Cardiomegaly - Is my heart killing me?

I woke up Monday morning with severe chest pains. Can’t move, can’t breathe, face turning white chest pains. So I did what any red-blooded American male would do in the situation. I got in the car and drove straight to work.

After a long weekend of mt biking, show hosting, and photo/video shooting, I drove home from the NICA Space Race at the Huntsville Space & Rocket center feeling exhausted but good. After unloading gear and taking a shower, I went to bed.

Riding through Rocket Alley during laps of the course on Saturday.                                 Photo by: Andrew Garza

Riding through Rocket Alley during laps of the course on Saturday.                                 Photo by: Andrew Garza

I woke up Monday morning with severe chest pains. Can't move, can't breathe, face turning white chest pains.  So I did what any red-blooded American male would do in the situation. I got in the car and drove straight to work. "It'll get better as the day goes on," I told myself.

I tucked myself away in my office behind my wall of monitors and got to editing. Periodically people would stop by and poke their heads in to check on a project or say hello. More than once people noticed that I was visibly uncomfortable and asked what was wrong or commented on how pale I was.

Eventually, my boss told me to leave and go to the hospital. I have to think or feel like I'm dying to step foot in a medical facility. Since I did feel like I was dying, I obeyed the command and left for the doctor.

I spent the next several hours answering a million questions about the level of pain I felt, getting blood drawn, having x-rays and EKG's done. After all was said and done, I was informed that there was good news and bad news. The good news - it wasn't a heart attack. The bad news - my blood pressure was elevated (130/89), my resting heart rate was twice what it normally is (98bpm), and worst of all my x-rays showed that I have an enlarged heart. I was told to immediately contact a cardiologist and schedule an appointment. Since it was 7pm, scheduling would have to wait until the morning.

Seeing those results really scared me. I'm extremely active. My resting heart rate is usually in the mid 50's and my normal blood pressure is low enough that most nurses take it a second time because they see a guy my size and think the test was wrong.

“Look, I’m eating this for lunch and hot wings for dinner. Let’s face it, the doc is going to tell me I can’t have them anymore so it’s my last supper!”

The really scary part is that both sides of my family has a history of hearts killing people early. I spent the evening turning over every possibility in my mind and reading one too many medical web pages. Would I have to take medicine every day for the rest of my life? Would I have to have surgery to repair my heart? Would I have to give up cycling, hiking, steak, hot wings, or sex? She'll probably deny this, but my wife said that was her first concern. She said the Viagra commercial that says, "Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex." kept replaying in her head. I guess it's good to know she doesn't just love me for my money. ;)

Tuesday morning I called and made an appointment with a highly recommended cardiologist. The earliest he could see me would be Wednesday afternoon. My internet research had taught me that once the kind of damage that causes an enlarged heart is done, it's permanent unless repaired with surgery. It would be another day and a half before I had any real idea of the severity of damage done to my heart. 

I bumped into a couple of friends at lunch. They invited me to sit with them and I explained what was going on with my heart as I waited for my food. Just as I finished explaining what the doctor said, my large plate of BBQ showed up at the table. They looked at the plate, then at me, then back at the plate with big questioning looks on their faces. I said, "Look, I'm eating this for lunch and hot wings for dinner. Let's face it, the doc is going to tell me I can't have them anymore so it's my last supper!" We shared some laughter, then prayer, and as lunch came to an end I realized I still had a full 24 hours to go before I would get any answers.

I spent the evening in my back yard, listening to an audiobook about hiking the Appalachian Trail. If I was going to die, I might as well start planning to accomplish the rest of my bucket list early. I ended up sleeping in my hammock under the stars. I woke up outside Wednesday at 5am and couldn't go back to sleep, so waiting for 2:30pm was excruciating. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me and what it meant for how I would live the rest of my life.

We walked into Alabama Cardiovascular Associates and got checked in. Shortly after sitting down in the massive waiting room with what seemed like 100 other people, my wife pointed out that at least 99 of them were twice my age. It was funny and terrifying all at once.

Eventually they called me back and started a series of tests. I smiled a real smile for the first time all day when I saw test results popping up on the screen. My resting heart rate was 56. My blood pressure was 120/81 on one arm and 119/80 on the other. 

I spent another 30 minutes giving family history, descriptions of my pain on Monday, and details recorded from the heart rate monitor I wear while cycling. After that, the cardiologist spent a while listening to my heart and checking me out.

From the details I had given about the pain and the test results, he was able to determine that my pain was unrelated to my heart. He said x-ray's are not a reliable way to judge cardiomegaly.Even better, he told me that the tests, my heart rate data from cycling, and listening to my heart told him that it was perfectly healthy.  He gave me no instructions other than to continue the weight loss I've had over the last month.

The chest pains were most likely due to Costochondritis from carrying heavy video gear in a backpack rig all weekend. The pain caused my shortness of breath which caused the spike in heart rate. It's now Thursday and the pain is pretty much gone.

Tomorrow I'll be back on my bike or hiking up my next mountain. I'll probablly have wings for dinner too.