It happened with terrifying speed.
We'd finished a performance of our show and settled in for a low-key evening of wine and guitar sing-alongs. Then my stomach started hurting. That kind of cramping you get when you've eaten a lot of crap. I told everyone I had to go home and got into the car to drive home.
Halfway there, I pulled over. The pain had intensified so much that I threw up. I tried to continue on my way, but three miles from home, I couldn't work the clutch anymore. I called my wife, gave her my best approximation of my location, and waited for her to give me a ride to the emergency room. I had realized that it wasn't my stomach that was the problem.
If you know my history as a runner, you might remember that I had bilateral hernia surgery just before starting college. At the time, I was training for my first marathon (Columbus 2002), which I was going to do with my mother and brother. A physical for college showed the hernias (I didn't know what they were, and they didn't bother me), which meant that I needed surgery before I could go to college, which meant no marathon. I stopped training. Within a few days, I was moving into college, and a couple months later, I ran the marathon anyway. Who needs training, right?
(By the way, everyone needs training. My legs didn't work for two weeks after that race.)
My hernia was back. Only one this time, but it was different from anything I experienced the first time. It hurt. Something was severely wrong. My incredible wife came and picked me up (at 2 in the morning) and drove me into the emergency room. They confirmed everything I was thinking and immediately got me prepped for surgery. No problem, I thought. I've done this before. I'll recover.
Four hours later, I was in surgery, and a few hours after that, I was awake in the hospital room. Last time, I'd been sent home pretty much as soon as I woke up, but this time, they wanted to hold me for a bit. Some of my intestines had been gangrenous and needed to be removed, so they needed to keep me until it was clear that everything was working. My big concerns at the time were, in order, 1) they'd have to cancel industry night of our show, and we'd have to re-block the scenes where I jumped up on the table, 2) what pace would I have to do in order to complete the Austin Marathon in two weeks, and 3) I guess I'll have to watch the Super Bowl between my least favorite team in the NFL and the team coached by the Emperor from Star Wars.
The next day (or the day following, things get a little hazy for me here), I was feeling extremely bloated. They decided to do a CT scan (I think, they terminology escapes me), which meant drinking this contrast dye. I made it halfway through and everything went wrong. I'll spare you the details of what was happening to me, but when they got me down for the scan, they found out that the gangrene had been far more widespread than they realized, something had burst, and I was septic. Again, I think this is all accurate. I'm not a doctor and I was on painkillers.
The next five days or so are a blur. I went back into surgery and this time got a nice big scar right up the middle of my torso. I got a drain in my side. A line into my arm that fed me. A tube in my nose. I got moved to whatever the step below ICU is. And I spent night after night fighting bad dreams, pain and a complete inability to regulate my body temperature. All told, I was 9 hours short of spending two weeks in the hospital.
For the outside world, it meant that they had to recast my role in the show. It was too late for me to cancel my registration in the Austin Marathon, so my wife got my packet, but I missed the race. This also meant that I failed to complete the Austin Distance Challenge for which I had spent so much time and money over the previous four months. Boston is now at risk. Complete devastation.
So, what now?
I've been out of the hospital for about three weeks now, and things still don't work quite the way they're supposed to work. I get stronger every day, but I lost a lot of weight and muscle, and it doesn't seem to be in a hurry to return. I've got my (hopefully) final follow-up appointment with the surgeon this morning, and I hope to be released for everything. I have no idea if I'll be anywhere near physically ready to run Boston (but you can bet I'll be there).
The truth is, I have no idea what now. Some days I'm full of energy and positivity, and some days I don't want to get out of the bed. The immediate plan is to get stronger on days when I'm able and rest on days when I'm not. I've removed myself from most of my commitments to decrease stress, both physical and emotional. Any progress is good. Any setbacks are to be expected.
With everything that's happened, I feel like there's a lesson to be learned, and here's what I've come up with: I'm not a kid anymore, but I'm not anywhere near done yet. I've spent my life surrounding myself with incredible people, and they were there for me when I needed them most. I've married an incredible woman who has cared for me well above and beyond what could have been expected of her. All these years have added love and friendship to my life, but also wear and tear to my body. I need to move more carefully now, which gives me time to enjoy what's around me. I need to watch for warning signs and take them seriously, because I'm not invincible.
And most importantly, I cannot stop moving forward. If I wasn't as strong as I was, this could have been a lot worse. If my circle of family and friends weren't as incredible as they are, it could have been a lot worse. For all I've done wrong in life (I am human after all), there are innumerable great things in my life. I haven't been able to enjoy some of them for the last month.
So I think it's time to get strong again.