How Rugby Saved My Life And My Sanity

19 01 2008

Metropolis Rugby ClubEvery now and then you come across real gems in blogs. I did so a while back whilst reading the blog Saturday’s A Rugby Day. Thing was, Blondie over at SARD didn’t write it, it was a link to yet another blog, and the ‘gem’ I’m getting to. Anyway, I hadn’t thought about it for the longest time, but a question from JP over at Pyle Of List got me thinking, and I went back & made a comment on the story.

The ‘gem’ is a story called “How Rugby Saved My Life And My Sanity”, and it’s from the blog Aye, There’s the rub! With the original author’s permission (‘nursedude’), I publish it here…

(Originally printed over at Aye, There’s the rub! July 11th, 2007)

Four years ago, I was at work doing my phone triage job, when I became aware that my heart seemed to be racing, then slowing down. I tried not to be alarmed. I was not having any chest pain, I did not have the sweats nor radiating pain…Yet when I continued to re-check my pulse, it was going from a rate of the 70’s to in the low 100’s. I drove myself to an urgent care, where I was diagnosed with ‘Atrial Fibrillation’. I found out that during atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two small upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. Blood isn’t pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. If a piece of a blood clot in the atria leaves the heart and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain, a stroke results. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.

I was put on beta-blockers initially to try to treat it, and also was put on a blood thinner called Coumadin. The Beta-blockers totally sapped my energy. My weight ballooned into the 240+ range. The medical regimen just was not working. My cardiologist introduced me to another cardiologist who told me about a procedure called an ablation. It was similar to an angiogram, except instead of using a balloon to widen a clogged vein or artery, an electrode at the end of the catheter would cauterize some nerve endings by my coronary vein. Well, after the procedure, it got rid of my atrial fibrillation….but I developed a complication called atrial flutter – atrial flutter commonly occurs in the setting of acute myocardial infarction, after pneumonectomy and after cardiac surgery in adults. I cannot tell you how odd it was to be lying in bed, yet having my heart rate in the high 180’s. They ended up bringing me back downstairs to cardiovert me – that is, to attempt to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm. They gave me some really good drugs, because I remember asking my wife and the cardiac tech when we were going to get started, and they told me that It was already done. My heart was back to beating regularly with a normal sinus rhythm.

When I was discharged from the hospital the next day, my chest still felt like it had been worked over by a baseball bat. My son Ian asked me if I wanted to go with him while he walked our Golden Retriever. I made it about a half a block, before I told him that I was too beat to continue. In just the previous month, I had done my Army Physical Fitness test with the Army Reserves, and had scored a 280 out of 300 – I even had done my best time in the 2-mile run since I went back into the Reserves after 9/11. Now I could not even make it a half block walking. I thought that was lowest that I could have felt. Little did I realize that things were going to take an unexpected turn.

I also found out that I had sleep apnea. People who are overweight or have big necks tend to be at risk for sleep apnea – also people who snore. I was 3 for 3. My 17 1/2″ neck was the main culprit. When the Army Reserves found out I had sleep apnea, I was medically boarded out, because I was “not deploy-able to ALL theaters”-meaning Iraq or Afghanistan. It did not matter that I had been scoring well on my fitness tests, it did not matter that as a Registered Nurse, I had a job that was very much needed. I was officially discharged from the Army Reserves in June of 2005-after scoring a 285 on my fitness test and scoring as a sharp-shooter on the 9mm pistol the previous month at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. At the age of 44, I felt like I could understand what it was like for a pro athlete to be dumped by their team and put on waivers.

After getting boarded out of the Army Reserves, I really went into a funk. I started to put weight back on and I just really felt like I did not belong anywhere. My wife had her Science fiction clubs, my daughter had her horse and her horse-related activities, my son was off in college at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he played with the rugby club there and was meeting people and having a good time (and still managed to get good grades).

MontpellierI am ashamed to admit to you that instead of being happy for my son, I was very envious. I was the one who was the rugby fan. I had fallen in love with the sports when I was a college student in Montpellier, in Southern France. Languedoc, the region I was in, was the epicenter of French Rugby. After watching Wales-France on TV, and seeing the passion of 50,000 singing Welshman and a game that had more action than American Football, I was taken by the sport: hook, line and sinker.

I had never played because I had gotten married, we had kids, and I had become involved with their activities as a soccer coach and parent. We also became involved hosting foreign exchange students (11 over the years). As the birthdays passed and my hair took on more flecks of gray, I thought that I never would be able to play-particularly after my atrial fibrillation and ablation.

One night in February of 2006, I came across the Metropolis Rugby Football Club web site. It said that they had a group called “The Old Boys” and that players of all skill levels-even new people-were welcome. When I talked with my son Ian about this, he said “Dad, why don’t you try it? You still work out and you have ALWAYS wanted to play. You really should try it. John (his rugby playing roommate) also said you should try it”. My Doctor, told me that from a cardiac standpoint, my A-fib was cured, and that there was no reason why I could not play.” Just be careful – it’s a really tough, physical game”. My wife told me “If you don’t stop whining and just go and try playing, I’ll beat you up myself!”

Steve & IanI went to a practice that was held at an indoor facility (still cold and snow on the ground in Minnesota in February and March). I was amazed at how welcoming the players were. They thought that it was cool that somebody my age wanted to learn to play. They thought that it was even more amazing that I had such unconditional support from my wife and kids. As I made it to more practices, it made me aware that there was a difference between being a chubby 44 year old in reasonable shape and being in PLAYING shape. I had to re-think my workouts. I was amazed at how many B-squad games I was able to get into. I had visions of just being thrown in for the last 5 minutes, or garbage time in games. I was getting real playing time. As the spring progressed, my pants were fitting looser. Things were going great until I had a partial tear in my knee from stepping into a hole while running during a practice in early May.

The fun I had and the friends I was making with the team gave me resolve in doing my rehab on my knee to play in the fall. I also had another motivator: my son was not going back to Rutgers and wanted to play with Metropolis. In the fall season, I ended up being able to play in games with my son. In this past spring season, we played in quite a few b-squad games, and we had a great road trip down to Saint Louis, Missouri.

I am done with regular rugby after this spring season. The Calendar does not lie, and at 46, it was taking me more to recover after games and practices. I will stay involved with Metropolis RC Old BoysMetropolis as an Old Boy-maybe play in the occasional Old Boys game. But playing rugby helped me improve my fitness, and more importantly, rugby took a middle aged guy who was on the fast track to depression, and it gave me my smile back. I will always be grateful to both Dr. Shultz, who did my ablation, and to my teammates with the Metropolis Rugby Football Club. They both really did save my life and my sanity.

… 

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19 01 2008
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20 01 2008
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