Before Mr. Big died of a heart attack while riding a Pelaton (a fictional situation for a very popular women’s television show, shocking viewers all over, and the reaction shocking Pelaton), there was another exercise machine that could have been a killer in real life for me. Yes, it was one of the two pictured above. I have used both in the past, and now, only one of those machines unless I am ordered to use the other.
Like many, the new year annually brought me to want to make a resolution to get/stay in shape. Crazy thing called life constantly interrupted that resolution, and it would be forgotten. In 2008, I made a promise to myself that “this is the year I am going to stick to it.” I had even bought a full year membership at the local gym. Surely I would not waste the money letting my membership sit idle.
And soon after the new year, I began my annual quest, the same as every year before it, gradually working my way up in repetitions, sets, and time. I really gave no thought to how I felt physically as I began each workout. But by the beginning of April, that’s right, I was now a full month longer than my exercise plan had lasted in previous years, I began to notice something nagging my body, a reminder that the last time something occurred during my workouts, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But this time, felt different, and it actually hurt.
I preferred the eliptical machine as it felt more of a workout than just going at it on a treadmill. I seemed to burn a lot more calories, and my endurance seemed to hold up pretty well. There was only one problem. As I grabbed the sensor paddles on the handles, and began to “step”, my heart rate registered on the screen. 80. 110. 135. 150. In less than 45 seconds, my heart rate had peaked at 152. I was out of breath, and had an extreme tightness in the left side of my chest. But as it was just tightness, and not pain, unimaginable pain (according to my later father who actually suffered an extreme heart attack), I was not panicking. I was just annoyed.
I slowed my pace down for a few seconds, my heartrate began to come down, and that tightness dissipated. And so I picked my pace back up, since I was comfortable again. Again, my heartrate also climbed back up above 150, where it remained for the remainder of my hour long routine. After that, it was over to the weights side of the gym for the strengthening.
Within two weeks, I would make a call to my family doctor, complaining about this daily situation with the chest tightness coming and going. Within 36 hours of that call, I was on a table having emergency bypass surgery. You can read the whole behind the scenes of that process, from beginning to end, on the page titled “CaBbaGE – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable.” But for this post, all you need to know is this. I had a 90% blockage of the main artery going to my heart. It had nothing to do with my age, or my diet (though many would like to say that did not help the situation). The treatments for my Hodgkin’s had progressively destroyed my body over the years, undetected, until I made that phone call. According to my cardiologist, and I quote, “it was not a question if you would die, but when.”
So, spoiler alert, I survived the surgery. The hardest part about the recovery, was that I expected my physical conditioning prior to the surgery, to have been a benefit in my recovery. Instead, in just a week since the surgery, no, less than two days in the hospital after the surgery, lying in the intensive care unit, I had lost all of my conditioning. But as time went on, and I would get cleared to begin cardiac therapy, and eventually physical therapy, I wanted to focus on getting back into shape.
Yep, that meant I went back to my annual resolutions, with the usual results. But now the interruptions were not just because of failure of commitment, but additional health issues that kept breaking up my routine. Plus, I really was not feeling well even as the years went on. There was still more damage to my heart that needed to be repaired.
My third and final heart surgery (final meaning for the time being as all the surgeries are likely going to need to be done again), an aortic valve replacement, occurred a little over a year ago. This surgery was completely different, as it was not invasive or as destructive as my original bypass surgery. The whole process of this surgery allowed for a quicker recovery as well. Of course, I went through cardiac rehab again, and as soon as I was cleared, I went back to strengthening.
If there was one thing that I credit to my survival of that original bypass surgery, was my conditioning at the time. I would not discover until years later, the risks, and the protocols that came with the surgery on a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor. But I believe my body was able to handle the trauma of that surgery, giving me the chance to recover, and regain my fitness. And following this last surgery, having not lost any of my strength or stamina, I was ready to move forward. I know I needed to be smart about this. My heart has been operated on three times, and each time, becomes more of a risk.
January of 2021 was the perfect time for me to be cleared to exercise. No one can ever make an accusation of me ever becoming a bodybuilding champion, but I really wanted to be in a good condition. I know that there will come a time, when I need to have any or all of these surgeries again. If I am to have any chance of survival this time around, my body needs to be in the best condition I have ever had it in.
But unlike the other years, years in which my exercise regimens were driven under the guise of a “resolution,” I made this a lifestyle commitment. There has been only one obstacle to this commitment, Covid. Because we are at a point in this pandemic, people have their own ways of living with the pandemic, some with concern for others, some without, I knew that there were times that someone infected with Covid, chose to ignore the safety of others, using the gym. So, on multiple occasions I had to make the choice, to avoid the gym for a couple of weeks, assuming that these individuals were also of the mindset to not wipe down the equipment either. As I begin my second January of this continued routine, I do feel that my body is in a decent enough condition, should I face another major health challenge.
I would say that I have done all that I can. But those around me would argue that I should do the same with my diet, make that more healthy, which I have not been able to reconcile as being a benefit enough to make the commitment. Basically to do it now, would be nothing more than making a resolution. And I do not have decent track record with resolutions.
And while during cardiac rehab did “force” me to get back on the eliptical machine, the panic attacks, I was able to keep under control. But on my own, I do not have the intestinal fortitude to use that machine again, unsupervised. I won’t let that be my “Pelaton.”