Jeremy Bridges woke up Sunday morning feeling excited about the Carolina Panthers' game that afternoon against the Detroit Lions.
So when he felt his heart beating faster than it normally does, Bridges didn't think much of it, especially when it slowed to its usual rate.
Yet as the morning progressed, Bridges' heart continued to beat quickly, even while he went through his pregame routine around the house before going to Bank of America Stadium, where he hoped to play for the Panthers that day as a reserve offensive lineman and special-teams player.
“I could see it in my chest,” Bridges said of his heartbeat. “It was going pat-pat-pat-pat. It would be beating super-fast at one point, then slower, but still in rhythm. I couldn't walk to the (next) room without feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest.”
By the time Bridges got to the stadium, he still felt the pat-pat-pat-pat. He sought out trainer Ryan Vermillion, who told him to wait for the team's internist, Dr. Robert Heyer, to arrive.
“I was going to kind of ignore it,” said Bridges. “But I talked to the doctors and they told me to park it.”
Bridges was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and put on the Panthers' inactive list. On Monday, Bridges, 28, had a brief procedure called a cardioversion, where an electrical shock was delivered to his heart to bring the abnormal heart rhythm back to normal (a normal heart rate is from 50-100 beats per minute; an irregular heartbeat can increase the rate to more than 100 beats per minute).
“I call it drop-and-shock,” joked Bridges. “They killed me and brought me back to life.”
Actually, about 3 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat. It is not considered life-threatening, unless complications arise.
Bridges, who has four children, said Sunday's episode makes him appreciate what he has.
“You've got to look at yourself in the mirror,” he said. “You can take for granted being here on earth. But as soon as something happens with your heart, kidney, lungs or brain, it wakes you up. You can be taken away from this earth. A lot of people call me Superman, but I'm far from it. Very far from it.”
Bridges' absence Sunday added to a long list of ailments suffered this season by the Panthers' offensive line.
“We do have a tough group,” said tackle Jordan Gross, who missed a game with a concussion. “I said in camp, I loved the depth we had. This year is an example of that. We all get healthy, we'll get the pick of the litter about who can start. It will be a nice day.”
Bridges said doctors told him he might have developed the irregular heartbeat because of his use of smokeless tobacco, a habit he said he immediately stopped.
“All you kids out there in TV land, stop chewing tobacco,” said Bridges, who didn't practice Wednesday but said he's been cleared to play this weekend against Atlanta. “It'll kill you – literally.”
What will Bridges do now without the tobacco?
“Sunflower seeds,” he said. “And coffee.”
Sunday was not the first time an irregular heartbeat had sidelined a Panthers player. Former defensive end Mike Rucker had to leave a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 when he had similar symptoms to Bridges'.
“It scared me to death,” said Rucker, who hasn't had the symptoms since.