“IT’S QUITE possible that you may have had a heart attack in the past.” My cardiologist said calmly. My mind was racing however, trying hard to absorb and comprehend what she had just said to me. It certainly wasn’t the sentence I expected to hear. It was the end of March. The world was already shrinking due to COVID 19, but this was when my whole world came crashing down on me. I felt heavy and suffocated.
A regular base ECG test at my GP a week prior revealed a few concerns for my heart, so I was referred to a specialist. Doctor’s orders were simple but painful – no more running until I get the all clear. Only three days before this, I participated in a fun run, and officially ran 10 km for the first time in my life. I trained hard and consistently for this event since January. It was a brilliant run, and I had a ball. I just had a taste of the exhilaration of distance running, then only to be taken away from me a few days later. Life was cruel.
I was upset and anxious for the rest of the day. I agonised over the cause of it – is it possible that I overtrained? Did I push too hard? Despite worries over my health, I slept reasonably well that night. A good night’s sleep helped me to accept my circumstances, and to move on. I looked on the bright side. I was still alive (in spite of a possible silent heart attack). Although I couldn’t run I could still walk. As a keen ex-bushwalker I enjoy walking immensely. Literally, I took walking in my stride. I walked everywhere in Inverloch.
Through long hours of meandering I discovered many pathways and little cul-de-sacs that I didn’t know existed before. Walks were leisurely and I wasn’t pressed for time, I could stop any time and take pictures if I wanted. I took delights in finding beauty in fauna and flora I hadn’t properly seen before. I may have walked past them many times before, but I began to pay more attention to tiny details of the petals of a flower and the bees inside, the shape of a leaf or the texture of tree bark. There was beauty everywhere. The beauty in nature soothed my apprehension and frustration.
In a way the timing was impeccable. The fun run I was registered to run 10 km the following week was cancelled and so were all parkrun events worldwide due to the spread of corona virus. As I was forced to slow down because of my own health concerns, the world was closing in rapidly. Humanity was gripped with fear and every individual was forced to pause and to reflect on important matters - where we were before, where we are heading after as a global society, and who we truly are. Non-urgent but extremely profound questions were staring right at our faces. There were no more excuses because suddenly we had plenty of time.
A few further tests followed. A treadmill stress echocardiogram and an ultrasound of my resting heart were conducted. I was so looking forward to the stress test because it gave me an opportunity to run again. Oh how wonderful to be allowed to run even for a few kilometres, even on a medical treadmill! I was delighted that I passed the not-so-stressful stress test with flying colours. Waiting for the consultation with my cardiologist was the most excruciating and anxious part of my four-week ordeal. The consultation was a video conference using Skype to avoid unnecessary contact.
“Can I run?”
“Yes, you can. In fact running may be one of the few things keeping you sane right now. Go on and enjoy your run.”
Twenty eight days of the testing time for me as a runner was over just like that.
I will have a non-urgent further test in the near future, but I couldn’t care less. The most important thing was that I was able to run again. Within ten minutes of the all-clear from the cardiologist, I was running up Albert Ruttle Drive feeling bursting and infinite joy in my heart – a strong beating heart.
At the same time a quiet voice within reminded me of a precious learning from this experience. ‘May I never again take for granted the sensation of my legs driving me forward, arms swinging freely and my breath rhythmically in and out of my body. May I never again take for granted the sense of freedom and clarity of thought I receive from running.’ It’s a valuable lesson I learned during my refraining from the act of running, and only through many hours of long beach walks in solitude.