Obsession – passion’s destructive relative
The end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 was a personal discovery of the difference between grit and consistency versus obsession and irresponsibility. As the air cooled in late September I noticed during outdoor training, and even climbing stairs at the Tube station, I was getting more out of breath than normal. My ‘don’t fuss’ attitude put this down to my hatred of the cold. By early November my chest was bursting during swim squad. Then, one unassuming November night I went jogging. Within 200 metres of my flat my heart rate soared and I careered head first into a sign post. Fortunately, there were plenty of people around and a kind soul ran into the nearby public library for tissues with which to stem the blood flowing from on my nose. Having set out on a task, and contrary to what a sensible person would have done, I reset my stopwatch and recommenced the run.
Less than 400 metres later I again found myself on the floor but this time on the side of the road having caused a bus driver to stop and get out to assist me. I collapsed one more time but after that managed to shuffle around my usual short course albeit with my heart rate monitor suggesting I was sprinting.
Back at my flat I rested on the floor whilst microwaving my dinner and even slumped into a nauseous nap half way through eating it. I looked like I had been in a pub brawl, and lost. A couple of days later I secured an emergency private GP appointment and a referral to a cardiologist – if you can afford it private health insurance is worth every penny. Had I waited for an NHS appointment I may not be here writing this account.
I visited the consultant, Dr Balvinder Wasan at London Bridge Hospital. As with the GP, initial tests revealed nothing obvious as to the cause of the collapses so I was hooked to an ECG monitor and went for blood tests. This was a Wednesday night, and despite being told to take it easy I rushed to my weekly swim squad session. In the pool I noticed the sense in my legs was weaken.
Waking the next morning I found an urgent voicemail from Dr Wasan urging me to return to the hospital, I had an elevated D-dimer and a bed was waiting for me. My initial instinct was ‘not now!’ as I was half way through a course I had begged work to give me time off to do and despite a Google search had no idea what an elevated D-dimer meant. That afternoon I returned to hospital to be subject to repeated tests and injections but unaware of what was wrong. Petrified of the unknown and frustrated the start of my theatre date with Mum was drawing closer, my undignified conversing with the nurses got Dr Wasan to explain multiple blood clots were found in my lungs. The nurses said I was to stay in hospital overnight for observation of how I reacted to the anti-coagulant Claxane, but my severe emotional reaction and pleas to Dr Wasan made him appreciate that me staying would cause more mental trauma than necessary. In exchange, I agreed to stay with my mum overnight and to return the next day to collect a prescription and undergo more tests. Severely pissed off at missing the theatre, but relieved not to be stuck in hospital and being able to complete my course, I bid the kind nurses my apologies and thanks.
The next morning I rose early in order to complete my prescribed swim, book my next round of medical tests and pass my course. Within 36 hours of commencing the course of the anti-coagulant Rivaroxaban my breathless symptoms were gone and my training was returning to form. Dr Wasan had never treated a patient with athletic goals such as mine and was unsure of what level of training I could continue. He suggested mild exercise if I must but see how I felt. Keen to maintain training and feeling much better I continued with my plan, albeit with much trepidation.
Grit – the success factor
Throughout November and December I trained as I had intended to prior to ‘the bump’. It was only when talking to a family friend at New Year who is a cardiologist that I realised how serious a pulmonary embolism is and how pushing training after my body had been through such shock could have potentially caused major further damage. If only I had read this article earlier and I may have heeded more caution. Then again, I may not have. Quite proudly I have been described by those who know me well as determined and gritty. As the articled linked to above explains. “Grit embodies, but is not the same as, resilience, ambition, and self-control. University of Pennsylvania psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth defines it as passion and sustained persistence in trying to achieve a goal over the very long haul, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way.” Grit is a prerequisite for success and whilst the passion found in grit is vital for sustaining it, grit is only healthy when you are managing the passion, rather than it managing you. Passion that becomes an obsession to the point of obscuring other important life activities, or even physical health, will not help you thrive or lead to success. It is only thanks to luck that my grit did not tip me physically over the edge.
During treatment for the pulmonary emboli I underwent ultrasound scans for every part of my body, swallowed hundreds of anticoagulant tablets, injected Claxane into myself, as well as undergoing an operation to remove an ovarian cyst. The treatment was non-negotiable but training was; in my next post I will detail how my coach ‘trained’ me post-operation. As you will discover, at this point in the recovery process my grit was strong as ever, but controlled and channelled constructively which ultimately lead to a textbook recovery.
Meals to repair the body
When not training or in a period of reduced training, my appetite drops significantly but my body post-operation or post-training needs the best nutrients to promote restoration so I prepare light and nutrient packed meals such as this vibrant beet salad with carrot, quinoa and spinach.
Quinoa is high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, ideal following the shock the body undergoes during intense training or operations. It contains twice the protein of rice or barley and is also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium and manganese but does not leave you feeling like a calf being prepared for veal like other grains.
The humble edamame packs a mighty dose of fibre into the dish. The medication which follows operations can cause constipation and other digestive issues. These little beans will restore digestive health. The protein will help maintain your immune system which can be low during periods in hospital or even when healthy during cold weather. Edamame also contains carbohydrates which fuel your tissues and digestion.
Not only does the beetroot provide wholesome flavours and hues to dishes, it contains an alphabet of vitamins connected with treating fever, constipation, wounds, skin problems and improved sports performance.
Carrots have long been lauded for their benefits to eyesight, they also contain a number of antiseptic and antibacterial agents ideal for boosting the immune system when you are rundown, the weather is cold or recovering from medical treatment. Turning to digestion again – apologies for being repetitive but it is a vital daily bodily function – like most vegetables, carrots have significant amounts of dietary fibre great for maintaining good digestive health.
Life wallops us with hard balls from time to time, how we deal with these pitches determines whether we suffer from a bruise or irritate them into more serious injuries.