Fragile

Fragile

I’m a statistic.

I’m male. I’m white. I’m left handed. I’m a cyclist. I’m a writer. I could go on. I’m a former musician who for reasons clear to no one, not even me, chose to leave music and pursue the life of a writer focused on writing about bicycles. I deliberately chose to pigeon-hole myself by writing about a single subject.

As a male, I’m part of slightly less than 50 percent of the world’s population. As a white person, I’m part of roughly 30 percent of the world’s population. As a left-hander, I’m part of roughly 10 percent of the population. But as a former musician who earned an MFA in English and chose to spend his life writing about bikes? Hon, that’s not even 1 percent. That’s unique. I’m the only one, and when I’m gone, the world won’t bat an eye. I’m not something the world actually lacked before I arrived. So my absence won’t create a vacuum to anyone save those who want me around.

So why think about this now? I got some news. News I didn’t expect.

For roughly 10 years, maybe a bit more, I’ve had what I suspect to be an arrhythmia of my heart. Some years ago my doctor taped a bunch of leads to me that fed into an eighth-inch jack that plugged into a cassette recorder, which I wore for a day. Effectively, I walked around with a shoe box under my arm. I didn’t sleep much that night, what with a box in my arm pit. It failed to find anything, though its low-tech approach wasn’t really the problem. Back then, my heart didn’t act up much, maybe once every couple of months. Fast forward 10 years and now it acts up once every week or two. A couple of weeks ago it did it twice in a week and I decided that it was time to have another go, to have a doctor check it out.

I went into the cardiac unit and was given an EKG for a whole minute. Sixty full seconds. The procedure seemed a joke, like walking through an empty 7-Eleven at 2:00 am hoping to catch a shoplifter. They weren’t going to find anything with such a tiny window of observation.

Except for the fact that they did.

Floored. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked. Shocked. None of those words get at the nature of my reaction, the totality of my surprise.

When I met with my new doctor—before she or I knew this—I tried to describe to her just what I was experiencing. I wasn’t short of breath, but I honestly am not sure what that means. I’ve had no chest pain. I have events where it feels like there’s a butterfly in my chest—a flutter that isn’t normal. The rhythm is off and the pace picks up a bit, but then the pace and rhythm return to normal. It lasts mere seconds. During that time it can feel like my lungs are full of carbon dioxide and I need to exhale, even if I just exhaled. Making matters more inscrutable is the fact that my resting pulse is usually in the 40s, sometimes even lower. My blood pressure can run 90 over 60. I get what I call brownouts. Standing up is an occupational hazard. The particulars of my cardiovascular system make me a 1 percenter of a different sort.

An endurance athlete with a heart issue. Like I said, I’m a statistic.

Odds are I have some sort of arrhythmia. And there’s a fair chance that my doctors will want to correct this with wire, electricity and a fancy metronome. The drummer in me chuckles. No one else is laughing.

A couple of years ago I crashed, a crash that was bad enough the first responders, my ER doc and my plastic surgeon all proclaimed my survival to be a miracle. The thing is, I didn’t feel my mortality. It was, as some financial instruments, back-loaded. When you learn how close you came after the fact, you squirm a bit and then move on. But when you stare a risk to your continued good health in the face, the discomfort can be like stuffing your pants with razor blades and then dancing the tango.

I’ve got two young kids. I’ve got a wife. I’m on a big planet of which I’ve yet to seen enough. I’ve got goals as a writer that are as unfulfilled as a rocket that failed to reach orbit. No matter what news is around the corner, this is a jolt of adrenalin that has focused my attention. Yes, universe, I’m listening.

But I’ve got a message as well. This is bullshit. I’m not slowing down. I’m not surrendering. I’ll do what I need to take care of my time keeper, but I’m not leaving, not before my parents and not before my kids can do algebra, before they know what it means to pay rent.

RKP was borne of a recognition that to be a cyclist is to live a rich interior life, to draw on a substance that is fleeting and can only be found through an exertion that demands more than muscle. It’s a recognition that this sport has a spiritual side and takes us places, reveals deep truths and grants transcendence in circumstances that both surprise and confound. This sport has taught me more about life, about our shared responsibility to each other, the moral contract, and the richness that this life imparts than any school or religion ever did. My path was not absolute, but it’s the one that worked for me. And somehow, the singularity of that journey has resonated with others. While the lessons have been as varied as they are surprising, the one thing I know for sure is that they aren’t finished coming.

About that, I need to write.

, , , ,

52 comments

    1. Frederick B.

      The article David attached is encouraging…

      We’ve never met and I’ve only followed your FB posts and RKP for about a year (I took up the run/bike/swim stuff only a couple years ago) but, au contraire, the Universe would shudder without you. I think you will be just fine. BTW, I am pushing 62 in a few months, a BA (only) in English and a 35+ year career writing technical and marketing materials in the air conditioning industry — it paid the bills and raised a family, but that’s a writer nobody will miss — plus my occasional freelance articles on aviation, American civil war and steam boating. For me your writing relative to cycling and life is what Richard Bach was/is to flying and life. And I consider you the Shelby Foote of cycling. Anyway, take it easy — I think you’re handling this very well by being cautious, informed and positive. There are many miles ahead for you! Oh — and keep writing!


    2. Author
      Padraig

      David: Thanks for that. That runs a bit counter to other things I’ve read. Definitely encouraging.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Great point. Not unlike the way I previously noted that if the Deuce had been born when I was he wouldn’t have made his first birthday. Thanks.

  1. miles archer

    I hear you buddy.

    I found out about 10 years ago that I have a big blood clot in one of my veins. After a week in the hospital they decided that it was stable and there was little risk of immediate problems. They put me on anti-clotting drugs for life and told me otherwise there were no restrictions on what I could do.

    I gave up mountain biking but kept riding on the road. Logic is that minor mt bike crashes happen all the time. One could be very bad news for me. Road crashes happen more rarely but are more serious. Any crash at all might be a big problem for me.

    Get the ticker, if that’s what you need but stay on the bike.

  2. Andrew

    A personal hero dropped dead a few years ago on the second day of a celebratory bike tour, allegedly of an undiagnosed heart problem. I still miss him. Get well, Padraig. We’re not done with you yet.

  3. Craig Peer

    I used to think I was indestructible, until a rockfall broke my leg 1700′ up the South Tower of Paine in Southern Chile. You’ll get through this. I love your writing, and it has inspired me and is part of my re-birth as a cyclist in the last 2 years. Do what your doctor recommends, and keep doing what you love. And keep writing ! I’m sending positive thoughts your way.

  4. Fuzz

    If it’s Afib, you will likely want to think about ablation. One of our group has done this, and he’s someone whose case sounds very similar to yours – starting off as a annoyance, and finally becoming too much of a problem to ignore. It took a few tries, but in the end it finally worked, and he’s back to cycling as often and as far as he wants.

  5. Emil

    I am glad that you’re addressing this, it is sometimes very easy for us (athletes) to just ignore symptoms. Much has been learned in the last decade about the conduction system of the heart and how to right its wrongs. I feel for you, I frequently see terrible things in life and spend useless time worrying about them. After all that you have been through, hopefully this will amount to a small pile of beans.

  6. Michael

    Plenty of good counsel in the comments Patrick, take it easy and enjoy the family while you get this sorted. I know from experience how much this can play with your head. In 2011 while shooting the USA Pro Challenge I felt terrible after the TT, thought it might be the altitude and visited an ER to be sure. Three or four hours of tests and monitoring ruled out the altitude issue, the ER doctor speculated angina and released me with instructions to have it checked out thoroughly back in CA… but two days later feeling terrible again I packed the cameras and drove to another hospital that had a terrific cardiac unit. They ran the gamut of tests including catheterization. Didn’t find anything, no blockages and no arrhythmia.

    Though it hasn’t happened again the lack of any definitive answer was very unsettling so it’s good that you’ve got something to explain what you were feeling. So many different systems converge in our trunk that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate sensations… was that my heart, was that pain bulging thoracic discs, does my motor idle high because my parasympathetic nervous system can’t cope with all the Adrenalin and Cortesol?

    One thing to watch for is dehydration. All that electro-chemistry needs H2O and dehydration can exacerbate many problems. Looking forward to the eventual post where you explain how this was resolved. In the meantime, don’t let Nic Sims talk you into riding up any 11,000 mountain passes no matter how good the bikes look.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks Michael. I’m on this for sure. As to Nic (for those playing the home version, he’s the head of road bike marketing at Scott Sports), he seems to be able to talk me into all sorts of stuff. That might be harder to address.

  7. Hans M. Ruppenthal

    That last paragraph!!! Aren’t we all richer in mind and body from cycling? Get well and take care.

  8. naisan

    With reference to to quoted article on the 33 athletes above, 33 people barely has any statistical significance, and while it is cool information, that type of analysis will not help predict risk.

    I believe the literature that says you can push too hard, for too long. Anything we overuse wears out.

    Which means cycling after racing should be about fun, and even fast, but not about fastest.

    And Padraig, another vote for ablation, and another vote for you and your words.

    This blog will have lasting import, and I can’t wait to read your future posts.

  9. Miguel Crawford

    Dr. Todd Weitzenberg at Keiser in Santa Rosa, a brother in cycling has the same condition. You should look him up!

  10. ScottyCycles

    Padraig,
    I’ve been a follower since the beginning and enjoy your writing. Listen to the docs but also listen to your “heart”. Keep writing, riding and husbanding and fathering. Wish you all the best as you figure out what needs to be done.
    Be well.

    “Old age should burn and rave at close of day”

  11. Tom Petrie

    You are indeed something the world actually lacked before you arrived. And your absence create a vacuum felt across the sport. If you don’t know this, I’m here to tell you it’s so. I sincerely hope this turns out to be one of those very scary stories that turn sweet…another Deuce tale.

  12. Pat O'Brien

    Damn, that was some fine writing! Every word mattered.

    I ride with some folks who have overcome a variety of health issues, mostly joint problems and cancer scares, but also two with histories of cardiac problems. Those two guys in particular have embraced touring for some reason. Guess they got tired of looking at the front wheel. At the risk of being flamed, remember “unity is strength, knowledge is power, and attitude is everything.” I have had friends who got a lot of help and comfort from that organization.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thank you very much.

      And in other news, there will be no flaming ’round these parts. We don’t tolerate that BS.

  13. Lyford

    Maintaining the correct sodium/potassium balance is important for proper cardiac function. Make sure that you’re replacing those in the proper proprtions when you’re working hard.

    Good luck.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Had a blood draw the other day to check my electrolyte levels, as well as thyroid. I can’t imagine my electrolyte levels are off. If they are, Allen Lim is getting one helluva text message from me. Same goes for Yuri Hauswald at GU. I use those drinks daily.

  14. Hackintheback

    Well I’ll be damned. The symptoms you describe are exactly the same as mine. Had them since high school and was told not to worry. Now that I’m pushing 40 I’m thinking a re-check is in order. Thanks for sharing – you’ve spurred me to action.

  15. Dan C

    After more than a decade of arrhythmia I thought technology had caught up with the concept and underwent an ablation. Best decision for me. Hope you have as much luck!

  16. Keith Peters

    If you can swing it, Padraig, I’d recommend a trip to the sports cardiology clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I’ve been bothered by atrial flutter and afib over the last 10 years, and have struggled to find MDs who understand the athlete’s physiology and psychology–until I went to the Mayo Clinic. There’s so much (too much?) info out there to read and digest, from Velo News’ coverage of heart issues to Dr. Creswell’s Athlete’s Heart blog to Dr. John Madrola’s website to … and so many different arrhythmias that it’s hard to know what to do. I wanted/needed a team (exercise physiologist, cardiologist and electrophysiologist) to help me develop a personalized strategy to work through the issues and choices in hopes of a full return to satisfying cycling, which led me to the Mayo Clinic. My issues aren’t resolved, yet, but I do believe in the strategy.

    Best wishes as you sort out your options for diagnosis and treatment.

  17. John Kopp

    My mother had a slow heart beat (40 pulse rate) so got a pacemaker at age 77. She lived a normal life for the next 20 years. The only problem was that she needed the battery repositioned because she was more active than the doctors expected. The battery worked its way out of the skin. She maintained a garden of over 2000 sq ft and raised several dozen chickens. Your heart condition sound similar to hers. You should do fine once they get it sorted out. There are a lot of medical options these days, and I expect you will back on your bike in no time. Good luck!

  18. Les.B.

    This reminds me of my cousin who ran a gas station, and he became allergic to gasoline. He went into another business, but I know that is not an option you look at.

    You have compelling purpose to live, and that will help you emotionally and physically to progress through this.

    If during the course of your treatment you are under orders to not exert, you could review e-bikes, if you’re so inclined. And leave your cycling buddies in the dust.

  19. Aar

    Thanks for sharing. I know this was not easy to write. As always, your words are revealing and inspirational. Best wishes as you go through treatment and return to a new normal. We will all be thinking of you.

  20. Alan Geiger

    A number of cycling friends have had ablation, and are still going strong, and another who has had a pacemaker (I spent a fun night with him in recovery) for over ten years is going even stronger. Every case is different, but many have come through it in great shape, and given your fitness level, most likely you will do the same. Best wishes.

  21. Shawn

    I had similar symptoms that showed up on the Holter monitor. I was fortunate that they went away when I acted on the doc’s suggestion to quit caffiene. Those ectopic beats still drop when the adrenaline pumps, like when I binge-watched the first three seasons of The Americans last month, but mine is benign, as I hope yours turns out.

  22. Esteban Chavez

    There are so many people that can relate to your story. I know I can. Cycling has been a major player in my head and heart since my early teens, but unfortunately due to life circumstances I have had to turn the volume down on cycling a couple of times in my life. The first was time was post major accident in my twenties. I had tickets to race in Europe, but hung up my racing wheels after the accident and smartly, and luckily, opted to finish college. This opened the door to surfing and music. The second time I had to lower the volume, was shortly after we had the pleasure meeting and riding together as a part of the wonderful South Bay cycling community. My newborn son was born with medical issues that required a 7 year commitment of treatments and diligence, and my wife was diagnosed with cancer, twice. We were also blessed with the birth of my second son. We are overcoming it all as a family, but for the past 5 years, riding my bike has not been a priority…. which is a strange kind of torture as I work in the cycling industry. My passion for playing music has filled in the limited space inbetween, and passions momentum is strong. Thankfully, today’s situation is allowing me to find a little more time on my bike. All of the challenges sweeten and saturate my limited wheel time these days and I am grateful for all of it. Don’t be wary of the other doors a slight change or adjustment may bring. I am sure the inspiration you find in those new found spaces will eloquently circle around in a cycling themed gift to us all.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Great to hear from you E. Thanks for the kind words. One of these days I’m going to get to hear the Freeks.

  23. SBC

    Lots of good stuff shared above, so no need to share mine. My wish for you is that you feel held by us and those that matter to you. Cheers.

  24. ken zukin

    I too greatly enjoy your writing and this website. I’m a 65 yr. old active cyclist who started to have some A-Fib symptoms a couple of years ago. I’d noticed my heart rate was spiking up around 200. Since I didn’t feel any different on the bike, I assumed my heart rate monitor was defective. One of my cycling buddies, a cardiologist, ran me thru a stress test and determined some A-Fib. He also recommended no caffeine or alcohol. The caffeine was most definitely a trigger; I’ve gone from 4-5 espresso shots a day to zero. Don’t really miss it that much. My situation turned out to be mostly thyroid related — which is something of a moving target. Once I got my thyroid levels dialed in the A-Fib went away (thank goodness). But I’ve stayed off the caffeine. Since no one here has mentioned it, I am.
    Hope you can put this behind you…


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Thanks for writing. One of the first things my doctor did is order blood work to check my electrolyte and thyroid levels. I expect I’ll know more soon.

  25. Don Jagoe

    Great article. Sobering topic. As you have no doubt seen already, everyone is a medical expert these days (via Facebook if nothing else). Conventional Medicine is suspect, even with an electrical/physical problem, but you seem to have great insights and connections with fellow travelers and doctors who cycle. We all wish you a great outcome and decades more of this superb writing. Cheers, Don

  26. Rod

    Wow, lots of replies.

    My dad had a bad case of afib that started around his 47th year. His case was deemed to be a congenital defect, an extrasystole – too many nerve endings sending false signals. He was ablated twice unsuccessfully, and finally went to the Cleveland Clinic to be treated successfully. He exercised (not bikes, he likes racquet sports) 2-3 hours daily for 8+ years before he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. But that’s another story.

    It was scary and frustrating since the diagnosis was so erratic. He still has to take care of it – mostly non caffeinated drinks, for example. But still goes to work and is a happy person. So I think this is a manageable condition. Best wishes for you, Padraig.

  27. Phil Posner

    I read and enjoy your posts along with your other correspondents. You are noticed and important to our community. So … At the risk of offering unsolicited advice … Take care of your heart and your head. There is never any true certainty … just likelihood. The need for certainty and the belief in absolutes is something you may decide to let go of. The meaning and metrics of ‘win’ may change – depends on your perspective – eh? The Garmin may tell you that you climbed Mt Torture 15% slower – but what has that to do with your experience of that moment? Be well and healthy and do good work.

  28. Don Mackey

    Padraig,
    Best of luck to you as you work through a resolution that works for you mentally and physically. Btw, I am really enjoying the Paceline podcast you guys are doing a great job and I look forward to the weekly episode posting on Thursday.
    Be well
    Don

  29. Waldo

    As many have said, you matter to a wide community beyond your immediate family. Let’s not put the cart before the hearse, however, and we instruct you to enjoy the life to the fullest to the extent common sense and modern medicine allow.

    All the best to you.

  30. Bill Shultz

    Padraig, Sorry to hear about your arrhythmia issue. I’ve fought with heart rythym issues for the last three years, and it can be very frustrating. The only words of advice I can offer are “be patient, learn all you can about your specific type of arrhythmia, and find the best electrophysiologist with an understanding of the cycling athletes physical and mental expectations of normal.” My cardiologist oversimplified my issues and said a local electrophysiologist could routinely solve my problem with RF ablation. Yes, he was able to fix the primary problem, but I’ve struggled with new problems and have never gotten back to my “normal”. Be cautious and be informed. Hang in there! Bill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *