P.E. September 21st 2012
Time I explained why there has been so little in the way of race reports etc. on this site since summer 2012. Usually it simply means I have a niggle like some tendonitis or a muscle tear that is keeping me away from racing, but this time it was something a bit more dramatic.
Feeling rough after NYC:
My last race was in late August in New York, a 2 mile run in Queens where I had a chance to test my patella tendon injury and see if it was toughened up enough for some hard running. Fortunately it was, and although I was only running about 6:30 pace per mile I was encouraged, and looking forward to a steady build up through the Autumn and some winter races. On my last day in NYC I caught a heavy cold - it came on suddenly and intensely and I felt very tired and drained. Flying home I dosed myself up with sudafed for the flight, and spent the whole six and a half hours slumped in my seat dozing. I didn't get up once on the whole flight and I realised afterwards I had been quite dehydrated, so that was probably contributing to how low I felt. Back at work I felt a little disorientated after two weeks away from the office, and for several days the cold symptoms hung around and I didn't exercise. Once the cold had cleared, I tried a run and it felt pretty hard work. Was I still post viral? I rested a couple more days and tried again - this time my heart rate went sky high after only a couple of minutes jogging. Not normal. I struggled round, walking rather than running, wondering why I felt so intensely tired from such a low level of effort.
Headaches, breathlessness and a trip to the doctor:
Things didn't get any better - every day I got a headache after a few hours at work and climbing the stairs left me literally breathless and needing to sit still for 5 minutes to get my breath back. Still not normal. I went to the doctor thinking I had a chest infection as I had pain down both sides of my back that seemed to match the location of the lungs (it was not spinal pain - seemed to be either side of the spine - a strange feeling). The doctor diagnosed post viral fatigue and post viral pain. I was not convinced so she listened to my lungs with a stethoscope and said all was normal. Intense rest was, she said, the best remedy. After a few days back at work without improvement I realised I needed to really rest completely, so I stayed home and spent a couple of days on the sofa. No improvement. The headaches, back pain and breathlessness on stairs remained or even worsened, and I developed a sporadic dry cough. On the third day at home I even spotted a fleck of blood in my phlegm - just a speck, but I had never had that before and it made me wonder if I had been right about having a lung infection.
3.30pm on 21st September 2012:
That afternoon, I sat on the sofa watching an old black and white movie. After it finished I started coughing and climbed the stairs to go to the bathroom in case I needed to spit. After walking into the bathroom, everything went silent and all I could see was whiteness - it was as if I had my head inside a white cloud. I was disorientated, floating.....then my eyes came back into focus and I realised I was slumped over the side of the bath. I had lost consciousness and fallen into it head first. I stood up, felt unsteady, saw my face in the mirror complete with a bruised forehead from the fall. I became aware I was hyperventilating - a panic attack? I went down on to the floor, lying on the landing, found my phone lying next to my face and decided to call Kokila. I had passed out and now I was short of breath - I needed to get to hospital. I couldn't get there under my own steam, maybe she could come home and take me to A&E? No answer so I lay there for a few moments longer wondering what to do. My breathing had become rapid and despite that I still felt I wasn't getting any air. I felt faint, sweaty, calm inside but aware that something strange was going on in my body. I dialled 999.
It was like hearing someone else's voice as I managed to get my name and address out in short bursts (it was difficult to speak because of the acute shortness of breath). They asked me my age, did I have a heart condition, was I on medication, was I alone? An ambulance was dispatched then they asked if I would be able to open the door. Clearly the answer was no - I was pinned to the floor, my whole body convulsed with each short breath and my heart thumping. I was still sweating. As I heard my voice struggling to answer the continued questions (designed to check I was still conscious I imagine) I realised I still felt calm within - I was repeating a mantra and invoking protection. At times of intense crisis or danger, I think our first response says a lot about us. Mine was to pray, to inwardly chant, to remain calm - I was reaping the fruits of 20 years of meditation, and I was very grateful for it.There was a feeling of being protected. But there was also, I have to admit, an undercurrent of fear and uncertainty. Fortunately the calm feeling was winning the inner battle. The operator from the ambulance service rang through to the fire brigade, but she did the talking. I was just there on the line breathing noisily, but not really able to say anything useful. When they asked for my postcode all I could say was "Oh God.........Oh God.......". Again I felt detached, as if I was hearing someone else speaking. Time had become stationary.
After what must have been a few minutes I heard a noise downstairs. The operator asked if the medics had arrived, and I replied yes but they were outside the door. I was told they would have to wait for the fire brigade to gain entry. "Just kick it in" I gasped, "Kick it in...". I sounded a bit more scared now, although the "me" that was observing still felt calm. The me that was trying to speak sounded pretty urgent. I knew, somehow, that time was of the essence and they should get through that door as soon as possible and take care of me. Within seconds the fire brigade arrived and one kick sent the door flying open. I could hear them coming in and soon the paramedics were up the stairs and standing around me - I didn't see their faces, just three pairs of green-trousered legs and three pairs of boots.
They asked me to get myself off the landing as it was too tight a space to examine me. I wasn't sure I could do it, but I made a massive effort and was able to roll onto my front then crawl a few feet into the bedroom before rolling on to my side again. The paramedics fired questions at me - this time one of them was whether I had been anywhere by plane recently. "Yes" I replied, still gasping for air "New York". They asked when. "August thirty first" came out in one breath - that was hard work. How long had I felt unwell? "Ever since" was my two word answer, but that was all they needed. "OK, it's a P.E, it's a P.E" they said, and began to talk about calling another medic out who would "come really quick if you tell them it's a P.E.". What was a P.E? Why did they need to call someone else? Why was it so urgent? They asked if they could cut my clothes off, I said yes, and one of the paramedics took some scissors to my fleece, beginning to cut it off me.
The next thing I remember is hearing Kokila call from another room to say she was there, she had come home, it was going to be all right. I couldn't see her. I was so glad she was there, but also uneasy. How could she be home now? Had half an hour passed? Where had that time gone?
The next thing I remember is waking up, disorientated again, in a hospital bed. Kokila was there and was elated to see me. I was confused. She told me I was in intensive care, I had been very ill. She even told me the doctor had given her a "serious talk", so I realised it must have been critical. I could not speak so I made a writing gesture with one hand and they brought a pen and paper. I wrote a few questions, Kokila replied, then she went out while they got me ready to see other family members. The fact that the family had come down was also evidence of how serious it had been. Gradually I pieced it together.
When the paramedics arrived I had been "cyanosed" - blueness in the face showing I was short of oxygen. I had had a Pulmonary Embolism - a P.E for short - a blood clot in the lungs. The medic they called out was a doctor from Filton airfield who administered a clot-busting drug.
Even with this drug working, the clot had at one point blocked two major blood vessels so completely that my heart had stopped - a full-on cardiac arrest. The paramedics brought me back to life with chest compressions. If I didn’t live 3 minutes from Filton Airfield (where the doctor came from – they keep clotbusting drugs there - he was from the Gt Western Air Ambulance) then the extra few minutes might have been fatal. I’m a very fortunate guy.
At the BRI, I “crashed” again and had to be taken into the resuscitation room to be resuscitated for a second time.
Kokila had a very stressful 24 hours. She says I looked dead. I was on full life support with a tube down my throat and a machine breathing for me. Anyway I remained unconscious until 9am next morning by which time the doctors had twice told my family I still only had 50% chance of making it, but then I came round and was “stable” in intensive care – out of danger. The doctor was very surprised that 1. I had woken up so quickly and 2. Had no brain damage (brain had been starved of oxygen). Next couple of weeks was pretty uncomfortable as I coughed up about 2 pints of red gunge from my battered lungs and endured a cocktail of strong drugs that gave me powerful hallucinations (including demons, daleks, and cartoon animals juggling bananas.). I had a tear in my pleural wall (probably from the chest compressions) that gave me a lot of pain and anxiety, but they drugged me up well until it had healed.
The nurses and doctors were so amazing, so kind, so caring. At times I was moved to tears by their endless compassion and patience, not just for me but those around me. They really were angels.I was in hospital for two weeks, then at home for two more, and as my strength returned I was able to phase myself back in at work. Today, 15th December, I have just completed my first full week of working proper work hours. And I went for my first jog - little more than a shuffle. My heart was "impaired" but is recovering well and should be normal when they scan it in March. Running, cycling and swimming are all allowed, but rehab will be gradual and I will be on blood-thinning medication for a long time if not permanently. Inconvenient mayby but a small price to pay.
It's been a very painful and difficult experience physically and mentally, and quite hard emotionally too, but I have come away from it with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I passed beyond death, came back again through the Grace of God to live and run another day, and had the good fortune to be cared for by wonderful people who restored my faith in the divinity of human beings. I have been so happy these last few weeks - everything seems new, seems positive. Maybe I needed this experience for some kind of spiritual change - it certainly feels that way. There are verses from the Upanishads and from Sri Chinmoy's poems that I feel I understand more deeply now, having been to the edge of things.
Throughout all this, Kokila was amazing - sitting with me hour after hour in the hospital, even sleeping there in the relative's room so she could be near me and keep an eye on how I was doing. I had messages of goodwill and sympathy from all over Britain and from as far afield as Australia too. The members of the Sri Chinmoy centre all rallied round, Udasina especially was unbelievably kind, and I can never thank all those brothers and sisters of mine enough.
Like I said, a very fortunate guy.
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