We can create training schedules and go on a diet and steer our lives as best we can towards the goals we have set ourselves. We cannot, however, always safeguard ourselves against the unexpected. One such unexpected factor is the state of our health. Change can come like a bolt from the blue when we least expect it. I have had quite a few experiences like that in my life.
I remember my childhood as a time when I was ill relatively often and had to lie at home in bed. There was the “annual” middle ear infection, the flu, measles, German measles (rubella), chickenpox and lots more. During those periods, I lay in bed for a week and was not allowed to get up. And I absolutely HAD to drink hot milk with honey and have my temperature taken all the time. Being ill also had its advantages, of course, like when granny came visiting with Donald Duck magazines and sweets. In those days, it was also the norm for the doctor to come visiting, something which today is almost unthinkable. I remember it as if he came every afternoon to take my temperature, check my reflexes, eyes, ears and much more. That is probably far from the truth, however. Many of us remember our childhood summers in shorts, with the sun shining for four months, winters with deep snow and ice on the pond from December to well into March. Far removed from the statistical truth, of course.
The hardest moment in my life was when I was six years old and lost my Mum. I lay sick then, too, on the day I was told about her demise, on the day she was buried, as well as during the days that followed with the house in a state of turmoil as it was chaotically cleaned from cellar to loft.
As an adult I have been almost entirely spared from lying in bed sick. My working life has not been characterised by days off sick, and I have turned up for work every morning almost without fail. On those rare occasions when I have been incapacitated, I have ended up in hospital. I have been operated for a crooked nasal wall, had my tonsils removed and have had issues with a painful abscess on my backside.
In June 2013, however, I was hospitalised once again, and this time, I really did fear that my sporting career might be over. Fortunately, though, things didn’t get that bad.
As I mentioned earlier, I had fallen for no apparent reason on an asphalt road during The Great Wall Marathon 2012. I had the same sort of unpleasant experience on several occasions during the months that followed. I thought it was nothing, just clumsiness and a sign that I no longer concentrated as well as I used to. But perhaps this was the precursor of what was to happen a year later.
On the first Tuesday in June, I went with my old friend, Ole, for our annual medical check-up. Although he is old enough to be my father, Ole and I have been good friends since I was a teenager. Ole is a widower after a childless marriage, and it is perfectly natural for me to visit him at regular intervals. I usually do some shopping for him and then we enjoy a little chat. Once a year we go together to the doctor, which was what we were doing on that Tuesday.
Just as traditional as our visit to the doctor, is the delicious lunch we enjoy afterwards, of Danish open sandwiches – bought ready-made – along with a beer and a chaser. That day in June 2013 was no exception, and in preparation for enjoying the cosy tradition together with Ole, I had taken my ordinary gent’s bike with me so as to leave my car at his place and cycle home. I hadn’t taken my helmet with me because I’d thought “what’s the point, it’s only an ordinary bike after all”.
On the way home, however, I fell off my bike and ended up with some unpleasant knocks. I grazed my forehead, knee and left-hand, and my shoulders and back also took quite a bashing. But I got back on my bike and struggled home, going straight to bed as soon as I got there to relax and recover.
The following day, I was visiting one of my clients in Copenhagen. I had felt fine all day and noticed nothing untoward as I left to drive home along Vesterbrogade in central Copenhagen. Just as I set off something went terribly wrong. I don’t remember any details, but within a split second I went completely limp. The next thing I remember was waking up with my head on the steering wheel in the middle of the busy thoroughfare. I was immediately aware that I must have blacked out. I pulled over to the side of the road and got out of the car to get some fresh air. Then I carefully drove home after the nasty shock. Not many hours were to pass before the next nasty fright.
After supper, I sat down at the computer and had another blackout. This time it came without warning, and I didn’t discover what had happened until it had. Having sat there wide awake working, the next thing I knew was that I was struggling to lift my head from the desk and had spots before my eyes. At that time, I didn’t know where I was, what day or what time it was. It felt as though my head and upper body had been locked into place, so that I couldn’t get up. I don’t know if I wept, cried out or just moaned. But I eventually did manage to get up just as Karin came dashing into me. She immediately ordered me to bed, and I obeyed.
I attributed the two blackouts that Wednesday to the fall from my bike the previous day. Three days now passed without similar problems, so I trusted my own conclusions and thought I would have to be more cautious when cycling with alcohol in my blood. There was more to come, however.
On the Sunday after morning coffee and a bite of bread, I again sat down at the computer. Karin was sitting next to me at her own machine, and we were chatting perfectly normally. What happened next I don’t know, but from what Karin told me it sounded very much like a repetition of Wednesday evening. Suddenly, as we sat there talking, I lost consciousness and slumped onto the desk. My spectacles flew off, my coffee spilled all over the place, and the two otherwise easy-going dogs lying on the floor sprang to their feet. It was like a flashback from Wednesday evening. I had to struggle to lift my head, saw spots before my eyes and had no sense of time or place. This time, Karin didn’t send me to bed, but straight to the out of hours medical service.
What I thought would be an examination lasting a couple of hours, actually involved admission to hospital and surgery. At Roskilde Hospital I was well received by extremely competent staff, who gave me a thorough examination.
As it turned out, falling off my bike had not been the cause of the subsequent blackouts. On the contrary, at the hospital they were convinced that the fall was more likely to have been caused by a blackout than by drinking alcohol. During one test at the hospital, I experienced another minor loss of consciousness and they were able to measure that at precisely that point in time my heart rhythm was abnormal.
They subjected me to their entire examination routine. Scans, X-rays, blood tests, pulse, temperature – well, the works. By the middle of the afternoon, I was on the operating table being fitted with a pacemaker that would regulate the beating of my heart going forward. This was not what I had envisaged as I sat drinking my morning coffee earlier that day.
I stayed in hospital overnight and was discharged the following day after the morning rounds. The watchword was plain: I was to take it easy for a month or so, after which I could live my life exactly as before. This came as a tremendous relief. I had of course had fears for my mobility, my ability to work and my sport. But modern technology and medical science had proven their excellence and my life could go on unchanged.
The subsequent period was, however, rather turbulent. In physical terms, I felt quite weak and had difficulty lifting a ring binder. I ran out of breath for practically no reason at all, for example while singing at a silver wedding. At times my hands shook violently. This was not visible, but it felt like it. My memory was not what it had been, either. I had completely forgotten that I had called Steffen and told him about my operation, I couldn’t remember how to put my mobile into silent mode or how to tie a flagpole knot. Skills I had previously mastered without thinking were now a problem.
Some weeks after the operation, my body started shaking as I was driving along the motorway, so I pulled over onto the hard shoulder and called the emergency services. An admission to hospital, a consultation with my own GP and a hospital check-up showed that I was in fine physical shape and that everything was working as it should. But there was something wrong, nevertheless. I experienced myself on several occasions starting to cry when someone enquired about my health, and driving also scared me. I forced myself to drive, however, so as not to lose the courage to do so, and to get from A to B, of course.
Once again I chose to seek alternative treatment, and a single visit to a craniosacral therapist made a big difference. Two subsequent sessions and some relaxation exercises, and I was soon on the right track. Things slowly began to improve.
I had to force myself to run for the first time after the operation. I didn’t really feel I was ready, but wanted passionately to get back on my horse, so to speak. I doubted I would even be able to run 100 metres, but actually managed to do all the six kilometres I had set myself, even though it was pretty gruelling. The words “if you can dream it, you can do it,” made perfect sense once again.
Looking back on what happened, I am convinced that I had simply taken too much upon myself for a while and that my body simply said stop one more time. I had just been through a busy six months with a lot of annual reports to be completed by 1st July. When I had my blackouts, I was almost finished with the accounts and didn’t feel stressed. In truth, however, I probably still was stressed. It is not by any means unusual that a reaction comes when the pressure is almost over.
When I look back on the physical problems, I have experienced for several years and which are described in this book, I can see a common thread whenever I have taken on more than I can handle. That’s the way it was when I had to drop out in South Africa and refrain from running in Oslo, had a long-term heel injury and finally had to have a pacemaker. Although you learn something each time, it is so easy to fall into the trap again. When, like me, you have difficulty sitting still and are constantly on the look-out for new goals, it is difficult to hold yourself back. A lot of this book was written just after I had my pacemaker fitted. During the months that followed, when there wasn’t very much work to do, I frequently sat up well into the night. Experience makes us wiser, but it is far from always that we actually take it to heart.
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