The Perils of Running

by Jonah Davenport

July 21, 2002

Go! Go! I waved Melissa ahead and dropped back to a much slower jog. She went ahead and my body quickly dictated a walk. So off the course and on to the sidewalk I went. I thought I would walk for a bit, recover, and then finish the race. But I wasn’t thinking that clearly. My walk became a distinct wobble. I remember waving people off, saying, I’m okay. I’m okay. Then I hit the ground.

The race started at 8:45 pm, the Rockville Twilight 8K, a five-mile race. My goal was to keep up with Melissa for the entirety of the race. Her goal was the same. We started fast and continued fast. We passed many other runners until the second mile, where the view of runners backs remained relatively constant. Around mile three I could not exhale quietly. I felt that every breath was a loud grunt or honk. Attempts to slow my breathing were rejected by my body which said, I need all the oxygen I can get, dammit! Thoughts of quitting, of how nice it would be to stop pounding the pavement, entered my head; demons I have fought before. I usually win. I have pushed through and finished. We were only five minutes from the finish and the darkness was closing in. It was not just the setting sun, but my visual field that also began to close. After I sent Melissa ahead, it closed pretty quickly.

I don’t remember falling. The lack of scrapes suggests that I eased myself down somehow though I doubt it was very graceful. The next thing I remember is looking up at a circle of police, EMTs and race officials. They were asking me questions which I did my best to answer. I got the typical, Do you know what day it is? Do you know how long the race is? How old are you? This information is on my race bib. I felt I knew what has happening though not how serious it was. My head was swirling and my hands were cramping up into a grotesque shape, my fingers straight and my palms as tight as they could go. They put instant ice packs on my chest and elsewhere. They gave me a packet of glucose to swallow that had the consistency of snot and tasted not quite as good. I did not protest when they said they were going to take me to the hospital.

Melissa, I learned later, had finished the race and was looking for me. After twenty minutes and a jog back up the course, she inquired at the medical tent. There she gathered that I had been taken to the hospital. After getting her friend and fellow racer, Denise, they went to my truck and called Shady Grove hospital for directions. Fortunately, Melissa was carrying my key and my cell phone was in the car. Denise said that Melissa drove like a wild woman on the way to the hospital.

In the ambulance I woke up. The darkness receded and I opened my eyes wide for the first time in 15 minutes. I looked at the clock. 9:40. An EMT took my blood pressure. 114 over 64. I felt it was very important to remember this, to demonstrate my mental abilities as I could not do much with my body. I relaxed some. I answered some questions (allergies, medical conditions, medication, prior history of dehydration) and tried to recover. At the hospital bay another EMT, Mr. O Brian, wheeled me in to the ER and related my circumstances to someone else. In my stall I transferred myself from the gurney to the bed, for which I’ll bet everyone was thankful. I weigh 215 pounds and was still sweating buckets. I was relieved that it was something I could do. Physical tasks were all uncertain.

I remember feeling profoundly grateful for all of these people who helped me get to that point. I was quite helpless and everyone along the way was professional and generous. It was a booster for my faith in human goodness. I also recognized that I was a very lucky patient. I knew that I would be out of the hospital that night. I could see so many others that were worse off than I, that were in more pain than I.

My nurse, Chris, a 27-year-old white guy with light brown hair and serious sideburns, came to take over. He gave me a fun hospital gown to wear, though I only removed my shirt, now sopping wet. A girl named Shantay came to take more information from me. She typed into a laptop sitting on a wheeled cart. She asked me if I had my insurance card on me. I resisted the obvious sarcasm and thought maybe next race I might do well to bring it along. Chris took my temperature and prepped me for an IV. My temperature was 101 at 10:05, almost 30 minutes after dropping off the course. I had soaked through my clothes, a towel, the gown and the bedding. I stood for the first time since falling so Chris could towel off the bed and change the sheets.

Melissa and Denise showed up. Melissa was initially upset to see her running mate in a hospital bed with EKG leads and other lines sprouting from my body, but she recovered quickly.

I thought about my mother who is a doctor and often out and about on any given night, going from hospital to hospital. I had intended, even from the time in the ambulance, to have her paged. I knew she would come by, but I never pursued it until I felt much better. I called home and spoke with Zach. He said mom was home and sleeping. I said there was no need to wake her at that point. He also said that the Orioles were tied in the bottom of the ninth with runners on first and third. Eventually I emptied the second bag of saline. Chris unhooked me. I pulled off the many stickers from my body, along with many chest hairs. It was 12:05 and I was ready to go home. Melissa drove.