On Sunday, my Apple Watch buzzed me with the unhappy news that it had detected an irregular heart rhythm.

If you have not been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, see your doctor.

Apple Watch

I had been sitting completely still, legs elevated, and had no palpitations or any other symptoms to indicate my heart was in trouble. I have a cardiologist who is keeping an eye on a little “normal, age-related” coronary artery blockage. So, I didn’t think it was AFib, a disease in which I knew little about. I wondered if I was about to get an unwelcomed education.

Suddenly, I felt the weight of the unknown, just when my husband and I are scheduled to fly to Amsterdam to celebrate my recovery with the nurses and doctors who saved my life in 2019.

I cancelled my workout and made a quick appointment with my cardiologist.

Ignoring my body nearly caused me my life

May, 2019, Amsterdam ICU

Ignoring my body’s signals that something was terribly wrong in 2019–on a cruise—very nearly caused me my life when an undiagnosed aneurysm leaked blood into my belly for several days before dropping me to the ground in Amsterdam.

I had the amazing luck to be rolled into the ER of OLVG Hospital as my heart stopped.

But I had prepared unknowingly for the long struggle I faced —I was a fitness instructor, and my muscles gave my body the energy to survive six weeks in the ICU. Even so, I was completely spent by the effort.

The slow recovery has given me a new appreciation of “normal.” Ever since I woke up in that Amsterdam ICU unable to move, I’ve devoted an hour a day to getting stronger. At first, I could barely move. An hour a day. I peeled a tangerine. An hour a day. I rolled over. I stood. I walked. Eventually, I ran.

June 2019, Amsterdam physiotherapy
July, 2021, South Florida

Paying attention now structures my life

Four years into this new life, I take nothing for granted. I begin the day laying out my exercise and food plan on the Weight Watcher app. I follow WECOACH Workouts to give me a professionally guided routine. I’ve learned to nap. And I listen to my body and seek—and follow—the guidance of doctors:

  • When my doctor noticed a lump in a breast two years ago, I had surgery to remove the mass. It was fat.
  • My mother had breast cancer, my father had pancreatic cancer, as did my aunt, so I did genetic testing this year to see if I carried the cancer gene. I do not.
  • My annual bloodwork showed that my cholesterol was slightly elevated—that’s nothing new, but this year I wanted to do something about it, so I asked my doctor to proscribe a statin. I also added walnuts to my daily oatmeal, incorporated Benecol with plant stanols instead of other margarine, and stuck with ground lean turkey for burgers. A month later, progress. Three months later, even better.
  • And when my Apple Watch told me to go see my cardiologist, I did.

I saw my cardiologist yesterday. An EKG was normal, my heartbeat was normal, I continued asymptomatic, and my history showed that I have a slight hiccup in my heartbeat which my watch might interpret as a problem. When she asked about my cholesterol, I was able to bring up my new bloodwork on my phone with numbers that gave her even more confidence in my health. My aerobic workouts are the equivalent of a daily stress test, she said, and I am passing with flying colors.

My cardiologist cleared me to travel. Amsterdam, here we come.

Lessons learned

  • Listen to your body.
  • Make—and keep!—regular doctor’s visits.
  • Do what you’re told, but ask questions.
  • Set small goals.
  • Celebrate each win.
  • Keep at it.

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