That night the pain in my gut only increased, and my heart rate went up as did my temperature. I basically laid on the couch sweating. After an uncomfortable night of fever nightmares, I went to the Kihei medical center where they did an EKG which was totally normal. Everything else was also normal except that my WBC and temperature were both raised. They correctly diagnosed that I had some weird infection of unknown origins. The sudden onset of symptoms seemed strange but not necessarily alarming. They advised me to go home and see if things ease up - basically take two aspirins and call them in the morning. Which I did - very encouraged that at least I wasn't having a heart attack. But by that evening my temperature had spiked to 103 and I felt like shit (otherwise known as "malaise"). We called the clinic and they prescribed a ten day course of doxycycline, which was about $1 at Costco. I was very skeptical that this cheap old antibiotic would do anything useful. But over the next two weeks my symptoms gradually eased, though the uncomfortable feeling that my heart was beating harder than before never went completely away. This "bounding pulse" was very noticeable in my abdomen, where I could actually see each beat rise and fall.
After my treatment was completed I returned to the clinic and, despite feeling pretty well overall, was concerned by this strong pulse that was still going on. The attending physician again wisely decided to run additional tests for various strange and exotic tropical diseases. She also suggested that I get a cat-scan (CT) to see what was up with my bouncing abdomen. This would rule out unlikely conditions such as an aortic aneurysm (AA) for one thing. But I didn't do the CT for a couple reasons. One was that I was clearly getting better at this point and I was also convinced there was no way someone as awesome as me could have anything as dire as an AA. An AA is an extremely dangerous condition that usually causes crippling pain in the back and abdomen. Patients with AA are typically much older with several additional serious health issues, such as diabetes, obesity, life long heavy smokers, etc. And they often can barely get out of bed, let alone windsurf and dance the Macarena all night long. So this was clearly not me! I also didn't like getting hit with any extra radiation (though most modern CT's have greatly reduced the amount, but still). Additionally I consulted with my brother-in-law who is a cardiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and he thought my symptoms were way too mild and my overall health much too good to have an AA. His thought was that a skinny fit guy like me coming off a serious infection might show an increased pulse for a while (and all those who directly examined me later thought the exact same thing) . And maybe I always had this big pulse but only noticed it now because I was paying such close attention? Anyway I decided to bail on the CT. As it turned out this arbitrary decision eventually worked out very much in my favor but it could have easily turned into an epic disaster - such is life and blind luck.
rescue at the end of a giant winter swell day at Kanaha (which had been awesome fun right up to that point). My universal broke so I had to swim under some gnarly 20 ft plus waves while trying to hold onto my precious gear and breathe at the same time. After Giampaolo very kindly helped me back to the beach I was so completely and totally exhausted that I felt like a total wus. My heart was pounding a mad beat and just resting on the beach like a ship wreck survivor was all I could manage at that point. But beyond these minor incidents we continued what seemed like a charmed life of awesome surfing and windsurfing right up to our return to Hood River and the gorge.
Dr Malcolm McAninch at Greenfield Health (GFH) in Portland. Mal is a super friendly and very personable PCP, the kind that you actually look forward to seeing for a checkup.
And now for an important public service announcement. I happen to work for a small software company in Portland called Kryptiq that provides, among many other useful products, a secure messaging service that allows patients to send a message directly to their doctor and receive back a response typically within a few hours - and often in just a few minutes. Imagine being able to text your provider any medical question and set up all your appointments this way - it's super convenient! And so it has been a super cool experience to use the very product that I help to develop (for the past eight years) in the real world as I've gone down this twisting path. Once you get used to this you will most definitely wish that every doctor and clinic used this instead of the phone tag system of insanity. Or even worse - sending all labs and appointments by the ancient dead tree scroll method. Which might as well be smoke signals from my perspective. Here's a real example of how this helped me - I first setup all my appointments by email (probably while hanging out at the hatch). Then I had all my required lab work done right here in HR and Mal at GFH (in Portland) emailed back my (mostly excellent) results in less time than it took me to ride home. I was able to view my labs right on my phone so I immediately knew that all was well in the blood dept. This is how it should always be!
Anyway, I had my checkup and we talked about my mild feeling that I never quite returned to tip-top shape after the typhus. He listened to my heart for a long time and was concerned that I might have a slight murmur (leaky valve). To be safe, he did an EKG right there, which again was normal. However he wanted me to follow up with a cardiologist and make sure nothing else major was screwed up. I agreed and this happened a week later (two weeks ago). The cardiologist, Dr David Shreoder (Providence), could also hear a murmur and the pulse in my abdomen was indeed somewhat harder then normal. However it still didn't seem that big of a deal. I was lean & fit, fairly young,
the Gorge is my gym! On Friday I rode my bike down to the water front and rented a SUP which I paddled around Wells Island, stopping on the way to pick some huge and juicy blackberries. I returned to the beach and jumped on my bike, riding over to the marina park which I ran around 8 times (guessing this to be three miles or so). Then I hopped back on the bike and rode up Indian Creek trail to the heights and took a round about path back through downtown HR and eventually home. I called this my gorge mini triathlon.
Tyler Roemer Photography). Despite the intense heat I thought it was a pretty easy ride - about 16 miles round trip.
On Sunday I was determined to go even harder. My plan was to do the complete "Hospital Hill" ride on the Washington side of the gorge. This climbs about 2k straight up from the town of White Salmon and reaches it's highest point near the top of Bowdoin Mountain. This rewards the big grunt up with one of the best views in the gorge - looking directly west about 20 miles down the Columbia along with a clear view of Mt Hood. It's also a very popular spot for para gliders as the summit "bench" is about 3K feet directly above the river below and the Hood River water front. Ironically this trail has some extremly steep and technical sections with the appropriate names of "Cardiac Arrest" and "Triple Bypass". And on this particular day I did them all! I did screw up by leaving much later on the ride than I should have. Being on the hotter side of the gorge, certain exposed sections of the trail can be ten degrees hotter then downtown HR, and on this Sunday the HR high temperature was 97. Yikes again! What might have saved me literally is that I had to leave before completing the entire loop (though I had done the hardest sections by this point) to drive to PDX and pick up Julia. And again I felt pretty beat up by this ride but it was only my second HH ride of the summer and also one of the hottest. So all in all I thought I did pretty well during the entire gorge marathon weekend. I picked up Julia and the next day woke up feeling nice and refreshed for my morning echo at Hood River Memorial.
I was anticipating this to be a fairly routine exam and HRM being close, though straight up a very steep hill from our house, I decided to take the leg powered vehicle and headed up. I was shocked that there were no bike racks in front of the hospital - I mean what, patients can't ride bikes to their exams? In Hood River of all places?? That seemed very odd to me for some reason. Anyhoo, I got there a half hour early as directed and was handed five sheets of forms to fill out. But I did all this on my last visit?
OK I have another pet peeve and again one which my company's products help to solve. Medical records should be electronically stored and always available to the patient via a secure online application. And the patient can then allow these records to be automatically sent to other providers and for referrals, so every time I step into a different doctor's office I don't have to fill out my entire medical history in triplicate by memory with a barely functional leaking bic pen. And then have all those forms stuffed into some random drawer or sent to China for all I know. I mean come on... what if I was very sick, and/or I can't remember everything that ever happened to me anymore (especially now) or if I make a serious mistake - like oops, forgot about that one antibiotic allergy. It's crazy that so much of our otherwise fine medical system rests on this antiquated system of record keeping (again dead tree scrolls). How many people get screwed up because some paper was lost, or misplaced or critical fact forgotttem on the tenth re-recording? Well fortunately for me Greenfield Health uses our very nice software so all my info was in fact already available to HRM. Yes!
Now I didn't have to fill out five dreary forms and instead spent my extra 30 minutes of life browsing last years issue of Obscure Professional Technical Review. The echo cardiogram procedure seemed unremarkable to me. I chatted with the technician (Andy Filer) who was very cool and calm, talking mostly about life in San Diego and surfing La Jolla. Occasionally I would hear a swish swish sound and get a glance of what looked like a very pissed off jelly fish. When we were all done and I was ready to jump back on the bike to ride home Andy suddenly became very serious. "I need you to stay here. Please don't go anywhere. And I need the name of the doctor who referred you." Who is actually on vacation right at this moment, but he said never mind all that - just whatever I did I was not to leave that room.
Now this was more then a little bit worrisome. Like maybe my murmur was bigger than I thought? But the situation got way more tense when he came back in a few minutes and calmly but very seriously said "I don't want you to get too concerned. But I need to take you to ER right now". I walked down with him more or less in silence. I knew there was nothing more that he could tell me and I was totally stunned. In the ER I knew some of the staff - this being Hood River we all windsurf together of course. It didn't help to see the very worried looks on their faces. I texted Julia the following:
Me: After the echo they brought me to the ER! 12:22 PM
Me: Not sure what's up but it can't be good 12:23 PM
She texted right back that she was on the way. Now they brought in an ER doctor, Karen O'Neil, who started asking questions. "Did I have any pain? Was I sure I didn't have any pain? Was I really really sure I didn't have any pain, like in my back or legs?" "No, No, No! I feel fine" was all I could respond. They listened to my heart and asked me what caused me to get an echo done that day. I gave them a brief recap, being sure to mention the typhus incident on Maui. One nurse, Ruthie Cleary (who was so very sweet and calming), had lived much of her life on the Big Island and never knew anyone who had typhus. Weird! By this time Julia showed up and I told her that I didn't know what was up yet. We were both very scared. The brought in an X-ray machine and zapped my chest. A couple minutes later they repeated the process. Then Julia heard that they were sending me to Portland Providence for emergency aortic aneurysm surgery!
This was basically my worse fear coming true. Thankfully I couldn't recall all the finer details and basic shit that an AA involved, but I knew it was very very deep. I was still scared - very - but at this point I realized that my past life was potentially over. I no longer had any control over the ensuing events that were quickly engulfing me. I could only hope that a life spent living healthy and well up to that point would somehow offer me some protection, like a token from a witch doctor that I could hold over my head in the hope that it might part a raging storm. I didn't cry, I didn't beg to any particular deity to spare me now. I figured whoever or whatever tugged the strings had already rolled the dice. The deal was done and at this point it was simply a matter of showing our hands. I hoped someone was bluffing but I doubted it. In fact the news was only going to get a lot worse.
Meanwhile the current debate in the ER was whether to life flight me or take the ambulance. They soon decided on the ambulance. I didn't know the significance at the time, but this was the first tiny hint that something might possibly be tilting in my favor. As they wheeled me away on the stretcher I told Julia not to worry. Actually I was very worried about her. In a lot of ways it's easier to simply die than to be on the other side and deal with all the emotions, and a lifetime of sadness and regret. The other thought going through my mind right then was that we probably weren't going to be on that flight back to Maui in one week. And picking up all our shiny new Goya sails. Damn!
Go to part II.