The alarm goes off at 5am. Midweek long run, a mere 20km, but I know that the sun is not going to come up for the entirety of the run. As soon as I get out the door and I can see large clouds of steam emerging from my mouth, I know that shorts and t shirt was most definitely the wrong option. Rather than go back in to change, time poor and I don't want to wake up the rest of the family rummaging for more appropriate kit, I get moving as quick as I can. It was a struggle to get out the door, but as soon as I get to 5km or so, whole kilometres of the run pass by as if they haven't happened. I am in the zone, my thoughts sifting through the To Do list for the day, week and month, and as everything starts to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, I can feel the stress leaving my body. Bundy trots along easily, still scared at loud scooters or trucks, but enjoys being outside, moving, and as we speed up towards the end (negative splits the goal of the run, despite the positive altitude change on the second half), he breaks in to a canter, towing me along to the finish. We see #2 as she walks Lucera for her pre breakfast ablutions, and both Bundy and I are keen to get home and rehydrate and recover.
"May you live in interesting times" - Chinese Proverb (curse?)
It had been an interesting and long summer, kicked off in June with the bout of AF, a stay in cardio intensive care, and finally the cardio version to reset the heart. I was then faced with a summer of anti coagulants, rhythm stabilisers, beta blockers, and a host of other pills to negate the side effects. About a month later I had a 24 hour ECG monitor fitted with which I was able to go home. The pads stuck to my chest and back itched and the box was a pain to sleep with, but at least I could go home and live relatively normally (and Mrs R was away, so I had full on kid duty, midweek). #2 had had a hyper (high blood sugar) in the night, and I could feel my heart go haywire as I tried to get back to sleep after we had taken steps to resolve the issue. It may have been my imagination but I thought that my heart was palpating so much the bed was shaking. The next day when the cardiologist peered over the squiggly lines printed on graph paper, he mentioned I was still having "extra systolic" heart beats, a direct precursor to AF, although not necessarily detectable by the person having them. Apparently a "normal" person can expect 15 or so in a 24hr period. I was having a multiple of that, and mine were extremely violent. When asked had I had one around 3am, the answer was yes, at 3.22am I had had a particularly virulent one, so much so it looked like a spider had fallen in ink and crawled across the page. I had also had many whilst at work. Stress was definitely the trigger. By mutual consent, I booked in for the ablation on the 9th August.
I've gone in to this before, but it's worth mentioning again, as AF is driven by the left Atrium trying to get involved in the heart beat process. The right Atrium normally drives by sending signals to the ventricules (the lower two chambers) instructing them when to beat. An ablation is where the surgeon goes in to a vein in the groin, up into the heart, cuts across the heart into the left Atrium, and lasers the electrical pathways in the pulmonary veins which are responsible for the rogue signals. The op, whilst fairly routine, is not without risks. 1.5% chance of stroke, 1.5% chance of having to have open heart surgery if the cut in the cardiac wall goes wrong, 1 in 1000 chance of piercing the oesophagus, in which case "there is nothing they can do". Ho Hum and fingers crossed. The week before surgery I was booked in for a multitude of tests, more of which later.
In the meantime I was uber healthy. Exercise was positively encouraged, both for my mental health but also to try and make sure I was not in either of the 1.5%'s or the 1 in 1000. I ate well, became teetotal (mostly because of the cocktail of pills I was taking), and lost 4kg. I did the 37km section of the Cro Magnon with my cardiologist's approval, and not long after went to Jamaica for a wedding. Unfortunately, due to work scheduling I had to work for a portion of the time I was there. I took two screens and set up the cockpit in the living room of the villa I was staying in. I became buddies with the security guard that patrolled the grounds, and enjoyed a few chats with him but also the stunning scenery over the sea, the moon lighting a path all the way to the horizon. Normally I was on duty until around 10 or 10.30am, but one day I was able to go back to bed at 5.30am or so, as I had cover in Europe. The security guard told me later that day that about 10 minutes after I had gone to bed a huge turtle had crawled up on to the beach to lay her eggs, and he had come get me to watch. I wish he had woken me up....! Strangely the sleep deprivation did not affect me too much as I was so healthy and fit. Whilst out running one day it was 30 degrees centigrade and 99% humidity. A kindly soul slowed his car next to me and waved a foot long marijuana bud at me, presumably for refreshment. I respectfully refused his kind offer and asked whether he had any GatorAid instead.
The week of my tests arrived, and whilst it was a pain to be poked and prodded, blood taken, ECG tests, and filling in a multitude of disclaimers, it was not without some humour. I arrived for my MRI scan to be greeted by a lovely radiologist. She was model like in her looks, but also had a fantastic line of banter, and the odd very well done tattoo (which appealed to me!). She did put me in my place somewhat when she asked if I had done the Nice Ironman (I was sporting the previous year's backpack), and mentioned that her Dad had also done it last year and he'd be about my age. No matter, I was in good spirits as I entered the jet turbine wearing nothing but boxers and a drip in my arm leaking something that burnt into my veins. The jet engine gradually wound up until takeoff speed (anyone that has had an MRI will know what I'm talking about here), and all of a sudden the radiologist bounced up to me holding what looked like a yoghurt pot and spoon in her hand. She explained that it was a sort of dye that was similar to the drip in my arm, and despite being flavoured like pureed apple was still fairly disgusting. My arms by my side in the turbine, she spoon fed me the metallic apple puree, and I was struck by the fact that there was probably an MP in Soho somewhere paying a fortune for just such a service, and I was getting mine fully comped on the Monaco CCSS! Result!
All too soon the day of the op arrived. I had checked in to the hospital the night before and due to the unfortunate snoring of my roommate coupled with nerves I had not slept a great deal. The nurses arrived around 5am, switched all the lights on (which woke my roomy up so he stopped snoring, thank the Lord), and started prepping me for surgery. I was aware of the fact that the op could take as long as 6 hours, although more normally 3 or 4, and as so I was cogniscent of the fact that I needed to have an empty bladder prior to surgery. I had been nil by mouth since around 8pm the previous day when they had checked my shaving skills (no body hair at all from the ankles to the neck!), but was still visiting the loo every 10 minutes or so.
The porters arrived to wheel me down to the operating theatre, and I even asked to visit the loo once again before going in. The porter thankfully obliged. Minutes later I can remember seeing the time on the nurse's watch as 8.10am, and then, nothing. I woke up, and seeing the time on the clock in the recovery room was 15.30 I panicked and asked for the pistolet (the tube that incapacitated patients can use to pee into). I was refused, so I grabbed at the wires suggesting I was going to take myself to the lavatory. Before I could do any real damage the anaesthetist zapped me again.
As I came around for the second time I looked at the clock, and read 16.30. I was bursting, and said as such to the nurse. You've got a catheter in she said. I wished they'd told me that pre op as I would have had a much better trip on the General Anaesthetic!
After another 1.5L of water, an ultra sound and several worried looking consultants my bladder started to work again around 21.30. The nurses were all ecstatic and I felt like a toddler that had used the big boy potty for the first time. As anyone that has spent time in a public house will attest, once you have broken the seal you cannot stop, however. My night nurse looked exhausted but relieved to clock off at 6am the following morning, having had to change my pistolet every 45 minutes to an hour during the night.
Twenty four hours post op I was up and around. Not exactly in my prime but at least able to hobble on my own to the loo, and sit in an armchair next to the window. I was discharged a few days later with an inflammation around the heart but otherwise they were very pleased with the way the operation had gone. They had been unable to stimulate AF both pre and post the op, so had done what they could see, despite me having one extra pulmonary vein than everyone else (quantity over quality every time!) My normal cardiologist had also managed to have a conversation with Doc Trotters at the Marathon Des Sables to explain the situation, as I had mentioned that my daughter and I were aiming to compete in 2017.
Her first trail run, the short form Ultra Trail Cote D'Azur (which I had been planning on running), was a 13km straight up and down mountain trail (rather than the 140km I had been planning) in Belvedere. I ran it with #1 so that I wouldn't push but so that she would have assistance and company throughout. She found it tough, we both did, but finished relieved and enjoyed the post race stale ginger cake. The next thing we know she is being called on stage to receive 1st place trophy! From then on there has been no stopping her. At 16 years old, there are limits on the courses that she can do, but every race she enters she wins her age group. In Tourettes Sur Loup they bumped her up a category to the 18 year olds, and she managed to win that as well! We even back to backed a Spartan Sprint race last Saturday (anyone for burpees?), and a 9.5km trail race on the Sunday. I was very pleased to finish the 9.5km and 597m of positive altitude in 1hr5 mins in 29th place overall and 8th in my category. I then hiked back up the hill to find #1 and then sprinted back down with her for a 1hr 29 minute finish, and of course 1st in her age group yet again. I was quite thankful that she was so exhausted we didn't have to stay for the trophy presentation!
Preparation is under way for the Marathon Des Sables too, as #1 and I both have our places confirmed for April 2017. Expect to see lots of Instagram posts of rehydrated foods and sand gaiters. If you wanted to know more about the MdS there is a section dedicated to that in my book (did I mention I wrote a book?) available in selected Waterstones, Waterstones Online and all the Amazons - available here
And if you could give me a nice review that would be great - not a horrid one, those you can keep to yourself. See you on the trails.