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My OTQ Journey, Part 6: Hospitalized and Confused

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In this ongoing series, elite marathoner Nick Klastava takes us on his journey towards a 2019 Olympic Trials Qualifier (OTQ) goal. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 on his beginning. Nick is sponsored by rabbit running apparel, Maurten Gels, and Megaton Coffee. Nick trains in the HOKA Arahi 3, provided courtesy of Running Warehouse, featuring 90-day no-question returns and free 2-day shipping.


I should be settling into my Monday morning work routine. Instead, I’m sitting at the hospital, hooked up to an IV, and it’s really difficult for me to use my arms. Just holding my phone hurts. Getting out of the bed this morning almost didn’t happen since I didn’t have any strength in my hands. I can’t even tie my own hospital gown.

Two hours earlier, after entering the emergency room and expecting to wait my turn in line, I had been instead rushed to an examination room and hooked up to the IV currently in my arm. Five vials of my blood have been taken. Friends and family texting me with theories, but no one really knows what’s going on, including myself.

The machine measuring my vitals is literally beeping off the charts with nurses running in, until one finally asks me: “Are you an endurance athlete?”

It seems the machine beeps any time a patient’s heart rate is below 55. Mine sits around 41.

My wife needed to head back home and help out with the kids; I’m now alone sitting in a dark room waiting for a doctor to see me, on my phone trying to figure out what is wrong with me. Just a few days earlier I was hitting perfect times in a track workout. This morning I couldn’t open child locks or even squeeze a bottle of toothpaste.

The nurse’s question came back to me: am I an endurance athlete?

The only existing picture of Nick not smiling

May Daze

When I last left off, I was dealing with an abdomen issue that had temporarily sidelined me. To help heal and get back to training as soon as possible we cut hard efforts and put in a bunch of easy runs for two weeks.

And then May happened.

The first week of May I had a special assignment at work that basically had me in all-day meetings with a short lunch break. No time for lunch runs, a staple in my work/run/family balance.

The following week I had my one day a year of civic responsibility as a part of jury duty. Or so I thought. Instead, I was selected as Juror #12 for a trial that lasted 5 days, with 10 hours of jury deliberations at the end of the week. During that week I spent one evening at the court house until 8 p.m. having pleasant discussions with other jurors.

Also, I got a flat tire on my way home on one these nights. But Friday came, the case was finished, and all was back to normal. Or so I thought.

The third week started with my A/C breaking on the hottest day of the year to date. The next day it rained blood and hailed frogs (obviously not, but I wouldn’t have been shocked). However, on Wednesday I was able to do my first workout in 4 weeks and it went perfectly. The abdomen issue was all but gone, and it was time to build again.

Except May wasn’t done with me yet.

An Unexpected Emergency

The day after my track workout I woke up feeling like a truck hit me. Aches, chills and a pretty bad sore throat. I took some meds and went to work, but after more chills, I left early and went back home.

Probably just a 24-hour bug, I thought. The next day was muscle soreness in both my arms, accompanied by a fever and more chills. I went to complete care and tested negative for strep and the flu. Maybe it was just a different strain of the flu? I went home with the plan to rest and hydrate.

At some point in the night I went to the bathroom and woke up lying on the floor with my head next to the toilet. I had passed out. Nobody in the house heard me, so I just got some more fluids, took some painkillers and went back to bed.

Why didn’t I go to the hospital at this point? I don’t know. Either runner stubbornness or the thought that I could keep my “never been to the hospital” streak going. Whatever the reason, I just didn’t go.

But over the next day my sore throat, fever, and chills all went away.

Except, on Monday morning, I couldn’t open bottles, or anything for that matter. My muscles felt non-existent. I checked myself into the ER. They rushed me back and hooked me up to the IV and took blood samples. How did this happen?

Hotel Hospital

A doctor finally came in and let me know that after a couple tests, I should be good to go home. More waiting. Two hours and several test results later, it was clear I wasn’t going anywhere.

“You have rhabdomyolysis.”

Direct from WebMd, rhabdomyolysis is “a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents into the bloodstream. This can lead to serious complications such as renal (kidney) failure. This means the kidneys cannot remove waste and concentrated urine.”

My wife alerted my family who sent me a bunch of information about it as I listened to the doctor. He was very concerned about my increased troponin levels, usually indicative of a heart attack or heart issues. At this point I was beginning to not care as much about running and more just about long-term effects. Are my kidneys damaged? Is my heart damaged?

Thoughts, Running

In between doctor check-ins and test results, I couldn’t help contemplating what’s next. The thoughts were rushing through my head. After the past few weeks of chaos, I was almost assured a PR at Grandma’s Half Marathon on June 22 was out the window. Even before the busy work schedule, the jury duty, the broken A/C—oh and did I mention still trying to be an adequate dad for my two young girls—I was worried about being out 6-8 weeks with a hernia. Now this, an emotional bomb drop.

I started worst-case wondering how long I’d be out if this was something really serious. I knew I probably shouldn’t have avoided the muscle weakness that came about on Saturday, and I really should have went to the hospital after passing out in the bathroom in the middle of the night. Did I wait too long? If I went to the ER sooner would I already be feeling better? The questions didn’t stop.

I downed bag after bag of IV’s, while the weakness in my arms hung around. I basically stayed in the ER all day Monday until I was finally admitted into my own room around 11:30 p.m. After a few more tests, I was finally able to relax a bit and drift off to sleep to the sweet sounds of the heart rate machine.

Which alarmed the nurses again, because my resting heart rate while asleep dips into the 30’s.

The Turnaround

Day two in the hospital began with a blood draw and vitals taken during the night, and an early morning EKG. My mom drove all the way down from New Jersey to be with me at the hospital, but also to help my mother-in-law watch our girls since my wife Kelly still had to work all week.

Then some good news. The doctor explained that my heart and kidney tests came back perfectly fine. My CK levels were dropping (which is good) but they wanted me to stay an additional evening and see if the levels continued to drop without IV fluid. At this point I was beginning to worry less about the overall impacts to my longer term health, but like any runner, the idea of running and what this meant for it was swirling around in my head. Was this something caused from overexertion? Will I ever be able to train hard again?

More good news on day three. After evaluating me and looking at all my tests, the doctors believed it was basically a perfect domino effect storm. My workout on Wednesday might have raised my CK levels, which combined with a viral infection on Thursday, and led to a rundown body. In turn, I was massively dehydrated Friday evening, which led to the cause of Rhabdo to surface on Saturday morning and stay with me all weekend.

They didn’t believe it had anything to do with running as it was in my arms and not my legs and they just asked that I rest up before running again. I took 11 days off.

But I could still run.

Let’s Get Real

If I’m going to be honest, it was a pretty devastating timeline going from running a 10k PR in April to running 120 miles total for the month of May. I spent the entire month dealing with abdominal pain in my runs and even in my day-to-day life. It was annoying, at best.

Then, when I finally had a 90% pain-free workout, I ended up with a viral infection that led to my first-ever hospital stay due to a syndrome I’ve never even heard of. Which led to another long break, and continual frustration. I knew my OTQ goal was big, but missing a month and a half of training and cancelling one of my goal races is a pretty terrible setback I could do without.

There were definitely moments I questioned whether I can still do this. There were moments I wondered how bad this situation could get. There was a lot of concern from family and friends about what this ultimately means, plus some serious dad guilt as I spent a decent time unable to fulfill my dad responsibilities. And also, how careful I should be going forward?

Head Above The Waves

That said, I still feel net positive about everything. Our attitudes are a choice. We can’t control a lot of outside factors, but we can control how we react to them. Even the worst things can have elements we can learn from and see positives in. Bad things happen and our journeys are full of ups and downs or steps forward and back. It is never linear. But if we can choose to see that as a beautiful life and smile in those moments and tell the story with the narrative we want; these moments of negativity can’t affect us. They can only help us grow.

Bring on June and a new fresh month of excitement in my life. As always thanks for reading and being a part of my journey. I appreciate all your support and feedback.

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Nick Klastava is a father, husband, and runner living in Baltimore. He is sponsored by rabbit running apparel and runs on the rabbitElite team. He is currently training for a 2019 OTQ goal.

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