Meltdown in the Mountains — 80 Minutes of Medical Attention
A list of the weird things my body did upon finishing Ironman Coeur d’Alene
- I became dizzy, disoriented and had narrow, tunnel vision. I slurred my speech and repeated the same thing several times.
- I talked excessively to a guy I met at the finish line, Scott Rigsby, like I had known him for years. It was very uncharacteristic behavior for me but he didn’t seem to mind and was the person who steered me into the medical tent to find someone to help my crazy-talking self. I’ve known of him for years, but never met him.
- I did not recognize two friends who stood “bedside” shortly after I arrived. According to their report hours later, at first I just stared blankly at them like we’d never met. Sorry about that.
- There was a metallic taste in my mouth.
- My teeth and my feet became tingly and numb.
- My right calf seized up into a monstrous cramp the first time I shifted and tried to sit fully upright.
- Freezing cold towels were draped over my legs to help the cramp which made me start shivering and shaking so bad that I couldn’t talk and I crushed a paper cup full of soup because my hands clenched while they shook. The cold towels were removed and I was given a space blanket. We were in a massive tent, on asphalt, it was 105 degrees and I was happily bundled in a blanket.
- The vastus medialis muscle above my right knee went into a spasm that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
- I had a twitch in my left foot; for about five minutes it just kicked out an inch or two to the left every five seconds.
- I forgot Dana’s phone number. Fortunately, the medical attendant who agreed to text her for me was able to look at my Road ID to get the number. For some reason, during this conversation I developed a stutter. It was amazingly frustrating because I felt like my brain was working at 80 percent normal speed but the messages — which I was thinking — were not coming out of my mouth. She would say, “What would you like me to tell her?” I could not get the words out to say something as simple as “I’m fine. A little dizzy.” This exchange with an extremely patient women trying to help me communicate made me cry. She gave me a towel to wipe my face and it was still cold from the leg incident which caused an immediate headache.
- I became extremely emotional — nearly weepy several times like when they first took my vital signs, overjoyed at other points, and worried about details that were entirely insignificant like how tight the laces were on my shoes. I apologized several times for taking up space when there were obviously people who needed help. I was assured that I was in fact one of those people — only I couldn’t recognize it.
- Several times I called out to the guy in the chair opposite me. I thought poor Kevin — only about eight feet away — was in terrible shape if he didn’t recognize his own name after the race. Only about an hour later, when Kevin arrived in the medical tent and took the spot two chairs to my right did I realize the guy I’d been harassing was someone else, wearing entirely different colors in his kit, and with his name clearly visible on his bib — it wasn’t Kevin. I was the mess, not the other guy.
- For the first half hour I was in the tent, my nose would not stop running.
- I became mildly paranoid about my heart rate and kept checking it even after they removed my watch to improve circulation to the extremities. The watch had the heart rate on display so I had to count it out. This would be no big deal but I was paranoid and doing it every few minutes. Every time I checked it was within a few beats of when they came by and checked it which was in the low to mid 60s. My blood pressure was also pretty stable around 110/70.
- I felt drunk. We’re not talking buzzed or tipsy. I was like that guy you’ve all seen who gets so loaded at the tailgate he never makes it into the stadium. The only difference is he usually sleeps in the parking lot a mile from the game and I was awake, on a plastic lounge chair, totally falling apart in a parking lot only 10 yards from the finish line.
The medical personnel said that I had acute hyponatremia and not to worry but to drink my fluids — chicken broth and Gatorade. I knew enough about hyponatremia to get a little freaked out. I kept thinking about the irony that I was going to drown, on dry land, when the thing I did best at these races was swim. Later, before I was released, it was explained that if I had more serious symptoms or if I had vomited even one more time, I would have had an IV immediately and probably been shipped straight to the hospital. Their prescription was salty drinks and time. It worked.
I didn’t have it from drinking too much fluid but rather from too low of sodium concentration because I had been sweating out electrolytes faster than I could keep them down and absorb them.
I was also told that it was both helpful and a good sign that I was able to recount for the medical team my “history” which is to say I was able to detail my nutrition over the previous six hours — how much I drank, how many salt tablets I took, how many gels I ate, how many times I vomited and my estimate of how many gels I kept down. It was helpful because it gave them a picture of how long I had effectively been running on empty and they didn’t have to guess or assume the worst.
It was a good sign because even though my mind was playing all sorts of games and working slowly, the ability to count a variety of items/activities and recount them was a good sign. I knew how many salts I had taken and the intervals at which I had taken them going back ten hours but could not recognize friends who stood next to me or sat across an aisle. I gave a detailed account of my Gu consumption but was dizzy enough that three people had to lower me into the chair.
Most of these symptoms that emerged in the medical tent, I’m told, were brought on as my systems tried to “turn themselves back on” as more electrolytes entered my bloodstream and the balance of water, sugar, salts etc. regained a semblance of normal. It took almost a week for my stomach to get back to normal. I’m going to lose one toenail to the race. I felt mentally sluggish for several days after the race and had term memory problems — like when I called someone and had trouble with the voicemail because I couldn’t remember my own phone number or difficulty with my computer passwords. All in all, it probably took about a week to get back to normal.
Thank you to the people of Coeur d’Alene who lined the run course with ice, hoses, sprinklers and good cheer. I’m sure you kept many people out of the hospital. The volunteers kept us all out of the hospital. The medical volunteers were smart, attentive, patient and genuinely humane. Thank you all.