Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Health Update (Pre Surgery)

It was May of 2010 and everything was going well for me.  Although my job at a running store didn’t pay much, I was enjoying it.  After getting back into running about a year earlier, I was hooked.  I just finished my second marathon of the year and improved by over a half hour from my first marathon.  I finished that race about three and a half minutes off of the Boston qualifying standard.  I was well on my way to hitting that mark in the upcoming fall marathon.  Everything was rosy.

That’s right when everything went downhill.  Almost immediately after the marathon (actually the night before I think I had the first symptom), I started having health problems.  I had some soreness in my behind.  It was discovered that I had a fistula (which is basically a tunnel between tissues or organs).  I was on antibiotics and other treatments, but nothing worked.  The pain became so unbearable throughout that summer.  Eventually, I had to have surgery in August.

After surgery, I thought that would be the end of my problems.  I was very wrong.  It was only the beginning.  At first, I thought I was just recovering slowly.  I felt terrible every day.  I spent almost every minute in bed and had an upset stomach almost daily as well.  I started losing weight when I began running a year earlier and it continued even while I was inactive.  At my worst, I weighed a mere 115 pounds.

Eventually, in October, I went to the doctor.  After being sent to a specialist and having some tested done, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.  It is a digestive disorder that often shows itself with symptoms such as an upset stomach, diarrhea and weight loss.  I also developed another fistula.  This fistula caused me some pain, although not as much as the first one.

Eventually after taking some medications, I felt much better.  In the winter/spring of 2011 I gained weight and was up around 140 pounds.  I still had stomach problems from time to time, but thankfully much less frequently than the previous fall.  I was on several medications in the hope that it would help the fistula heal.  Major surgery would be the last resort if it didn’t heal.  In June, I went on Humira to treat the fistula.  That is a drug that I have to inject myself with once every two weeks (not a fun task).

June was a good time for me because I began to run again a month or so earlier.  I had lost all my fitness and struggled to run for even ten minutes straight.  It was just great to be able to run again.  Although the fistula wasn’t healed, it didn’t bother me while I ran.  It was the one time I felt normal.  Before and after a workout was another story, as I was often in pain or at least discomfort.  I ran a lot over the summer of 2011 and it was great.  It gave me a purpose again.  I try to build up my mileage gradually and just enjoy that I was getting better weekly (even though I was my slowest ever).  The two 5Ks I ran were my slowest ever, but it was great just to run again.  Thinking about all the pain I was through, even made it easy to run when I was falling apart at the end of the second 5K.  I figured some fatigue was no big deal compared to what I’ve been through.

When I got back into running several years ago, I was living in Philadelphia.  I trained alone.  I led group runs at the store that I worked at, but that was my only running partners at all.  This time around, I decided I would get more involved in the local running scene (back home in the Lehigh Valley).  I began running during the Finish Line Running Store Group runs on Tuesday nights.  Although the groups were usually small, I met some great people.  I also found the Breakfast Club Runners and made some more friends.  I ran a marathon relay with them and we even took second in the mixed division.  It was great to be back running, running strong and making friends.  The Lehigh Valley Road Runners began group runs in the fall and I volunteered to help as a group run leader on Thursday nights.  Again, the group was typically small, but I met some more great people and was being pushed pretty hard physically.

My fistula still had not healed at this point.  In September, my doctor suggested that it was time for surgery.  I told him I had a couple races coming up and I’d like to wait until they were over with first.  He said that was fine.  I wasn’t getting any worse, so I figured after a year of dealing with the fistula, what was another month or two.

Things started getting worse in October.  The fistula was causing me more pain and running started to become a chore.  I struggled to finish the group runs and couldn’t run up front in them anymore.  On October 22nd, I ran my first of the scheduled two races.  It was a five mile trail race and night and it was a blast.  I did fairly well too (although I didn’t pick up an award).  That race ended up being the last time I ran.  It was just too difficult to do any more.

I told the doctor to forget about my last race on Thanksgiving Day and let’s go ahead with the surgery.  The surgery would be performed by both my doctor and a surgeon, so their schedules had to match.  That set me up for a surgery on December 12th.  It seemed like forever in my mind.  The only thing that even got me to this point it one piece was taking pain killers.

The last month plus has been horrible.  I’ve been in pain nearly every night.  I’ve lost more weight and now I’m back down to 120 pounds.  I lay in bed most of the day again.  I often have been eating only one meal a day, typically added chicken broth as a second meal.  I’ve been popping pain pills so often that I actually run out before I can get a refill.  I’m low again with a few days left until surgery.

Most people are looking forward to the Christmas holiday now.  I should be looking forward to that and my birthday on December 19th.  Instead, I’m looking forward to surgery on Monday the 12th.  That’s how sad my life has become.  Hopefully, surgery will be the start of the road back to normalcy.  That’s going to be a tough road too though.  This is a major surgery where part of my organ will be removed and then the remainder sewn back together.  It will be a lot of pain and I’ll be in the hospital for as much as 10 days.  My recovery depends on how long it’ll take until my system will accept solid foods again.  After I get home, it still will likely be tough to eat, my energy will probably be low for some time and I might have bathroom issues.  It may take two months or longer to get back to normal.  I’m just hoping for the best.

After surgery, I really want to work on improving my nutrition.  I was reading a book that a friend gave me last winter about someone who recovered from Crohn’s Disease (although they claim it is incurable, just treatable).  The author claims he was near death and tried everything possible to defeat Crohn’s.  Eventually, he found the solution by eating the Maker’s Diet.  That means to eat foods in accordance with the bible.  For example, no pork or shellfish should be consumed.  Whether it completely works for me or not, eating healthier and more organic should help some.  I definitely need to eat less processed foods.

I really wish I understood why this all happened to me and why the timing of it too.  It’s ironic that I drank excessively for years in my 20s and then quit completely almost a year before these problems occurred.  I didn’t eat healthy, but my diet had improved before these problems as well.  I was making great breakthroughs in my running and enjoying life like never before.  That seems so long ago that I almost can’t even remember what it is like to be a normal human being any more.

I’ve wrestled with the idea of why this happened.  I’m still not completely sure why God chose this path for me.  I do know that in the end it has and will make me a much stronger person.  I’m starting to think that perhaps, somehow I’ll tie together my running and Crohn’s for a good cause.  Maybe I’ll raise a lot of money through my running for Crohn’s.  I’m still not sure yet.  I know that I’ve always felt that I was destined for big things.  It sure doesn’t seem that way with where I’m at right now, but I haven’t given up on the idea.  I have so many big goals for myself to accomplish, many of them involving running.  I need to get back into shape again and qualify for Boston.  I’d love to win a marathon one day.  I also want to try my hand at the 50 and 100 mile distances.

I am grateful for the support that I’ve had from family and friends.  This certainly hasn’t been easy on my parents, having to take care of me for over a year and a half.  They thought their days of having me around the house were over.  They certainly never would’ve expected to have to take care of me again in this capacity.  They may not have handled everything as best that could (either have I), but they have been a great blessing to have by my side through all of this.  My friends, both old and new have offered encouragement as well and have been a big help too.  I’m lucky to have such a strong support system.  I could never get through this solely on my own.

As bad as I feel now, it still isn’t anywhere near as awful as last fall was.  Hopefully, that was rock bottom and I’m slowly climbing out of it.  If not, then I’ll just keep fighting and take whatever life throws at me until I get back where I want to be.  It’ll be a long road back no doubt and I need to be patient, but I’m willing to do that.  I look forward again to the day where I can stand around a room full of people again and think to myself, “I’m normal now, just like everyone else here.”  That  will be a great day.