This is the real reason I had my heart attack

Ever since I had my mini heart attack, people have been asking me why it happened.

No one seems to believe me when I say there was no known cause. Some people want to believe I had my heart attack because I’m chubby.

My doctor says that’s not the case. I am chubby, but I’m healthy. My body shows no signs of “metabolic disease,” pre-diabetes or anything of that sort.

My labs look great. My cholesterol is not high. I don’t smoke or drink. My blood pressure and other vitals are normal. My heart, which we’ve now seen inside and out thanks to my catheterization procedure in Honolulu, is in perfect health. There’s no disease or damage to be found.

My doctor says I’m a picture of health. She never mentions my weight. She knows I’m physically active and that I eat pretty healthfully. Not only that, your appearance doesn’t equate to your health. We’ve all heard of super fit and slim runners who dropped dead of a heart attack.

So if being overweight didn’t cause my heart attack, what did? The ER doc in Kauai had a theory, and I have to say I agree with her.

You see, a few hours before I had my heart attack in Hawaii, Z and I took a wild, thrilling, scary, high-speed, open-ocean boat trip known as Captain Andy’s Na Pali Raft Cave Patrol.

It isn’t actually a boat – it is a rigid-sided raft with no seats or seat belts. It has enormous engines on the back and the passengers sit on the sides of the raft and hold on tight. It basically beat us all to hell as we rocketed around in the ocean. This raft boat ride comes with serious warnings. Check it out:

WARNING: Due to the bumpy and bouncing nature of the ride, we cannot accommodate pregnant women, anyone with any history of back or neck issues, medical conditions or recent surgeries, or children under six years old. This can be a physically demanding ride. Participants should be in above-average physical shape. Elderly and frail individuals should strongly consider our sailing adventures.

Capt. Andy also reiterates this medical warning in their website FAQ:

Our rafting tours are great if you are interested in a smaller, more adventurous boat tour that goes fast and gets wet. The rafts are much more physical and can be bumpy – you must comply with our medical restrictions to join us on this tour. Please see our medical restrictions below.

RAFT MEDICAL RESTRICTIONS – Due to the nature of the ride, Capt. Andy’s cannot accommodate people with – pregnancies, bad backs, bad shoulders, recent surgeries, bad hips, bad necks, and bad knees.

Now, I read all that and we chose to go on this raft ride anyway. I am in no way blaming Capt. Andy or his awesome crew because they delivered on the promised experience! But here’s the thing: based on their warning, I thought I was fit enough to ride this raft boat. I didn’t have any pre-existing back, neck or heart problems, and I certainly don’t consider myself frail or elderly.

Don’t get me wrong. Z and I had a wild time on the raft boat ride and got to see dolphins, waterfalls, hidden beaches and sea caves up close – all of which were amazing, unforgettable experiences we never could have had any other way. Z absolutely loved the raft ride and said it was the highlight of our entire two weeks on Kauai.

That said, the raft experience was extremely physically and mentally taxing for me. I might re-write the warning for them a little bit. I read the warnings above and still went on the raft ride. Here’s what I would say is a more accurate depiction of the experience:

  • You know how on roller coasters and amusement park rides, it’s 90 seconds or two minutes of white-knuckled terror and holding on for dear life, but then it’s over? Well, this raft ride is like three hours straight of that, except you’re not strapped in – you just have to hold yourself in. Can you imagine what your arms and hands would feel like after three intense hours of gripping onto ropes as if your survival depends on it? Mine were shaky, fatigued and sore for days!
  • There are no seats on this raft boat, nor are there seat belts. There are safety ropes that you must hold onto with your little grippers – and another rope that you must wedge your bare foot under. That is all that will hold you in while the raft boat goes at top speed out into the open ocean where there are high winds and big waves. It may feel like you are dying; you may even wish you were dying after the first hour.
  • If you sit at the front of the raft boat, you will have a harder and rougher ride than anyone else on board. You will constantly feel like you are about to fly out and you will have to hold on tighter than you ever thought possible. Your hands may blister and your arms will cramp and ache, but there are minimal breaks – you have to somehow keep holding on. This is terribly stressful for the body and may in fact feel like trauma or extreme duress. I DO NOT recommend sitting at the front! But that’s exactly where we sat; we simply didn’t know any better.
  • In addition to holding on as tightly as you can for your own survival while the raft boat jets along at high speed on a wild open ocean, you will also be extremely stressed and worried about your child who is hooting, hollering and having the time of her life. You will be super anxious about her the entire time: sure, she’s having fun, but is she holding on tightly enough? What if she flies out? Should I then let go and fly out after her so she’s not alone in this wild ocean? These worries and ghastly visions in your mind will lessen the enjoyment of being out on the water seeing dolphins, waterfalls and sea caves.

Like I said above, I do NOT blame Capt. Andy or his awesome staff. I took the risk. I read the warnings and thought I’d be fine. Spoiler alert: I was not fine.

When I got off the boat, my hands, forearms and biceps were visibly trembling and basically useless from extreme muscle fatigue. I don’t even know how I got myself out of the raft and up onto the dock, to be honest. I felt like a cartoon character; my hands and arms felt as heavy and useless as socks filled with quarters. I could barely get my keys out and open the car door. I sat behind the wheel shaking and taking deep breaths until I felt ready to drive.

Zoe was totally fine! She was barely sore or fatigued at all. But I was a mess. I was shaky and my arms felt numb and almost lifeless. We went to a nearby beach and I sat in the car trying to drink water (I could barely hold or lift a small water bottle!) while Z collected shells. Then, I drove us home as safely as I could.

When we got back to the resort, I lay down and took a nap for a little while. After resting, my arms still felt heavy and weak, but the rest of me felt okay. I wasn’t shaking or trembling anymore. I had something to eat and was able to drink out of a glass with no problems.

Z said she was going down to the pool, so I watched her leave but then realized she hadn’t put any sunscreen on. I grabbed the sunscreen and headed down to the pool to give it to her. That’s when my medical misadventure story began. All the details are in that linked post.

When I got to the ER that afternoon, the doctor asked what I had done that day. When I told her I was on Capt. Andy’s wild raft boat ride, she gave a knowing nod and said I was not the first person she’s heard that from. Apparently, those rafts are known for being extremely wild rides that can send a person to the ER. That doc said she doesn’t think anyone over 40 should ever get on them!

Again, I am not blaming Capt. Andy one bit. I can’t stress that enough. I took this on myself and the decision to take the raft ride was my responsibility. But I do think some of my info above could help someone else make an informed decision about whether or not this is the ride for them.

I personally would not take that raft ride again – I would happily take Capt. Andy’s sailboat ride next time. Your mileage may vary – but for me, all that holding on for dear life was a little too literal. I’ll be more comfortable next time on a boat where I don’t have to grip so tightly!

What do you think – was the ER doc right? Was the wild raft boat ride a little too much for my ticker? I’d love to hear your expert and non-expert medical opinions in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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