Taking Life One Downward Dog at a Time

Alter we found while exploring on the day life got crazy...

It’s been a long time since my arms shook in downward facing dog.  I’m sure you remember that shaky feeling in your arms the first time you encountered a yoga mat.  It eventually goes away, but nearly everyone, no matter how strong, experiences it to some degree.

For the first time in nearly 10 years, my arms shook tonight as I entered downward dog.  It was a strange, but good feeling.

I suppose the shakiness is to be expected given the random twist of fate thrown my direction this past week as I lost over half the blood volume in my body, received four blood transfusions, and spent four days in the hospital in intensive care.  Let’s just say I’m happy to be here to type these words.

To be quite honest, I’m about as health-oriented as they come.  I run three or four days a week, play competitive tennis a few days a week, practice yoga regularly, and do more pushups, pullups, and situps than I can count.  I’m a young, healthy guy and this kind of thing is supposed to happen to someone else, right?

Well, last Friday, I woke up early and ran six miles.  I had been sick with the flu earlier in the week, yet the run seemed to go fine.  Woke up tired Saturday morning, rolled out the yoga mat for a while, and then went to play tennis as usual.   Pretty normal routine, but almost immediately as I hit a few balls against the backboard I could tell something was wrong.   My heart was pounding, I gasped for breath, and seriously just wanted to lay down on the court and die.  Seriously.  Something definitely not right.  Of course, dude that I am, I played for another hour until I could barely walk (we usually play for two or three hours), wisely bowed out of a few more sets, and went home wondering what the heck was going on with my body. I just figured I was still recovering from the flu and spent the rest of the day dragging myself around at the beach with the family searching for seashells.

It wasn’t until I passed out later that night, smashing my head on the bathroom sink, laying sprawled out on the floor that it occurred to me that something was really wrong.  Of course, as soon as my lovely wife found me on the floor (she thought one of the kids fell out of bed) she was like let’s go to the ER right now, and of course, I was like just let me call the doctor on Monday to schedule an appointment.  As my heart continued to pound and the disorientation and spinning head persisted, I ultimately agreed to go to the ER.  According to the docs we got there just in the nick of time.

The initial blood-work led the doctors to conduct a scope of my GI tract to see if that was the culprit.  Needless to say, what the docs said would be anywhere from a five minute to 45 minute scope procedure turned into two and a half hours of cauterizing small tears in my esophagus that were bleeding out into my stomach.  Turns out I was trying to bleed to death.  Not sure I’d have even made it to the doctor’s office on Monday if I’d gone the normal stubborn route.

Well, the aftermath of the procedure, the massive loss of blood, the transfusions, and the ICU treatment (catheters, IVs, liquid diet, etc) has made this a week to remember.  The doctor’s notes said I should expect to be “profoundly fatigued” for the next few weeks as my body recovers from the blood loss.  Now there’s an understatement.  Since my discharge from the hospital on Wednesday, life has moved at a dramatically slower pace.  Despite my continued stubbornness, including trying to go to work on Friday (I made it about two hours before my hands wouldn’t stop shaking on the keyboard), I’m slowly regaining strength.  It must have been a small burst of energy that convinced me to roll out my yoga mat tonight.  Even with shaky arms, downward dog felt good.

Counting the blessings of life tonight.  Namaste.

8 comments

  1. Yikes! Please do take it easy on your body. I hope you are feeling better soon. Will keep you in my thoughts and prayers!

    Thanks for sharing your story with honesty and humility. I’ve come back to that “shaky arms” thing many times (sometimes just even after a break with no yoga). It’s humbling to know we are always beginners… but also that there is no end to the road when it comes to yoga.

    Namaste!

  2. My heart is with you, Brian!

    Isn’t it interesting that the moment there is a tiny bit of energy in us, we are propelled to keep going. I ripped the knee cap off the inside of my knee one gorgeous day while rollerblading down a steep hill and like you (after cursing for 2-3min, tendon torn) I forced myself to finish my normal routine, pushing on another half hour before I called it a day.

    Recently I finished 18months of cancer treatment, complete with 8 separate surgeries and crazy complications which left me wrecked in many ways. The second that I could possibly move, I applied for a teaching position at a school, got the job and began working 30hrs/wk.

    I wonder if life just wants to continue through all of us? If yes, I am grateful. Grateful to still be able to experience ‘my own’ yoga mat with shaky arms, and grateful to know that others share the same experience.

    Hope you have lots of nurture in your world, Brian. From afar I wish you good health and a continued love for life. ~Heather

  3. Goodness, how scary. I recently had surgery and have been annoyed and amazed at how long it’s taking to bounce back. I haven’t been able to practice much yoga since the procedure, but it does feel good to check in with something as complex as down dog, one of my favorite diagnostic poses. I won’t be doing full inversions for a while, but what I’m finding especially delicious is full child’s pose, balasana, with sandbags on my back (one vertical along the spine, one horizontal just above the hips, and then putting both on that spot). At first I leave my arms stretched out in front, palms up (I like to think of that as an offering and a surrender: OK, body. You win. But help me come back. You know, soon.). Then I put my hands at my feet in the classical pose. I swear, I could stay there for half an hour, and I don’t usually like that pose.

    I hope you continue to heal and enjoy (?) the down time. As I keep trying to tell my impatient self, yoga will be there when you’re ready for it.

  4. Brian hi, my brother in-law had the same thing a few months ago, he had been coughing and it turned out tears in esophogus-also thankfully his wife insisted he go to hospital right then!
    I am a yoga teacher and long time holistic health student-and feel that it may be helpful to share this. You like many of us work very hard, pushing ourselves physically, even the health routines that you mention are very hard, yang, active. I encourage you to use this recovery time to do more restorative type yoga, see Judith Lasater’s “Relax and Renew” it can help build your body’s reserves back faster. Being healthy is about so much more than exercise-it’s an overall lifestyle-where we listen to the body it will tell us when we are near a breaking point so we can adapt if we listen and change our routines-some of which may not be working for us. Chek out a 6 min. video, http://bit.ly/gbEM4P, on a friends Zen blog, where super successful, Ariana Huffington (yes of the 300+million dollar sale to AOL)-talks about hurting herself falling asleep at desk b/c she was so so tired!
    Best wishes for recovery, take care of yourself, rest and your body will tell you what is needed.

  5. Wow! Sounds like a very eye-opening experience. I am glad to hear you are ok…but for goodness sakes. Take it easy. I am sure your wife is telling you that everyday. My father passed this last November from Cancer. My life has taken a drastic turn in the healthy eating, healthy mindset. Although, we are active and we pride ourselves in the fitness aspect sometimes we forget to feed our minds and keep the mental healthy. It sounds like you have your healthy head on strait which is why you probably didn’t bleed to death. Stay strong. 🙂

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