DIARY: The Night I Thought I Died

First apologies for the dramatic title, my love for classical dramas cannot be fully suppressed.

Yesterday morning, I was reading Lance Armstrong's book, kindly lend to me by our own Turlough Conway, reading his account of his battle against cancer and then how he stopped taking crazy risks going downhill just for the sake if it, after a crash, realising that his sport wasn't worth dying for.

I didn't understand what he meant, but now I do.

Sharlene was giving me a lift home from circuits yesterday. I've had a sore throat for a few days, one of the mildest I've ever had though, and no sniffles at all. Yet I had felt very funny, slightly "off" and quite weak during the evening's session.

I attributed this to my long break and the fact that I pushed myself too far on the track the day before, constantly pushing myself into the MAC (Max Aerobic Capacity, zone, or 185-196 heart beat pr. min. for me, in a mad pursuit after more speed).

Sitting in the car I started to feel weirder. First I couldn't gulp down my chocolate milk. Had no appetite. Then just as we stopped at my front door, I started to have tingling sensations all over my body (JUST IN CASE: Not the pleasant kind!) , felt a bit dizzy, and then felt my heart beating irregularly and my breath starting to get hyperactive.

Stop! Why?
This is a blog about running, so it's fair to ask, before I write more why I'm about to let you in on the scariest experience of my life. Well, there's three reasons, first it could be related to running, secondly, it's helpful for myself to write about it, and thirdly, I hope anyone out there who reads this and experiences the same can face it with more calm than I did, knowing what I didn't know yesterday evening.

"Not Like This. Not here"
Sharlene decided to drive me to the doctor, a slight blur was on my thoughts now, and I didn't really feel able to say either "yes" or "no" with conviction. Little did it matter, for we had only driven up to Rathmines Road when Sharlene was forced to pull the car over to the side of the road.

I had started to convulse at this stage, and real panic, a stark naked fear the likes of which I've never really felt, certainly nothing like the slight fear you feel rushing down a dangerous slope at breath neck speed.

It started in my hands, the clutched together like dead curled up spiders, like two hooks, identical to those seen in many people with spastic paralysis. I couldn't pry them apart, and the tightening of my body continued, my feet were humming, my abdomen was shaking, and a cold moved through my body. They say death is cold, and from that moment on, my initial thoughts of "I'll be another one of those athletes they'll feel sorry for because their hearts won't let them race anymore" turned into "Not here. Not like this".

I wasn't ready, particularly not to die on some stupid street on some random night. The luxury of picking our time is a rare one, but it felt no less unfair.

Get Me Out
Sharlene was running around the car with her mobile phone calling an ambulance, all the time trying to keep me from crawling out of the car. I just didn't want to go in a little metal box.

"Is it cloudy," I mumbled, my face was now contorted, I felt sharp stretch downwards, and it felt like big streams of tears were being squeezed out of my eye-sockets. "Your face looked all wrong," Sharlene told me when she picked me up at the hospital later.

I've looked pretty bad on some IMRA photos, thank God John Shields wasn't around this night.

The question was odd, but I've always liked the evening sky, and feeling that this was it, I wanted to look up and see the Milky Way one last time. Strange thing the human mind. I wanted to clutch her arm, but I couldn't move my arms or hands.

The cold seeped through me now, paralysis moved upwards into my lower arm, especially my elft, and the thought "heart attack", "heart attack" kept repeating itself, especially as my heart was drumming away completely out of rhythm. I tried to breathe steadily, as Sharlene kept reminding me throughout.

The Things We Say
Anyone who's had a near-death experience probably remembers that we say things we are afraid we should have said long ago, and I definitely mumbled away many such things. I don't remember it all, for I was close to passing out at this stage, but I remember trying to give Sharlene some message for my parents.

In the midst of the defeatism, there was also the will to fight. I remember hissing to myself: "C'mon heart, c'mon heart, don't let me down now."

"I've got things to do," I said, and I'll never forget Sharlene yelling: "You've got loads of stuff to do!" It was like her voice was saying: "You're not going to die here you fool." And as much as I wanted to pass out and get out of the pain, the will to stay and fight was stronger.

Waking Up
And then, at the height of it, the ambulance arrived, and strangely, and surely, as they spoke to me, the shudders left off. Like a miracle my hands started to uncurl, so slowly it was hard to notice, my breath slowed somewhat, and they could walk me into the ambulance.

I was in a strange state now, drifting from silly, to normal, to shocked. As they measured my heart, they were worried at the low heart rate 38. I remember, even in that moment, feeling great pride telling them: "My normal is 39, I'm a competitive runner."

Blood pressure was improving now, but I had to get them to take it off quick, the pressure pillow around my arm made the weird feeling return to my hand. Sharlene secured my stuff and drove home to wait for news, while the one paramedic chatted to me gleefully, about running. Top men both of them. Thanks so much for your help, thanks to Sharlene, and thanks to the bypassing woman who helped talk me through a good bit of it.

The Diagnosis
Arriving at the very rough waiting room, were the ambulance medic told me to watch some of the guys, keep my stuff around me, and be careful (just what you want to hear in a hospital), I sat down to wait.

Shortly after I was taken in and the nurse checked my blood pressure, saying it was now normal, and that I had not suffered a stroke, as I feared, but instead a panic attack.

I didn't believe it quite at first, so violent it was physically, but after reading the description on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panic_attack, there could be no doubt.

The nurse told me to go straight back to my normal life, not to ever let the fear of this happening again rule my life. I will take it easy for a few days, I still feel colder than usual, more introspective, and, if anyone dares believe it, humbled in my convictions. Apparently it happens to 1 in 60, and there is no guarantee it will ever happen again. They do recommend Yoga to help you get good breathing techniques.

There must be other roots, of course, a strong physical reaction like this needs a fear from the inside to set it off such a violent avalanche, and I probably owe it to my self to do some self-reflection on that, but I won't bother the reader's of my blog with that.

This is about running at the end of the day, and it was one of the first things on my mind when it happened, "will I run again", "will I be able to move again", came before "will I live." But it's the last question that stays starkest in memory.

Something put the fear of death into me, and I hope it will change my perspective on some things. For now, I wonder how many things will feel or look different as the shock wears off and the light of normal days return.


Anonymous said…
Dear Rene,

You are wasted outside the world of sensationalist fiction!
Really, get into the writing game and keep running!