Insomnia Blues / Breathing Method
Plus a 90 minute nap in the late afternoon. To be fair, I should add that to the credit side of the Sleep Ledger. Or is that a debit and you enter it as a negative . . . hell, who but CPAs would know. No wonder CPAs and geeks never get laid . . . we’re all too busy checking out the trees and forgetting the forest.
Back up at 5 this morning. Took care of a couple of work things. Decided a quick 20 mile ride would be in order. Fretted a little bit about which route I’d take.
A little voice went off and said, “Hey, lazy fat boy, why don’t you try something other than flat ground for a change? You know, maybe actually do some cardio or aerobic work for a change? You will be riding over mountains at some point. Maybe you should actually put a little stress on your heart, what say?”
Damn I hate that voice. Hate it even more when it’s right.
I’m not a big fan of hills. I like ’em as much as I like 30 MPH headwinds. Strike that. Like them less than headwinds. Sometimes the wind will change direction, even if for only a few seconds. The hills? There’s no letting up. You climb them . . . or you don’t go any further.
Part of the problem is mental. (Which is what my exs have been saying about me for years. “Yeah, he’s mental.”) The first couple of years I rode I did so “suffering” from a “mutated” thyroid. The thing had grown so large in my throat that it was actually closing off my trachea, aka my windpipe. A normal trachea, not encumbered by a fat ass thyroid, has an opening of between 15cm and 20cm. You can get plenty of air down that bad boy.
My thyroid was literally choking me. It had pinched my trachea to an opening no more than 2 to 3 centimeters.
Try pedaling up a hill with 90% of your air cut off.
I remember the very first time I encountered this problem. I was riding along a very nice bicycle path in Westerville. Ahead of me was a incline. Perhaps a 5% grade. It was about 200 to 300 yards in length. I’d been pedaling serenely along and decided that I could stand to get my heart racing a tad. I revved up the engine and took the incline (it could not in any way be classified as a “hill”) as fast as I could.
When I got to the top of the incline I couldn’t breathe. I literally thought (and remember, when I use the word literally I understand exactly what that word means) I was going to die right there on the side of the road. I could not get any air. I was breathing just as hard as I possibly could. It was not unlike someone having his hands around my throat, preventing me from drawing any air in. I was starting to see spots and was headed towards black out.
Mentally telling myself to just calm down, sit down, that even if I did black out, my breathing would eventually kick back in.
Or, I’d die. But at least it’d be over. One way or the other.
I understand asthma sufferers go through this. Dear God, what an absolutely horrible feeling.
I made an appointment with the throat / ears / nose guys. They stress-tested me, put me on treadmills, measured my lung capacity (I’m a 36D!) They could find nothing wrong. All of my “breathing parts” were in fine working order.
Afterwards, I had a few more instances of nearly dying on the side of a road. (Including one time where some people pulled off to see if I was suffering from a heart attack as I was clutching my chest and turning blue.) I went to a specialist who gave me the news about my mutated thyroid. “Great, now that we know what’s causing the problem, how do we fix it?”
Surgery, of course. As he was required to do, he started rattling off the “things that could go wrong.” “We could cut your vocal chords.”
Those six little words kept me from having the surgery for four years. C’mon. A surgery that could remove my ability to talk? Or if not remove it completely, change my voice totally?
In that four years the condition got worse even as the distances I traveled on bicycles increased. I’d learned to anticipate when I was going to get hit, but that didn’t always work. Sometimes I’d be completely surprised. I’d be riding with moderate to low exercise levels and all of a sudden I just couldn’t breathe.
The first few hills of the day would always do me in. I remember when I did RAGBRAI, on the very first morning, at the very first hill, at about 6:15AM, I got to the top and truly thought I couldn’t go on. Only 470.5 miles to go of my 471 mile ride and I’m already thinking I’m finished. I thought, “I’ll just stay here in Iowa and sell bacon. Right here at the top of this hill.”
The condition worsened to the point I had to do something. Taking a drink of something cold would close up my throat. I would bolt upright out of a dead sleep unable to get a breath. I finally had a thyroidectomy in February 2010. They didn’t nick my vocal chords at all. Within about 6 weeks my voice was pretty much back to normal.
And I could breathe. And ride up hills. I still hate ’em, but I can ride up ’em. (Well, I haven’t tried the Rocky Mountains yet, but . . . )