May 19, 2007


Let me tell you about the dream I had last night. Yes, I'll get comfy on this couch over here whilst you go get your stenopad and pencil, Dr. F. Thanks.

I don't talk a lot about my health problems outside strictly running-related issues of shin splints, runners knee, lung issues. But I do have a host of things to manage and continue to run in spite of them. Last week, for instance, I spent the entire week battling my CF-related GI issues as well as a continual low-grade bout with gout. I'm thankful it didn't turn into full-blown attack and I think the three runs I put in while in Bermuda helped prevent that.

I also have insomnia from time to time and will find even eight hours of sleep to be unrestful. So things have been going lately. My point in bringing all this up is that sometimes they all vortex down into a single moment that is a real make-or-break thing. That was this morning.

I didn't sleep well last night, but I do have the other problems I mentioned under control again, so what sleep I got was restful enough. I had an unusually vivid and memorable dream. In this dream, my CF had apparently progressed to the point that I needed a lung transplant. One moment I was going along as I usually do, with my impaired lungs, the next I'm waking up on the operating table (?) with fresh lungs. My chest had been cut open rather like opening up barn doors and somehow that was a good sign. Even better, I was immediately raring to go - I could BREATHE AGAIN! I was able to do this and that, run, jump, sprint, bicycle - all of it. This is in line with reality, actually. After recovery, many transplant recipients experience this second life.

But the key thing - the terrifying thing - was that the moment I realized what had happened, I felt the clock ticking again. I've written before, briefly, about this ticking clock I always hear in the background of my life, the countdown that I can't see, but can only hear, the countdown to my death. It isn't an electronic 24 sound, nor a pendulum tick sound, but rather the slow ka-chunk of a large digital display physically changing. The sound is close and monotonous, but I can never read the display. The clock would look, however, a lot like the clock displays above finish lines. Coincidence?

And in the dream, the realization that the clock was once again ticking on a shortened life - that transplant has merely reset that clock upwards by an average of five years - meant that I was still ... I don't know; not free. It was chilling. It was a clear reminder that even with my CF lungs, I can extend the countdown clock indefinitely through diligence and care, through therapy and exercise; but after the transplant, there's not as much I can do to extend the ticking countdown.

The dream was a sign.

I had gone to bed late last night intending to skip this morning's Healthy Kidney 10K, because it was going to be raining. So I hadn't set an alarm. But I woke up at 6:15 on the button all by myself, bathed in sweat and freezing my ass off. Yes, I literally woke up in a cold sweat. I couldn't get back to sleep. That, too, was a sign; I got up. It wasn't currently raining and the light didn't look right for rain. Even NY1 was saying the rain would hold off 'til afternoon. Weather was mid-50's, overcast - perfect for running.

So I ate some yogurt, brushed my teeth and hair, packed a bag and went to the race. On the way there, met an older couple (60s) who were in town to run this as the third of their nine qualifiers for the 2008 NY Marathon. Neat.

As I stripped off extra layers and put my bag in the corral, I kept hearing one of the announcers posting the time until the race would begin - and he kept announcing it every minute. Another damn countdown. I wasn't particularly focused on the dream I'd had, but maybe it helped motivate me today; and the countdown I was hearing was only half-welcome.

The race went OK. The start was extremely slow for me, especially since I stopped right after the starting line to use a porta-john. I thought I could hold off; but no dice. I immediately felt better. :)

Mile 1: Slow and steady, some walking, left calf and thigh particularly tight.
Mile 2: Left muscles getting tighter and painful. More walking and hoping the muscles eventually loosen up or else this race is really gonna suck. Lungs, however, cooperating nicely.
Mile 3: Ouch. More walking; just can't seem to stretch out the muscles and my left leg feels like a stump, though my right is working well.
Mile 4: Shortly after I cross the 5K marker and finish the major hill, I get going again pretty well. at 3.25 miles, I pass Larry the Lighthouse. This is a good sign, since usually if I'm behind him, he beats me and this time I figure we'll end up playing tag for the rest of the race. He is accompanied this race by Wendy the Windmill, and they are talking. Maybe they have taken the recent Reebok ads seriously. At 3.5 miles, the pain is fading and I'm settling into a good pace. Feels nice! Started passing people. Not just playing tag, but actually putting them behind me for good. THAT felt great.
Mile 5: My only continuous mile, but real smooth and pleasant. Managed to run right through a bad coughing fit because it came while I was headed down Cat Hill. Passed the fifth mile marker and gave myself permission to walk one more time if necessary.
Mile 6: Walked a little bit on the last big uphill, but only for a coughing fit. Thereafter, the rest of the run was steady and well-paced.
Mile 6.2: Wondered why 10K races aren't marked in kilometers. Struggled to maintain pace here, on the uphill finish, and didn't have the energy for a finishing kick; but kept my pace and finished well.

Results: satisfactory. Negative splits: First half 37:34; second half 32:38 (and the restroom break was about two minutes, so I really did run a stronger second half). Overall 1:10:12. My second worst 10K, but without that bathroom break, might have been only my 3rd worst. [My worst 10K was actually the Scotland Run a few weeks back, so this is an improvement.] The weather was perfect and I think that helped. As my benchmark race of spring, it helps me see I have a long way to go before I'm ready for November 4th.

Incidentally, the Central Park 10K record was broken by two seconds today. Neat. $20,000 bonus to that guy - Dathan Ritzenhein - he handily defeated my favorite, Craig Motram. And he donated his actual first-place purse of $7,500 to the Healthy Kidney foundation. This was my third year in a row running this race and the winners have done that every year.

I did see my doc before the race and he thinks my left orthotic needs adjustment. He's right, but I don't have time right now, nor the money. It will have to wait until August, at which point I'll probably want to go into physical therapy even as a preventative measure. We'll see.

So the clock wasn't too loud this time and I may have added a bit to the countdown. This run was an improvement in many ways and I especially needed to break the 10K barrier. I feel I can start to get my long runs up in distance now.


Neese said...

i don't know what to say about the dream except i know how profoundly vidid they can be and i thank you for sharing your story - good for you for participating in the race

BreathinSteven said...

I agree with Neese -- thanks for sharing your story -- I'm in awe of your accomplishments!!!

And if and when your dream comes true -- I hope that part of your journey is like mine... I too have cystic fibrosis, but I now have new lungs -- I'm 47 1/4 and my lungs just turned 24 last March. My donor was a beautiful 17-year-old girl from Iowa named Kari. I'm very lucky in that I learned who my donor was (after initial anonymous communication with her family) and I am actually friends with many of her friends now.

I have a little website my princess helped me put together with some of my story, but mostly honoring her -- it's at:

If and when it ever happens -- I hope this breathin' stuff with real lungs blows your freakin' mind, like it does mine every single day...

You take care -- you keep doing what you're doing. I'm proud of you...



Steve Ferkau
Chicago, IL

runliarun said...

Ah, Brooklyn, for all of us that clock is ticking, an none of us knows where the countdown is. But for all of us something brings it closer to zero, and in the meantime we can BE. And run races :).

Steve said...

That was beautiful Cris. I've often thought what it would be like to have new lungs, but I've never had dreams about it.

Would I be able to run? Racewalk? Swim?

Sometimes I think breathing easy all the time would be just plain scary!

sue said...