Spending the night on the Cardiology Ward at Truro Hospital wasn’t how I wished, or planned to spend Boxing Day night. But, in the words of the late, great John Lennon ‘life is what happens whilst you’re making other plans’.
Throughout 2018 I had an increasing amount of pain. It started in my arm and I assumed it was a torn or pulled muscle. Strangely, it always improved when I did more upper body exercise, so this is what I did. However, as the year wore on, it spread to my upper back, shoulder and then neck. I put it down to impending middle age and just got on with things as best as I could. With hindsight, all the alarm bells were there for a doctors visit, but I honestly thought it was just muscle pain from training with a pack.
The other warning sign was an increasing amount of small, hard lumps behind my ears and under my right armpit. I put these down to skin tags, but I now know they were a result of my thyroid fighting an increasing infection.
The long and the short of it is, on Boxing Day, following a beautiful seven mile run on the coast path in Cornwall, I had an increasing amount of chest pain. Being with my parents, they insisted they take me to Truro to get it checked out and I agreed as it was increasingly uncomfortable.
Prioritised through A&E I was quickly taken through and hooked up to an ECG, which showed some abnormalities. Further tests were done, including bloods and an echocardiogram whilst myself and my father got more and more anxious. The doctors and nurses were amazing and didn’t give too much away, but were checking if there had been a “cardiac event”. It didn’t take a genius to work out that were trying to assess if I had had a heart attack.
However, within an hour or two it was clear my heart was in good shape, my lungs were clear on my x-ray and my blood pressure was excellent (even if it was probably significant heightened with anxiety).
A cardiologist saw me, did some further tests and quickly assessed me as having Acute Pericarditis. This is a condition that affects a lot of people aged 20 to 50 and mimics all the signs of a heart attack, but is actually relatively harmless if caught early enough and treated. Essentially, it is an infection that has reached the Pericardium, which is the fluid filled sack that protects the heart- not the heart itself.
I was kept in overnight as a precaution because they needed to do further tests to see if it was potentially Myo-Pericarditis, which is much worse and means the infection has gone beyond the protective sack and into the heart itself. Further tests revealed my heart was fine and my second blood test was much better than the first.
I was discharged the next day on medication to deal with the infection and I am now waiting for a further echocardiogram next week at my local hospital which will hopefully give me the all clear, infection wise.
The medication has been working wonders and as a result, I have no more back pain, no chest pain, the lumps behind my ears and under my arm have gone and I feel in great health- better than I have for years. I know my heart is strong, my lungs are good and I am in good health.
It also helps explain why 2018 was such a shite running year! I only completed one race and struggled to find any form or consistency. In a way, I am delighted I now know why this was.
The downside is I cannot exercise until I have the all clear and even then, I don’t know how quickly I can properly run and train again.
Trans Gran Canaria is almost certainly out. South Downs Way 50 is up in the air and then there is Western States in June.
At the end of the day, these are just races. Nothing matters more than being well and being there for my kids, so I am taking each day as it comes. I am currently allowed to exercise ‘like a 70 year old’. This is a tricky one as my father is in his 70’s and is the Kilian of Cornwall, hiking up and down the cliff path and beaches every day, so I am trying to exercise like a normal 70 year old- not him! This includes yoga and stretching and a 3-5 mile walk every day to keep things moving.
I am confident I will return and stronger than ever. I just don’t know when.
The only thing I can pass on from this experience is, if you are worried about something or something just doesn’t feel right, go and see your GP. The ultra world does have a tendency to be somewhat ego driven and the culture of ‘suck it up, buttercup’ is there. Pain is normal, its what we do and so on. With one of my friends having suffered a stroke a couple of days before my situation and other friends with cancer, we aren’t invincible and early assessment is so crucial. If I had seen my GP last summer when the pain was growing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Please see your GP.