Apple Watch

I love my Apple Watch.  Sure, it tells the time, but it is also a mini-information center on my wrist.  If you don’t have one, I am not here to try to sell you one, and I will not write a fawning fanboy review.  

I am just saying, it is a tool that I use every day.  It shows me the temp, wind speed (important when deciding on a ride), runs my workout apps, and shows frivolous but fun things like the phase of the moon.

But it also helps me monitor my health, and since I have passed 60 and there is a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions in my family, I watch my health indicators closely.  The watch doesn’t monitor everything, but if you synch it with a phone and a blood pressure monitor, it provides a dashboard to monitor changes in conditions.  Health monitoring is all about trends, so even if none of my devices measure perfectly, they help me spot changes over time, which is essential.

The watch does monitor heart rate, and that is important to make sure I do not over-train (risking injury), but it is also pretty good at telling me when I have a low-grade virus brewing in the background.  I check the rate regularly, and while I sleep, my watch just keeps on checking.  My sleeping heart rate can plunge into the mid-forties but never goes much above 65.

I guess I should not say “never” because it did, and it has, and that has led to lots of questions. Questions for which I do not yet have answers.

It started some months ago when I checked into my sleeping heart rate and saw that for about an hour the night before, it had shot up to 175—and stayed there for about an hour.  For someone my age, a sustained heart rate like that only happens when one is doing very strenuous exercise—like a hard run.  For runners, we know that a rate at that level is in the “anaerobic” zone—a place you can stay for a few minutes but not an hour.  I assumed some data anomaly and, because it did not repeat itself the following night, I let it go.  I felt a bit tired that day, and my morning run was a bit sluggish, but that happens, no big deal.  

But, I did wonder because of something that had happened about three months before that day.  So, I should go back…

The good news is they found the “pup”—I learned that is what they call a baby coyote.  That was important.  I was out for a bike ride in the wetlands north of town.  I run into coyotes a lot out there but always at a distance.  This time I came around a corner, and there was a mom (I assumed) with two little ones in tow, and I scared them.  They terrified me.  

One of the little ones almost got caught under my tire, and when I swerved by it, it stuck its head up and bit me in the ankle.  It barely broke the skin, but it leaked the whole way home.  I was shaken and immediately thought, “rabies.”  The weird and fortunate thing was, that pup was jet black.  It turns out that black coyotes do exist, but they are very rare.  So, in addition to calling my doc (antibiotics and possible rabies shots), I called County animal control.  They take stuff like that pretty seriously and sent out a wildlife specialist. He tracked the family down, trapped the lot, and checked them for rabies.  The hunt and testing all took about three weeks, and I was beyond anxious until the report came back: clean for rabies.  My peace of mind would not have been possible had that pup not been black.  

After I finished the antibiotic course, I had no further problems.  I have been bitten by dogs on runs several times (don’t get me started about leashing pets) and had never had any issues, though I hate what antibiotics do to my gut.

But, you know, when I had the spike in heart rate, it crossed my mind.  Was I having some infection that had escaped the antibiotics?  It entered and left my mind pretty quickly.

Until it happened again, about a month later.  This time my rate went to 175 and stayed for about two hours!  I started checking online to see about Apple Watch heart rate reading anomalies and, while it happens, I couldn’t find anything specific to what I had experienced.  Anomalies were never about spikes, just erroneous readings.

I was tired the entire day and considered calling my doc, but I demurred.  Again, that was the only spike, and it went away.  All my other Apple Watch indicators looked fantastic—all trending nicely, so I let it go.

And then about a month later, same thing but about three hours of the spike.  And THAT time, I woke up with a headache and deep aches in my shoulders and hips.  So now I’m thinking, “okay, what is going in here?  COVID-19 or do I have some crazy infection from that bite?”

I go for a COVID saliva test (thank you, Healthy Davis Together!), and the results come back within 18 hours: no indication of the virus that causes COVID-19.

So then, I am on a telehealth call with my doc and asking if she can order a blood panel.  She agrees though she is skeptical about any infection, and I schedule it for the next day.  When I get up, I feel good—excellent actually!  No lingering effects, and my heart rate is normal all night long.

I had a chronic infection some years ago, so I knew to keep an eye out for the white blood cell panel. The results were ready in about 8 hours and… nothing.  In fact, everything looked really good—I mean better than what I had seen in years.  So… no infection.

But, I was still anxious.  I mean, anomalous heart rate reading is one thing but the pain?  Something was definitely going on.

Then nothing for about a month.  And then “bam.”  I wake up with a splitting headache, deep muscle aches in my legs, hips, shoulders, and back.  The balls of my feet feel bruised, and my hands—my hands!—feel like I landed on them after a fall. And I have that metallic taste you get from blood in your mouth.  You know the one.  But nothing was bleeding. I felt awful.  So… I cycled back through all the tests.  And again, COVID, clean, blood test GREAT!  This time even my red blood count was way better than it had been in a long time (I suffer from borderline anemia). 

So, I screw up my courage and ask my doc if she can get me a COVID antibody test.  Because now I am thinking, this might be “long COVID.”  Maybe I had it, and all these heart rate spikes and pain issues are the result of the as-yet poorly understood phenomenon known as “long COVID.”  A series of searches online indicate a bevy of symptoms for long COVID, but joint and muscle aches are among them, and there is some evidence that these symptoms can come and go.  

She agrees to the test (she is a very responsive and helpful doc!), and within a day, I get the results: no antibodies.  In other words, no indication of COVID-19—ever.

Meanwhile, except for the “spike and pain” days, I am feeling great.  My speedwork day has me finally believing that I can crack 20 minutes in a 5K (something I have wanted to do for years), and I am barely fatigued after a 60-mile ride with 3000 feet of climbing.  In other words, I am in peak condition for a guy my age.

Well, that was about two months back… and then about a month ago… Hang on because this will get a little weird.  But I am just trying to tell it like I am living it.  I wake up with the (now) familiar effects.  Hands aching; feet aching; the taste of blood in my mouth; shoulders aching; hips aching; legs sore—and my heart rate?  Topping 180 for a full five hours.  I felt awful.  

But there’s more.  There is blood, but not in my mouth.  It’s under my nails, and it’s dry. 

And, okay I am not sure how to say this in a way that will not make you think I am nuts but, when I go downstairs, there is a track of mud—slight but visible—by the door and a little tiny collar, like for a cat, dropped right in the middle of the floor.  It’s got a name (not going to put it here!) and an address and phone number of an owner—they live over next to the arboretum.  

And, yeah, the pain goes away the next day, and I feel great.  I do not go for a COVID test; I do not ask for more blood work.  Why should I?  I am fine.

But I look at that collar (yes, I still have it), and I wonder.  Should I call these people to see if their cat is safe?  I haven’t decided…

As for my Apple Watch… I still ask myself if I should have a chat with a technician. They are surprisingly helpful, and I bet if I made a fuss about it and showed them my data, they would replace it.  Trust me, I have reset the thing dozens of times.  I have updated the OS.  I have tracked my heart rate religiously. This thing only malfunctions once a month?  How am I going to explain THAT to a technician?

I am looking at my watch now: 93 degrees, South wind at 3 (hope that picks up later), an unread message, killing it on my rings today!  Oh, and I would have forgotten, but my Apple Watch reminds me: tonight is a full moon!

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