bike photography

Issues of the Heart Part 3

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

The week before the TEE was mentally grueling. After hearing life and death information about my heart, I had to go to work and deal with the meaningless BS for four days. That’s hard to stomach. I only made it three. I took the last day off to keep from going completely mental on someone.

My wife thought I needed to tell everyone in the family about it. In my mind, things were uncertain and I should wait until the TEE was complete and I had some real information before scaring everyone, especially my mom. But as usual, Jen won that argument and I almost told my mom the whole story. Well I did, I just left out the part about a possible mass in my heart. That just sounds a little scary right?

Jen took it upon herself to make sure my mom knew the whole story. Nothing like making everyone worry like we were, right? I emailed my brother, sister and dad to tell them. I just couldn’t bring myself to call and then say, “Oh and by the way, I am having some major health issues…” So I sent an email that was humourous and to the point. I also had to let my boss know what was up too. She totally understood my need for that last day off too.

I was paying close attention to my body and replaying the past to try to discover if I had any symptoms I had read about. Sometimes, you may overlook symptoms as they don’t seem important. I did have symptoms, but they weren’t severe. And some of them were caused by work. Like does my chest cavity hurt every morning because I am going to work or is there something else going on there? 

We spend most of your time at work. If we hate it so much we have physical symptoms, we need to find a better way to spend our time. I am working on my plan. I hope you are too. 

When something of this magnitude happens in life,  it changes our perspective. I found that I didn’t want to put any energy into stupid. You know what I mean right? People at work or maybe in your own house stress about things that aren’t even real. What a waste of time. Thankfully, in my house we are realists and pretty laid back people. But at work it is nothing but a 24 hour stress rave about things that have no bearing in reality. I tried to just put in my time that week and not let it get to me, but I didn’t make it. It was good for me to take the last day off and relax. I needed it.

Going to the Cotton-O’Neil Heart Center in Topeka was a trip. When we got there it was comical to me to see the people going in and out of the front doors. Comical because there I was, a 39-year-old healthy youngster that rides his bike pretty far on a regular basis, and the people there were using walkers or moving pretty slow to get in and out. Everyone else I saw there was either pretty old, pretty out of shape or both. And then where was me.

The doctors took note of that too. I was not their usual patient and became the talk of the nurses station. You would have thought I was a DK200 winner or something. Well I guess compared to all the other patients, I was a Tour de France Champion. But inside I was a little worried that because they are not used to seeing someone in such amazing shape, they wouldn’t understand what they were seeing as well.

Everyone there was very nice and joked around quite a bit. That was good. I always joke around about everything. It’s how I cope.

First I saw a doctor for a consult. He showed me a little model of the heart to explain what was up. He explained the TEE procedure and had me get an EKG to make sure the electrical part of my heart was working correctly. I was all wired up from head to ankles.

EKG image

 My EKG. That’s my 2010 DK200 shirt too.

Then I had to wait about three hours until my appointment at the hospital. Keep in mind I was very hungry and I couldn’t eat. Being hungry makes me grumpy. We went to the mall to waste time and I realized why I don’t go to malls very often. Finally it was time to go to the hospital.

“Jen take my picture and I’ll try to look disgusted that I’m in the hospital”

Hospital gown

OK, so I should stay behind the camera. I’m not sure that says disgusted or sad or maybe just goofy. I could’ve done without the gown though. All I could think of was, “I wonder who wore this before me.” Gross.

iv at hospital

So I have big veins and they are easy to tap. My nurse was a big fella and pretty funny. Pretty funny until he went all the way through my vein with a sharp needle.

“Did that go all the way through?” he asked.
“I don’t know is it supposed to hurt like hell?” I thought. “That’s OK,” I said. I mean it’s not like getting mad would help. Plus I am not a “get mad” kind of guy.

couples picture

 Here’s our “look at us partying at the hospital” picture

Oh, and we found out that they make the appointment two hours before the actual procedure. Did I mention I was hungry? After three hours the doctor was finally ready to shove the sonogram thingy down my throat to get a good look at my heart. Reminds me of the Tommy Boy quote, “You can shove your head down a…” I’m sure you remember it.

They wheeled me into the TEE room that had about four people plus the doctor in there. I was getting lots of attention. Everyone was happy and funny. Seemed like they all enjoyed their jobs. They made me bite down on a thing to protect my teeth and the instrument while someone shot some drugs into the IV. I got a little light headed and the next thing I knew I was back in my room. Although I felt fine, I had to ask Jen the next day about what the doctor said after the procedure. I couldn’t remember much.

So here’s the deal.

No Mass. No cancer.

That was the best news ever. My mitral valve leaflets are thickened and one of them is elongated and prolapses or folds up on itself allowing the blood to regurgitate (go backwards). When my heart pumps blood to the body, some of it doesn’t flow out to the body, it regurgitates. Or whatever, hey I’m not a doctor. Basically I am not pumping blood at 100%. They said I pump enough volume out to be OK, but once again, they don’t see many (any) endurance athletes in there so I may be feeling the lesser volume more than someone who considers changing channels on the remote exercise. I am sure that not pumping as much blood to my legs when I am riding could explain the tiredness, cramping and why I can’t keep up with Tim Mohn and the like.

He also said I would need surgery because it is not going to get better, only worse. The good news is the success rate is in the high 90%, at least that’s what one web site said so it must be true. I am going to be all fixed up. I may be like Forest Gump when he ran out of his leg braces once this valve is fixed. At least that’s what I’m hoping. Who knows how fast I’ll be?

But wait, there is more great news. I have the best reason to be slow on the bike now. When Kevin Collings or even a certain blond-headed female real estate agent in Emporia that is married to the music man passes me, I can just blame it on a bad heart. And if I happen to beat someone, they just got beat by a guy with a bad heart. This is a win-win. I have the perfect excuse to be slow.

Am I worried to keep riding? Maybe a bit, but I am still riding. I haven’t done a really long ride in a while but I will be trying them out because I have a non-refundable ticket to California and I don’t plan on missing the Stagecoach 400. The doctors told me that I should keep exercising, in fact cycling may have saved me. Plus thinking about all this made me think that I would rather die living than live dying. You know what I mean?


blue bell ice cream

 Ice cream after the procedure to quench my hunger. No I would need much more than six ounces of ice cream.

This as put everything into perspective and has really, really motivated me to change some things in my life.

One of them is to enjoy the good things in life like Mikey’s creativity and energy. I mean how many times have you seen every hanger in the closet attached to the ceiling fan?

kids creativity

 Pure awesomeness.

How many times do I get to go on a date with my lovely daughter? Not enough I will say someday.

daughter date

 Our date at an Emporia landmark – House of Ma

father daughter date

 chinese fortune cookie

The future is unknown, as it always is. I have to enjoy every minute of it and get rid of the things that suck. That’s my great statement about life.

I will be having surgery. I am not sure when. I am having a stress test this coming Monday to check out how things are working. Hopefully I will find out more because I have a 400+ mile bikepacking race calling my name.

bike photography

I shot this last weekend and forgot to change my settings, resulting in an overexposed image. I think it’s appropriate here. I am, as you are, going to continue pedaling down the road into an unknown future.

Die living, don’t live dying.

Feed Your Monkey!