"If I can run then anyone can"
10 April 2013
My name is Julie Cavanagh, I’m 43 years old and started running with the support of the Run in Wirral running groups in July 2011. I would like to share my story with you to prove that if I can run then anyone can!!
My story starts in December 2010. I woke up on Christmas Day feeling dreadful – my limbs ached, I couldn’t keep anything down and just wanted to sleep. I managed to see my little boy open his presents but then had to admit defeat and return to bed. My condition didn’t improve over the next few days and when my husband called Arrowe Park Out of Hours service, they advised him to bring me in straight away. This was on 29 December 2010. I was immediately admitted to hospital where they diagnosed pneumonia and potential swine flu.
I was taken to the Intensive Care Unit where my condition quickly deteriorated and I was put into an induced coma. I had developed septicaemia and as the infection spread I began to suffer multi organ failure. I was on a ventilator as first my lungs failed and then on dialysis as my kidneys also began to shut down. I was listed for a transfer to Leicester for further treatment but was deemed too ill to be moved and my family were warned to expect the worst.
After 10 days on life support, I began to rally and eventually regained consciousness on 7 January 2011. However the infection had left me in a very weakened state - because I had been immobile for so long my muscles had deteriorated and I was unable to move at all. I was being fed via a tube through my nose on a 12 hour feeding cycle, I couldn’t talk because I had had a tracheotomy tube inserted and was unable to do even the most basic things for myself. From being a healthy and active individual prior to my illness, it was the most awful feeling being so helpless and reliant on others.
However I did get an insight into some of the gadgets the physios use! There was a hoist to lift me from the bed to a chair – think human crane – not very elegant but it did the trick and a gadget to haul me up into a standing position! As I was unable to speak I had to point to letters on a board to spell out my words – however being so weak I didn’t always have the strength to finish the words – just as well my husband is good at scrabble!
After a month in ICU I was moved up to the main wards where my work with the physios began in earnest – they basically had to teach me to walk again! With their help I started with standing up and then began to take my first few steps. I was like Bambi at first (albeit Bambi on a zimmer!) and could only manage a few steps before becoming exhausted but gradually my distance increased - eventually I made it past my bed and then to the Ward door. Unfortunately though I had to be readmitted to the ICU mid February which set my progress back yet again.
Eventually though I was well enough to restart my rehabilitation with the physiotherapists and my final goal was to tackle stairs as I couldn’t be discharged until I could manage them. The challenge was on! When I finally climbed the set of stairs, you would have thought I’d won the lottery, I was that excited!
I was finally discharged from hospital on 7 March 2011 after a 10 week stay but was still reliant on a feeding tube. My illness had left me unable to eat or drink as some of the nerves controlling my ability to swallow had been affected and the Doctors didn’t know at that point whether I would ever be able to eat again. My nutrition consisted of a liquid feed which was delivered through my nose overnight – not very appetizing! It took until 23 March before the tube was removed and I had to adjust to eating solids again – it was just like weaning a baby! As I had lost so much weight in hospital (I was now under 7 stone), the dietician advised that I could eat as much high calorie food as I wanted – bliss!
I continued to attend physio sessions at the hospital until June 2011 and we discussed how I could continue to build my fitness after my last session. I confessed to wanting to take up running as this was something my husband had taken up some years ago and she simply said “what’s stopping you – you can do whatever you want now”.
Her words stayed with me and the following weekend I accompanied my husband while he went to buy new running shoes. It was while I was waiting for him that I saw a Run Wirral leaflet which advertised beginner sessions for all levels of fitness. This seemed to meet my needs perfectly!
I attended my first session with Lynne at the Oval on Wednesday, feeling very apprehensive but was soon put at ease. I had explained my medical history and that my level of fitness was zero and admitted that I wouldn’t be able to run very far at all. Lynne reassured me and explained that we would just run/walk as far as I felt comfortable and would gradually build up. My first steps weren’t very far at all but as the quote goes “the longest journey starts with a single step” and so my journey to getting my life back to normal began.
I returned for a second week and then added a session on the Saturday morning, gradually building up my distance and reducing the walk element. In December 2011 I entered the Santa Dash and finished in 38 mins. I was extremely emotional as I crossed the finish line as were my family. Less than 11 months ago they had had to consider the possibility that I may not survive and then they had supported me while I recovered and came to terms with how ill I had been.
Physically the Doctors had advised me that it would take at least a year for my body to fully recover from the trauma it had suffered but psychologically I also needed to adjust. It was a massive shock to find that I had been so close to dying and the speed with which it had happened. Initially I felt guilty for having survived when many in my position had not been so fortunate and then I started to feel that it would be selfish of me not to make the most of this second chance.
Now when I am running and feel tired, I just need to think how I felt when I couldn’t move in ICU and that gives me the boost to carry on. As a wake up call, mine is pretty extreme but it brought home to me how important it is to have your health.
Running with the Run Wirral groups has been fantastic – they have given me the confidence and encouragement to continue and, when I look back to that first session with Lynne, I can’t believe how much I have improved! I am now doing regular 10ks and even thinking about tackling a half marathon! Thank you!