Category Archives: Video

Kintsugi: The Art of Embracing Damage

A new fellow valve replacement surgery friend (“Valver” as we say) emailed me to tell his similar story to me. One thing he said stuck out to me, and reminded me of something that I have thought about quite a bit, but never wrote about here. He wrote,

I think of myself as an analogy…I feel like a broken plate that’s been glued back together…in one piece, but it won’t take much to break me again.”

kintsugiThis describes Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi), the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. What my new friend doesn’t realize, is that although he feels fragile now (he is still only 5 months post op), when the lacquer dries, he will feel more beautiful, and stronger than before. I can speak to this from experience. The speed and volume of personal and emotional growth that I have experienced since my heart surgeries has been incredible. I am a better, kinder, more honest person now, because this experience has unlocked something that was laying dormant inside me.

Please watch this very informative and poetic explanation of what Kintsugi is. When I watch this video, it brings me to tears because for someone who has been through a traumatic experience such as open heart surgery, Kintsugi is more than an analogy.

Some quotes from the video:

The art of Kintsugi became famous for turning broken objects into pieces more beautiful than the original product.

The fractures on a ceramic bowl don’t represent the end of that object’s life, but rather an essential moment in its history. The flaws in its shape aren’t hidden from inspection, but emblazoned with golden significance. 

The pristine is less beautiful than the broken. 

Pale Blue Dot

I’d like to write right now, but I think I need a catalyst. I’d like to talk about a clip from Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series. The Pale Blue Dot, an observation that also inspired a book by Mr. Sagan, is a photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager 1 spaceprobe at an incredible distance of 3.7 billion miles away. The picture sparked some philosophical ideas that Carl Sagan thought worthy of discussing. The video below takes his famous speech and adds some pop culture clips and music for entertainment value. Watch the video and if you like, read below what this means to me. The script is here btw.

The point of his speech is summed up at the end:

“To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” 

The idea that I am a tiny speck on a tiny speck does indeed make me feel small, as it should, but it does not make me feel insignificant. What i take away from The Pale Blue Dot, is:

1. I am small and cosmically unimportant. However, I am important to my loved ones, and there are people who are important to me. What a gift it is for all of us to have lucked out in having the opportunity to experience life! Whether it was given to us, or we simply happened to be the lucky sperm, we have a special opportunity to be alive.

2. Why not spend this amazing opportunity to “deal more kindly with one another.” Carl Sagan was famously anti-nuclear arms and used this photograph of an insignificantly small Earth to demonstrate the insignificance of our disputes responsible for war and violence.  This insignificance does not diminish our love, however. Our love for one another is a useful way to spend our short time here on this spec.

My recent days have been full of thoughts of life and death. When mortality is so blatantly obvious as it has been for me lately, it can be hard to stay focused. I have always loved The Pale Blue Dot because of its positive message. As I sit here attempting not to wallow, this Carl reminds me of the simple truth that I am alive, and I have the capacity to love. There is absolutely nothing insignificant about that.

Slackline Confessional

A couple posts ago, I mentioned an email correspondence I had with Dr. Lawrence Creswell, a cardiac surgeon who blogs about athletes’ hearts, and athletes with heart problems. His recent post, More on Athletes and Bicuspid Aortic Valve (BAV), dives very deep into the various issues that someone like me thinks about and needs to make decisions about. It is a very thorough post. Dr. Creswell’s blogging helps heart patients everywhere, not just the ones that he gets paid to treat. He touches many hearts (beyond the hearts he touches). See what I did there? That was a heart surgeon joke. In all seriousness, this is what the internet is for. Dr. Creswell ends his post with some points that he also made in an email to me:

“Athletes will ask when they can return to their sports….

…Unanswered questions include:  Can a bioprosthetic valve wear out more quickly than expected?  Does the (unreplaced) aorta enlarge over time?  If so, how quickly?  Do medications like beta-blockers limit any potential harm?  We just don’t know.

Yet I’m personally aware of a good number of athletes who’ve returned to endurance sport after operations of various sorts for BAV, presumably after discussion with their doctors.  Athletes should have detailed discussion with their doctors about any prudent limitations to exercise after operation and settle on a mutually agreeable plan.”

I think Dr. Creswell is saying two things here. On one hand, he feels that heart valve replacement patients should not do certain sports, including endurance cycling and rock climbing, and on the other hand, many patients are going to do it any way, as long as their docs give them the proper low down. I think most athletes are willing to take that risk. I understand that there isn’t enough data out there for some doctors to completely release their heart valve patients into the world of extreme and endurance sports. The thing is, and as Dr. Creswell reluctantly acknowledged, some of us are completely willing to be the lab rats. Quality of life includes doing the things one loves to do, not necessarily living to be 105.

Inspired by Dr. Creswell’s post, and after some reflection, I decided to do my first video Blog (Vlog) while slacklining. Thanks for watching! I call it ‘Slackline Confessional’.

Fun little side note, moments after I posted this video, I hopped back on my bike and almost got clobbered, sending me over my handlebars to avoid a collision with a truck backing out of a driveway. Moments of clarity are often quickly replaced with the harsh reality that is life!

Hands to Heart Center

If you live in the Redlands, California area, please check out Inner Evolution Yoga.

Phil and I were originally climbing buddies  before he opened his own studio. His studio donates to local causes, and has weekly community donation yoga classes, where anyone can come and practice yoga for whatever they can afford. Inner Evolution is about community.

The Yogis call it your ‘yoga practice’, because that’s all it is. It’s like life, something that you must practice, and get better at. Some days are better than others. There are many physiological aspects that Yoga is assisting me with, such as breathing and core strength. Yoga also reminds me that it is okay to let some things go. If it is going to injure you, then let it go. Come back to it next time. Patience and persistence. There are many analogies.

And on that note, something completely different (not really). When I watched the following Nike commercial, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I usually don’t pay much attention to commercials, but I get this one. It’s like Dr. Seuss’ “Oh The Places You’ll Go” for extreme & endurance athletes.

“You’re in a fight against an opponent you cant see but oh, you can feel em’ on your heels cant you? Feel em’ breathing down your neck. Know what that is? THAT’S YOU.”

go get em.

Warm-heartedness for Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

The internet is full of rants. Perhaps this will help tip the balance.

I’m thankful for my health. You heard me. Despite the fact that I need major surgery, everything else is working swimmingly. This will help my recovery, I hope.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama discusses how fear and anger are connected, and how these feelings can affect the physical body. I have been aware of this for the past few years, and it has been an ongoing process to improve. One should not feel bad for being afraid, however the more we can let go of these fears, the more anger we can also release. ohmmmmmmm…

I’m also thankful for my Mother, and Natalie

Writing Prompt taken from: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/daily-prompt-thanks/

The Athlete’s Heart

cycling red rocks

cycling red rocks

The different opinions coming from different patients and doctors about how much exercise is appropriate for someone with BAV can be a little frustrating. There are various camps out there on this matter, and I will attempt to break it down here. Keep in mind that recommendations can vary depending on severity of regurgitation & stenosis, and the presence/ size of an associated thoracic aortic aneurysm. My current status is Bicuspid Aortic Valve with mild-severe regurgitation and 4.6cm ascending aortic aneurysm. Here we go:

1. Doctors and patients who see the potential of dissection and rupture, even though it might be a small risk. If there is a possibility, then why risk a catastrophic event with the stress of exercise? These opinions stem from the recommendations made at the 36th Bethesda Conference in 2005. Walking, bowling and golf are ok.

2. Doctors and patients who take a cautious yet more liberal approach. This is where I’ve been hanging out for the past few months. I continue my normal forms of exercise, yet I do not push myself. Keep BPM under 140, avoid the Valsalva Maneuver while exercising, and listen to your body.

3. Patients who say, “Screw what anyone else says, I’m doing what I want!” I seriously considered this for a while. Not the smartest move, but potentially liberating. Potentially liberating from life as well.

I just recently had a cool email correspondence with Dr. Larry Creswell, from a blog that I’ve been following called athletesheart.blogspot.com. His blog is exactly the resource that I need. He is a Cardiologist who cares enough about people like me to make his knowledge available to the public. He also responded to an email of mine in full detail. I asked Dr. Creswell about what he thought I should be doing in regards to exercise right now, and he definitely falls under category #1. His response was, and I quote:

“…You ask about my thoughts about exercise between now and 11/25.  I’d be very cautious.  Guidelines developed by an expert panel can be found online in the Proceedings of the 36th Bethesda Conference.  Athletes with BAV and aortic diameter >4.5 cm should participate in only low-intensity sports (eg, golf, bowling).  I know that’s not what you’d like to hear.      On the brighter side, once you’ve recovered from operation you should be good to go.  I’m aware of a bunch of young athletes who’ve returned to their sports after operations like yours.  You might check out Ironheart Racing online; their founder, Dave Watkins, had your operation and is back at triathlon.  Climbing El Capitan would be awesome.”

Dr. Creswell is right. That IS NOT what I wanted to hear, though it is important for me to hear these second opinions. His thoughts will definitely help me shape the next couple of months. Maybe I should scale back a bit. More yoga. Less climbing. Less hills while cycling. More patience.

Ima still jump off cliffs though

The Gimp Monkeys

I first saw this video at the 2012 Banff Mountain Film Festival. Three climbers, each missing one or more limbs, climb the route Zodiac on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. I remember tearing up while watching these inspiring dudes, And I imagined myself in their shoes (or prosthetics). Then it dawned on me. I AM those guys, or rather I could be. I am going to have a prosthetic aortic valve. Now, I want more than anything to be like them. Climbing will not be easier, but it will not be impossible. Nothing will be impossible. After my heart surgery, I will climb El Capitan.

cheers

Anthony