cycling with heart surgery

My First Ride Since Heart Surgery

In Blog by Eric Benjamin Comments

It had been almost three months since I had open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve. My chest was finally feeling better. It was time to see how it felt to ride my bike outside again.

I had planned to get up early in the morning to ride on Sunday. My plans don’t always pan out. I was tired and decided to sleep in. That was unfortunate because the the temperature began to rise to oven-like temperatures. We were set to have our hottest day of the year thus far in Kansas.

My family went to the community pool and I stayed home. I’m not in the mood to show off the scars and my now flabby body to the world. I won’t mind once I’m feeling strong again. In fact, I will most likely show these puppies off when I am back in shape and feeling mentally strong. But I’m just not feeling it yet.

I was supposed to do the food shopping for the week while they were at the pool, but as I sat there I thought I should get a ride in now or it wouldn’t happen. I told myself I would ride this weekend and I am a man of my word. I had a few things to do since the bike had been stuck in the trainer for the last three months or so.

I wanted to put a fat, cushier tire on the front for comfort. I also had to put the rear wheel back on (I use one for the trainer and one for riding so I don’t have to change tires all the time) and of course adjust the derailleur. The derailleur adjustment took awhile as it didn’t want to shift very smoothly. I put the Kenda Karma on the front and when I gave the wheel a spin, the brake pads were rubbing. Drats. I adjusted those quickly as the garage was feeling like an easy bake oven and I figured I didn’t need real strong front brakes, I’ll adjust them better some other time. I just needed to get them to stop rubbing.

I finally got on the bike around 1:30 or so. Just in time for some real heat. Should I take my first ride after heart surgery on a 100 degree day? Probably not, but hey I’m stubborn and I haven’t ridden for almost three months. The doctor said my heart was fine. It was the falling that I needed to stay away from as my sternum and everything else they cut apart and spread open was healing. I figured it would be OK to get the heart pumping hard again. I had been riding the trainer in the hot garage, so it’s not like I was going from the recliner straight to the bike or anything.

Everyone told me not to ride that day. I didn’t listen. I don’t think they understood just how bad I wanted to ride my bike. But you probably do. It’s part of who I am. It’s how I handle stress, get rid of depression and keep in shape. It’s how I get out there to feed my Adventure Monkey and see my world. I was going to ride.

I had a lot of questions. How would my chest feel while riding on gravel? How would my legs feel? How would my heart do under a little bit of pressure? How badly out of shape am I? Will I be able to ride like I used to? Will I feel even better since I am pumping more blood with the valve fixed? The best way to answer all that and more was to simply shut up and ride.

So I did just that.

It was hot, windy and all that I would expect from a summertime ride in Kansas. I got a couple of miles into the ride before turning onto my first gravel road. I was feeling great. My arms and upper body were quickly tired though which wasn’t too big of a surprise. I couldn’t even shut a Tupperware lid for a couple of weeks after getting home from the hospital. My upper body hadn’t seen much use in the last three months and I had to continuously change hand positions to make up for that. But I was outside on my bike. I was feeling good.

I saw a car coming down the gravel road with a bike on the roof. I looked to see who it was as we Emporia cyclists at least know each other if we aren’t already pretty good friends. As the car got a little closer I realized it was Randy Smith. I stopped to say hey and tell him excitedly that I was on my first ride since surgery.

“Take it easy,” he said. “This heat can get to you before you know it.” Randy is a great guy. He was looking out for me. I had just told him I thought I would do a little 30 miler since I was feeling so good on the bike. Even the heat felt nice to me at three miles into the ride. Randy knows well what this heat can do to a person.

I continued on. I didn’t feel strong, but I felt good. Soon I turned south to head towards the hills and low maintenance roads of the Flint Hills. I headed into a strong headwind. I was a two or three mile stretch into the wind. The heat started to make its presence known to my inner being. I pushed on. The wind howled insults and threats at me as I pushed on.

The wind is a constant partner to Kansas riders. It hardens us. It beckons us to push harder. If we are lucky, it carries us over 30 miles per hour without much effort, that is if we are lucky enough to have it as a tailwind. But the wind that toys with me and dares me to push harder was saying something else. I looked to the stop sign at the end of the long road where I would have to make a choice to turn and make the ride a 30 miler or go the other way which would lead me towards home. It seemed as if the road was growing in length as the heat radiating from the gravel and the wind howling in my ears slowly drained me of whatever energy I had when I talked to Randy. The wind was not whispering its usual challenging remarks to me. It was giving me a warning not to push too hard on this, my first ride. I heard it, or rather my body heard it loud and clear. By the time I made it to the stop sign, some sevenish miles into my ride I was feeling fatigued.

Now you may be thinking, “Duh, you just had heart surgery and it’s your first ride, not to mention it’s 100 degrees outside dummy.” And even though I knew all that, I was hoping I’d do better than this. I was pooped. The doctor did tell me that the hardest part of this for someone like me was this part. The getting back in shape after surgery part. He’s was right. Physically, yes it is hard, but mentally it is harder. I worry I won’t ever be able to get back where I was. All my insecurities surface and point their fingers at me.

They warn patients to watch for out for depression after a surgery like this. So far, it hasn’t been that bad. It sucked not being able to do anything for awhile, but the break from life was OK. This is harder to take for me. But damn if I’m going to succumb to it.

I made the smart decision at the stop sign and turned towards town. I had the wind at my back and pavement all the way home so I pushed myself a bit to get a little workout and make myself feel a little better. I was beat, not as bad as the end of an endurance race, but I was tired. I decided I needed to take a picture to commemorate my first ride. In my head I thought if you looked up pathetic this picture should be part of the definition.

cycling with heart surgery

But then I realized that wasn’t true. Pathetic would be a picture of me sitting in the recliner watching TV. Pathetic is finding any excuse necessary to not go. I went. I was going. This is just the start of my comeback. Whatever happens one thing I know for sure about everything in my life is that I will not give up. Not ever. Don’t let me catch you making excuses.

I made it 14 miles in just over an hour in 100 degree, windy weather. It’s a start.

Feed Your Monkey!