If At First You Don’t Succeed, Tri, Tri Again

Post hospital cuddling
Nurse Birkin tending to his human patient with cuddles.


It’s Sunday, August 24, 2014. A thousand miles away or so, a couple thousand people or so, are swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles just to see if they can; just for the thrill of four simple words: [Enter name here,] YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. (I was counting those last four words, not the parenthetical.) There’s a bib and a bike rack with my name and number on it a thousand miles away or so, but I’m (probably drinking) at the parental abode in ATL, pretending to move on with my year.

Let’s get the calamitous injury exposition out of the way here first: 

A few weeks ago I dove headfirst off my new, sexy (fast) tri bike into a soft, cushy stretch of cement bike path. I woke up, I’m not sure how much later, with a good-but-exasperated-Samaritan – whom I had, through repeated interrogation, ascertained did NOT go to the YMCA with me – babysitting me, while my riding buddy went to flag down the arriving ambulance.

“Oh look, an ambulance!” I’d astutely observed, truly missing the obvious.

“Yes. That’s for you, honey.” Even through my fog I could see that my new friend was ready to clock out of new friend duty.

From there the memory goes mostly blank again. I don’t really remember being loaded into the bus or what was said or done once there. I do however distinctly recall that I had the EMT with me in stitches. (Oh, figurative ones; I should clarify what with the medical context and all.) I’ve no idea what my stand up [lie-down-strapped-to-a-gurney] routine consisted of, but I know I was a hit. (Sigh, it’s so easy to meet people when you’re semi-conscious.) I also recall a manic emotional shift from comedic genius to tragic heroine at one point. Again the content and motivation of my hysterics is a mystery to me now, but I remember weeping.

The hospital is pretty blurry too. I was aware of the fact that my brain was scrambled, that when I spoke I made little to no sense, and my own thoughts were incoherent to me. It’s a strange sensation, having the wherewithal to observe one’s own psychotic shortcomings, but no power to rectify them. Words are coming out but I know they’re unintelligible. My brain is full of eddies and latching onto one long enough for a complete thought is like trying to grab a fish with your bare hand. (Carpe carp?)

As I strained to grasp where I was and why, I at least was mostly sure this was a temporary mental maelstrom and that my faculties would start to trickle back in. The doctors tried to give me morphine, but the thought of being propelled chemically further into the fog was terrifying.  I just wanted desperately to be able to think clearly. And the shock still masked the intense physical pain that was coming, so I frustratedly rebuked the pills. (Later when the mental fog succeeded to the corporeal realities of a concussion, whiplash, and a road rash’ed starboard side, I wondered where that nice drug-pushing nurse had gone…)

I was keeping it together on my own, but my emotions hung another hard left to crazytown when my fiancé, D, got to the hospital. My solitude-driven need to keep it locked up disintegrated and I was weeping and babbling like an idiot again. (Well I think I’d already been babbling like an idiot for some time, but the tears really added that extra something batshit to the scene.)

D and my riding buddy who’d arrived around the same time, hovered while I underwent X-rays, a CT scan, and a host of other tests. At one point a nurse tried to give me a pain shot in my arse, to which I responded that unless that syringe contained my previously-spurned friend, morphine, it was not going anywhere near my tush. The nurse obliged and took the offending non-narcotic needle away giving me some bs oral NSAID instead.

The last adventure in the hospital that day was cleaning and covering the road rash. My right elbow and shoulder blade had the worst of it, and there was a good bloody patch on my right hip as well so suddenly my arse was back on the table. I cracked more jokes and expletives as the good humored (humoring me anyway) nurse pulled bits of gravel out of my wounds and then applied tabasco sauce (he swore it was in fact a disinfectant) on the raw bits.

When we were finally free to leave I gathered my bike cleats and smashed helmet and began to limp out of the hospital room. At the doorway I looked back at the bed in which I’d been holding court the past several hours and saw that I’d bloodied the sheets where my shoulder, elbow, and hip had rested. For whatever reason this hit me like a ton of guilty bricks and I became weepy again as I apologized to the staff for getting blood on their nice white hospital sheets. They assured me it was really quite fine. In retrospect, I think it probably was.

In the car I was reunited with poor (expensive) biped(dled) Koopa Troop. (My bike, get it?) I apologized to him as if I’d bloodied his sheets too, then D and I hit the road. I’d been advised that driving was not in my short-term future so D took the wheel of Yoshi, my loyal green mini cooper (I like to anthropomorphize things with wheels) and we headed back to DC. On the way home I wept again, asked D if he still loved me and still wanted to marry me, took repeated repellant whiffs of my underarms, each followed by renewed interrogations of D’s intentions, and rhapsodized that my triathlon days may be over thanks to this concussion lucky number 7.

I was out of work for a few weeks (I literally had a note from the hospital excusing me from thinking) as I recovered. The first week was a battle to control the excruciating pain, fortunately my primary care doc wrote me a more aggressive [read: affective] prescription for painkillers and muscle relaxers, so that week mostly I just slept. Week two the nausea hit with a vengeance, so I subsisted mainly on ginger ale and ramen. At the same time the dizzies started, and they still persist seven weeks later, though at least now they’ve become more predictable and manageable. Most disruptive has been my upended sleep patterns. I don’t think I’ve had a decent night’s sleep, probably averaging four hours a night, since the crash.

I’ve been through a battery of neurological and cognitive tests and been warned by doctors of every specialty and persuasion that the racing needs to take a backseat to my health for a while. As someone who raced my first half iron last year with a broken ankle, processing this information has not come easily. In the face of admonitions to the contrary for weeks I still planned to race IM Louisville.

I took a week off of training after the crash and then got back to it. When the nausea and the dizzies got bad I conceded and took a second week off; however it really didn’t enter into my scrambled consciousness that withdrawing might be an possibility until a few weeks after the accident as I bonked in consecutive training bricks. I’d been vigilant about nutrition and pacing and yet each time I tried to dive back in, without fail a few steps or rotations in and suddenly my tank would be empty.

During a 90 minute ride, 8 mile run brick one Sunday, when my run pace had dropped from my usual 8 minute miles to 10+ I was forced to buy a Gatorade from a touristy vendor on the Mall and admit that something was not right. A few days later I was on my trainer when the same energy drain sucked away my will to peddle and I finally had to have an even more honest discussion with myself. I had to do what I’ve long been loathe to: admit that sometimes medically-trained professionals knew more about my body than I.

When D got home that night I wept once more, this time as I explained I was throwing in the M-Dot 2014 towel. He hugged me and told me he thought it was the right decision. I know he was relieved. For whatever reason, through my ceaseless smelliness and hanger, he still wants to spend his forever with me so watching me fight through 140.6 dizzy, sleep-starved, head-wounded miles was making him a little anxious.

That just about brings us to today. To take my mind off the race I’m not doing, I planned a visit the parentals in Georgia to relax and get some wedding planning done. (I realize that may sound oxymoronic to my recently wedded friends.) I’ll be honest: in the couple hours I’ve devoted to writing this I’ve also been checking my Irontrac app every fifteen minutes. (I especially like seeing how the women are doing. Get it Kate Bevilaqua and Nina Kraft!) I’ve also checked the Louisville weather (84 feels like 91, gross) and wondered uselessly if maybe I still could have done it.

No point in that wondering though, and really no point in becoming so melodramatic about a race. Because guess what? There’s always 2015. And getting married while training for my first full Ironman again sounds like just the sort of idiotic endeavor to keep forcing me into the pool at 6am. Also, Ironman training round two allows me to recommit to this online account of the journey – a commitment I meant to take on last year at which I failed lazily.

So here goes something. I can hear it now: ‘Mrs. D: You are an Ironman.’