The pain train had left the station with myself as an unwilling passenger, destination unknown.
It was a disturbing turn of events. On an accelerated high 48 hours after running the Bangkok Half Marathon, endorphins surged through my body. My companions were equally buzzing with post-run euphoria as we landed in Phuket. Our wellness-themed trip organised by Tourism Authority of Thailand was jam-packed with spa resorts and a much-anticipated stay at Thailand’s most prestigious sports retreat, Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort. Massage therapy, fitness classes, temple visits and lashings of healthy Thai food lay ahead.
However, instead of jogging along Patong Beach at dawn, sweating it out in boot camp classes, ordering mojito’s (lime and mint are healthy!) and learning the origins of Thai massage, I was in agony. A nurse sized up my leg for a moonboot before apologising for adding to my distress as he jammed my foot into the protective cast that would become my new BFF for the next three months.
Checking into Accident & Emergency at Bangkok International Hospital wasn’t on the itinerary. Nor did I anticipate a floodgate of hospital bed tears one day after landing on Thailand’s holiday island. Slipping on wet pavement and falling over during a Boot Camp class, I’d fractured my ankle in two places.
More disturbing was the doctors emphatic ‘No’, in answer to the only question I had, once the gravity of my injury became evident. Shaking his head to emphasise his point, he said it was unlikely I’d be healed in time to run a marathon in five weeks’ time.
With my goal shattered, I sobbed like a child whose toys had been rudely snatched away.
I didn’t know it at the time but there was worse to come. Much worse. Four days later, as I knocked back a glass of bubbles (ok, it might have been three – don’t judge me!) nursing a broken ankle on the four-flight journey home to Australia, an evil embolism was worming its way through my blood stream. The little bugger, which I’d later come to know as PE (Pulmonary Embolism) would ultimately block the blood flow to my lungs, placing me unwittingly on a life and death precipice. The pain train had left the station with myself as an unwilling passenger, destination unknown.
A fractured ankle soon became the least of my problems.
For two months prior to the Thailand trip I’d been training for New Zealand’s Mototapu Marathon, a world-class trail run near Queenstown. Lolling around in self-pity and loathing wasn’t going to help me recover in time, even if I had to walk the whole damn 42km so I ditched the moon-boot prematurely and downsized to a small removable ankle cast. Foolishly optimistic right up until a week before race day, I clung to the hope that I would be on the start line with three running buddies. I wasn’t.
I’d registered for Mototapu as a motivator to drag me out of self-induced lethargy I’d felt at the end of 2017 having faced some uncomfortable truths about myself a few months earlier. I’d freaked out over the intensity of a new relationship, running for the hills fearing my independence was being compromised. So too, the opportunity to continue a running journey which had started in 2011 amidst the detritus of another failed relationship. I hadn’t realised how important adventurous athletic challenges were for my mental health until they weren’t there. They had become my emotional and physical security blanket.
A week after returning home from Thailand I learnt that the blood in my injured leg had coagulated, forming a clot the size of my thumb. DVT suddenly leapt from the back pages of well-thumbed inflight magazines into my immediate reality. My foot went purple. My calf swelled and turned the deep crimson of dragon fruit flesh. Smaller clots would soon break off and make an unwelcome journey to my lungs, ultimately chocking the blood supply through arteries to my heart. My lungs collapsed. Ambulance gurneys would become disturbingly familiar, as did paramedics, hospital beds, blood tests, ultrasounds, CAT scans and seemingly unending encounters with medical staff. For a period of uncertainty my body would rattle with an abundance of pills administered. My least proud moment would be near-passing out in an Orthopaedics’ waiting room, only rivaled by another episode writhing and groaning in agony in a GP’s waiting room before being bundled off in another ambulance. For someone fit enough to run a marathon this medical mayhem was humiliating.
But all that was in the future. For now, I was happy that travel insurance had approved a business class upgrade for myself and my newfound ‘carer’ Kris, a generous soul and fellow writer and runner whom I’d shared the first 10km of the aforementioned run with. We hadn’t met before arriving in Bangkok but had bonded over mutual joy, running the streets of a foreign city amongst a lively crowd of supporters and 13,000-plus runners wearing their own ambitious running goals like a superhero cloak. I was immensely grateful to have such a terrific travel buddy for the leg back to Australia, negotiating wheelchairs between flights while being a source of reassurance. So too, the people in Thailand who couldn’t have done more to alleviate the situation.
Arriving home, despite the limitations of a moon-boot, being dosed up with meds and unable to drive away from the isolated acreage I called home, I hoped to fast track my ankle recovery and be running again soon. After five days in hospital, my Mum and sister flew from the other side of the country, nearby friends came to the rescue as I came to terms with my limited mobility from a broken ankle then these pesky bloody blood clots. I soon succumbed to deep, dark bouts of depression where I confess that waking up in the morning held little appeal.
With the latest unscheduled A&E check-in a few days ago cutting short a run squad session, I followed up with another radiation-laced iodine dose pumped into my lungs to find out what the heck was going on. Two days later I fronted up at the start line of the Coral Coast Triathlon. It wasn’t pretty. Though I achieved one of two simple goals which was to complete the course and avoid the paramedic station.
My learning curve for Pulmonary Embolism was steep. Serena Williams and I have little in common, despite my best backhand attempts, though I learnt that PE’s connect us. People die from this shit. There’s even an annual day, World Thrombosis Day, (13 October) to raise awareness of a condition linked to 1 in 4 deaths worldwide. 40 Australians fall victim to this mostly silent and undetected thrombosis killer every day. Flying (actually any activity that involves sitting for long periods) is a high risk factor for contracting DVT. Add a fractured bone and it’s almost a certainty.
But I was lucky. By virtue of the birth lottery, I live in a country with first-class medical facilities staffed by insanely qualified and caring medical practitioners. Though I’m still a long way from gaining the clean bill of health I blithely took for granted before hopping on that plane to Bangkok, I’m grateful nevertheless.
The Universe moves in mysterious ways. It’s true I was burning myself out, was wracked with self-doubt, ambivalent about my health and was being less than the best person I could be.
PE pulled me up, gave me a damn good shaking and reset my equilibrium. I’ve since set a goal to complete an Ironman 70.3 triathlon in late 2018 and an 80km ultra-marathon in 2019. I’ve unfinished business in Thailand and hope to return to run the Phuket Half Marathon (Kris – let’s do it!). Rather ambitiously, a full Ironman in 2020 is in my sites too. Athletic events aside, I’m trying really hard to be a better human being. Creative writing has become a joy again too.
Though my encounter with thrombosis hasn’t proved fatal, I sure as hell won’t die from boredom and bedsores sitting on the couch lamenting a life unlived.