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Muscles, Hospitals, and Real Love

I awoke suddenly with a loud “BANG BANG BANG” on my RV door. I could hear the rain pattering off of the roof and I could tell it was still early in to the night because it was pitch black out and I was in a deep sleep. I scrambled to find a flashlight in the dark and stumbled to the door in my pj’s. As I contemplated opening my RV door in the middle of the night on the side of a Utah highway I acknowledged to myself that there could be one of three things on the other side: my roadside camping mates Michelle & Justin, a state trooper, or someone with an intent to harm me. I prayed for the first as I unlocked my door and shined my flashlight right at eye level of the knocker. Justin quickly turned his head and shielded his eyes as I purposefully blinded him, “Something’s wrong with Michelle…I have to take her to the hospital right now!” That was all the information he offered.

I immediately envisioned her violently ill, puking, or without the function of her body lying limply on their RV bed. I had no clue as to what could be wrong, but this is where my mind went. “Okay, I’ll get dressed quickly! We’ll take the car!” I replied as I hurried back in to my RV. I got ready as quickly as possible, grabbing my clothes, a rain coat, purse, water, and a book. I sensed this would be no quick trip to the ER.

I jumped from my RV towards theirs to help Justin with my envisioned life-less Michelle in to my car. As I entered their cabin I turned to my left to see her quietly and neatly sitting on the edge of their bed. What the hell? I thought. She looked perfectly fine. Michelle then started to describe her illness symptoms to me and my blood pressure lowered as my mind immediately went to elevation sickness. I let her continue talking until she told me she had done some research and had come to the conclusion of elevation sickness, to which I immediately agreed. I didn’t want to brush it off as no-big-deal as she was visibly concerned and worried, so I didn’t hesitate to load her into the car and take her to the hospital. At this altitude (6,600 ft) I couldn’t imagine elevation sickness being life-threatening unless the party was violently puking or experiencing fluid in the lungs, but I am no expert and would much rather drive an hour through the night at 1AM to find my runner is safe, then to say “suck it up” and pay the price.


I am so very thankful the divine guidance I received to not brush off the symptoms because her diagnosis ended up being very different and very life-threatening. After a few hours in the ER it was found through blood scans and urine tests that Michelle was experiencing “Rhabdomyolysis” which is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue that produces a toxic byproduct for the kidneys. If left untreated it can lead to dialysis, days in the hospital, and possibly kidney failure. Eeeks! After her first marathon on day 1, and an ultramarathon on day 2, it seems the Michelle was overworking her muscles to the point where they were rapidly breaking down, and she wasn’t drinking enough fluids to flush her system of the toxic myoglobin byproduct.

Michelle is quiet the strong-willed spirit and it didn’t take long for the doctor to recognize that she was interested in correcting this ailment as quickly as possible so she could resume her MS Run the US ultramarathon activity. After MUCH discussion, IV fluids, and tests to prove that her blood was returning to normal, the ER doctor released Michelle with the understanding she would do no activity over the weekend (which, by the way, he did have to specifically define for her as “nothing more than moiling around the house” because biking to her was considered “no activity”…), and may resume her segment on Monday IF she visited a clinic to test her blood to confirm all of her levels had returned to normal AND if she pushed fluids and made sure to pee every hour.

In the meantime, Justin, Michelle’s loving husband offered to step in and cover her weekend mileage. As a default I have the confidence that I can and will run any miles that these Relay runners are unable to do due to illness or injury, but Justin wanted to do this for Michelle as a team effort. I could think of no other analogy more beautiful than a married couple approaching life and set-backs with a teamwork mentality. Tears welled up in Michelle’s eyes as she looked at her husband and said, “You would want to do that?”. I could tell it meant the world to her, and I could see that Justin wanted nothing more than to help her fulfill her purpose out here.


It’s still apparent to me that when her blood levels test normal, Justin and I have our job cut out for us holding Michelle back to an easier pace than she had set for herself on day 1 out here. Rhabdomyolysis is something that I will not take lightly so I intend to watch her like a hawk.

Though Michelle was grateful for Justin’s effort on her part, she was visibly disappointed she would not be fulfilling the miles she had intended. She felt both burdened and guilty. But as I said to her with a hug, “MS Run the US has never been about personal athletic achievement. It’s about love. I ran for the love of my mom, we run for the love of those living with MS, and now Justin is out there because he loves you. Don’t let your personal goals shadow what this is about.”

We’re running farther to serve others, and to do so that takes teamwork!

  • by ashleyk
  • posted at 8:58 AM
  • May 19, 2013