Recovery and Rehabilitation
Just when you think things are getting better, life has a way of reminding you that may not be the case. As I engaged in resurrecting my training program following the truck colliding with me in July, I found that the effort I was expending was exhausting me. The reality is I was trying too much too soon but with no experience or understanding of the rehabilitation process following a trauma, I suspect I was indeed “flying blind”.
Being a fitness professional in no way was a qualifying factor that would enable me to make decisions that could potentially sabotage or impede my progress due to unknown variables and challenges my body could be addressing. The weeks following the collision were a series of attempts to help me heal while attempting to recover “some” of the potential strength and endurance I might be losing to the accident.
The reality was a more complex and scarier prospect that I could even imagine. I was headed for a very real awakening and this event would also be life-threatening. The moment was one I will never forget for it left me literally “gasping for breath” and the feeling of aloneness I felt as it hit me is one I will never forget. The truck striking me paled in comparison to this moment where I believed I might die!
The Second Trauma
The “second trauma” as I am now calling it came on slowly – increasing in intensity and duration – over the two weeks prior to September 19th when it literally hit me “like a ton of bricks”. I was resting on my bed when I began to perspire profusely (as I had been doing periodically prior to this time) while my heart rate mysteriously elevated to a faster and faster pace.
I was stunned to say the least and attempted to slow my respiration and heart rate through the help of my mind in a meditative attempt to address what I thought was a “panic attack” or an overload of stress. How wrong I was to think that this episode was something I could control!
I had an appointment at the club to train an older client at LA Fitness and so I attempted to keep the appointment in spite of all the evidence that I was now struggling to even BREATHE! In getting my gym bag and trash bag in hand I proceeded to the door of my apartment and after locking the door found myself gasping for every breath of air I could get before collapsing on the doormat and gym bag.
This was now REAL for me and I understood that I could die. I crawled back into the apartment and dialed for Emergency 911. A very supportive and gracious operator told me to SIT and BREATHE and that help was on the way! I was so grateful to hear the sirens and within minutes see the paramedics outside my building looking up to find my apartment. I waved and said YES! It is I who NEEDS YOU!
The evaluation and help provided by the EMTs and Paramedics (8 of them!) assured me I was NOT having a heart attack but we needed to go to the hospital for further evaluation. They wheeled me down the stairs and loaded me into the emergency vehicle for transport to the ER at Hoag – within a mile of my apartment. Once there I was given a battery of tests to find out what was wrong.
As I gave the ER attending more information about my prior accident with the broken ribs, he told me I may have developed a pulmonary embolism – and other clots – that may have migrated and caused my acute breathing symptoms. The CT scan and further testing revealed this fact and I was scheduled for admission for treatment with an IV blood thinner and other therapies.
I couldn’t believe I was back in the hospital with another life-threatening challenge in just two months from the original incident. The ICU now took over and I was monitored 24/7 for the next four days before I was discharged on Sunday. The original incident had now taken me to two hospitals and 8 days of intensive care all because I was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” on my bike!
The treatment of blood clots relies on a drug called “Heparin” that is designed to soften the clots so the body can reabsorb them over time. I was on one bag after another while in bed and tested every few hours for blood pressure and other blood work to determine various levels of target substances. The idea was to get my heart to calm down and work with less difficulty while opening my blood vessels in order to let my body stabilize over time.
The staff was a constant presence. Every movement was monitored and as they consistently informed me this was a critical issue that DID indeed require this level of attention and monitoring. One clot breaking off could end up someplace that could ultimately prove fatal to me. I was now a “ticking time bomb” with little “assassins” inside me that could cause me to be in real trouble in the future.
The ICU is regimented and each staff member performs their role efficiently and professionally. They see the most difficult cases and the shifts are long and exhausting to be sure. The additional specialists that were called in to consult on my case included a cardiologist since a prior echocardiogram had revealed an “ejection fraction” abnormality in my heart’s output. YEAH! Now I have a heart issue!
The idea that my heart had to work harder and harder to support me while the clots were forming seemed logical but I really had a difficult time accepting that I had to deal with that issue as well. The CT scans performed were amazing. The technology available in today’s medical environment creates great opportunities “to get the diagnosis of difficult issues right the first time” and that is comforting.
The reality of my stay is that I had now experienced the REAL world of medicine in the modern era – one characterized by advanced technological tools, collaboration, communication, cooperation and shared specific knowledge among the professionals treating each patient. Each of these components plays a critical part in creating a positive outcome for the patient but one does feel a bit like an “experiment gone wild”!
By the end of my stay, I KNEW I was in a new “zone” of care going forward. I would be on medication for the clots, blood pressure (to NOT “push” the clots), fluid build-up around the lungs, and a regimen established by the physician in charge of my care following my release (the cardiologist I think). Now I was in “patient heaven” and no longer free.
The clots were a reality and I was informed on multiple occasions to follow the instructions I was given. I had a lot of adjusting mentally and physically ahead of me and it seemed daunting. Walking around with something inside you that can literally “take you out” is a weird notion to think about but now that is my reality.
I set my med containers out next to my vitamins and started my new program of prescription medication two days ago. I am resting this week because I need the recovery time. My body has been through TWO traumas now and that is the reality. I was given lots of hope since I did NOT cause this series of outcomes but it is still unsettling to see how much my life DID “change in an instant”!
I still have the issue of money, work, health (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health) and so much more to consider going forward. The law firm I hired to help me financially dropped my case yesterday because the police report said I was “at fault” due to being on the wrong side of the road when the truck hit me.
I have to understand that not everything in life is fair – or always works out in our favor. That is life after all! I call it the “great mystery” and if nothing else it has been confirmed by my experiences in 2019. I certainly DO NOT want a repeat of this year EVER AGAIN! Once in a lifetime is enough for me!
I AM alive and I am most grateful for this fact. I have received world-class treatment in both hospital settings and am most fortunate to have had a medical plan that is thorough and professional – in addition to a body that CAN recover in the months ahead.
One thought I have had since my stay in Hoag’s ICU (besides sharing my story with you) is to maybe partner with Hoag as a possibility for my future work life since they are now actively focusing on community outreach with a fitness and prevention theme – two of my main messages!
The next few months will be challenging but since I am now BREATHING again, I believe in my potential and the unlimited possibilities that are available to me if I just “quiet my mind and heart” and listen for guidance that is always present within me.
Yes, I have blood clots inside me but NO they will not control me! I am strong and able and capable and ready to serve and that is my attitude going forward! What is your perspective now and how will you change your mind if you feel it is time to do so? The (metaphorical) truck in each of our lives is “out there” but do we choose to recognize it – and more importantly DO something about it? The answer lies within you and awaits your decision!
Nicholas Prukop is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & a Health Coach and fitness professional with over 25 years of experience. His passion for health and fitness comes from his boyhood in Hawaii, where he grew up a swimmer on Maui. He found his calling in writing his first book “Healthy Aging & You: Your Journey to Becoming Happy, Healthy & Fit” and since then he has dedicated himself to empowering, inspiring and enabling people of all ages to reach for the best that is within them and become who they are meant to be – happy, healthy and fit – and be a part of a world where each person can contribute their own unique gifts to life.