Monday, July 25, 2011

have I got a story for you.

I have two badges of courage from the day:  The finishers medal from my triathlon around my neck and a hospital bracelet around my wrist.  This is going to be a long story.  But just to be fair, I should let you know before reading that I am okay today, home safe and sound thanks to being rescued from Boston by my valiant husband.  Read on:

Susan, her sister Johanna, and I spent the night in Auburn, Mass on Saturday night and raced our triathlon on Sunday morning.  

 Our swimming waves started around 7:15 (Susan) and 7:35 (Johanna and me), and we were off.
finish line chute of the swim.

For me, the swim was my favorite part.  The water was warm (too warm, even), and I got to the front of my wave and took off like a bandit as soon as it was go time.  This is my strategy: to charge ahead of my wave so that I don't end up in a pile of flailing arms and legs.  It worked.  I was off with a few strong kicks and pulls and into clear water and swam strong the whole way without ever getting kicked.  In the previous 2 years that I did this course, the "1/2 mile" swim was actually just more than a 1/4 mile (my times were way too fast and it just looked way short).  This year it was definitely a full 1/2 mile.  I knew it as soon as I saw the buoys way out there, and it felt like I was swimming a long way before the final buoy and turned toward the shore.  My time was 13 minutes and change which is really good for me for an actual 1/2 mile in open water.

 I then hopped on the bike and hit the hills.  The course is 12 miles but all the (steep) uphills are in the first 5 miles.  It was hot and very humid so I did the best I could.  My time was about a minute slower (47 mins) than last time I did this race, but the bike course was also a little longer b/c they moved the whole transition area way down near the beach.  I enjoyed the bike, passed a lot of people,  and kept thinking that I would love to stay on my bike because the last thing I wanted to do in hot, humid weather and biking shorts, was go for a run.

Usually when I get off my bike and start to run, it's my legs that protest.  During this race my legs were okay, but I was sucking wind and I couldn't get my breathing to calm down because of the thick, humid air.  I even walked up a couple of hills. I kind of hated the run and just wanted it to end.    I felt like I was running through quick sand and at like a 12 minute pace.  So I was pleasantly surprised that my pace was actually 9:58.  Not the best I could have done, but fine.  I was very happy to make the final turn into the finish.

 Total time was 1:36.  I had set my time goal from the previous course of 2008, which I did in 1:30.  However, the swim was almost twice as long and the run was 3.1 instead of 2.8 like it used to be.  So, if I adjust for those changes, my time was on target.   I finished in 250th place out of 1000 participants overall, and 62nd place overall in the swim.  Susan had a very strong race.  Her sister Johanna kicked butt.  This was Johanna's first race ever, and she came in 29th overall.  She had a strong swim, very strong bike, and then ran 7 minute miles on the run.  Some people!!!

See the medical sign above my head?


sisters!!!  I love this one.

Things were fine and good and normal in a post-race sort of way.  We collected our gear, we walked down to the lake and went swimming, we checked our results and went back to the hotel to shower.  We had coffee and hung out.  Normal stuff.

Because I know you are going to wonder later, and because I was asked by a hundred medical personnel, I felt fine after the race, and I had plenty to drink to refuel myself. I didn't feel differently than I ever do after a race.  That is to say, I felt proud and exhilarated by the experience, and tired in a good way, and hungry.

A few hours later, Johanna left for home and Susan and I drove to Boston.  Because Susan had to stay in Boston overnight to pick up a relative at the airport the next day, I had purchased a ticket home on the 6:15 pm bus out of Boston's South Station and would arrive home around 10:30 Sunday night.  So, we had about 4 hours to kill in Boston, which was a lovely thing.  We parked in a lot near Quincy Market and walked around the shops.  We had lunch at a really delicious Asian noodle/ salad type place.  We debriefed the race and drank a ton of water.


After lunch we browsed some shops for about an hour.  I went into Newbury Comics which is a quirky toy/comic store to try to find something to bring home to my kids.  At this point, it was like 3:30.  Susan was waiting for me outside.  I started to feel a little funny in the store, and my hands started to itch intensely.  This is where the day gets really interesting.

My hands were crazy itchy.  Not like a little bit, or in just an annoying way, but in a kind of instantly panicky way.  I was going out of my skull itching them.  Then the bottoms of my feet started itching.  Then my head and neck.  I walked outside and found Susan.  I said:  "Something is wrong with me." I described my itchiness.

She suggested we get up and walk but I was kind of freaking out and needed to be in a cold, quiet place.  I charged into Nine West shoes, right next to where we were sitting, and said that I was having an emergency and needed their bathroom.  Within the next 10 (or less) minutes, this is what happened, as best as I can remember it:

I felt really sweaty and faint.  I tried to sprinkle water on my face but I couldn't stand up.  I laid down on the bathroom floor because I was so hot I needed to feel the cold floor.  The manager of Nine West knocked on the door and asked me if I was okay.  I said I didn't know.  I was nauseous and so sweaty that my skin was wet to the touch.  The manager knocked on the door again.  I said I needed help.  She asked if she should call 911.  I said yes.  She asked me to unlock the door.  I reached up and opened it and she saw me on the floor and I heard her say:  "Oh my god she's passed out on the floor!"  I heard her call 911 and describe the situation.  She asked if I was alone.  I managed to say "Susan"  and "outside" so in a  minute Susan was there.  Susan took over answering questions for the 911 people on the phone, I think.  I could hear people talking about me, but I don't know who it was.

What seemed like 30 seconds later I could hear sirens.  In hindsight, I think it's amazing that I so quickly wanted and needed an ambulance.  You would think that I would have wanted to wait it out for at least a few minutes.  I just knew something was wrong with me.  And I wanted someone to just pick me up and give me some drugs and make this all over.  And I was SO hot. 

Next thing I knew I was looking at the shoes of the paramedics and hearing them talk about me.  I couldn't really answer their questions.   They took my vitals.  I was annoyed they were touching me.  Susan did most of the talking.  When she mentioned that we did a triathlon this morning, both paramedics and the store manager said:  "Oh!  Well that explains it!"  And I managed to say "uh-uh"  as in, no way.  This has nothing to do with the triathlon.

They wrapped me in a sheet and pulled me out of the bathroom and up onto the stretcher.  I remember being pissed that they were jostling me around so much.  Everything seemed so bumpy and jerky. Luckily, though I didn't care at the time, they took me out a back door and onto the ambulance in the alley, not through the jammed brick pedestrian walkway of Quincy Market.  That would have been a scene.

I was asking for some pain medicine.  They said  "not yet honey" and then I heard someone say to Susan:  "We're taking you to Mass General, and they will figure it out."  They asked me a lot of questions but I couldn't answer any of them.  Susan did a great job filling them in, and also she was so calm.  I could hear her very matter-of-fact tone and it was very comforting to me.

After we got to the hospital, they put me in a different bed, I kept my eyes closed.  Over the course of the next half hour, I started to get really cold and started to shake.  Still very itchy and now blotchy around my ears (so I could hear people saying).

And then slowly I started to feel like I could talk again.  Very gradually I started to feel a little better.  I sat up a little.  I opened my eyes.  I could speak some sentences to Susan.  Mostly, I kept saying:  "I can't believe that just happened."

There was a lot of waiting to see the doctors.  By the time the doctor came in, I had talked to Sam and farmed out the kids to our dear friend Kimmie for a sleep over, and Sam was preparing to drive to Boston.  I was able to fully explain what happened to the doctors.  I was even making jokes at this point, so she and Susan were confident I was okay.  The doctor was quite impressed with our triathloning, and enjoyed telling us about a trail run she just did. 

The doctors thought I had clearly had some kind of allergic reaction, but didn't know to what.  I did eat shrimp for lunch about an hour before this happened, so that was definitely discussed (though I've never had a food allergy and I've eaten shrimp before, not often, but a few times a year).  If it had been bad shrimp or some kind of food poisoning, they said, I would have vomited.  Their best guess at what it could be?  Exercise-induced urticaria:  an allergic reaction to strenuous exercise. 

So, I'm allergic to exercise?  Everyone wanted to blame the triathlon.  I said over and over:  "People.  I'm in good shape.  I do a lot of these kinds of things!  I've run 3 marathons!  I'm not allergic to exercise!"  I mean really, I trained more than adequately for this race.  I think the triathlon may be a culprit if I had been under-trained, but wouldn't I have felt sick right after the race?  And yes, I had plenty of water.  And Gatorade.  And coconut water.  And then like 4 glasses of water with lunch.  And yes it was hot at the race, but nothing I haven't dealt with before. And I'd had a good race!

I had to tell all of the nurses and doctors throughout the evening: " I do this kind of race a lot.  And I've never had this happen before."  And each one of them would say:  "Huh" and scratch their heads.

Very comforting, right?

They moved me to a treatment area, gave me a bag of fluids, took a ton of blood samples, and gave me an EKG.  Why, I'm not sure.  Just to rule everything out.

Sam was on his way, I felt comfortable, I made Susan go to her cousin's where she was spending the night and promised to call her.   
 Then I just sat there and laughed and sighed at the irony of the situation: I still had #719 written in marker on my arm and just below it, an IV needle taped to my skin.  Twelve hours earlier, I had crossed the finish line of a triathlon.  Now I was getting an EKG.  Craziness.

The end of my story is that my labs were all normal.  My EKG was normal.  I sat up and started to read my book.  I even started to feel hungry.

Sam drove 4 hours to Boston, got lost in the city trying to find Mass General, parked and found me (I had been discharged about an hour earlier) in the waiting room at 11 pm, and we turned right around and drove back to Maine.  I kept thanking him and thanking him and asking if he was okay to keep driving.  He just kept drinking coffee and saying he was fine.  He also said that I was the only person for whom he would drive the 8 hours in and out of Boston.  And that's not even true, but it was a nice thought.  We got home at 3 am and I went straight to bed.

I will follow up with my doctor here in Maine, I will avoid shrimp until I see an allergist.  I will not, however, avoid exercising.  Just ridiculous.  I hope to have some more answers soon, and hope to not  get intimate with a bathroom floor anytime soon.

I owe enormous thanks to Susan for taking care of me, to Sam for rescuing me, to the nurses and docs at Mass General for being so nice, and to the really nice manager at the Quincy Market Nine West store (I have to call her). 

Maybe we should all go out and buy some Nine West shoes to celebrate the happy ending to this saga.
How is that for a race report!


The Finicky Farmer said...

That's so scary! I'm glad that you're feeling better and that you had such an excellent triathlon despite the wretched weather.

Sarah Woulfin said...

How scary and great that your friend was still wtih you. Very glad to hear that you're alright. Take it easy for a few days.

Laurie in Maine said...

OMG. I scrolled down to "This is where the day gets really interesting. My hands were crazy itchy." Now I'll go read the rest :)

Joanne said...

Wow! First congratulations on your fantastic race in such humidity and heat. Thank God you are alright. Thankful thoughts out to all who helped you. Your experience retelling is excellent as well. I have to admit to bursting out laughing at "an allergic reaction to strenuous exercise." I'm sorry. Whaaat?! Can't imagine if that were to be true. My thoughts are with a food allergy (maybe other than shrimp even) - the extreme itching - which leads to an internal response, like a physiological panic attack.
May be time for rest and big green monsters! Take it easy!

Brooke said...

oh my goodness! and to think i was getting impatient with your delayed race report. i am so happy you're okay and the allergy to exercise? lunacy! xoxo, brooke

Brooke said...


Anne-Marie said...

How scary, Emilie. I am so glad to hear you are okay. (and: congrats on the tri!)

Rene' said...

Yikes....that sounds like a shell fish allergy to me. It actually gets worse the more that you eat it. The thing that tips me off is the itching hands and feet. You don't always throw up with that, food poisoning yes, allergy no. (i was a peds nurse in my former life:)
Good job at your race. I have always wanted to do that race, to bad I am afraid of my bike:(

Jen said...

Oh my word, what a terrifying experience! Thank goodness Susan was there with you. I hope you get some answers soon & I am totally with you about the not exercising thing. How on earth could you (of all people) be allergic to exercise? That's just ridiculous! & Thank goodness for Sam coming to your rescue! Rest up and I'll see you at B2B!!!!

Melissa said...

Hi Emilie! I am a short time reader of your blog, and have yet to post. I love the blog, and after reading this I HAD to post.

For years I have had random allergic reactions during/after working out. One day I can run 4 miles on the same treadmill, in the same workout room I use a few days a week, and be just fine. The next day, I run the same distance, same pace, some food for breakfast...same everything, and I get an allergic reaction so bad that my eyes get almost swollen shut, I start sneezing w/ really itchy eyes, and I break out in hives on my stomach. I've had to call the doctor a few times to get steroids so that the eye swelling goes down, because it looks TERRIBLE.

I've been to 3 allergists and my regular doctor (2 doctors in that office have seen me), and I haven't been able to find a doctor who can really explain it. I don't have food allergies, but I am allergic to things in the environment (grass, molds, dust...), and they insist it's something in the environment causing it. That just confuses me more because I can sit in our basement for days and days, and not even sneeze or anything. Then, I get up to do the Wii hula-hoop in an "intense" competition (haha), and I'm breaking out with a reaction.

Mine is very random, and it's been impossible to find anything that specifically causes it. It's very scary though, but, as you said, I don't let it stop me from running.

Anyway, I'll be anxious to keep up with you to see if you find anything that's causing yours. I've been dealing with it for about 5 years now, but still can't find the cause :(

Kerrie T. said...

Holy crap! So glad you are okay and that you had people around to help you. So scary! I do think this calls for a trip to Nine West. :)

Joanne said...

Oh my gosh, Melissa. Geez. Sorry. Exercise-induced urticaria. Possibility?

Melissa said...

I thought mine was called "Exercise-induced anaphylaxis", but no doctor has even mentioned it. I just looked it up online once and it sounds right ;)

bodegabliss said...

Oh my gosh! I'm so glad you're okay! That was scary. And great job on the race! You are truly inspiring.

Eileen said...

Oh wow, I'm so glad you are OK. It sounds like you all handled the situation well as it was unfolding. I'm sorry for your scare!

Someone in my family has a shellfish allergy that only developed after pregnancy. I will vote for that, because I think it would be easier to give up shrimp than exercise.

Carol said...

Emilie, Whew! I am relieved that you are feeling fine. And what book was it...

Pattie Reaves said...

SCARY! Glad you're OK. Hope you figure out what it is. <3

Emilie said...

Thank you, thank you, everyone! I feel fine today! I think I'm going for a run tomorrow, and I'm assuming that I'll be just fine. I have been very interested to hear everyone's thoughts and similar experiences, so thank you for that!

Simply Us said...

Emilie, I don't know how you can have me laughing and crying at the same time! I can't believe how scared I felt sitting here as you shared your experience on the bathroom floor. I'm so glad you chose the right store to go into and am so glad it all worked out and that you are home again. Just do a light run around home until you know for sure!

Michelle said...

Oh Emilie, what a story! I'm glad you are ok! I kept thinking of Will Smith in "Hitch" and how he started reacting to a food allergy. thank goodness your face didn't blow up like his, right?

I teared up when I thought of you in the hospital and Sam rushing to get to you! you both deserve a medal. He is a great husband and you are a rock star for getting through that crazy day!!!

sarah said...

So glad you're ok!!! Congrats on your race, and you definitely need to buy a new pair of 9 west shoes;) -Sarah

ann said...

Oh Emilie, the stories you have to tell! I say you should keep some benedryl with you ALL the time and if the itching starts, take it right away. Lots of people are allergic to shell fish and you have my deepest sympathies if that is the case. To live in Maine and not be able to eat lobster????? Just so not fair!

Lots of hugs and love!

An Indoor Girl said...

That sounds like a really terrifying experience! So glad to hear you are ok and that you weren't alone when it happened. Good luck finding out the cause.
And congratulations on the race! :)

Willow said...

WOW! How scary. I'm glad everything worked out fine in the end, but I can't imagine how freaked out you must have been during it all. That poor salesperson at Nine West...what a scary work day!

Barb and Jim said...

Congratulations on finishing the Triathlon and the great time. Excercise is not the problem - it's what you ate - either the shell fish or something in the noodle dish. That's my vote. I never thought I was alergic to shrimp, ate them for years until one August in Hayfever season I had shrimp - big reaction. Wonderful ending and what a great story. Good thing you didn't mention chest pains or you would still be in the hospital doing stress EKGs

Kelly Gehman said...

I work at MGH in the pharmacy and was at work sunday! I do go to the ED often, but didn't happen to make any deliveries there this weekend or see your name come across anything in my path. Glad to know you're home and doing just fine now. (If western medicine can't find an answer I highly recommend trying out acupuncture)

Molly said...

Hi! Love your blog! Was looking through older entries and saw this one. Not sure if this might console you a little, but I have been running for 12+ years (5 marathons), and I have had an allergic reaction like the one you described maybe 5-7 times. The itchy hands and feet, then blotchy skin (my throat also feels like it's closing up and my face turns bright red/purple)--it goes away after 1-2 hours for me. No idea what causes it, and running definitely brings it on, but I think it's more food related than running related. My "attacks" usually follow eating a raw fruit/vegetable (though I am not allergic to any). My best guess is that it follows eating raw fruits/vegies that have edible peels--so I am wondering if it could be a pesticide or something? Anyway, I stick with cheese pizza as a pre-long run meal, and usually go with something tame and carby after a long run, and I have been allergy-free for a few years now. Hope you don't experience it ever again! Happy running & exercising!

robinbb said...

Hello, new reader here. I am running Danskin this year and loved reading your report.

I was wondering if you ever followed up with your doctor about your reaction you had that day. I ran the Boston Marathon this year in the intense heat and for nearly 4-5 days after, I had a similar reaction. I was SOOO itchy and sick. My husband thinks I had a reaction to the heat because my heart rate was so high but what the doctors told you really is interesting. Would love to hear more.

Emilie said...

Hi Robin! Danskin is amazing! Don't let my weird day scare you away. It is a really fun event.

The end of my story is that I did indeed test positive for shrimp allergy, so I've just avoided shellfish since then and i've been fine. I don't know what to think of your Boston experience but I have heard that the reaction to intense heat and exercise can be delayed, but delayed by hours, not days. I hope you figure it out. Congrats on Boston and enjoy Danskin!