Altitude Sickness
September 28, 2016

Live on to fight another day

So I decided to go for it. I re-entered the Spartan Ultra. Why not, right? I was in better shape than I was the year before, I was better trained and better rested.
As of two days before the race, my hip and back felt better than they had in a year, my ankle felt strong and serviceable … of course later on the day before the race, I developed a splitting headache and was barely able to sleep that night, cobbling together three hours. Of course I had only slept four hours the previous year, so I figured that would be fine.
Last year, until my horrific nausea event on mile 15, I felt very strong coming through the end of the first lap. I was moving fast and well, I was light, and until I rolled under too much barbed wire, I was rearing to go. I had no trouble with any obstacles, and only during the second bucket brigade (twice as long as the first, and completely brutal) did my back complain at all.
This year was a litany of body complaints. My back was killing me from moment one (mostly to do with an hour of standing around before the race), my hip was on fire with nerve pain, the tendonitis in my forearm was acting up (I had trouble with the wall obstacles … I have NEVER had difficulty with a muscle-up. Ever) and I turned my ankle three times in the first nine miles.
The first 10 miles of the course were easy this year compared to last year’s right-out-of-the-gate brutal climbs and carries; the bucket brigade was really simple, a low pitch quarter mile, nothing to write home about; and the swim was, if nothing else, refreshing. The obstacles were challenging but not difficult to complete.
My biggest complaint was the rigging on the sandbag lift. I, a 200-pound man, was able to literally hang from the rope attached to my sandbag without it moving. I had to put my feet on the waist-high railing and leg press out and down to lift. That seemed excessive and was caused by the fact that the shivs the rope ran through were rigged at a 90-degree angle to the direction of the puller. Bad for the ropes, bad for the shiv, bad for the people trying to figure out where to pull the ropes from. Rig them properly and have a heavier bag, if that is what you are looking to accomplish. I’m just thinking that a 200-pound person shouldn’t have a bag stay stationary when he lifts himself off the ground pulling on it.
The fact is, though, that despite my being on track at about mile 10 to perform at the same speed as the previous year, I was hating it. Something was really wrong. Six days ago I had breezed through 27 miles and 8,500 vertical feet with very little complaint, and in this race, at mile 8, I felt like I was going to die, and my body was falling apart.
As I was trudging through mile 10, I noticed that I was at the top of Snowshed. This was less than a mile from my car. Last year, my only complaint was bad nausea, and that happened at mile 15. By mile 20, my nausea had cleared up. My hip, my back, my arm, my ankle, these things were only going to get worse.
I walked off the course, feeling shitty.
I went home, showered, and climbed in bed, and didn’t get back out until dinner time. At dinner with friends, I was rewarded for not being on the race course, in the way that only fate can. I saved the life of a dear friend who inhaled a steak tip, very firmly lodging it in her wind pipe. She got my attention, she pointed to her throat, and I dislodged her steak in a few seconds. Instantly, I didn’t feel so badly about leaving the race.
The next day, I continued to lie in bed. For a few minutes in the morning I had very bad vertigo, falling over on my way to brush my teeth. It cleared up quickly, but it left me feeling odd.
The Monday following the race, I was physically unable to walk to the bathroom due to vertigo. When I did manage to walk to the bathroom, it was followed by a half-hour of dry heaving. I called a family member and had her bring me to the doctor. The doctor was unable to see me immediately so I went to my mother’s house in Rutland and lay down until the doctor’s appointment, where I shuffled in like an old man, unable to turn my head or I would literally fall over.
The doctor explained that I had vertigo. I told him that I understood that, based on the fact that I had vertigo. I told him that I didn’t feel like it could be a stroke (an occasional cause of vertigo), and he agreed. I then told him that I didn’t feel like it would be a release of calcification built up on cochlear hairs because I move so much that said buildup probably wouldn’t occur. He agreed with that also. We settled on a viral inner ear infection being the likely cause, mostly because, given what is happening with drug-resistant bacteria, they like to wait until you are almost dead to deliver antibiotics (and rightfully so).
He sent me home with horse doses of meclizine, which is to Dramamine what heroin is to aspirin. I took one and immediately felt better, could walk around, etc. I did not, however, feel good.
The next morning, the vertigo was so bad that I needed two pills, and so was supplied and sluggish all day, feeling like I was coming off of a three week opiate binge. I hated it.
The next day, aside from the occasional moment of vertigo when I lay down, the vertigo was gone and has stayed gone. I learned a neck motion to do (similar to the Epley Maneuver) to get rid of the vertigo, and it is amazing. If I start to get the vertigo again, I snap my neck in a series of directions, and it is literally instantly gone.
Vertigo is possibly the most miserable of afflictions, if only because it feels imaginary … cramps, kidney stones are real mechanical problems that you can address. Vertigo is a ghost that causes the doctor to say, “You have vertigo, I hope that it goes away soon.”
The reason that I am glad that it happened, is that it makes me feel more justified in walking off the course. Clearly bigger things were happening than a sore hip or a sore ankle or a sore arm. Live on to fight another day, right?

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2 Comments

  • Imagine that the vertigo you experienced was your new normal – that any day, any time, you would be overwhelmed by vertigo, nausea and a crippling migraine. That is my life today. I was diagnosed this year with Vestibular Migraines. I am one of the lucky ones – my episodes come and go and are not a constant presence. I am 62, care for and keep 2 horses on my property, scoop poop, groom and ride every chance I get. I haul hay bales into my loft using a block and tackle, unload 40 lb bags of pine shavings and 50 lb bags of feed. I am not an athlete. Just an aging woman with a once-broken ankle, two bum knees and a passion for all things equine. I am blessed. Most days I am okay. I am glad your experience was temporary, and thank you for sharing how disabled you felt. It’s nice to be understood.

  • Sorry to hear about your vertigo. I recently suffered from a bad case of vestibular neuritis which left me in bed for a good two weeks. I’m so glad that you learned a next maneuver worked for you, would you mind sharing what it was?
    Thanks

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