I am, quite possibly, in the worst physical condition of my life. This is something about which I take no pride whatsoever. It’s just how it is these days. I made a commitment several months ago to walk at least thirty minutes every day. I also got a membership at the local gym so that I could walk even on rainy days. The $10/month fee was simply too good to pass on. I did take a few walks through the neighborhood and with a friend along the Guadalupe Creek trail. I also went to the gym, perhaps five or six times, at most. Each workout was followed by a long nap. I’m 64 and retired. An afternoon nap is one of the perks of retirement, right? I found myself taking naps every day, even on days I did not walk.
In recent months, I’ve also noticed that walking up a simple flight of steps, or up one of San Francisco’s many hills, left me feeling unusually winded. I would stop and take a break before continuing on my way. Just a part of getting older, right?
I also noticed another change in my body. After sitting or laying down for awhile, if I stood up too fast, I’d feel lightheaded. On a few occasions, I thought I was about to pass out, but the feeling passed quickly. Now, after laying down, I sit on the edge of the bed for a few moments before standing up. And if I’ve been sitting, I stand up and pause for a moment or two before walking. I’ve found this to be very helpful.
As a result of these experiences, it was no surprise when the doctor, having seen the results of a blood test, scheduled me for an immediate EKG, followed by an echocardiogram. While the two procedures are often thought to be the same thing, the EKG was ordered first to determine if there are any irregularities in the heart rhythm. The result of my EKG was abnormal. The echocardiogram provides a more in-depth look at how the heart functions. The results of my testing led to the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. What a coincidence! September is Atrial Fibrillation Month!
One of the greatest challenges of this condition is that there are often no recognizable symptoms. When symptoms do present themselves, they can include dizziness, fatigue, inability to exercise, and shortness of breath. Bingo!
So what is atrial fibrillation? AFib, as it is commonly called, is a condition in which the heart flutters, or beats irregularly, resulting in poor blood flow. In my case, my heart’s upper chambers (atria) beat out of coordination with the lower chambers (ventricles). If left unchecked, blood can pool in the smaller upper chambers leading to the potential for blood clots.
Is it possible to be grateful given such a diagnosis? Absolutely! I’m grateful to have excellent health insurance. I’m grateful for the outstanding medical personnel at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara. I’m grateful that my condition was diagnosed now, rather than after having a stroke. And I’m grateful that with medication (Pradaxa for four weeks) and a cardioversion procedure (electric shock, coming up in three weeks), there is a very good chance that my heart will begin to beat normally again — for awhile, at least.
Life occasionally throws us curveballs. We have the option to complain about them, pretend we don’t notice them, or take our best swing at them. Baseball was never my game, but I’ve dusted off my bat and I’ll give this my best shot.