June 11, 2016 was a long day. It was so long that it needed two days to fit everything in.
Part 1: Wahsatch Steeplechase
I limited my summer racing plans to an everyone-says-it's-a-blast local race called the Wahsatch Steeplechase
on June 11. With a baby due on June 26 and Annie getting increasingly pregnant by the day, I thought for sure June 11 would be a safe date for a close-to-home race.
The Wahsatch Steeplechase is a tough, local favorite that has a lot of flavor. The course is about 16 miles long but it packs a punch in the middle part of the course that includes some gnarly (for me) scrambling over a rocky crags with some decent exposure along the ridgeline. The pre-race briefing warns of rattlesnakes, cougars, and thunderstorms.
I had scouted out the course a couple times in the weeks before the race. The first scouting mission resulted in an 'oh shit' moment when I came upon the craggy section, and I detoured around the scrambly bits thinking 'no way the course goes over that section' (turns out it does). The second scouting mission was a success, and I made my way over the scrambly bit after some online re-assurance from vets of the race. A third attempt at the course the weekend before the race ended up being cut short after I crashed hard on some rocks about five miles in (not even on a particularly technical section) and banged knee pretty good. I limped back to the car.
So I guess I was ready.
In my mind, the course is broken into four very distinct sections --
1. the long, gradual ascent to the base of Black Mountain,
2. the steep ascent up to the ridgeline and the technical, scrambling sections to the peak,
3. the steep and twisty descent from Smuggler's Gap, and
4. the long, very fast City Creek descent (with a few miles on pavement).
Section 1 was uneventful besides the usual leapfrogging for positioning that comes on single-track ascents early in races.
|photo from the course that I took on one of my scouting missions|
Section 2 was tough. The ascent is steep and the ridge is technical. I felt much more confident on the crags than on my first scouting mission. There were even some volunteers at the more 'exciting' parts that were there to try to, I assume, keep runners from falling off the cliff. I made it to the summit of Black Mountain by roughly the time I was hoping. I felt strong and ready for the long descent to the finish line.
|photo of the crags from one of my scouting missions|
(here's a blog from a previous year's race with good photos of this section)
Section 3 is usually the kind of steep downhill trail I thrive on, but I think I might be getting older (despite my attempts otherwise). I settled into a comfortable rhythm and chopped my feet down the mountain without any incident. I think I could take a couple minutes off this section next year if I get a little younger.
Section 4 is the ultra-fast City Creek descent. It's a 7-mile bomb straight down on a very fast grade with a few miles of pavement thrown in to make it even faster. It's why the smart racers wear racing flats for this race despite all the scrambling and crag-hopping of section 2. (I didn't wear racing flats because I was too scared about the scrambling and crag-hopping of section 2.) I knew after the first couple miles of pavement that I didn't have as much left in the tank as I hoped I would. The wheels started shaking with about two miles to go, and then with about a half a mile to go the wheels fell off and I staggered to the finish line.
I don't remember ever having a bigger (non-ultra) bonk than this one. I sat on the grass with a very pregnant Annie for about thirty minutes just drinking water and Gatorade. At the time, I had no idea that things would just go downhill from there.
|this is me bonked, and this wasn't even the worst part of my day|
Part 2: The Kidney Stone
After a nice post-race lunch with Annie, I spent most of the afternoon putting together a pack-n-play. That took more energy than the race did, I'm sure. Then Annie and I settled in for some dinner and a movie on the couch.
"I don't feel great," Annie says to me. She's been saying that for the past seven months, so neither of us think much of it. We're two weeks from our due date.
"I don't feel great," I say to Annie. I thought I might have eaten something bad at lunch.
"I don't feel any better." I'm now moaning in the bathroom not sure what's going on.
"Maybe you have a UTI..." says Annie.
"uuuuugggggggggghhhhhh," I say.
"You may have a kidney stone," says Google.
"uuuuugggggggggghhhhhh," I say much louder.
"Do we need to get you to a doctor?" Annie says. I'm already halfway in the car.
"Can someone help us?!?" Annie pleads in the hallway of the 'urgent' care center.
We've been in our holding cell for over thirty minutes and by now I've already made a few trips to the bathroom to throw up because the pain is so bad.
I'm squirming in pain and poor Annie is feeling helpless.
"We need a urine sample," the doctor says.
But I haven't been able to urinate for two hours. My bladder feels like it's going to explode. The pain in my bladder is the second most painful thing I've experienced. The most painful? -- the pain in my lower left side that's happening at the exact same moment.
"Want to try to urinate again?" asks the doctor.
"I'd rather you dig out my bladder with a spoon," I say.
"Would you like a catheter?" asks the doctor.
"For the love of god...yes. Now. Yes. Please. Anything to relieve my bladder," I whisper in a very respectful manner.
"We're not getting any urine," the nurse says to the doctor.
"We need to get you to the emergency room," says the doctor. "I think you probably have a kidney stone. One of the symptoms is that you feel like you need to urinate when you don't have a full bladder. We don't have a CT scanner here, but they do at the ER. Oh, and would you like some ibuprofen?"
We're in the emergency waiting room now. I feel like we've been waiting too long. The super-dose of ibuprofen I was given at the urgent care center is starting to wear off. A Saturday night emergency room crowd isn't one for small talk.
"We need a urine sample," says the nurse after I've been in-processed.
I look at him and almost throw up again from the pain I'm in. The super-dose of ibuprofen is really wearing off now.
After explaining that I can't urinate and that my bladder is, despite what the urgent care doctor said, painfully close to bursting, the ER doctor orders the nurse to do a bladder scan.
"Your bladder is empty," says the nurse. Impossible, I think.
"One possible side-effect of a kidney stone is a bladder spasm. A bladder spasm can make it feel like you have a full bladder," says the doctor. I haven't had a drink of water in close to six hours at this point and I'm dehydrated. They put an IV in me.
"We have you scheduled for a CT scan but you're after a couple other patients, so it might be an hour or so. I'm sure you have a kidney stone, but we'll need the scan to confirm," the doctor reports. "How's your pain?"
"It hurts. My pain hurts real bad." I'm starting to writhe around again. The doctors tells the nurse to give me some morphine.
"That's much better," I say as the morphine hits.
|Annie captures my moment of morphine|
After my dose of morphine quickly and mercifully settles in, the nurse begins to push his cart out of the room and the doctor turns to leave. Annie stands up to give them room to leave.
"Um, I think this might be bad timing," Annie hesitantly exclaims as she's standing in a large puddle, "but I think my water just broke."
Part 3: A Baby Boy
A team of nurses rushed in to sweep Annie upstairs to the delivery room. We weren't planning to deliver at this hospital. And our doctor wasn't at this hospital either -- though she was in Tanzania until the following week so that wouldn't have mattered anyway.
My nurse came back about thirty minutes later to assure me that everything was going well with Annie and that she was in constant contact with Annie's nurse to keep me updated while I waited for my CT scan.
After another thirty minutes or so, I'm finally wheeled away to get my scan. Then I had to wait another 45 minutes to one hour for the scan results.
Back in my room again, my nurse came in with an update.
"Everything's fine, but Annie's at 8cm now," she says."But don't worry, there's no way you'll miss the delivery," she assured me. I don't remember replying to her with much more than an "okay, thanks" with a goofy smile on my face. I went back to watching ESPN or whatever else I had on TV. The morphine had diminished all sense of urgency I should have been feeling at that moment. My wife was upstairs in labor! We were about to have a baby! But I didn't seem to care too much about that because I was catching up on the baseball scores.
Finally, the doctor came in with my results and said I had two kidney stones. TWO! The one on my left side was causing all my pain and it had moved a long way down already. The one on my right side had just started to move down, so I'd feel it once the pain medication wore off -- but the doctor said it looked like it may be breaking up so there was a chance it wouldn't be so painful. He said it could take anywhere from a day to two weeks to pass the stones. Great...
So I was finally cleared to be discharged from the ER. The doctor gave me my orders and my prescription for pain meds, and he gave me one pain pill for the road.
"How long will this pain pill last?" I asked.
"About four hours," said the doctor.
"What time does the pharmacy open?" I asked.
"9am," he said. I looked at my watch and it was just past 2:00am. It was 2:00am and my wife had been upstairs in labor for almost two hours already! We're going to have a baby! The morphine had worn off.
"So what should I do when this pill wears off three hours before the pharmacy opens?"
"Just pop back down and we can help. Oh, and drink a lot of water. If you are hydrated enough, then there's a possibility that you can pass the stone pain free." Challenge accepted.
I filled up my two-liter water jug and rushed upstairs to Annie's room. And by 'rush' I mean that I was wheeled up there in a wheelchair by one of the nurses. It seems that word had spread around the delivery wing that one of the soon-to-be mothers had a husband with a kidney stone downstairs because when I was wheeled through the doors heads started poking out of rooms to look at me. They couldn't hide their snickering. I believe I was the first man ever to be wheeled directly from the ER upstairs through the doors of the delivery wing.
Annie was doing great. I commented at how well she was managing the pain and then she told me she already had the epidural. While I was downstairs in the ER doped up on morphine watching ESPN without a worry in the world, she was going through the most painful part of her labor. It wasn't until a few days later when I had a moment to reflect that a wave of guilt hit me because I wasn't with her through it all. I was supposed to be there with her then -- that's when I could best use the tools/techniques I had learned from the birthing class. But at the time everything was such a blur.
There was no time to reflect because Annie was in the middle of heavy duty contractions. After one contraction, I'd chug. After the next contraction three minutes later, I'd run to the bathroom in our room to pee. After the next contraction, I'd chug. And so on for two hours. If there was any chance that the more hydrated I was equaled a less painful passing of the stone, then I was going to turn myself into Aquaman. I was hydrating like an Olympic hydration champion.
Around 5:00am, Annie was at 10cm and ready to push. It was so surreal. Not because I was about to be a dad, but because I had never been so hydrated in my life. I was peeing so much and so often that it was almost like an out-of-body experience.
For almost two hours it was PUSH for Annie then PEE for me. PUSH. PEE. PUSH. PEE. The race was on. Nurses were betting on if Annie would give birth first or if I would pass my stone first. Most of them were betting on Annie, which clearly meant that they had no idea how hydrated I was.
I can't remember if it was the sixty-seventh or sixty-eighth time that I peed when there was a magical little 'clink' at the bottom of the strainer I had been aiming at for the last two hours.
"Yes!" I yelled, and I heard the nurses clap from the room. The stone was out.
The dayshift came on at 7:00am. After the shift change and between pushes, Annie's new nurse checked her just to see how things were progressing.
"Ummm, nothing to worry about, but I need to go get the doctor." A few minutes later the nurse came in with the day shift's head doctor. The doctor checked Annie for what seemed like a long time.
"So," the doctor says apologetically, "there's been a mistake. You're only at 5cm. We can stop pushing for now." She explained to us that it could have been easy for the night shift doctor to think Annie was at 10cm because of how membrane-thin her cervix was. I could tell the doctor was upset at the night shift doctor's mistake and that she was trying to bite her tongue from saying anything damning.
"Sorry, we'll just have you rest for a few hours and check on you regularly."
That was a huge bummer. Annie was very disappointed. It's tough to be pushing for two hours hoping to hear "we see the head!" like we had imagined only to be told to rest up and try again later.
So we both rested and tried to sleep, but most of that time I was on my phone keeping everyone updated.
About six hours later Annie was actually at 10cm, so we began to push again. I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of Annie than that day. She full of so much strength. She was amazing. She was a rock star.
After another couple of hours of pushing, the doctor started to talk to us about options if the baby didn't progress from where he was currently. Annie wanted so badly to avoid a c-section. She used her power of persuasion to convince the doctor to give us another hour of pushing, and then another hour. As long as the baby wasn't in any danger, then Annie wanted to push.
But the baby wasn't progressing at all anymore. Counting the two wasted hours of pushing Annie did in the early morning, she had been pushing for seven hours. So the two head doctors conferred and told us that it was time to get the baby out via c-section. Annie burst into tears at the disappointment, and it seems like it was the next second that they started wheeling her into the operating room. I was held back for about fifteen minutes before they escorted me to be with Annie.
The c-section was already in progress when I got to her. Annie was scared and I tried to comfort her. For the first time in the past 24 hours time seemed to have stood still. We were moments away from the excitement of being parents, yet it was hard to get past the fact that Annie was strapped to a table with her insides opened up. She was shaking uncontrollably (which is normal, they told us) and scared and kept saying, "I can feel it. I can feel everything." Even though she wasn't feeling pain, Annie could feel the pressures and tugs and movements of the surgery. In all our preparations, we didn't prepare for what a c-section would be like, so everything was quite unsettling at the time. The moments felt like minutes and the minutes felt like an hour. But Annie was strong and ready to be a mom.
"Would you like to see your son?" I heard someone say.
At 7:24pm on June 12, 2016, over 19 hours after Annie's water broke while I was doped up on morphine in the emergency room, Oliver Ernest McMurtrey took his first breath. I stood up and looked over the sheet toward Annie's feet to see our slimy little purple monkey for the first time. His first couple cries were a little weak, but then he let it roar. I can't remember if I walked or floated over to him while three from the delivery team were doing their checks on him.
|Oliver's first minute of life|
"You can touch him," one of the doctors said to me as I stood there not knowing what the heck to do. "Really?" I thought, not sure to believe that I had any business being near this little human. I reached down and touched his hand and he grasped my finger. After they cleaned him up, put a diaper on him, and swaddled him in a blanket, they handed him to me. "What am I supposed to do with him?" I thought. They must have seen the hesitation/panic on my face because one of them said, "You can take him to his mom."
I brought him over to Annie. Even through her heavy medication I could see her eyes meet her son's. We had a couple minutes together as a family before the doctors took Oliver and I stayed with Annie until her surgery was finished.
Annie was eventually wheeled back to her room, and we learned that Oliver had to make a quick stop in the NICU just to double-check some things regarding his initial weak cry. He was all right and already back into the nursery. My dad and his wife, Janie, had been at the hospital for a few hours and they were finally able to join us in Annie's room. The nurse said I could go see Oliver, so my dad and I went to the nursery while Janie stayed with Annie.
It was quite the thing to see a little humanoid wrapped up in a blanket in the nursery and to know that he was ours. It was scary, overwhelming, and awe-inspiring. The nursery nurse finished her routine checks on Oliver and told me I could take him to our room. So we went on our first walk together -- my dad at my side and my little son in the bassinet before me.
When we arrived back in the room, I took Oliver to Annie and laid him against her skin. Holding her son for the first time as he nuzzled into her chest, Annie whispered beneath her hours of pain and restlessness, "I can't believe it."
And then the day was over, and we were parents.