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May 14, 2009
Health considerations

June 2000: Russell is emergency airlifted from Mt. Shasta (another mountain climber took photos and was kind enough to send copies)

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
– Helen Keller

As readers have hopefully gathered, I am a meticulous person. At work, I always consider the worst-case scenarios. In our house construction, I make back-up plans for my back-up plans. I have spent more time preparing for my 160-mile birthday walk than I will actually spend doing the walk itself.

Nevertheless, there are a few factors over which I have no control. I have three major anecdotes to share.

The first is that I have a heart condition, and have had one since Junior High School. It is medically referred to as Superventricular Tachycardia, or SVT. It is colloquially referred to as a “flutter.” Briefly, a normal heart rate is about 60 beats per minute. During heavy cardiovascular exercise, this rate can increase to 180 beats per minute. My heart will suddenly start beating at more than 220 beats per minute, for no cause or reason.

After years of my mother arguing with doctors (“It’s just teenaged anxiety”), I was successfully diagnosed in High School. I have childhood memories of sitting in a room playing Foosball while all of my classmates were out enjoying PE. I now take 20 mgs of Nadolol every morning. This is not too bad, considering that some SVT patients take 20 times that much.

I continue to have spells about once a month that I bring under control by laying down and resting (another reason I am bringing a chair). There have been three major instances where my condition caused a more serious problem:

This last adventure brings up my second anecdote. When I was in the Shasta hospital, the doctors informed me that I also had a hernia and that I should get it taken care of. After I returned home, I went to my normal HMO (Kaiser), where the doctor told me I did not have a hernia.

This was several years ago. In preparation for my 50th birthday (and my walk), I recently underwent a complete physical. I mentioned my “hernia or no hernia” dilemma and my current doctor offered to check again. Her conclusion was “I can’t tell if you have a hernia or not.” She referred me to a surgical specialist.

The surgical specialist agreed that GPs sometimes have difficulty telling for certain. The specialist checked me yet again. Her conclusion? “You may have a hernia. Or you may not have a hernia. I’m not really sure.”

By this point, I really don’t care if I have a hernia or not. My question is: Can I do my 160-mile walk? Fortunately, the specialist’s answer is “Yes.” She added that I’m still very young, which makes me feel immensely happy.

The third anecdote involves a panicked phone call I received at work this week from my wife Gail. Apparently, temperatures in California’s Central Valley this weekend are forecast to hit 102º F. I can’t do very much about this one, other than dress appropriately, wear lots of sunscreen, stay hydrated, and not do anything foolish (I mean, besides walking 160 miles.)

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