Thursday, January 31, 2008


I've been avoiding discussing my injury. Why? Because I was been scared. I wasn't sure I was in a place where I could reflect on what had happened to me, physically or mentally. I am now just starting to come out of that shadow of doubt.

We all have our stumbling blocks in training. Sometimes, they just hit too close to home, or hit too hard to want to dissect them play-by-play for all the world to see. But looking back, once you've turned some sort of corner towards recovery, somehow, one gains objectivity that was not there before in looking back.

Now, that I think (THINK) we've got the problem correctly diagnosed and I'm back to a modified workout schedule, I'll do a recap. Back around Christmas, I did something to my chest. At first it was just pain in certain positions, then it got worse. I continued to work out, and deal with the pain until after a 3-hour brick one Saturday in early January, I tried to take one too many breaths. (That tends to happen as I huff and puff, running down the sidewalk). I stopped and tried to take a deep breath. Sometimes, this is not easy, with my Exercise Induced Asthma. I tried a gain. OUCH. At the bottom of each breath, there after, was a sharp stabbing pain, in my lung. My chest hurt. I was frightened. I was in a lot of pain, and kinda wanted to just not breath, because of the pain. As my breath slowed down, so did the pain. But every once in a while, I'd sigh and there it was again rearing its ugly, scary head. I called my doctor. The wait for an appointment was about a week.

And, I know many of you have heard this part of the skip it if you want. My doctor told me it was one of three things. Either

1. I strained my pectoral minor, and after that workout it went into some kind of spasm

2. I had an infection in my plural lining of my lungs

3. I had a pulmonary embolism.

What! Isn't that what kills people? God. I think I'm going to faint. Can I lie down?

He says, just take some Celebrex (which I'm too chicken to take) or a huge dose of Advil and (DON'T) call me in the morning. Oh, and don't worry! It's probably not that he says.
Oh, and the only way to find out is to give you a CAT scan, which is like 50 chest X-rays, a lot of radiation.

He doesn't know me. At all. Not worry?

So, I am afraid to work out. I am afraid that if I run too hard it will dislodge my pulmonary embolism and kill me for certain. (Can you tell I have no F-ing idea what I'm talking about?) I don't want to run because then I might have to take a deep pain-stabbing breath. I am terrified, but trying to have a sense of humor. It doesn't come as easily as I had hoped.

A week later, still suffering from chest pain, another doctor decides I need an EKG.

No, your not having a pulmonary embolism -- it's just a heart attack! ha ha.

More worry ensues. I decide these doctors are idiots! I want another opinion. I finally get to talk to a receptionist at a pulmonary specialist.

"What did your X-ray say?" she says. My what? He won't see you without an X-ray. OK, so you can see a pulmonary embolism on an X-ray? I high tail it over to St. Mary's Hospital for an X-ray.

Several days later the pulmonary specialist can see me. It looks OK to me he says. Your kinda young to have a P.E. You don't have the traditional risk factors. I've seen folks with all the risk factors who didn't have a pulmonary embolism and I've seen folks with no risk factors who have it. You might or you might not have one. He says. But don't worry! It's probably not one.

I see a theme here. If I'm going to die, the last thing they want me to do is know about it and worry. An in person appointment with the guy is slightly reassuring. He offers to give me a CAT scan if I really want one. Um, no, not really.
By this time, I'd taken nearly 3 weeks off of my training. My goal of going for a Half Ironman in April was shot. The idea of swimming seemed impossible. The reaching motion was causing me so much pain. I started to doubt that I would have enough time to get better and still train to be in shape enough to complete one of my dreams: swimming across the Cheasapeake Bay in June. My mental game was suffering hugely. The more I didn't workout, the worse everything around me seemed to be. I could tell that even my 3-year-old son was worried about me. I wanted to work out, but not if it was going to kill me.

A week later, I got an appointment with Dr. Dec. Did I mention that Dr. Dec is a goddess?
She has tons of experience with injured athletes. That is what she does all day long. She has even been a sports medicine doctor for Olympic teams. For the first time, a doctor put her hands on me. Really felt around. Could see what things caused pain for me and what didn't. She listened.

I told her, "Taking my shirt off: Agony. Pulling Redfish's shirt off, double agony. Buckling him in his car seat: Lord have mercy on me. Aerobars? Not a good idea. Want to make it hurt twice as bad? Just add stress. Reaching for cereal? Hmm, maybe with the other arm."
Dr. Dec told me what was wrong with me. Rib Dysfunction. I know, it sounds like I made it up.
She said I have a block. In Eastern Medicine the call it that. I don't know how they treat it in the East, but here they use physical therapy. But most of all, she told me I was going to be ok. She told me I could workout. And how I could work out without further injuring myself. She gave me exercises and stretches to do at home. Dr. Dec doesn't know why this happened, but seems to think it had something to do with my overcompensating for having my abdominal muscles cut during 2 C-Sections in the past 7 years. She gave me hope, and said she thought that I could be on my way to recovery in 2 weeks. She sent me Jason, my physical therapist.
I've never had physical therapy before. I don't know if it is supposed to make you feel worse, but I can tell you I was in alot of pain after and during my 2 plus hour appointment. I learned that I don't like to have electrical current wired to run through my body. Jason showed me how my body was uneven -- lopsided even. And how my shoulders were starting to slope forward compensating for back muscles that weren't strong. He gave me this sort of bear hug from behind that made everything feel much better, at least temporarily.
The good news: A run the next day, with my new running partner, Becky, was the best and fastest run I've had in a long time. And my brick the day after that was fine, but taxing, about what I expected for running 2 times in 15 hours.

My physical therapist assures me that when I see him later today, I will hate him for the pain he causes me, but love him tomorrow, when I feel better. I'll let you know.

Most of all, I am happy. I am happy I have hope to be better soon. I am happy to be alive, without being fearful all the time that I am about to die. I am soooo soooo happy to be working out again. Even if I can't swim, go aero, or strength train -- yet. Sometime, being away from one of the things you love most, helps you appreciate it again.

The other good news -- I found a new primary care doctor. He's a runner, so I know he'll understands the demands of training and and the complexity of injuries. Dr. Dec recommend him which is a great sign. And, when I meet with him in a few weeks, I'm going to be sure to tell him, please don't tell me I might have a fatal condition, but not to worry.


tri-ing races not cases said...

My goodness girl... what a journey and a scary ordeal that has been. Glad to hear someone has rationally diagnosed your issue and you are on the mend.

Melissa said...

i am so glad you have an answer and peace of mind again! you had us worried!

TriGirl 40 said...

I am so sorry you've had to go through the scariness of an unknown diagnosis for such a long time. You are in great hands and are on the road to recovery!

Sarah said...

Wow. I had no idea things were that bad for so long. I'm thrilled that you finally got some answers and can get back on track.

Diane said...

OMG what an ordeal! So glad for Dr. Dec and a reasonable diagnoses. I hope you continue to steadily improve until you're fully back in action!