Can a Superfit, Healthy, Vegan Triathlete Have a Stroke or Heart Attack? No Way, I Thought!

Introduction

The sunset on December 30, 2015 in no way foreshadowed a dark and stormy night. A pity, for such might have sparked a premonition of perdition as I set off on a run around 5:30 p.m.

About ten minutes into it I found myself dazed and disoriented on the side of the road. Several strangers asked if I was OK, did I need any help. I brushed them off in a few words to the effect of I appreciate the offer but no worries. I’m fine – just resting a bit.

In fact, I wasn’t resting – I was wondering why I was on my knees, struggling to get up. I wanted to get on with my run. I had no idea how I got there, on the ground.

Other comments from Good Samaritans included:

* you don’t look so good.

* you’re bleeding – (I had no idea at the time).

* we saw you fall (still have no memory of that).

* shall we call an ambulance?

A new guy appeared, a tourist from Burlington, Vt. He first held my arm when I almost made it to my feet. Then he said, hearing my protests that I’d be fine – Listen to me. I’m a doctor – you’re having a stroke.

He called 911 and sat with me on the curb.

Until that point, I was in denial. (I’m fine. I’m fit – I must have just stumbled. Just help me up.) That was my mantra – until the doctor’s reality check. The fact that I could not stand seemed a bit worrisome.

While waiting for the ambulance, however, I kept hope alive, that this was merely a terrible and possibly expensive mistake (I had no time to shop around for ambulances, to compare prices and accommodations). I told the doctor that I was very fit, despite being somewhat mature (77) and that I had won national and world triathlon championships in recent years – and was about to describe my impressive body composition, vegan diet, low heart rate, how I take no meds, have no cavities and so on when he interrupted – Doesn’t matter. You’re having a stroke. Be quiet – the ambulance is here.

I was packed off to nearby Bayfront Hospital. Still, when wheeled into the ER, I felt pretty good and tried one more time, saying something like this: I really don’t think I should be here – you folks have seriously ill people to deal with – look after them. I’ll be just fine. I’m probably the healthiest person in this ER, though that may not be saying much. At this, I heard the person at my side, the EMT who drew my blood and otherwise looked over me on the way to the ER, say, in a bit of a sing-song fashion, No you’re not.

At that, I quieted down, resigned at last that the medicos would take it from there. Soon thereafter, the following transpired:

• Stroke confirmed in short order.

• Prodding and testing by many specialists.

• Loaded up with TPA – a powerful clot-buster which only works if administered within three hours of the incident, but the sooner, the better.

• Arrival of my wife Carol, who later attested that I failed the tests involving raising my left arm, left leg and touching my nose with my left index finger. (I thought I performed all these tasks brilliantly and still have no memory of not being able to do so).

• Taken to brain-related version of ICU.

• Prodded, tested, filled with IV saline solution and subjected to varied blood-letting procedures.

• Cat scanned, CETA’d and inserted into sundry machines that go ping. After the TPA was run through me, the paralysis abated and the rest of my two-day stay was devoted to observation and testing and evaluation. Was released at noon on New Year’s Day.

No evident problems weeks later (or immediately after the TPA injection in the ER), save what one doctor thought might be minor damage to the right frontal lobe (which I probably don’t use, anyway) – except now I have atrial fib – so must take a 20 mg pill (Xarelto) daily. At least for now, until something less powerful (aspirin?) might be found acceptable or safe.

Musings

I’m often reminded by friends who hear the story of my remarkable luck in that a vacationing physician just happened along at the spot where I floundered in a time of need. While there is no shortage of deities I could credit, I’m afraid that, given my opinion of the likelihood of the existence of any of them, I have to go instead with random good fortune (RGF). RGF has been the story of my life!

In the past, I occasionally mused about how unfortunate it is that certain doctors have diseases named for them. Some might think this a great honor, and it is, of course, but still – how enthusiastic, I wonder, are Dr. Alzheimer’s grandchildren about being linked with that condition? And what about descendants of Dr. Hemorrhoid? Or others afflicted with links to unpleasant afflictions?

Now my episode on December 30 could put me at risk of this indignity. Will my kids and their kids have to deal with the infamy of Ardell’s Syndrome? This could be the label for those who imagined themselves models of wellness yet who were unceremoniously hoisted on petards of false confidence. To hear someone say, Ha, looks like he has Ardell’s Syndrome would apply when a person who gave the appearance of being hale and hearty succumbed in a manner he thought couldn’t happen, not in his wildest dreams.

I’ve said it before and I’ll do so again:

Modern medicine is a wonderful thing but there are two problems – people expect too much of it and too little of themselves.

In my case, the reverse was true. I expected too much of myself via the pursuit of a REAL wellness lifestyle; I expected too little of modern medicine. I thought a sound lifestyle would protect against the usual vulnerabilities of aging; I underestimated how remarkable modern medicine can be, when applied in a timely and appropriate fashion. Without modern medicine, this edition of the AWR would not have been sent a week after the incident, if ever.

Well, all’s well that turns out pretty good, for the most part. Look after yourself and if you find yourself in a tough spot and strangers offer a helping hand, pay attention. They may be on to something.

Ownership