I’ve mentioned previously that I enjoy cycling. StarMan and I have been trying to do more riding lately, to whip our lumpy bodies back into shape. Last Saturday, we rolled out onto the streets much later in the day than planned, in the peak heat of the day. On top of the high temperature (about 97 degrees F), the bike route we picked was fully exposed to the sun without any redeeming shade, and involved a fairly steep ascent up a mountain. I’ve ridden this route many times before, without problem, but never in this kind of heat. I’m not sure what kind of stupid convinced us that the ride was going to be peachy, but I’ll blame it on our frequently watching all those hardcore bodies in the Tour de France, who make cycling up mountains look like child’s play. Well, this ride was only the second in my life that I didn’t finish.
The route wasn’t obscenely long — just 25 miles (40 km). The first 10 miles went well, and then my right arm started feeling extremely weak, as it has been feeling for the past couple of months now. Since this weakness is sort of my new norm, I didn’t pay it much attention. But then I noticed that StarMan was getting increasingly further ahead of me. I’m usually the one outpacing him. He must have eaten an extra bowl of cheerios, I reason.
A few miles further, and out of no where, my bra feels like it is 5 sizes too small. I feel constricted, as if someone tightened a belt around the very top of my abdomen (right under my breasts). The constriction kept me from being able to take a full, deep breath. It was as if my lung volume capacity had been halved. When I tried to breath deeply, I would only get to half of a breath before I was at the end of my breathing range. At about the same time, I start feeling a dull deep pain centered on a small spot smack dab in the middle of my chest. I’ve never had breathing problems before, and certainly never felt chest pain. “Just shake it off, you’re a wimp and never going to loose another pound if you keep making excuses for yourself”, I hear my inner voice tell me. So I stop for just a moment, squirt myself down with a water bottle, and start feeling somewhat better. Onward!
… for about 10 minutes, and then the whole chest constriction/pain comes again. I stop again, douse myself, start again. Rinse, lather, repeat. By this time, StarMan is way ahead of me, and has realized that something is wrong. I confess that I am not feeling well. We still have about 10 miles to go. I convince myself I can do it.
After several stops, and in the welcomed shade of a huge oak tree that is a freaking 2.5 miles from home, I admit defeat. Am I in the middle of a full-blown heart attack? My chest is hurting, I’m having a difficult time breathing, I am very dizzy, I can’t lift my right arm off the handlebars, both feet are numb, my vision is blurred, I feel like I am going to toss cookies. StarMan valiantly douses me down with the last precious drop of water that he is carrying, and hurries home to get the car to retrieve me. By the time he returns, I’m feeling much better. We just go home. I sleep through the rest of the afternoon/evening.
The following Monday, I saw my Primary Care physician. The EKG showed a healthy heart, blood pressure and heart rate were excellent, and he did not hear anything of concern in the stethoscope. He really didn’t offer any information regarding what the problem could have been, other than to point out that no one should be exercising in that kind of heat.
He then proceeded to give what appeared to be a neurological exam, followed by asking me what diagnosis my neurologist had given me. When I replied “probable multiple sclerosis”, he literally sneered and said that he has “never knew of an MS patient that could bike in last weekend’s heat” and that, furthermore, I had effortlessly passed his impromptu neurological exam. The implication was obvious: he disagrees with the diagnosis. I held my tongue and just listened, resisting the temptation to remind him that the very reason I was in his office was that I didn’t do very well in the heat, either! (I suspect a little “saving face” is what was partially going on here: he was the doctor who had ordered an “open MRI” for me in 2012, shortly before my first appointment with my current neurologist. My neurologist wouldn’t even look at the open MRI data, taken with a mere 0.7 Tesla machine, which was not strong enough to show any of my existing lesions. The striking comparison between the open MRI image and the standard 3 Tesla image that my neurologist ordered needs no further words).
The doc said that my heart seems perfectly healthy to him, but to be on the safe side, he gave me a referral to a cardiologist. Visions of a waiting room filled with a sea of white hair, hearing aids, and coke-bottle eyeglasses come to mind. Ugh, I now officially feel old!