When Life Has Plans Of Its Own:
Another Lesson In Endurance
Another Lesson In Endurance
October was beginning and the first Saturday of the month I would be running my 14th ultramarathon, the Baker Lake 50k. Baker Lake was the first ultra I had ever run and my first trail race ever, back in 2011. I was pumped up for the race and ready to run a Personal Best. I had been out on five unsupported ultra distance adventure runs throughout the summer, several of them lasting all night long. I was well trained and feeling awesome.
With the beginning of October, came the return of some classic pancreatic pain which I have gotten for many years. It comes and goes but had returned 1 ½ years ago with a bout of pancreatitis and a week long hospitalization. Since then, I'd been in the hospital a couple of more times and I did not want to wind up in there again. I was having some cramping in my upper abdominal area that was radiating around to my back. I continued my taper for Baker Lake and went about life as usual.
Baker Lake went as planned. I saw lots of friends, enjoyed the entire race and took 31 minutes off of my previous year's finishing time. It was also my 6th Baker Lake finish. I was happy with how the day had gone and feeling excited about my autumn running plans. I still hoped to get out on the Kettle Crest National Scenic Trail before snow would make it impassable and I had lots of other trails in mind to explore throughout October and November. Ras and I had our 3rd annual Highlands Halloween Hundred Trail Un-Run coming up the 3rd week of the month and the first of November, I was planning on running my first 12 hour run, Carkeek in Seattle.
Finally, I asked Ras to drive me down to the local ER as the pain had become unbearable and was wearing me down. I was very tired and I really wanted some relief. I was starting to feel concerned about why I was having this pain once again. We arrived at the small town hospital and a group of local community folks were gathered in the lobby area which doubles as an espresso stand. It was loud and chaotic as I approached the admitting desk. A young lady came out from a back office and I told her I thought I might be having pancreatitis. She unlocked an office across the hallway, led Ras and I inside, and called for a triage nurse to come into the office. I noticed her nail polish was flaking off and she and the nurse exchanged unprofessional giggles over the phone. I handed the lady my ID and insurance information. She verified my address and the male nurse walked in. He stood at a distance and in an unsympathetic voice asked what was going on. I repeated to him that I thought I was having pancreatitis which I have a history of and that I was in pain.
He led me back to the examination area and took my vital signs. I did not like the way things felt. The nurse was standoffish and seemed surprised that I was not running a fever or vomiting, as some pancreatic patients do. Alcoholism is the number one cause of pancreatitis and he asked if I drank alcohol. I have not since my early 20's, and so I told him this. All of this information is in the records held at the hospital on me, as I had just spent 5 days there in March. It did not seem as though he had accessed these records. A doctor came in. He also stood at a distance and never approached the bedside, let alone did he examine me in any way. He asked some questions. I was sure to tell him that I had pancreatic surgery in 2007 and had been fine until these bouts of pancreatic pain had returned recently. He ordered blood work and the nurse hooked me up to an IV. I was given some fluids and one dose of pain medication through the IV. The doctor returned saying my blood work looked great and I could go home. He never looked at my records or contacted the specialist I see at the University of Washington Medical Center. He gave me a prescription for 6 pain killers and told me to go home and stay on liquids until the pain went away. The pain didn't go away. I set appointments with my primary care provider and my specialist. I couldn't get in to see either for over 10 days and by the time I did get in to see my PCP, I had a fever and full blown pancreatitis.
I don't like this story. I don't like what I went through or the ignorance of the Emergency Room doctor at the hospital in the town where I live. I ended up spending a week in the hospital and when I saw the specialist last week, she ordered an MRI which showed a 2cm x 2cm cyst in my pancreas, like I've had before and like I thought I might have again.
There is one good doctor I've been able to see throughout this process, Dr. Silla. She was the ER doc when I was admitted in March. She is an endurance athlete herself, insightful and intelligent. She was on the phone with my specialist within minutes of me entering the ER. She took it seriously and believed that I was in pain. She was kind, warm and efficient. She was the best doctor I've ever seen in Okanogan County and I wish she could be the doctor that could give me my care during this process. She came in to speak to me once I was hospitalized and apologize for the other doctor's behavior, the one who turned me away, telling me I didn't want to be hospitalized as “There are sick people in there, people with the flu.” At the time, I was arguably as sick as anyone with the flu.
I love the Ruby Creek trail. The creek itself is loud and roaring. It tumbles over huge boulders and settles into serene pools as it makes it's way toward the confluence with Panther Creek where the trail begins. The trail drops down from the North Cascades Highway through a short series of switchbacks and then crosses the confluence of the two creeks on a strong bridge. After crossing the bridge, the Ruby Creek trail heads off to the east and the East Bank trail along Ross Lake heads off to the west.
The rain was falling softly now and the sun was trying to break through the clouds. The brush was very wet alongside the trail and I was immediately sopping. I didn't care though and the fresh damp air smelled good and I welcomed it as it brushed over my face. Huge maple leaves covered the trail in a thick blanket that hid slippery rocks and roots. The trail dipped and climbed along the bank of the creek, sometimes narrow, dropping off to the rushing creek below. I ran along easily, feeling joyful to be out. I felt like I could go forever, even though this run was only a 6.6 mile out n' back. I knew this trail yet it still held mysteries for me. I hadn't captured all of it's best viewpoints yet, or dipped my toes in the icy cold water at the point of the trail where it becomes level with the creek for a stretch.
A collapsed cabin, being overtaken by briers and moss, sits almost at the point where the trail meets up with the bridge at the turn around. This bridge leads to another trailhead parking lot and a couple of more cedar cabins, still standing. The trail straight ahead continues towards a steep climb into the high country of Jackita Ridge and the Devil's Dome Loop. I have done this loop several times and it is one I highly recommend. It is tough, but well worth every bit of effort it takes to complete. Last year it was the UltraPedestrian Wilderness Challenge course. I completed it with my adventure buddy Lisa Eversgerd and this is the blog I wrote about our trip.
Ras and I turned around at the bridge to run the 3.3 mile return trip to the car. It felt so awesome to be out in this lush forest. Huge ferns lined the trail; large cedar, hemlock and fir trees towered overhead; the musky smell of damp earth filled my nostrils and my mind was clear, relaxed and alert. Again I was filled with the desire to continue this run for hours and hours, knowing that it would soon be cut short. I looked forward to other runs I would do while on this visit to the “wet side” of the mountains. Living at 3,500 feet in a high mountain desert, I thrive on these opportunities to enjoy the coastal and western Cascade forests. Ras and I would be staying at my parent's home in the Anacortes area, just miles from Deception Pass and Ft. Ebey State Park trails. I have run races in both of these parks several times and have some familiarity with the trails. I was planning on getting some miles in these parks over the next few days.
The specialist was thorough and easy to talk to. She decided I should have an MRI/MRCP of my pancreas and an ultrasound of my gall bladder to help determine the cause of the recurring pancreatitis. It was easy to get scheduled the very next day for these imagings, which was awesome as we had come so far for the appointment. Taking care of as much as I could while in the area was ideal. I am allergic to the contrast solution used for the MRI, so I had to get some prescriptions filled that would help prevent an allergic reaction from coming on. I had to take strong doses of Prednisone and Benedryl at intervals leading up to the test, as well as a relaxant to help with the claustrophobic feelings of the MRI machine. I had a blood draw at the hospital to check calcium and triglyceride levels as well.
Ras had a talk to give later in the evening at Seven Hills Running Shop about his unsupported Washington Pacific Crest Trail OKT. We also had plans to meet our daughter Angela for lunch. She is a senior at the University of Washington and it would be easy enough for her to meet us at the medical center when she was done with her morning class. She met us in the lab area and seemed more than ready to continue on to a more pleasant environment for our lunch date. I was going to have to stick with soup, so we decided on PCC, a market where we could do some shopping and each pick out whatever we wanted for lunch from their deli. This is somewhat of a tradition for our family when we visit Seattle anyway, so it worked out just fine. Our other, more indulgent tradition of vegan pizza from Pizza Pi, would have to wait for a different day. I enjoyed a delicious cup of split pea soup with lemongrass. Angela and I shared a yummy rosemary roll as well. We had lots of time to visit and it was so nice to spend time with my 22 year old college student daughter. She had just finished a math mid term, that she later learned she had gotten 92/100 as her score. I am so proud of her and I love that she is a product of homeschooling from 3rd-9th grade, mostly in an off-grid cabin in the woods along a creek.
By the end of the next week, I was able to speak with my specialist regarding the cyst. She let me know that the pain was probably from the cyst, but the cyst itself might have been caused by pancreatitis. She didn't know. She wrote me a prescription for more pain meds and pancreatic enzymes. She instructed me to continue on the thickened liquid diet I'd already been on for about six weeks. I started taking the enzymes and within a couple of days, the pain had subsided greatly. I felt more like myself and ready to think about the future again.
I got in a 5 hour run in Whistler Canyon in 20 degree and lower temps with Ras and Lisa, training for our Baker Lake run. This was the day when I noticed a definite turn around in the way I had been feeling. This was the day that I felt like I exited the pain cave. This was the day that I ended the run and had the familiar high feeling of the endorphin rush. I had run well on the final stretch of downhill and I it had felt like I still had my game. It felt amazing.
There are no barriers to my life. The gateways to wisdom and learning are always open, and more and more I am choosing to walk through them. Barriers, blocks, obstacles, and problems are personal teachers giving me the opportunity to move out of the past and into the Totality of Possibilities. I love stretching my mind, thinking of the highest good imaginable. As my mind can conceive of more good, the barriers and blocks dissolve. Louise L. Hay