical system in your heart is weary. I think it would benefit from some help.'
Right. I know what's coming next. Had expected it to happen sometime in the future, but not just yet. I'm only 45.
Doctor W. picks up his glasses and fiddles with them. 'The question,' he sighs, 'is what to do with you? What would be best for you?'
Ok, I think. Just tell me.
'I'm going to suggest that you be fitted with an artificial pacing device. It's not a major operation. I'll make an incision under your collar bone. I'll feed 2 wires, one to either side of your heart and connect it to the device, which is about as big as a 50p piece. It'll be done under local anaesthetic, and you'll be required to stay in hospital overnight. What do you think?'
A pace-maker at 45. Fuck me! Throw me in the knacker's yard! That's what I think.
We talk for a good while about the suggestion he's made, any possible alternatives, the potential risk of collapse (and death - that's what he means but doesn't say it.) We chat about the Fabrice Muamba incident, although he reassures me that the circumstances were somewhat different to mine. I tell him about the death of Micah True, the legendary White Horse, who's death was attributed to abnormalities of the heart which could have been caused by ultra-distance running. I ask him about the slew of articles that appeared in the weeks after Micah's death which proclaimed extreme endurance activities as positively harmful to your heart. He answers all my questions, calms all my concerns. I agree that a pace-maker seems the best way to go.
He says, 'Without a pacing device, you may never have any episodes of collapse. But I can't rule it out. If I didn't fit one and then something happened, I'd kick myself.
I'd kick myself. It seems an odd phrase to use in such circumstances, but I get his gist. I'd kick myself. A scenario runs through my head:
Nurse: 'Doctor W. It appears one of your patients, a Mr. Christopher Rainbow, suffered a cardiac incident last night and collapsed suddenly. His wife called the ambulance, but, I'm afraid, there was nothing they could do.'
Doctor W.: 'Oh, thankyou for letting me know Nurse. I'd thought of fitting a pacing device to Mr. Rainbow's heart, but eventually decided against it. I rather wish that I had now. Excuse me while I kick myself.'
Doctor W.'s voice brings me out of my daydream. 'Have you any other questions, Chris?' he asks.
Just a couple of important ones.
'I will be able to run afterwards, won't I?'
'Of course,' he replies. 'After a while, you'll almost forget it's there.'
That's a relief. Just checking.
'And, after the operation - how long will it be before I can go for a run?'
Doctor W. smirks. 'Give it a couple of weeks. You'll know if there's any discomfort. But just take it easy for a bit.'
Not so bad then.
'I have one piece of bad news, I'm afraid,' he says then.
'I have to tell you that the device I'll be fitting won't have any performance-enhancing effects.'
'Ha!' He's a card that Doctor W. It's one of the reasons I like him.
Five minutes later, I'm leaving the hospital. The waiting list is about 4 weeks. I'd asked him to try and leave it till after the Bank Holiday weekend - 'It's a busy time at work, and I've got a long run planned.' He'd pencilled me in for the last week of August or the first of September and told me he'd see me soon.
I'm not feeling sorry for myself. It's no big deal, there's little risk and I'm relieved in a lot of ways that I'm going to have a back-up to keep my ticker ticking.
But something is nagging at me. Reminding me of the disconnect between my mind and body. In my head, I'm hard, unstoppable. But yet physically I'm done for. My heart - the engine of my body, the organ that provides my life-force - will no longer work alone. I need the help of a small battery, a nifty device and 2 wires to keep me alive. It's humbling, and a little scary.
It's been a personal theme of this year to get the balance right. The Ball of String. And now there's a more pressing reminder to sort things out. When you really grasp that each of us only has a finite amount of time, that time suddenly becomes much more valuable.
I don't need a lot to be happy, fulfilled and satisfied. But I want to fill every day with those very things. Everything else I can give away.
Time is precious. I've a lot to do.
Best start now.