I recently read through a John F. Kennedy biography with Emily as she was preparing for a book report, and as the story of his short life concluded with the realization that JFK’s presidency spanned only 1,000 days my daughter sadly observed that he didn’t get to finish all of the work that he intended to complete. Sure, he accomplished quite a bit during his time in office as Kennedy averted certain global conflict in peacefully settling the Cuban Missile Crisis, inspired the NASA program to get a man on the moon within 10 years while actively pursuing civil rights legislation, but in the end Emily was astute in her observation that President Kennedy tragically didn’t get the chance to finish the job.
I’m now painfully familiar with the sentiment.
Many months ago I embarked on an ambitious quest to complete the Los Angeles Marathon while gathering donations to provide clean drinking water for Africa. I joined a training club called the Los Angeles Road Runners and followed their plan as best as I could, run/walking by myself three times each week and then joining my fellow Road Runners every Saturday morning for the longest training session of any given week. Early mornings or late evenings were spent initially struggling through the workouts as I was terribly out of shape and overweight, but I soon learned to enjoy and even look forward to training as I quickly shed some pounds and built endurance.
Saturday mornings were a pleasure as my solo workouts were done at a faster pace than the longer group sessions, so I was very prepared, and the encouraging banter amongst Road Runners made the 5, 9, 12, 14, 17 mile Saturdays tolerable and even fun.
But a not so funny thing happened once fall turned to winter and we hit the double-digit mileage, as an old back injury flared up and I was in constant pain. Because the training was super important to me I foolishly did not allow myself enough recovery time, instead choosing to get chiropractic care which would help me tremendously, but I would get myself just well enough to get back out and endure another long training session and then end right back on the therapy table again a few days later. My chiropractor initially refused to deny me my dream of completing the marathon, but was alarmed by the pain I was subjecting myself to, and knowing that I had gone through a difficult recovery from back surgery years before, he finally had to warn me of the real possibility of permanent injury.
After completing another painful Saturday in the middle of January I returned home, showered and iced as I had done so many times before, and then had a real good cry.
I would not be running any portion of the Los Angeles Marathon.
It was a truly wise decision, as I knew my back could not handle the stress and strain required of the longer runs, but I wasn’t about to give up on the dream. I focused first on healing and getting to 100%, and by the end of the month and on into early February I seriously trained for a walking marathon, as I was convinced that I could cover the 26.2 miles in less than six hours and I aggressively pursued the training with passion and determination.
But then as we crept closer to Race Day I began having thoughts…
I felt great and my body was operating in a way it hadn’t in many years. I was down to a healthy and sustainable weight and my fat man clothes were hanging off my frame. I was feeling so good that the thoughts I started having turned to visions of glory, to greatness. They turned to running the marathon, as I figured even if I hurt myself I’d have many, many months to recover, but I would not be denied the opportunity to run from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica. Heck, I could walk any time I wanted. How many chances would I really get to run with my body in great shape?
Exactly one week before the marathon I awoke and something was just not quite right. My body felt great and I didn’t feel sick or anything like that, it’s just that I couldn’t get warm. I took a long, hot shower and felt pretty good after that, but a few hours later in church I was once again hit with a massive wave of coldness that I simply could not shake for the balance of the day. Again, I didn’t feel sick at all and it was a bit of a cool day and we live in a drafty house so I really didn’t think much of wrapping myself in a big, thick blanket as we settled down to watch a movie Sunday night.
Everything would be better in the morning.
And for the most part that was a correct statement. I felt so much better and back to normal that I simply shrugged it off as a weather-related thingy. Things shifted dramatically a few hours later, when sitting at my desk at work I found myself shivering and teeth clattering as I was absolutely freezing. I walked into the restroom to splash some warm water on my hands and face and was alarmed at what was staring back at me in the mirror. It was this gaunt, pale man with massive bags under his eyes. I felt and looked really bad. Before too much longer I had body aches to go along with my freezing condition and horrific appearance. I needed to see a doctor.
I left work and immediately went to my trusty urgent care center. I had a fever of nearly 103 and was tested for both the flu and strep, both of which came back negative. The doctor on duty was surprised, as he was assuming from my symptoms that I definitely had the flu. I explained to him that my daughter had recently come down with walking pneumonia, but it wasn’t diagnosed until three trips to the doctor and my wife insisting that they take a chest x-ray. The results came back with the diagnosis and we felt horrible for Emily, and now I was sitting here feeling dreadful but was being told that I simply had a bug that was going around, that it was merely an upper respiratory infection. We could treat the symptoms, but I’d need to just ride this thing out. No work for a few days, but I should be more than ready for Race Day.
The next morning I awoke to the most disturbing sound – gurgling. No, it wasn’t water from a leaky pipe or snoring sounds from any other Fultons. No, it was my own labored breathing. It was a crackle followed by a hiss followed by a sputter. Oh, and I could barely lift my arms. Every muscle in my body felt strained. And once again I was freezing. Upset and scared, I phoned my doctor’s office to schedule an urgent, same-day appointment. My doc took one look at me and said what I already knew, but when you hear the doctor say it, well you just feel all the more worse:
“You are, very, very sick.”
One freezing cold chest x-ray later I had my diagnosis: Pneumonia.
It was Tuesday and Race Day was Sunday. Five days. My doctor was also training for the Marathon so she understood my predicament. She opted to prescribe for me a milder antibiotic that would kick-out the infection while not completely depleting my system. There was an outside chance that I could still walk the marathon. Running was certainly out of the question at this point.
My follow-up appointment was on Thursday and it would be determined during this visit if I was in any condition to walk The Race. I was feeling a million times better and I did everything I could to prepare for the appointment to impress. Between Tuesday and Thursday morning I drank enough water to fill a large swimming pool and I had been resting and napping as much as possible. My fever – which was still close to 103 on Tuesday – was now a thing of the past, but it was a wild ride, as it broke not once, not twice but five separate times. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this.
Thursday had me optimistic, but also promising a concerned Samantha that I would be completely honest with the doctor and that I would follow the doc’s recommendations. Within two minutes of my visit I was wishing I hadn’t made that promise, as the doctor took one listen to my breathing and determined that the Marathon was not in the cards for me. The risks were just too great and the chances of dehydration elevated. At the risk of being melodramatic, I could greatly compromise my system and perhaps even die if I pushed my body over the limit.
I did the Sad Man walk to the car feeling completely defeated and cheated. I felt as though I’d let everyone down, from Sam and the kids, who had endured all of my training and everything that came with it, to family and friends who had donated money and supported me with prayers and encouragement, to the villagers in Africa who no doubt appreciated the water but were expecting the Tall Bald Man to finish the race.
Race Day came and so did sorrow, but I was rescued in the afternoon by our dear friends Jaimie and Martin, who celebrated my training, efforts and heart to help by bringing me a certificate of appreciation, a scrumptious cake and a Lego trophy! Just writing that sentence brings about tears in my eyes to have friends who care enough about me to do something like that. A few days ago Jaimie also shared a YouTube video that she’d arranged to have made by the World Vision folks who responded to a note from her that explained my situation and a bunch of their employees sent their “thank yous” and “get wells” in video form. It was all amazingly sweet, generous and humbling for this guy.
The outpouring of support and sympathy from The Bowmans and other friends and family helped an awful lot, yet I’m still stinging a little bit today. Like Emily pointed out about JFK, it seems that I started a great work that is largely unfinished, but I also know that I was simply not meant to complete the Marathon at this time in my life. I am convinced that God’s plan all along was for me to get as far as I got and not a step further, and maybe I’m struggling with that, but I have to accept it.
What I truly hope comes about from this experience is to have a deeper appreciation for the gift of health as well as thankfulness for the love and support that I received from so many of you during this difficult and exasperating time.
I’d also like to emerge from this trial very much looking like the man of Romans 5, who can rejoice in sufferings knowing that it ultimately produces endurance, which produces character and hope, and the reminder that hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
This has been an incredible experience with many twists and turns in the road. It has been thrilling and scary, exciting and sad.
And I wouldn’t change a thing about it, except perhaps for a chance to cross that finish line!