The Power of Pure Will

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I started jogging a week ago because my super busy schedule (again, one day job + 6 side jobs and counting) has left me no time to go to the gym for two months. Although I have all the legimate excuses in the world to just give up exercising all together, I didn’t. Time, of course, is one thing. The other reason is my health condition, more precisely, my heart condition. 

I had been going to the gym regularly for two years, but I never pushed myself too hard. I usually just rode the stationary bike equipped with a 13-inch TV screen, or I just walked on the treadmill. I tried yoga and hated it, and the one thing that I never did was running. 

Because I thought my heart couldn’t take it. 

When I was 13, I joined a squash course for the first time. In the first lesson or so, my coach had us run in the squash court. I was never athletic to begin with. Suddenly I had a cardiac arrest. I thought it would go away but it continued for like 15 minutes. I was admitted to the A&E and within seconds I was surrounded by an army of doctors and nurses because heart attacks were definitely classified as an emergency that required immediate attention. My doctor found that there was an abnormal electrical pathway in my heart. I could get an noninvasive surgery to remove it, but I was too young for that, so they just prescribed me pills. 

No kids want to take pills on a daily basis. After a year or so I just stopped taking them, and the problem seemed to have gone away. I then went to the States for college, but I experienced a few episodes of short cardiac arrests in which I was blinded for a few seconds before my heart pace returned to normal on its own. 

After I came back to Hong Kong, I resumed my consultation with cardiologists. I was told during the so-called “short circuit” episodes, my heart was unable to pump blood to my brain, thus resulting in the temporary blindness. I was 22, my doctors thought I was old enough to finally get the surgery done. They warned me of the risks, but what surgery was foolproof anyway? 

I didn’t feel a hint of fear until the moment I saw the big needles that would punch holes in my thighs. I was completely conscious during the operation. I could feel something moving inside my heart chambers, and I felt moments of shock and slight pain when they tried to remove that pathway with radiofrequency ablation. That operated last longer than expected, and the cardiologist performing the surgery was said to be the best in that hospital. I heard them talking about how they had difficulties locating something, but it didn’t make sense to me until after the last shock when the doctor sighed, “She is so young.”

That was when I realized something was wrong. 

My parents were anxiously waiting in the hallway when I came out from the cold operation room. I was still on an operation table and was carried back to the ward I was staying when my doctor had a chat with my parents. A while later I was told I suffered from a “heart block”. I didn’t exactly know what it meant. It was like part of my heart was dead or paralyzed during the process. My heart rate was only 40/minute. No matter what they tried, it couldn’t get up to what a normal girl my age could, say 80/minute. 

My doctor said if the condition continued. I would need to get a pacemaker implanted in me. Every few years I would need to have another survey done to replace the battery. I would have much higher risks at childbirth and many other situations. 

My doctor did say I didn’t have to rush into getting a pacemaker yet because I wasn’t in immediate danger. He said chances were that part of my heart was only paralyzed and it may “wake up” one day, but no one could tell when. I could see my parents’ devastation when they listened to him explaining to me. I still remembered how I stared at him with my eyes wide open because I knew if I blinked, my tears would fall. I didn’t wanna let my parents know how scared I was. I’d rather have them think I was just too young to know what death meant. 

When I was finally left alone, I gave myself a self talk. I decided not to get a pacemaker until it was 100% necessary. I would give myself time to heal. I didn’t know if I would get better, but I told myself I would anyway. I needed to make myself believe what the circumstances required me to believe. 

I WILL recover, I told myself.

They ran many more tests on me in the following week. I was wired with dozens of cables and tapes and I had to stay at that special care unit. I needed to drag a heavy machine to the bath room with me.

Again, I was 22. 

I rested for a month and returned to work like normal. I just put my heart condition behind me. I sort of hynotized myself to believe I was healthy like everyone else. I rarely brought my heart condition up in front of anyone. In fact, I had almost forgotten about it. I stopped visiting the cardiologists eventually because many months later I got my first stationary bike at home, and my heart rate could reach 120/minute when I tried really hard.

So fast forward to last Thursday. I had never run since my first heart attack more than a decade ago. Once I picked up my speed, an abdominal pain immediately kicked in. I ignored it and told myself at least try a sustain a little longer. I only jogged two laps and spent the rest of the hour circling the track. Yesterday was my fourth practice, and I jogged 7.5 laps plus walked 5 laps. 

So I guess I’m pretty qualified to talk about the power of will.

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About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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