Fast Recovery (Catchin’ Up – Part III)

When I was discharged from the hospital following the heart cath and stent procedure, I was given a lot of instructions and prescribed a lot of medications. I was also told, in no uncertain terms, that I was not allowed to “run” (walk) the Asheville Marathon at Biltmore. Which really sucked, because my sister and a friend were coming to visit and to run. And because I would be missing the fifth consecutive event and blowing the streak I’d started in 2013, the inaugural year.

Secretly, I hoped I’d feel good enough to go against doctors orders.

Back to the instructions and meds.

The medications:

  • Metoprolol – a beta blocker: lowers heart rate and BP. Prescribed by my doc early on, as a precautionary measure.
  • Clopidogrel (aka Plavix) – blood thinner: helps prevent clotting and ensure the stent heals over smoothly.
  • Pravastatin (Pravachol) – to lower cholesterol. (Minimal dose – I had originally been prescribed Atorvastatin (Lipitor), but the side effects were causing problems
  • Aspirin – also a blood thinner.
  • Nitroglycerin – just in case.

Along with the meds, I was advised that, among other things I:

  • could not drive for three days.
  • could not lift anything over 10 pounds for 2-3 days.
  • could not take a bath for a week.
  • could not do any strenuous exercise for 10 days.

The last one was the one that really chafed me, and which I knew for certain I probably was not going to adhere to.

I was also told I should follow a heart healthy diet plan and follow up with Asheville Cardiology soon to get in on one of the cardiac rehab programs.

Which I had every intention of doing.

But first I had to find out if the procedure had “worked”.

Recovery Day 2

I made it less than 48 hours before I put on my heart rate monitor and headed outside to try and get my heart rate up to the point where I had felt pain before. Groin recovery be damned, the “not knowing” was maddening, especially because I was having the same shoulder and wrist pain symptoms as I was before the procedure.

Well… not quite the same. These pains when I was idle were quite a bit different than the severe pain I had felt at high heart rates. This is the same problem I’ve had for over a decade… similar symptoms for very different issues.

So I went to the ballpark near my home and walked up the steep flight of stairs that goes up to the upper parking lot. Then I walked back down and walked up again.

The problem with being highly fit (other than having the occasional clogged artery) is that it’s extremely difficult to keep an elevated heart rate when walking down a flight of steps. By the time I started walking back up again, I’d have to start over, and the heart rate never got much above 100. Way too low for my “test”.

So I started to run up Vermont Ave., up the steep hill that goes to West Asehville. It didn’t take long running uphill… my heart rate quickly went up to 120, then 130, then 135.

And my groin started to hurt real bad, real fast.

Close enough. No wrist pain. That was enough evidence to calm me down… at least for a couple more days.

I also immediately started on a restricted calorie diet to lose some of the weight I had gained in the past 2-3 months – partially due to getting less exercise, but mostly because of stress. I eat when I’m nervous or scared. In addition to setting the goal of losing about 10 pounds, I also started to review the literature and do some online research about something called the Ornish Reversal Diet.

More about that a bit later…

Day 3

The groin was still quite sore the next day, but I felt like doing some walking, so on Friday afternoon I met my sister and friend Dan at the Asheville Marathon expo where they were picking up their race packets for the weekend. We did some walking around Biltmore Village to hit a couple of the breweries and get some dinner… about two miles total. By the time I got home that evening the groin area was even more sore.

Day 4

On Saturday Dan was running the Half Marathon and my sister had volunteered to work the event, but I opted to stay home and sleep in… whether I wanted to admit it or not, I still needed some recovery time after the procedure. By the afternoon, though, I was really itching to get out of the house, so I got on the bike and went for a 30 minute ride. It was a second “test” of the heart procedure, so I did some preliminary riding and got my heart rate up to a comfortable 120 or so by riding thru West Asheville and down to Carrier Park. Then I hit the climb up State Street, which had been the source of some significant pain in the weeks prior to the procedure.

No pain.

To say I was elated – and relieved – was an understatement.

However, that 30 minutes of leg activity really aggravated the groin, and I was beginning to understand why the docs told me I couldn’t even walk a marathon. I was finally ready to accept that fate.

It’s weird, I do not remember it taking this long to recover from the angioplasty I had 14 years ago. I could swear I was back to riding and swimming in just a few days. But I suppose my memory is faulty.

Day 5

Dan ran the Marathon and my sister ran the Half. I once again opted to sleep late and get lots of rest, but then did a couple more miles of walking to brunch in the early afternoon. By this time the groin was starting to feel a bit more normal, but in the end I was very relieved that I hadn’t attempted the marathon.

In the past few days I had done a lot of reading about this Ornish Diet, and the idea that one can not just prevent further arterial damage by eating a low-fat and plant-based diet, but that one can actually reverse the damage. I was still skeptical, but the science was adding up and, unlike the Atkin’s low-carb diet, there were multiple doctors and organizations all making similar findings.

I wasn’t quite ready to make that leap just yet, however.

Besides, I had more immediate concerns. Ever since being released from the hospital, I was having multiple other issues.

First of all, I was having a helluva lot of discomfort from acid reflux, heartburn and gas. Secondarily,I was experiencing a new pain, this time in my left ribs, kinda like a “stictch” from running, but not when I was exercising. It occurred to me that some or all of these were most likely side effects from all the medications I was now taking.

And finally, despite feeling much relief about the lack of pain in my wrist, I was still experiencing the discomfort in the chest… and this was really beginning to worry me.

Was this still residual stress from scariness of going thru a heart procedure? Was it an actual ulnar nerve problem? Was there still something wrong in another artery that the docs had missed? A combination of the above?

Fortunately, I had a followup doctor appointment in a couple days.

Tums had been kinda helping the reflux/heart burn, but I switched to taking Pepcid Complete a couple times a day for the next two days.

Day 6

I did a longer ride… 17 miles along the Parkway out to Highland Brewing to meet some friends. Relatively light effort, at this point I didn’t feel the need to “test” for wrist pain anymore and just wanted to get back to normal life.

One Week

The following morning I went to the doc appointment where we reviewed how things were going. My doc, a runner himself, was not the least bit surprised that I had already been exercising, and was glad to know things were going well. By this time I had noticed that the Pepcid seemed to have relieved not only the heartburn and reflux, but also diminished the other pains as well. He advised I keep taking the Pepcid twice daily and see how things went, but that he highly doubted there was anything else wrong. That gave me some much needed reassurance as well, that could only help to reduce my stress levels.

At this point I was ready to get back to a regular riding and running routine. I was also getting closer to being convinced I should try the Ornish plan.

But before I could call them, they called me.