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  • A Different Kind of Marathon – Part I

    Posted on October 11th, 2013 Michele Sun No comments

    Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” ~~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    So 23 days to NYC Marathon, and this weekend I was supposed to be doing my 21ml long run. “Was?” No, this isn’t a grammatical error. My training for NYC Marathon has completely come to a halt. In fact, and very sadly, few days ago I had contacted NYRR and deferred my race entry to the next year, and also cancelled my air and hotel. So what happened to your marathon training, Michele?

    On my last training run in Monterey, Sat 9/21, I was having more difficulty to breathe than the week before at LGCT, and I needed more walk breaks than previous weeks also. My pace was not getting faster, and the asthma inhalers did not help. That evening at Mike’s NYC Marathon Party over the NY themed dinner and what “shopping marathon” we could do at the Expo, he told me to get checked up again. “Of course you want to run NYC at every opportunity you have, but find out if you can defer your entry when necessary. Find out about your lung problems with your doctor, it may not be asthma.”


    With that reminder, I went to get the chest X Ray done first thing in the morning on Monday, 9/23. Work was busy as usual that day, so by the time I found I had 4 missed calls it was almost 4:30pm. I called back and it was my family doctor on the other end. Dr. Yeh sounded so rush which I found very unusual; he has been my primary care doctor for as long as I can remember and he is always calm and patient, and always takes his time to explain medical matters to me. “The technician found your lung is filled with fluids and you need to go see a lung specialist as soon as possible. This is out side of my speciality now.” He than gave me a Dr. Huan phone number, and further explained possible causes to pleural effusion — pneumonia, lung cancer, heart failure, kidney failure, other cancer..etc. He assured me “don’t worry, even if it’s lung cancer the prognosis is pretty good for female.”

    Tuesday morning I called and got the earliest appointment I could get with Dr. Huan, and on Wed 9/25 I walked into Dr. Huan’s office for the first time. He already got a copy of my X ray report which shown half of my lung was filled with fluid. He told me he was going on vacation the next day, but wanted me to get some blood test first, then scheduled a Thoracentesis procedure with the Regional Medical Center of San Jose, and get a CT Scan done after the procedure. He said the result would require a week or so, and by that time he would be back from his vacation. I have always been a very healthy person, and I don’t think I have ever experienced “fear” with any medical matters. But I was so scared that day about all the possibilities, whom do I share my fear with? Max!! He was about to leave for Sydney Marathon, and I shoot him a very short email and hold him I was scared!!! Some people seems to have the ability to  iron out any worry you have, and Max is that person to me!

    Thur 9/26, after fasting the night before, I went into the lab at 7:45am and got 4 tubes of blood drawn. My poor tiny veins did not know that this was only the beginning of 20+ blood tests to come very soon. That day I had made about 20 calls between RMC scheduling center, doctor’s office, radiologist, and kept repeating my name, DOB, SSN, cause of calling…, I just could not get that Thoracentesis appointment arranged. I was so frustrated with the whole medical system thingy.

    Friday 9/27, 5:00am, the cellphone on my nightstand vibrated and woke me up, at first I thought someone must have dialed a wrong number; no one would call me at such early hour so I ignored it. But it rang and rang, the caller was very persistent. I reluctantly answered the call and it was a man’s voice in a very urgent tone, “Michele, this is Dr. Huan and I want you to go into the nearest hospital now. I just saw your blood test result and your red blood count is extremely low; your hemo is only 5.4. You need to go into hospital and start blood transfusion right away.” I was immediately awake by  his one of urgency and seriousness. I sit up and asked “which hospital should I go?” He ordered “Regional Medical Center since it’s closer, and I will call the doctor in charge there right now. Don’t wait, just go into ER now. I am about to board my flight, but I need to make sure you WILL  go into ER now.” So I promised that I would get going at once.


    In two minutes I put on a blue RnR SJ finisher shirt, jeans, and a blue Nike Woman Marathon jacket; funny how I picked that combination on auto-pilot mode. Then I drove myself to RMC. It was dark and cold in the morning, and I was frightened. I made it in less than 10 minutes and checked myself into ER around 5:20am, Fri 9/27. While waiting for the nurse to enter my information and my medical history into the computer, I texted my brother, sister and Max telling them I was checking into ER now. So at least three people in this world knew where I was.

    The ER staffs immediately took my vital, had me changed into the blue hospital gown, hooked me up with oxygen, IV catheter insertion, and drew couple tubes of blood, and started to prepare for blood transfusion. The blood test came back really quick and an ER doctor came in to tell me that my hemo is so low that she decided to give me 3 units of blood today. While they were waiting for the blood from the blood bank, a technician came to take couple X Ray on me. A nurse brought me warm socks, extra blankets..etc. When first unit of blood arrived, the nurses verified my bracket for I was the RIGHT patient, and they read the blood type twice for accuracy, then it began to flow into the IV slowly.  I texted my colleague letting her know that I would not be going into work today.

    At ER

    It took nearly 3 hours to finish the first bag of blood, and the nurse said I had some color on my face and body now. They transferred me to a patient room on 4th floor around 10:00am. Never paid attention to this before, so it’s a new discovery that there is actually “4” used in American hospital which you very unlikely will find in Asia. It’s a two person’s room but I was the only patient. After they brought me toothbrush and skin lotion, I figured that I would be here overnight I guess. After the 2nd bag of blood, a male nurse came and took me to lab for ultrasound test. It’s not a very comfortable test and was a bit embarrassing , but the tech was a very warm and friendly woman, and very gentle. After the ultrasound the same nurse came and took me back to my room, and that long ride in a hospital hallway felt very surreal. I looked at those lights on the ceiling flying above me and wondered what outside world was doing at this moment? He said “Good luck sweetie, and hope you recover soon” before he left, and I felt a little tug at the corner of my heart. All the doctor, nurses, techs.. are so nice here and they make me feel less uncomfortable being here alone.

    When the nurse swapped the 2nd bag of blood with the 3rd bag, I noticed that I was getting “Volunteer Donor” blood. I was  moved by the thought of strangers playing part of saving my life, and made a mental note that when I get stronger I will give back and help people in need. Ever since I checked into ER at 5:20am this morning, lab technician came to draw my blood every 4 hours, and I had met different shift of nurses, ER doctor, resident doctor.. everyone of them were doing their shares to take care of me. That evening Anita came to see me, and I was so happy to have her there. She brought whole bunch of food with her, like mushroom rice, unaju, onigiri, fresh fruits, and Japanese KitKat, plum candies.. etc. She was so sweet to pamper me like this, but I was scheduled to have the Thoracentesis procedure the next day, so I was not  allow to eat or drink anything that night.


    Around 9:00pm, I finally finished all 3 bags of blood. They moved another patient into the room which was a bit bothersome since she constantly mumbling something in Vietnamese which I could not understand, but I assumed she was in pain and I had to be understanding about it. That night I could not sleep because my neighbor, the noises in the hallway, the lab technicians that kept coming in to draw blood for test, and nurses checking my blood pressure and temperature..etc. I think I only slept for less than two hours all together. Sat 9/28, I could not have any food or drink that morning, and the doctor on duty came to tell me that the Thoracentesis was scheduled around 10:00am, and upon completion of the Thoracentesis I would be doing the CT Scan. I was feeling good after the 3 units of blood, and hoping after the procedure and test I would be able to go home. So when the male nurse came to take me to the lab, I was feeling pretty happy thinking this would solve my breathing problem and my marathon training would resume after recovery.


    The doctor, nurse, ultrasound tech came and explained the procedure to me again, and I signed the consent form before we proceed. Doctor gave me local anesthesia first and I was told to sit up right and hold on to a table. I turned my head to the left and did not wish to watch the procedure, but I could feel the needle punched into the right side of my back and went into my body. The doctor push the needle to reach my lung and started drawing fluids from my lung. Suddenly I was experiencing the worst pain in my life that my whole body started shaking; I grabbed on to the table as tight as I could but still could not control the shaking. I cinched my teeth so hard that my head started pounding as tears just streaming down my cheeks. The doctor said usually the patients would feel the pain when needle penetrated the body but nothing afterward; he gave me more local anesthesia but that did not help with the pain coming from inside of my body.  There was a strong force inside me that pushing things around within me, and I felt that there was a tsunami going on inside of my body. The nurse held my hand firmly and told me “sorry that you are experiencing this, so sorry Michele.”

    About 20 minutes into the procedure, I started coughing uncontrollably but I was told to sit still if all possible. The nurse explained that it’s because air started passing through my lung   as the fluids leaving my body and creating space for air. It took about 30 minutes to draw the fluids out and I was shaking like crazy by the time I was done. The doctor and nurse kept saying “You are so strong Michele, and holding this so well.” And I saw they had a bottle of dark red liquid and the doctor told me it’s over 1 liter. The three of them could not believe how much fluids got drawn out of my lung, “how did you hold so much fluids in your chest? you are such a tiny person!” “How did you function with this much fluids pressing your chest?”  I know those were remarks rather than questions. Well, I don’t know the answers  but all this time I just thought my trouble with breathing was due to lack of training.

    They let me rest for a while to calm down from that traumatic experience, then moved me to the lab for CT Scan. I was feeling really cold so they brought heated blanket for me. Soon I was injected with dye and that made my body warm during the scan. Afterward a male nurse pushed me back to my room and I was so exhausted just went into nap till almost 3:00pm. Anita texted me that afternoon and asked how it went, and she came again to check on me that evening. This time she brought beautiful flowers from her own backyard which received lots of compliments during my hospital stay. The evening shift nurse came and told me there was nothing eventful for the next day, and I asked for ear plugs this time because I really needed good rest after today’s torture.


    Sunday 9/29, I had some chest pain on the left side after I woke up and I told the morning shift nurse about it. A dietitian came and concerned about my poor appetite. I told her I was just tired yesterday and did not feel like eating. In the morning a Dr. Nayak came and he is a gynecologist. He explained the reason of his visit — the ultrasound I did on Friday had shown a large mass in my tummy, and he suggested that I have it removed within a month. Meanwhile he said the priority is to take care of the lung and red blood count and hemo first. He asked if I felt any pain in my lower abs, I said No. He asked if I noticed it’s bloated and I answered honestly that “I thought I am just getting fat.” By mid day I was getting really bored, so I asked one of the nurses for some baby-wipes so I could wipe myself clean. Gosh, I wished I could have a real shower and wash my hair. That afternoon very surprisingly that Fernando and Vianney came, then Kiyoko, Vinh, Chad, Michael and Venkat, so my room was full of runners! What a great surprise!! I haven’t seen them for a while because we all are/were training for different races, or like Kiyoko and Vinh who just returned from a race in Belgium. It was really nice that they came to visit because they reminded me how healthy and active I was. We joked about my “doping” with fresh blood and extra oxygen, and whether the donors are Boston Qualified or not or if he/she trained at higher altitude…etc. Gosh, we runners can turn every situation into running related jokes :-p

    I told them about that 1 litter of fluids from my lung, but I did not mention the mass that just got discovered.

    Latter in the afternoon the doctor on duty came and told me that they would move me to a MedTele ward so they could monitor my heart 24/7; the post surgery chest pain concerned her. And my hemo dropped again to below 9, so she might order another blood transfusion for me today or tomorrow. Couple nurses came to say bye and helped me to pack my belongings because I got so many flowers, chocolates, food..etc.   I can understand why I am the best patient they can have — I am young, independent, self-efficient, understand English and I can actually carry on conversation with them.  Around 5:00pm, I got pushed in my own bed into MedTele ward for cardiac monitoring; there each room is designed for single patient only, and it got it’s own bathroom and shower though I can’t shower now. But still, it’s nice and quiet, and very spacious. As I just settled in my new room and got hooked up with oxygen, cardiac monitor box,…etc, Lester came to see me and I almost cried when I heard his voice saying “knock knock“.

    That night I was able to rest better in my own private room. In the dark and quiet room I stared at all the machines around me with blinking lights, and thought about so many friends that had came and showered me with friendship and support this two days. I felt so lucky as I recounted my blessings!!!



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