Yesterday, I Saved My Brother’s Life

Yesterday, I Saved My Brother’s Life!

Now, what can I do today to top that!!! I am not truly sure if I really saved Arnie’s life, but yesterday I definitely helped him avoid a risky medical procedure. I will let you decide if I actually saved his life or not. In the meantime, I will fill you in on the background, so you have the full picture.

Arnie turned 65 on Monday and he decided to take the day off. He is a urologist in Pittsburgh, PA and has a very busy practice. I called my brother in the morning and wished him a happy birthday. We talked about my upcoming visit for his birthday party on Saturday. He was in very high spirits and we had a great conservation. I could feel the tremendous energy in his voice and knew he was going to have a fantastic day. Little did he or I know the events that would unfold.

I was at home working when he called around 2 pm. Earlier Arnie went the gym and while on an exercise bike, he held a heart rate monitor. My brother spent many years as a runner, so his heart rate rarely goes above 105 bpm (beats per minute). At some point, he looked at the monitor and noticed his heart rate was over 160 bpm. He immediately stopped peddling and tried to slow his heart rate. While checking his pulse, he determined that he was in atrial fibrillation (AFib for those of you who watch Grey’s Anatomy). According to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib. Since Arnie is a physician, he knew all of these risks.

Before calling me, Arnie had talked with a cardiologist buddy who suggested he go home and rest for a few hours. Seemed like a good idea at the time, since he was not experiencing other symptoms that indicated other cardiac events. Arnie monitored his blood pressure at home and it was still quite elevated, and his heart rate would not return to his normal resting rate of 62 bpm, and stayed north of 80 bpm. My brother rested for a few hours and nothing changed. He called the cardiologist again and the new decision was for my brother to head to the ER (emergency room for those of you who have never seen a medical show on TV). Arnie called me with the update around 5 pm. Clearly, this is not what he was envisioning on the day of his 65th birthday!

I talked to my brother at 7 pm Monday night, and the decision was to admit him to the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) for observation, and hopefully his heart would revert back to a normal rhythm on its own by morning. If his heart did not go back to normal rhythm, on Tuesday they would take him to a procedure room, anesthetize him and actually shock his heart to end the AFib to resume normal functioning. Not the end of the world, but certainly adding to his concerns about the risk of anesthesia, let alone shocking his heart back into normal rhythm.

I called Arnie at the hospital early the next morning. The good news was his blood pressure was down to normal, but he was still in AFib and his heart rate was 83 bpm. He was simply waiting for a room to open, when they would take him downstairs to do the procedure. Arnie was in very good spirits—not quite as good as when I spoke to him the morning of his birthday, but he was very upbeat. My brother had been practicing deep breathing and he was convinced that his mindful breathing played a big role in lowering his blood pressure. He was a bit frustrated that his heart rate had not dropped as well. We joked that perhaps he might consider doing some relaxing yoga poses, and he said, “Sure, I think I will do a headstand.”

Wait a minute! I’m a certified yoga teacher and know that inversions can help slow the heart and lower blood pressure. I typically end yoga classes I teach, with a position known as legs up the wall. Imagine that you are on your back and move your booty as close as you can to a wall so that your feet are resting at a 90-degree angle, elevated against the wall. Then, without missing a beat (ha ha), I suggested to Arnie that he find a way to get his “legs up the wall.” After discussing this for a minute, he agreed that it was a good suggestion and he would give it a try. I wished him luck and headed to a meeting.

Around noon, I received a call from my brother and it was clear from the background noise he was in a car, and I assumed headed home. I was elated that the procedure has gone well and he was out of the hospital; cross that worry of the list! Arnie was jubilant and told me that I could not imagine what had transpired. After I talked to him in the morning, he positioned his hospital bed at a 90-degree angle. As he was doing this, his CCU nurse came in the room and asked, “Dr Sholder, what are you doing?” Arnie explained that his brother is a yoga teacher and suggested that he rest with his legs up the wall to possibly lower his heart rate. Well, the nurse gave him a look that told him, “Sure anything you say Dr Sholder!” Without further delay, the nurse helped Arnie put his legs against the raised part of the bed, essentially putting him in legs up the wall pose. Since my brother was in CCU, he was hooked up to a cardiac monitor. Within seconds, his nurse noted that his heart rate was dropping. In less than a minute, his heart rate dropped from 82 bpm to 64 bpm—and while his nurse was tracking this on the monitor she proclaimed, “Dr Sholder, your heart is now back in normal rhythm.” Holy cow, what just happened! Arnie’s cardiologist came into the room and heard the story. The cardiologist was shocked and could not comprehend how yoga had cured my brother. Arnie wanted to show him legs up the wall and the cardiologist said “No, not today!”

I loved hearing my brother’s voice as he told me the story. It reminded me of his excitement two days earlier, his 65th birthday. Arnie told me I saved his life with a yoga pose. Did I really save his life? From his perspective, at least I saved him from undergoing both the risks of anesthesia and having his heart shocked; after all there were potential complications involved that could have catastrophic consequences. Also, he would need to take a blood thinner after his discharge from the hospital. Since his heart flipped into normal rhythm on its own, no need for any medication. Who would have guessed that a little mindful breathing and putting his legs up the wall would solve my brother’s medical condition, and send him merrily on his way home? As both a person who lives by mindfulness and a regular yoga practice I know that at times we have to give into the power of the Universe.

So, did I really save my brother’s life? It is very cool to think I did, and what I like more is knowing the powers tied to both calming your mind/breath and the yoking of those elements with yoga poses. Should I send a letter to American Heart Association letting them know about a new revolutionary treatment from AFib? No matter, now I can focus on heading to Pittsburgh for the weekend and truly feel grateful that my brother’s heart episode is resolved, and now he can truly celebrate his 65th birthday.