After several years of running, Cliff McCartney decided to take the plunge into triathlons. He picked the Inaugural Peachtree City Triathlon as his first attempt at the sport. Below is his race report in his own words and the amazing events that followed.
As told by Cliff McCartney:
How I Turned 10 Minutes in the Lake Into 4 Days In the Hospital.
What: The Inaugural Tri-PTC Triathlon (.5/12/3.8)
Where: Peachtree City GA
Last Saturday was my first triathlon. Considering where I've been, I feel blessed even to have toed the line.
I DNF'd on the swim. I feel like crap.
I was in the 5th wave of a 6 wave start. I got about 300 yards into the swim and I evidently inhaled some water. I don't recall doing it. I began to have trouble getting a deep breath. I stopped and held on to a kayak at about 400 yards and still couldn't get a breath. I looked at my HRM - 71% of max. Not working very hard - just couldn't breathe. I rounded the buoy at the halfway point and then had to stop again. I swam about 20 more yards and then I could not breathe at all. HRM at 75% of max. I decided to stop. They fished me out of the water and took me to the med tent.
After taking some oxygen I could breathe a little but I still had a pretty bad rattle in my lungs. I made my way back to the transition area. I went to get a bottle of water and began coughing. I leaned over to spit and noticed that my spit was bright red - I was coughing up blood. Not good. I went back to the med tent and they told me to get to the EMT truck right away. They looked at me and the next thing I knew I was in the back of an ambulance headed to the emergency room.
At the ER they took a chest X Ray and the doctor told me that "my right lung looked like I inhaled the whole lake." The official diagnosis was "aspiration pneumonia." They said that I needed to hang around a bit to make sure my lungs cleared. Then the doctor said, "Oh, by the way, where did this happen?" When I told him he decided that I needed to stay overnight. The lake we swam in was a little dirty. (I managed to turn a white Zoot tri-jersey brown - yuck!) Anyway, they wanted to fill me up with antibiotics to make sure my (damaged) lungs didn't get any infections from all the goop in the lake. I didn't want to stay but I agreed.
Sunday at noon, the doctor came into my room and said "Lungs clear, no fever, no infection, looks good." Then a long pause. "But..." he said, "we noticed a very slight elevation in your troponin level." Troponin is an enzyme that appears in the blood when there has been damage to the heart. According to the doctor, it is the definitive evidence of a heart attack. Great! Now I had a heart attack! I hadn't felt the slightest chest pain or any other symptoms, my EKG was perfectly normal, but blood chemistry doesn't lie.
Monday morning I had a cardiac catheterization. The test showed that my right coronary artery is 100% blocked. There is minor blockage in the other major arteries but it is not significant. That's the bad news. The good news is that my body has compensated for it. It managed to produce other ways to get blood to my heart. The docs call them "collaterals." i.e., I got a "natural bypass." The cardiologist said that since I was very active, he wanted me to take a stress test to see if there was any lack of flow to my heart at peak stress.
I had the stress test on Tuesday morning. I went 15 minutes on the treadmill, the last 5 at 170 bpm (about 93% of max for me). That has been the best part of the week for me. It felt great to get some movement! I asked them if I could come down later and do an hour or two. They said no.
The cardiologist said I was "unusual" and my case was "complicated." He said that it is not normal to have a patient come in with no symptoms and a 100% blockage and go 15 minutes on the treadmill. He said that he would review the results and decide where to go next. The choice was somewhere between doing nothing and doing a bypass.
Wednesday morning the doctor came in and told me that I could go home. The cardiologist could find no evidence whatsoever that I had a heart attack. He said that blood flow looked great at stress and that despite all evidence to the contrary, my heart was in good shape. There was no reason to do a bypass because I already had one. A bypass wouldn't make it any better. Since the artery was already blocked it will never get any worse. He said that while he would advise me not to do a triathlon this weekend, he saw no reason not to resume my training level.
After all that, the only thing that sustained any damage was my pride. I feel embarrassed, humiliated, frustrated, and mad. I have worked out hard all summer and couldn't even make it out of the swim. I feel about as low as you can get.
However, this will not stop me. I have already penciled in April 24, 2004 as my next tri - 2nd Tri-PTC Sprint. I'm going to take it pretty easy the rest of September and then work my butt off for 30 weeks getting ready for it. This thing will NOT defeat me. Priority #1 - LEARN HOW TO FRIGGIN SWIM!!!
I am so very thankful for all the support from my friends and family. My phone rang off the hook in the hospital with all the people calling to tell me they were thinking about me. I had lots of visitors.
Thanks for reading!!!