A cyclist, a physician, and a post-COVID-19 cautionary tale you need to hear!
He read the reports and saw the news. As he walked the halls of the University Hospital Limerick, Ireland, where he treated patients as an emergency room physician, he witnessed the devastation first hand. Touched the hands of those whose lives were stolen and their families torn apart.
He attended the prestigious Grey College high school in the Free State province of South Africa. Then went on to receive a medical degree from the University of the Free State. He trained in general medical practice, then specialized in neurosurgery before returning to his love of emergency medicine.
He Didn’t Think it Would Happen to Him
Dr. Tatem Jewell knew better. “It was a reality that I thought wouldn’t happen to me,” and he regretfully admits, “I had this idea that COVID wouldn’t touch me at my peak fitness.” Rephrase that—he did know better, or should have.
Taitem enjoyed a brief stint in cycling as a teen and competed in a few triathlons in his native South Africa, “but apart from that, not much really.” In June 2020, he discovered virtual cycling after realizing that he was unfit and overweight. “During the lockdown,” he recalls, “I decided I needed to do something, and this is where I discovered Zwift.”
Taitem was dedicated and motivated, and many hours of hard training followed. He built himself up from a C to an A category eracer before noticing one weekend in early January 2022 that he felt “a little off.”
Sick Rest Was the Doctor’s Orders
Taitem experienced fatigue, body aches, and a high fever by the following Monday and knew it meant trouble. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 on January 11 and immediately began researching how and when to return to cycling safely. “I sought lots of advice and medical tips,” notes Taitem, “and determined that “sick rest” was the order of the day.”
For recommendations and guidelines of authoritative organizations, experts on the topic, and a top cycling esports coach who battled COVID-19 for two years, check out this The ZOM article.
The doctor in Taitem knew this was the proper course, but his cycling mentality didn’t allow him to follow the advice. “I feared how unfit a few days off the bike would make me,” he states remorsefully, “and I didn’t give myself enough time to recover safely.”
Only Four Days and Back on the Bike
By January 16, he was back on the bike and felt okay after a 30-minute spin. He upped the intensity the next day, and the very high heart rate he experienced didn’t phase him. Taitem was only off the bike for a total of four days.
As the weeks passed, Taitem began to struggle. His power was down, and he wasn’t producing the numbers he routinely hit with ease. He had pre-syncopal dizzy spells at home, intermittent chest pains on the bike, and fatigue that would not go away. Then it caught up with him, and this precautionary tale took a tragic turn.
“Disaster struck on February 17 when I collapsed at work,” Taitem remembers the horrific event. The diagnosis from the cardiologists was Post-COVID Myocarditis.
Post-viral myocarditis is a well-documented cause of sudden death in athletes characterized by acute heart failure and angina-type chest pain. Reports vary, with some post-viral prevalence estimates of cardiac involvement ranging from 0-15%.
“Yes, I knew this, but all I cared about was my fitness level,” confesses Taitem. His medical team discharged him after a couple of days under one condition—STRICT rest. Taitem strictly followed orders that meant “two weeks of ZERO bike and then a 4-6 week ‘rehab’ period of low-intensity riding.”
A few weeks into the low-intensity rehab, Taitem “could not feel better!” His improved condition has allowed him a sigh of relief and a chance to reflect. “Only now, in hindsight, do I realize how bad I had actually felt, ignoring red flags and blindly doing myself harm.”
Conclusion—A Scary Lesson to Know Better
The scare taught Dr. Taitem Jewell a lesson, and he hopes that telling his story will prevent a similar fate for his fellow cyclists. He knows he is lucky not to have caused permanent damage to his body and is optimistic he will reach peak form again.
“I’m aware it could have gone either way,” says Taitem. He is fortunate things went the way they did, and he’ll be okay. Unfortunately, however, the lesson is a hard one to learn for many cyclists who ignore the signs and neglect the warnings.
If it can happen to him, it can happen to any one of us. That is a scary thought. One that neither you nor I have to have if we simply do what we know is best. As difficult as that may be, even for a physician who DID know better.
Do you know better?
What was your post-COVID-19 experience and how did it change you? Comment below. Your fellow virtual cyclists can learn from you.
For Cyclists Struggling to Get Back on the Bike After COVID-19, an Explanation is in How Our Bodies Respond to Exercise and you can find out why in this The ZOM article.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!