Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Life's "Little" Surprises and Swim Therapy

Life's "Little" Surprises.
I should have seen it coming, I really should have. Instead, as I drove to the cardiologist's office I thought to myself that my blood pressure readings were so good during the 24 hour test that the doctor's going to tell me that I'm afraid of doctors and there's nothing else to worry about.

No such luck. The doctor did tell me that my blood pressure looked great. That part I was right about. What I wasn't right about was the rest of it. The stress test looked good. The echocardiogram looked pretty good, turns out I have 3 valves with trace murmurs which means they leak a tiny bit but the doctor assures me there's nothing to worry about. The blood work. Total of 203 for the cholesterol which was a little high, but nothing to necessarily jump up and down about. My LDL's were higher than he wanted at 132. They need to be under 130. My HDL looked good.

And then. There's a chemical in your blood called CRP that essentially measures how inflamed your cardiovascular system is... blood and veins, arteries, etc. Below 3 is "normal." Above 10 means you probably have some sort of infection in your body. Mine was 7.2, which means I have a "higher relative cardiovascular risk." The doctor said this put me in the category where people seem healthy and then pieces of plaque break off causing issues. I, unfortunately, have known 2 people who had such a thing that caused a massive heart attack. One was playing tennis and died before he hit the ground. Thus, I said to the doctor, "that's not really good for someone who does triathlons." He said, "No, but it's not good for someone just walking around either."

The result? I have to take a slew of B vitamins, a baby aspirin each day, and a daily dose of 5 mg of Crestor (cholesterol medication). In 3 months I have more blood work to see if it's working and go back in to chat with the doctor again.

The good news? I asked the doctor point blank if I can keep doing triathlons. He said yes. Realizing that we triathletes speak our own little lingo:
I asked: Can I keep training for my Half Ironman competition?
Doctor: Yes.
Me: A Half Ironman is 70.3 miles in one day.
Doctor: (Laughing and looking at me like I was crazy.) You have to RUN 70.3 miles?
Me: No. I don't run the whole thing. I swim 1.2 miles of it, bike 56 miles, and then run 13.1 miles at the end. No breaks in between.
Doctor: When is this race?
Me: September 27th.
Doctor: That should be okay. Make sure you get the prescription filled, the baby aspirin, and the B vitamins.

So I left a bit shocked and bewildered. It had not gone at all as I had envisioned it. I had lunch with Mr. Darcy and told him all this. He said that the medicine would help things and there wasn't much we could do about it. It was the shock of it all. I thought all was perfectly fine and it turned out it wasn't quite.

Unfortunately I sometimes turn to food for comfort, so I stopped at Davis Bakery on the way home and bought a slice of Chunky Monkey cake (a layer of hummingbird - banana nut - cake in between 2 layers of chocolate cake... a normal 3 layer cake... with cream cheese frosting). It was good.

As I walked in the door though, I heard someone leaving a message on the answering machine. Seeing it was the endocrinologist letting me know they had the lab results for the re-test of my thyroid and cortisol levels. I called them back and was told that just like last time, my thyroid was in the normal range but my cortisol levels were still "elevated." The person I talked to then told me I needed to have a DEXA scan done.
Me: What's a DEXA scan?
Person: A bone density test.
Me: Why would I have a bone density test because my cortisol levels were high? Doesn't that have to do with my adrenal glands?
Person: I don't know. That's just what it says here.

So, being one who wants answers, I went online. DEXA scans are sometimes used to test bone density when cortisol levels are high to see how far along Cushing's Disease/Syndrome has gotten. I look up Cushing's Syndrome. The Mayo Clinic says it's when your body has been exposed to high levels of cortisol for long periods of time and is commonly caused by either over exposure to steroids (nope) or tumors (usually benign) on either the pituitary, adrenal glands, or tumors on the lung, pancreas, thyroid, or thymus gland. Unfortunately, a lot of the symptoms are also symptoms of PCOS and then add high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatigue, anxiety, muscle weakness (including back pain), weight gain particularly around the midsection. All of which I suffer from.

It could just be that I have other existing things that cause such symptoms and the high cortisol levels are from stress. This is my mantra at present.

Of course, I also found out that there's a test that is used to help determine whether someone has Cushing's Disease that is called a dexamethasone suppression test. As in DEXA test? I call the doctor's office back and start asking questions. The person asks me if I am TriMommy. I tell her, yes. She asks me if my phone number is X. I say yes. She tells me that she is talking to the doctor about me that very minute and could she call me back? I of course say yes.

4:57 pm rolls around and no one has called me back. I call them. The nurse tells me that the person I spoke to earlier misread the doctor's handwriting and that they were very sorry and that I am, in fact, supposed to have a dexamethasone suppression test and that they will be sending the documents I need for the prescription and the blood work to me in the mail. As soon as I receive said paperwork, I need to follow a set procedure and they'll call me to discuss results or have me come in.
Me: Why am I having this test?
Nurse: To rule some things out.
Me: I've been online, so I'm guessing you mean Cushing's Disease?
Nurse: I'm not supposed to say so that you don't get worried, but yes.
Me: Ok. Well I have PCOS that has a lot of the same symptoms.
Nurse: Well, the doctor needs you to do this blood work.
Me: Ok. Thanks.

I'm not feeling overly confident in the doctor's office at the moment. Although, I can easily see how someone could misread a doctor's handwritting in this situation too. And I'm also completely freaked out by the possibility of even having to determine if I have Cushing's Disease.

If I do end up having it, they have to figure out why I have it. Where will the tumor be? My pituitary gland (which is in my BRAIN!)? My adrenal glands (top of the kidneys, more easily dealt with)? Or places unknown? My mind is going a mile a minute, especially when I see that the 1st line of treatment for either type is to REMOVE THE TUMOR. Brain surgery? Kidney Surgery? Other surgery? Or will I be the small group that has Pseudo-Cushings, which means I'll display all the symptoms, the tests will tell them I have Cushings but then they'll never find any tumors? And then literally: If I have to have surgery how much time will I lose from my TRIATHLON TRAINING!?

Last night I dreamt about being told I have to have brain surgery. In it I went on a rant that when something like this: You're not going to crack open my skull to do this right? You'll go in through my nose or my ear or something (this morning's research showed it's through your nose)? And you're not going to be the one to do it, right? You're going to send me to a brain surgeon that specializes in this. In fact, you're going to send me to the be brain surgeon that specializes in this in the country because if someone f's up, that's my brain we're talking about!

So you probably wouldn't be surprised if I told you that I was up this morning starting at 3 am and spent some time on the internet doing more research. Saying the rosary. Repeating "Everything is going to be fine. You do not have Cushing's. You probably just have other things and unexplained high cortisol."

Swim Therapy.
When it hit 5:35, I left the house to get training buddy Ryan. We swam Lucky's Lake this morning... 3 full crossings for a total of 3,000 m (a crossing is over and back). I worked on a new, more efficient sighting technique than what I had been doing. I liked it and it was great. Now to get myself to actually use it in a race... The lake was busy with swimmers this morning, but it was gorgeous. Plus, it thinned out after the 1 time crossing group headed out. Thankfully the guy swimming a frog style swim on his back was part of that crowed. Try to avoid the guy and he swims over and kicks me... twice. Annoying.

The swimming really helped calm me down and realize that my mantra is true: Everything is going to be fine. And you know what? Even if I do have Cushings and I end up having to have surgery (brain or otherwise), it will still be okay. I'll just be even more of an unlikely triathlete than I am already. And I'll be even that much more amazing when I finish my races.

It's amazing what a great swim can do. How can it not take your mind off your problems when you're counting "1, 2, 3, breathe left; 1,2,3, breathe right; 1,2,3, breathe forward" the entire time? Or when you feel like when you get to the 2750m point that you're swimming but you're not moving forward? You really want to get to the dock, so you definitely have focus elsewhere, and discover that you are moving forward because now you're at the dock.

A little swim therapy goes a long way. Even if I do smell like a lake afterwards...

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