The Heart of the Matter

Anytime you push yourself out of your comfort zone you’re bound to be thrown some curve balls. For the most part, it will be a totally amazing experience that you will be overwhelmingly glad you had. But sometimes, every once in a while, something will occur that tests your commitment and resolve. More often than not, these events will be completely beyond your control, are usually the last thing you expected to get in your way, and really put your decision making skills on the spot. Today I am being faced with one of these conundrums.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I felt like I had gotten hit by a bus. Every nook and cranny of my body ached and throbbed with frustrating persistence. All the tylenol and ibuprofen in the world couldn’t help. My arthritic hands could barely make fists, and my knees ached and cracked with every step, but the worst thing was the feeling I had in my chest. It periodically felt as though my heart would skip a beat and all the air was being vacuumed out of my lungs. Then it would subside, and I would feel okay for a few minutes until it would happen again, over and over. I tried not to think about it, hoping that if I didn’t focus on my symptoms that they would go away. I reassured myself that I had just been putting my body through a lot recently so it was bound to experience some changes that were probably completely normal. I gave myself a day to relax, and thankfully had another gracious Warm Showers host who was incredibly understanding and let me stay an extra day. When I got up this morning, the symptoms still hadn’t subsided but I was determined to get back on the road. I packed up all of my things, and loaded my bike while I tried to ignore the persistent discomfort in my chest. “It’s all in your head,” I assured myself, having been so used to my hypochondriac mind creating ailments in the past. My host was getting ready to bike with me so he could lead me the way to the trail, and I thought I should say something, but I decided to let it roll off as we rolled out of the driveway. After about 10 minutes and one small incline later, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and as though I couldn’t fully catch my breath. The weird skips in my heartbeat became so frequent that I could no longer ignore it. Okay…this wasn’t in my head. My gut was telling to go to the ER and I strongly felt that I should listen. But I reeeeeaaaally didn’t want to. I despise the ER. My history of Web MD’ing symptoms and convincing myself I was dying of intestinal cancer would land me in the ER with some frequency when I was in my early twenties. And everytime they would say, “we can’t find anything wrong with you. It’s probably just IBS,” leaving me feeling completely delusional and insane for making such a fuss over nothing. So when I was faced with the decision of going again today it was a huge internal struggle. I was sure they were going to tell me, “we can’t find anything wrong with you, except that you’re a delusional hypochondriac, and we’re going to put you on a 72 hour psychiatric hold.” Okay, maybe not quite that extreme. I just didn’t want to feel crazy. But my gut feeling was relentless. I asked Gregory (my WS host) to stop and finally told him what was going on once the sensation evolved into minor chest pains and a headache. Shit. I really don’t need this right now.

The ER entrance felt like that of a penitentiary. The guard collected my belongings as he led me through a metal detector, then confiscated my knife at the door. I checked in at the front desk, and was whisked away by a nurse within one minute. (They put me in a bed next to a woman who was clearly psychotic, wouldn’t stop yelling at the nurses, and straight up pulled the IV out of her arm as she tried to make a break for it before she was escorted to the psych floor. It was palpably more peaceful after that.) As I lied there hooked up to the heart monitor, I watched it in fear and with expectation, wondering if anything would show up. I felt weirdly torn about what I wanted to see. I almost wanted something to be wrong with me so it would justify my trip to the ER, but I didn’t want there to be something wrong that would stop me from continuing my bike trip. It was a very strange conflicting emotion. But there was something. Apparently I was experiencing something called PVC, or Premature Ventricular Contractions, which is when one of your heart ventricals fires out of rhythm for no reason. It can be caused by a number of things, like drinking too many energy drinks, stress, or over exertion through exercise. Ahh. It was all making more sense now. The day before this started, I had pushed myself insanely hard, biking in hot humid weather in a thermal jacket all day because I was out of sunscreen. Pushing over hill after hill for sixty miles until I had sweated through my waterproof jacket, leaving salt deposits in the seams. I had completely depleted my body of its salt and electrolytes without immediately replenishing them. I had done this to myself by pushing myself too hard. One thing the nurse and doctor found to be strange was how intensely I could feel the PVC because most people can’t feel it at all and don’t even know it’s happening. “But am I going to be okay? Can I continue with my bike tour?” Which was really all I wanted to know. The doctor responded, “If it was me, I wouldn’t continue. There’s just no way to be sure that there isn’t more going on here, and I don’t want to tell you that something bad won’t happen while you’re riding because it could.” My prematurely contracting heart sank into my stomach. That wasn’t really the reassurance I was hoping for. I was hoping more for a “Oh yeah, definitely! Yours is the healthiest heart I’ve ever seen.”

He told me to rest and relax through the weekend and see how I feel, but as I lie here in a strangers home, my mind going over all of my options, I don’t feel very relaxed. The sensation in my chest has not diminished in its frequency nor its intensity, but I have come too far to stop now. The heart of the matter is, continuing my bike trip could damage my heart, but stopping my trip would break it.