With a song in my heart

During my visit to Birmingham last week, I mentioned that I’d heard about singing as therapy for damaged or diseased lungs.  The consultant was very positive about the whole idea.

Here’s the thing; to sing well, you need good breath control.  Good breath control comes from lungs that work properly.  Sing and your lungs get better.  And as your lungs improve your singing becomes easier.  A virtuous circle.

But what happens if you can’t sing (properly) and your lungs are damaged?  Can rehabilitation of the lungs help a dodgy voice?  This, I am about to find out.

In the dark days just before the lung resection, when I worried about the consequences of being deficient to the tune of one lung, I happened to read about a man who had his left lung removed and then went on to become a successful triathlete.  In what seems like a bizarre tale from late night TV but is really a testament to the amazing wonder that is the human body, the right lung, over a period of years, grew larger – expanded – and filled the cavity left by surgery.

I mentioned this to the cardiothoracic surgeon who was mulling over whether or not to go ahead with the operation.  He laughed; not in a funny ha ha or ‘that’s amazing, well I’m blowed…’ kind of way, but with a cruel and dismissive, ‘that’s about the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard’ type of put down; must be a pretty slow triathlon.”

I’ve since learnt to ignore negative comments from doctors; and let’s make no mistake – some are negative.  Perhaps unwittingly.  I guess that if they concentrate on the microscopic, it’s hard sometimes to see the whole organism.

So even though my new best friend in Birmingham tells all his patients with paralysed vocal cords that they won’t sing again, I take no offence; he can’t mean me.  I decide to investigate singing therapy.

Google quickly takes me to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, which provides singing therapy for people with severe lung disease.  With great success, apparently.  Too far away though.  A few clicks later and I fetch up at the home page of the British Lung Foundation.  I discover, to my great surprise, that there’s an exercise class for people like me right here in my hometown.  But no ordinary exercise class.  This is not the village hall and ‘jumpers for goalposts’ stuff.  This is state of the art equipment, supervised by qualified healthcare personnel.  You can’t go near the equipment without someone checking your vital signs.  And – they’re even in the process of setting up a singing therapy group.

The key to the door of this palace of dreams is via a referral from the cardiology department at the local hospital or GP.  Hang on a minute; I’m a patient of said cardiology department.  And my GP has encouraged me to exercise to keep the fibrosis at bay.  I’m about to call Annie and go off on a rant as to why no one mentioned this to me before – I could have been doing this years ago ….. when my eye is drawn to the Blogroll on the right-hand side of this webpage.  Just about where you are now.  There it is – a link to the BLF website.  I’ve clearly been here before.  This is embarrassing.

No matter; having suitably chastised myself, I go along for a look round and begin the process of joining.  It’ll take a few weeks; referral, assessment, a 6 minute walk test and then hopefully I’ll be good to go.  In response to a question from the nurse on duty, I happen to mention a recent late night visit from the Gods of Arrhythmia; she’s a bit concerned.  Perhaps I should go to A&E?  Noooooo.

I understand the concern of healthcare staff, but I’ve lived with this for 3 years now.  The pill-in-the-pocket¹ deals with it in a very short time.  If I should get accompanying chest pains, then I’ll go to the hospital like a shot.

A couple of days ago I went to see my friend Neil (mandolin player in Fat Freddy’s Cat) for a jam session.  For those who are not musically inclined, we do not sit around labouring over fruit-based preserves, but make music instead.  It’s the first time I’ve done this in over a year.  My fingers are sore from lack of practice but my new(ish) guitar (second-hand last summer) sounds good and I manage to sing a few songs.  We resolve to ‘do it again’.

That night, around 1.00am I sense the familiar change in rhythm that signals an ectopic episode.  Then my heart races to 125bpm before dropping down to 80.  I leave it for a couple of minutes but it drops out of rhythm again so I take the pills and go to sleep.  This is the first tachycardic² episode this year.  The previous one was at Christmas.  I’ve had a few arrhythmias of late – episodes of ectopic heartbeats during the night – but none where my heart rate has risen above 100bpm.  Until now.

I recall that something like this has happened before.  I mention it to my live-in mathematician; co-incidence?  Possibly – possibly not.  Checking back in my diary I discover that we had two rehearsals last summer and then played a gig.  Each of these events was followed by an arrhythmia.  So that’s now four serious attempts at making music and four tachycadic arrhythmias.

She-who-dances-with-equations comes off the fence; this is no coincidence; “were you nervous?”  Yes I guess I was.  “adrenalin rush?”  A surge of adrenalin can certainly elevate heart rate.  But why would it happen a few hours later and not at the time? Singing is strenuous – I have to take a break after a couple of songs.  But nothing like as strenuous as shifting a cubic metre of gravel from the front of my house to the back, which I did last week.  It took 30 wheelbarrow loads – and a couple of days to accomplish – but apart from sore arms and shoulders, I felt no ill-effects.

So what’s going on here?  When I sing on my own – no problem.  When I sing with others – heart b-b-b-beat.  Can it be that simple?  Can singing with other people trigger an arrhythmia?  In the interests of medical science, I need to do more research.  Which means more jam sessions and more gigs.  This sort of thing:

FF320

Unless the Gods of Arrhythmia are trying to tell me something.


¹ Flecanaide 150mg, to be taken as needed.
² Tachycardia; when the resting heart rate is above 100bpm
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4 Responses to With a song in my heart

  1. Sue says:

    I seem to recall, just a few weeks ago (OK maybe months) a news item on Radio 4 about choir members’ heartbeats going into sync – someone must have done some research in order to generate the news item. It must be out there sometime. I wonder if it’s a reaction to a spell of beating in time to Fat Freddy? And with regard to the remaining lung tissue expanding – you bet it does – I see it every time I have a check up and I can sing a note longer than any of the other members in the choir I’m in!

  2. Glyn hughes says:

    I hear Fat Freddy calling mate,go for it!

  3. wererogue says:

    It could be 100% adrenaline-spike related – that puts quite a lot of stress on the heart. And over the years, it’s seemed like plenty of your arrythmias have been post-stress rather than peri-stress.

    Hopefully, as you get less nervous about jam sessions, you’ll get less attacks.

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