June 19, 2018
We’ve all heard stories of the runner who ate well, exercised and ran marathons. Then suddenly he or she drops dead at a young age. I could have been that guy. Obviously and fortunately I ain’t. Never Quit.
On June 19, 2018 I went under the knife. A fantastic surgeon and team cracked me open, stopped my heart, repaired an aneurysm on my upper aorta and replaced my valve.
As a warning if you read on there are some rather graphic pictures.
Running is a Life Saver
The surgery went well. Due to running my body was in pretty good shape for a 61 year old guy. They tested my heart for blockages before the surgery and it came up clean. No narrowing arteries, blockages or partial blockages and a strong circulatory system. Thanks to the running, biking and SCUBA diving my respiratory system was pretty healthy as well. I’m not a diet nut but I do try to watch what and how much I eat. My body came through the surgery with flying colors.
Another extremely significant factor is that there were tons of people praying for me. The prayers were so strong I could literally feel them. It was pretty amazing.
Recovery is Training
The doctors, the nurses, the aides everyone connected with the surgery said the best thing to do after surgery was to walk as soon as possible and as often as possible. You know as well as I do how to train. That was an invitation to train.
Below is a picture of me in the ICU. Looks pretty bad. Trust me, it wasn’t a picnic but things had gone well. As soon as I woke up I started to ask Adam, my nurse, when I could go for a walk. About 24 hours after I woke up I did 4 laps around the nurse’s station in the ICU before being released to the recovery wing.
As soon as I was settled in the recovery wing I asked the aide when I could go for a walk. She took me for a short walk about 1/2 hour later. I went for a walk every 2 hours. I’d walk, wear myself out and crash for 2 hours. When I woke up I’d go for another walk, then crash. Over and Over until I got out.
Aides took me for the first 3 walks then they let me start walking on my own. Marathon training was coming in very handy. Surgery was Tuesday. I went home 5 days later on Sunday.
During one of those first walks the Aide commented, “I wish more people were like you. I have a guy who’s younger than you and his surgery wasn’t as bad. He’s been in bed for three days and won’t get up. He needs to get up and walk.” I’d never wish this situation or a similar one on anyone but if it happens to you – do what the docs, nurses and aides recommend. You will recover much quicker.
Don’t Tell Me That
One of the things the surgeon said during the initial consult and something that was repeated on a number of occasions was open heart surgery is extremely traumatic and hits your body hard. Recovery is slow. It could be 9 or 12 months, maybe more before things START to get back to what they had been.
I wasn’t having it. Within 2 weeks of being released I was walking 5 miles at a crack. We went on vacation in Cape May during July. My story for curious onlookers was that a guy stuck me with an ax and shot me 3 times with a small caliber pistol. That sounds better than open heart surgery.
We’re all familiar with “the wall”. The point during a marathon when you hit the wall. It’s usually around mile 20. Things are going good. You feel like you’ve got this! Then smack – your body revolts.
I was walking 5 miles. I was starting to run a mile or two. Things were going good. Long about October 2018 I registered for a marathon in May 2019. The surgery was in June. Running a marathon in less than a year – seemed like a pretty good goal!
Training begins or not so much. Docs told me 9 to 12 months maybe more before STARTing to get back to normal. Four months after surgery I’m signed up for 26.2 and mapping out a training plan.
We all know the importance of the mental game. When the body doesn’t want to go any further you exert your force of will and make your body do it.
My body wasn’t having it! Maybe I wasn’t having it “mentally” but in this case there simply wasn’t any gas in the tank. I got up at 4:00 in the morning and went for a run. By 2:00 I was exhausted and couldn’t think straight. I’ve got a fairly responsible job. Checking out at 2 in the afternoon because I went for a run in the morning doesn’t cut it.
I simply couldn’t stick to a training plan. It wasn’t mental discipline. Truth be told. My body had not had enough recovery time.
It took a while for me to figure that out. I kept trying. I adjusted when I ran. How hard I ran. How far I ran. Nothing worked.
Up for a run at 4:00 a.m. one cold, windy morning in early January reality struct. After about a dozen strides on the trail my heart felt like it was going to explode. It was hammering. Runaway piston like hammering. My breath was gone and I almost passed out on the spot. I bent over, put may hands on my knees and just stopped. It was 4:00 a.m. it was dark, it was freezing cold and there was no one around. If I would have passed out I would have been laying in the snow for hours until someone found me.
Here’s the totally out of touch crazy factor. After regaining my wits and my breath, I still ran a mile. When I say ran what I’m saying is forward movement with a running gait. These are 12 to 15 minute miles.
I write my runner blogs after a run. The runs are the inspiration and I couldn’t run. If you’re familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a 7. Seven’s are enthusiasts. We live for fun. We don’t get depressed because we don’t do negative emotions. If we sense a negative emotion we go do something that makes us happy. My go to happy place is running but I couldn’t run.
I got depressed. Well, as depressed as a 7 can get. No one knew it but me. I’m not even sure I knew it. But I was. Another characteristic of a 7 is if something isn’t working you just quit and go do something else. For a harebrained heartbeat I entertained the idea that my running days were over figuring I can still bike, do yoga like routines and SCUBA dive.
Fortunately, I love to run so much I can’t imagine not running. On top of that I honestly believe that it’s the reason my surgery went so well.
My Friend SARA
I met SARA during an employee development training in my early 20s and she’s been a close friend ever since. SARA is a grief processing formula and stands for Shock, Anger, Rejection, Acceptance. When something goes sideways for me I’m pretty quick to recognize it, especially when I get mad and it’s not long until I get to acceptance and move on.
Don’t Have to Like Reality
The reality is, as I write this, open heart surgery was less than 9 months ago. It was traumatic and it hit me harder than I was willing to recognize.
I may not like it but I’ve got to work with the hand I’ve been dealt. I can run on weekends and as of today and I can cross the seven mile mark, although it is very slow and much walking is involved.
It’s a tough road back. The 7 in me says, “Miller, you might as well make the best of it. Other runners have dealt with much worse. Just give it time. Enjoy the journey. Time is your friend.” That’s precisely what I’m doing.
Final Thoughts with You in Mind
Get annual check ups. The reason I knew about the heart problem was because 30 years ago my General Practitioner heard a heart murmur and sent me to a cardiologist. He said I’d need a valve job someday and I’ve been getting an ultrasound of my heart every year for that last 5 years. If I didn’t get annual checkup there is a good chance you would not be reading this. I’d be running the everlasting road in the sky.
Just keep running. It is so very, very, very good for you. It prepares you for any unpleasant physical challenges the future may hold.
When life gets you down. Go for a run. If you can’t run (case in point). Walk and start running when you can.
Never Quit. Just keep running! Running is great for you and runners are great people.