I Was Dead.
About two weeks ago, I died. Not in the figurative sense, in the literal sense. I was dead. Due to an adverse reaction to a medicine, I died on a table in a sub-basement of a local hospital.
I wasn't dead for long. The doctors and nurses who were with me, were great at doing what it took to bring me back to life quickly. There wasn't any bright light. I didn't see my mom or Jim Morrison, from what I remember, it was extremely painful and violent on the dying and coming back from the dead sides of the coin. I'm not sure if you have ever died, maybe your experience is different, but this hurt like hell.
The strange thing, is I am pretty sure I killed myself, or at least had a lot to due with the details leading up to my death.
A little back story.
Believe it or not, racing 540 miles in 4 months, without any real recovery does take its toll on the body. Another way to look at what I did last Summer, was I crammed about four Summers of racing into one.
During the Chicago Marathon, I was at the height of my fitness level, but my legs were tired and sore, at about mile 17 as Cubicle Dad and I stopped to stretch, I felt a pop in my left calf, which I took to be an angry muscle and ignored it.
Now a smart person would have gone to a doctor to have it checked out after the race. I think we've established that I live in the do as I say, not as I do category. After a short recovery, I went back to training, ignoring the pain in my leg as it got worse. On Thanksgiving Day, while playing touch football(leave your comments at the door), I felt a "pop" in my left calf, followed quickly by an even more intense pain in my right calf! I wasn't able to take another step.
After a quick visit to the emergency room, then my doctor, then my orthopedic doctor, then to an MRI, then back to my doctor, I was told that I tore both of my Achilles tendons and was done with any kind of serious training for 8 to 10 weeks.
Trying to be "cup is half full" about things, I looked at this as an opportunity to rest my legs, work on my swimming, some off season upper body work and enjoy the holidays.
Things were going well, until mid-December, when I started to feel sick and dizzy. Of course, I pushed through, only making me feel worse. I finally went to the doctor and was told I had pneumonia and to stop working out completely. What I heard was " stop for a few days, take a few days and do light workouts and then return to your normal activity," which is what I did.
Believe it or not, from my zero days of med. school, my self diagnosis didn't work out as well as planned. I didn't fully recover and instead of resting or taking time off, I continued to push and continued to feel horrible.
In late January, about the time my legs were supposed to be better, I
was still in a lot of pain. After a second trip to the doctor, they
discovered I had two deep bone bruises that were adding to the the
pain. The doctors told me to put as little pressure on my legs as
possible, use my crutches and relax. Which I took to mean, " crutches a little, swim and light biking." Believe it or not, my legs weren't getting any better?
had wheezed, coughed and limped my way through January, slowly doing
more and more damage to my body as well as gaining weight. Then it
happened. February not only started with a massive snow storm for
Chicago, but my body shutting down as well. I woke up in the middle of
the night, not breathing. I felt like I was under water, instead of
under the covers, as I tried to get any kind of air into my lungs. It
took me pounding on my own chest to somehow "unjam," whatever was
"jammed" and I began to breathe again.
I didn't sleep the rest of the night, in the morning, I went once again back to my doctor. I felt like I had been shot (yes, I have been shot before, but that's another story)
my body ached, head hurt, I was barely able to breathe and had trouble
seeing. The doctor examined me once again and announced that I still
had pneumonia and it was pretty bad. This time my wife jumped in and
made me stay in bed, she and my whole family had had enough with my
nonsense and insisted that I stay put. To be honest, there wasn't much
of a struggle, I could hardly move or work up the energy to argue.
For nine days I stayed put, taking my many different pills and sleeping off the effects of my battered body. "Cup is half full,"
the time off my legs was exactly what they needed, the pain that was so
debilitating was slowly fading away, both of my legs were feeling
normal for the first time in months.
During the second week in bed, I once again woke up in the middle of
the night, this time I could breathe, but my chest was killing me. I
felt sharp pains in my heart, my left arm was tingling, I was dizzy and
short of breath. I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack. As I
type this next part I realize how stupid it sounds, but bare with me.
I didn't want to wake up my wife and tell her, because she would want
to take me to the emergency room, which meant waking up our two year
old son, who had been having trouble sleeping through the night, which
would make him crabby at day care( again, I know it sounds
I made my way downstairs to our couch, tried to calm down
and make it through what was left of the night. I Googled, pneumonia
and heart pain, and found out that a lot of people with pneumonia have
heart attack type symptoms, because their are working so hard to
breathe that they are putting their heart under stress. Good news! I
also read that there is a percentage of people with pneumonia, that
actually have heart attacks and don't realize it, because they think
it's a symptom of the pneumonia! Bad news.
This is where we get
to the dying part. I called my doctor, and he had me immediately come
in to do an EKG. The good news was that I did not have a heart attack,
however to be safe, they wanted to run a few more tests, which included
the one that killed me. It was while they were testing my heart that I
had the adverse reaction to the medicine, stopped breathing and kicked
When the doctor told me that I had in fact died. My
first thought wasn't, "man, now I'm going to miss another workout!" It
was about my family and how much I missed them at that very moment, how
the thought of never seeing them again terrified me.
story, short. Once the medicine cleared my body and with the care of the
hospital staff, several hours later, I was back at home, feeling
horrible, but alive and once again next to my wife in bed.
didn't really hit me what had happened until the next day and the
reality of it has been overwhelming. A lot of you have noticed that I
haven't written anything for a while, I apologize for the absence, but
I have been trying to sort it all out.
Here's what I came up
with. I am a lucky guy. Since I hurt myself on Thanksgiving, I have
been mad, sad, crazy and a bunch of other negative things, all because
my plan for next season was slowly fading away with every missed
Not once during the time I died and in the weeks after,
have I thought much about racing, training or missing time on my bike.
I have thought a lot about being able to breathe and how lucky I am to
be still doing it. We all get worked up about racing, it's natural,
but it's also a part of something much bigger, your life.
If you are
above ground as opposed to below, then you are winning already.
I am finally cleared by all of my doctors to start everything
again. I am "healthy-ish." I am 25 pounds heavier, I have very tender
legs. My massive base that I worked so hard to build up is gone. What
I do have is the ability to breathe in and out, to wake up in the
morning to my son yelling for his "momma," my dog hogging the blankets,
my daughters crazy bed head and my wife's smile. I "have" everything I
What my goals were, don't matter anymore, it's what they
are now that count. Part of endurance sports is having a plan and being
able to adjust when things go bonkers. Things have gone bonkers, but I
am back and ready to go.
I am lucky to be working with coach
Jennifer Harrison aka The Miracle worker. You may remember her as the
coach who got Cubicle Dad through his journey to the Chicago Marathon
and now she has stepped up to help me. I am lucky to have the support
of Life Fitness and a new treadmill, that is going to be my new BFF as
I learn to walk, then jog and finally run again.
Last year I
raced for the Pathways Foundation in Glenview, this year I am racing as
a part of the Chicago Police Running and Triathlon Team in honor of
their efforts as well as the 560 brave men and women who will never
take another breath.
will be volunteering more than racing, but enjoying every step and
every breath as we all take to the streets, lakes and paths.
aren't a lot of people that get to share what they have learned from
dying. I am thrilled to be typing away my experiences for you, it
beats the alternative. Forward is a Pace is my racing mantra, but Just
Breathe is my new daily does of reality.
I'm happy to be here.