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Cover Story

Fit for Life: Why We Work Out

A retired former SWAT officer's continued stringent exercise regimen saved his life.

March 01, 2011  |  by Derrick D. Bartlett


Honestly, I thought it was just a bad chest cold.

I started that morning with a visit to the doctor's office, fully expecting to walk out with a prescription for some knockout medicine and get on with life. Instead, the next few hours turned into a whirlwind of frenetic activity by an assortment of medical personnel, with me ending up in an Intensive Care Unit 90 miles from home. But let me back up and fill in some of the details.

Something's Wrong

I was finally at home after spending three weeks on the road. The last week or so, I had developed a nagging dry cough. Naturally, my first thought was I was coming down with something. After all, my wife Julie had just gotten over a cold a few weeks before that. She was the one who noticed the next oddity: My heart was trying to pound its way out of my chest. My resting heartbeat was noticeably harder and faster than normal. I jokingly told her it was because I was excited to be home. I wasn't worried because even though I'm no longer on SWAT or in law enforcement, I've made an effort to maintain a high level of physical fitness. 

But over the next two days, other more worrisome things started to happen. The cough was getting worse, and several times I found myself breathless and lightheaded when I stopped. The simplest of physical tasks, like walking to the mailbox, also left me struggling to catch my breath. Last, but certainly not least, my right calf had swollen to nearly twice its normal size. With all of this, it was time to go to the doctor.

We were fortunate enough to find a doctor who could get me in within two days. When we met the doctor that morning, we still believed it was going to be something simple. However, the expression on the doctor's face was less than comforting. Right there, he made a phone call to a colleague-a specialist-and we listened as he told him I needed to be seen right away.

Medical Mystery Tour

Our next stop was the office of that cardiologist. He conducted an EKG, checked my leg, asked a few questions, and then started scribbling frantically on some official-looking form. Finally, he gave me the news.

He believed I had a blood clot in my leg, and it appeared that it may be breaking up and sending additional clots into my lungs. The only way to know for sure was with the additional tests he was ordering, to be done immediately in the emergency room. Off we went to the next stop on the Medical Mystery Tour.

I walked into the emergency room about 15 minutes later. I handed the nice lady at the desk the paperwork I'd been given. Next thing I know, I'm being assisted into a wheelchair and hustled down a hallway to the heart of the ER. Quickly I was transformed into a patient: gown, gurney, oxygen and monitors, tests and more tests, all in rapid succession. Then lots of questions: Are you having chest pain? Have you been coughing up blood? Do you need oxygen? No, no, and no.

Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

gmaxx @ 3/2/2011 1:38 AM

excellent article, what a motivating story, for both active and retired Police Officers. My Academy Instructor drilled in our heads "The more you sweat in the gym, the less you will bleed in the streets"

Ric Walters @ 3/2/2011 5:19 AM

A great reminder of why I survived a heart incident 13 years ago. I found myself in the doctor's office after 3 days of symptoms, none of which I took seriously (bad karma for a former paramedic). They hustled me off to the hospital, and were ready to discharge me because they couldn't find anything physically wrong with me - that is until the lab results came in and they decided to hang on to me till I could have a nuclear stress test, the results of which led to two angioplasties and placement of 2 stents. Had I not been in pretty good shape when it happened, the symptoms that took 3 days to manifest probably would have all hit at once, and I'd be dead, or have had a double or triple bypass. Genetics played the major role in my event, but staying in shape saved my life!

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