About a month ago I sat down with one of my long-time outdoor pals just to shoot the breeze. While the conversation was upbeat and generally happy as usual, suddenly it took a turn much more serious in tone. Todd confessed to me that he was having heart troubles and an upcoming important surgery was being planned to correct a genetic defect. A surgery that would repair an ineffective heart valve causing him several medical and quality of life issues.
Of course, I sympathized and felt sorry for what my buddy was about to go through. After all, nothing about a person’s heart is routine or simple. Little did I realize, I would find this out first-hand even before my buddy’s scheduled surgery date.
Last Sunday I asked my wife to take me to the Emergency Room as I was experiencing non-stop heart palpitations. Oh, I had experienced them before…but didn’t think much of it as they usually went away after a short time. But that day things were different. My heart didn’t want to settle down. I have worked in pre-hospital emergency care long enough to know I likely was not having a “heart attack” per se, but yet I had this sense that something was not right in my chest, either.
We made the right choice. Upon hitting the ER I could tell quickly this was the place I needed to be. The technician who conducted a 12–lead EKG on me wasted no time getting the ball rolling toward rapid emergent care. Within moments my shirt was completely off and big pads were affixed on my chest and back in the event I needed some sort of cardioversion in the form of a controlled electrical shock to take control of my heart.
Yeah, things were serious. I was deeply concerned. My wife sitting just three feet away was concerned…hell, I could see the concern on all of the emergency worker’s faces wondering where this was going. Doctor after doctor checked me out and concluded my heart was not working properly and it needed some sort of immediate medical intervention.
In time, I was moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where I would end up spending the next two days trying to get control of my racing heart once again. My condition is known as Ventricular Tachycardia and basically it’s the bottom half of the heart not working in proper sequence with the top half. In other words, when things don’t work together as they should the heart is not an effective blood pumping organ.
I was fortunate to be in the Mayo (Clinic) Health System so I had access to some of the brightest minds in medicine. Team after team of experts consulted with me and a plan was launched to bring this health matter under manageable control. In total, I spent five days in the hospital last week realizing that when a person approaches their mid-50s they must deal with medical challenges that a 30 year old often doesn’t think much about.
I now take a series of medicines that help to control my specific heart arrhythmia. Oh, things are not perfect or as they once were. I now have limitations to what I feel I can physically do safely. These are not limitations put on me by my doctor, instead…these are limitations I put on myself not to push things beyond what I feel comfortable doing. After all, the only one who pays the price is me.
A year ago I had the opportunity to go on a remote fly-in fishing trip into the northern part of Canada, but I turned it down. Even back then I had a sense about me that I should not be that far off the grid because my body was telling me so. At that time I thought it was just feeling jittery from too much coffee…so I gave up caffeine. The symptoms were reduced…but did not totally disappear.
I suppose I was in denial. Often times the body tells a person something, but we don’t like to listen. Men, as I’ve been told repeatedly lately, are notorious for being in denial. Heck, I did not even tell my wife about any of the symptoms until the day I had her drive me to the ER. Oh yeah, as a nurse she was not pleased about that silence.
Over the coming weeks I am now faced with figuring out to what level I can carry out my future outdoor activities. I know trudging through a wet slough where the mud grabs onto your feet and wants to hold you is not probably something you will find me doing. Likewise, dragging a deer for a great distance or packing out meat would be far too taxing on my now somewhat fragile heart.
Nothing quite like dealing with an important medical issue to force you to accept reality…and your own mortality. On the other hand, the reality is just because a person might have some limitations does not mean they need to give up the activities they truly enjoy. Sometimes it take creative planning. Maybe this fall I choose an easier deer stand to reach without getting all worked up. Maybe I don’t struggle trying to do certain tasks alone when I have outdoor partners who can lend a helping hand. Hell, one of the best things about getting older and needing assistance is to invite younger, stronger blood into the experience to help you. In exchange for your wisdom they gain, you get the brawn of someone younger doing the strenuous tasks.
I guess the main point I want to emphasize in this blog post is if you live long enough on this earth crap is going to happen to you. My buddy, Todd, hasn’t even had his heart surgery yet and it was almost ironic that I had to suddenly deal with heart issues even before he does. As I’ve come to learn, one of my other life-long hunting buddies has been having terrible knee problems and needs surgery. He’s also struggling to get his blood pressure under control.
Indeed, when we get to a certain point in life we don’t necessarily quit thinking about pheasants, big deer or trophy walleye. Not at all. Yet, when many of us start venturing beyond “middle age” we must contend with other matters like medicines, surgeries and various health issues that can certainly influence how we safely enjoy the outdoors.
Sometimes it’s hard to accept you cannot still do things you once did when you were half your current age. That said, as a sportsman ages, it is very prudent to realize those limitations and then strive not to push one’s own physical limits. The outdoors can be a a physically demanding environment in which to recreate. It is also not the ideal place in which to experience some type of personal medical emergency.
In closing, don’t fret about me. Over the coming weeks I feel very confident that with some tweaking of meds I will have my medical situation well managed. This summer I plan to fish…search for morel mushrooms, and do lots of nature photography. Next fall I plan to hunt, trap and do mostly what I love to do outdoors, if God remains willing to go along with my plans.
If nothing else…sitting in the hospital for five days gives you a unique opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to a person’s life. With a renewed perspective, the outdoor is important to me and will continue that way for hopefully many more seasons to come.