Up until this week I thought the answer to this question was “no way”! But I am going to share my eye-opening story that changed my life and hope that it helps others who find themselves in the same position as me. Imagine being in the hospital with no feeling below the waist … you can’t feel your hands, arms, chest, butt, legs or feet for 6+ hours with no idea what went wrong or why you are lying helplessly in a hospital emergency room with doctors just as baffled as you are as to why a seemingly healthy woman in her 40’s is laying there. Well, that is what happened to me just this past week. After hours of tests, needles, IV’s, X-rays, CT Scan, MRI, and more… imagine my surprise when I was told that I had drank too much water and it was causing my body to shut down! Here’s my story:
I have never been an athlete. Growing up I recieved my first (and only) F on my report card in 7th grade because I refused to dress out during PE (Physical Education) class because I was overweight and people would call on my last to get picked anyway, so why humiliate myself. That was how an overweight teenage girl thinks back in the 80’s (and probably even some today!). I was perfectly happy being a book worm and a band geek and loved every minute of it!
As time went by, I graduated high school and went on to college where I participated in marching band for 4 years, which if you haven’t been in marching band, it takes a lot of physical activity and exercise to participate. An this was in the heat of the summer in the south for summer camp before school started where temperatures were in the 100’s during practice at 4pm. Here is what I always heard: “Make sure and drink lots of water… you don’t want to get dehydrated” and they provided water jugs by the barrel full for us during practice! I thought water was the way to stay refreshed and hydrated. Even back then that was the message that I heard.
Over the years since college, I grew heavier and heavier and exercise and working out and eating healthy were not a part of my life. I could drink a case of beer at at time and down a full 20oz ribeye dinner with all of the fixings and still be ready for dessert! I am sharing this so you understand that living a healthy lifestyle was never something I took the time to learn or understand until my life changed in 2010.
In 2010, my son was getting older and I was getting heavier and heavier and he kept wanting me to participate in activities that I couldn’t keep up. I knew I needed to make a change and if I did something about it, I knew I would have to go all in and make it a lifestyle change. So in 2010, I took control of my life and decided 275pounds was not where I wanted to be, so I had gastric bypass surgery. At the time I studied as much as I could about it and began seeing a dietician as part of my recovery who taught me how to eat healthy, exercise and take care of myself.
Some of the changes I made were working out on a daily basis, eating half portions, I gave up red meat and fried foods and stuck with foods that were high in protein and started training for a half marathon. During that transition, I heard things like “Eat protien and drink water” more than anything else. I was often told 8 glasses of water a day, or half your body weight in water a day, or keep hydrated by keeping water with you at all times! So I did … and even training for the half marathon that I ran in October that year in Mankato, all they served along the route was water stations, which I took advantage of. DRINK WATER AND STAY HYDRATED! That was the message to me.
After running the half marathon that year, I blew out my knee and needed to slow down the exercise routine to heal. I continued eating right, drinking lots of water a day and maintained my post-surgery weight/side of 150’s and a size 10 for years. I have been very proud of that and have worked hard to maintain it!
This year, my 17 year old some challenged me to a summer of working out and running races and I decided to take control again and began working out with him. I was feeling better than I ever had. For the past 2 months, I began slowly with walking … then walk/jogging … then adding running into the mix and I really enjoy riding my bike around Coon Rapids and the surrounding areas. I would exercise sometimes 2 times a day for hours on end. What did I make sure I did??? You guessed it … DRINK WATER! I was drinking so much water a day that nothing could hold me back right? I was keeping hydrated! I was working out! I was down to my lowest weight and size ever and feeling AMAZING! I was and am so proud of myself! I even ran my first race in over 5 years … the Color Run last weekend on Sunday and completed the 5K in less than a half hour! It felt GREAT! I felt accomplished and ready to take on the rest of the races this summer including the Warrior Dash with my son on July 23!
Then on Monday, July 11 … I will never forget this date! I work up that morning feeling great! I rode my bike to the gym (7+ miles) and then did my morning work out. Drove to my contract job in Apple Valley and worked all day, making sure I kept plenty of fluids in my system. I drank 2 pitchers of water during the day plus my water bottle. As the day wound down and we waited until rush hour traffice was over to head home, I had a beer at the bar and then headed home. I had a great conversation with my mom about the events for the upcoming weekend and dropped her off at home. As I was going to remaining 20 minutes home, I developed a head ache that eventually got worse and worse as I drove home. I remember thinking that something was beginning to feel wrong, but it was just a headache right, don’t worry about it! So I got home …
I got some paperwork together for my husband and brought it to him in his office and as I made my way back to the kitchen, I started stumbling into the kitchen and had to catch myself on the counter before falling over. I felt out of control of my body, my head was pumping worse than ever and I felt the world start spinning. I called to my husband that something was wrong and we needed to go to the ER immediatly, that something was happening and I had no idea what.
After being helped into the ER and into a wheelchair, we waited over 2 hours to be seen and during that time I got more and tired and just wanted to fall asleep in that chair. I knew something was wrong and just wanted to know what was going on. I was so scared … but little did I know what would happen next …
It was my turn and they called me back .. they finally had a room ready. As I was asked to move from my wheelchair into the bed … I tried to get up and couldn’t feel any part of my body. I looked at the staff and said .. .”I can’t move … I don’t feel my legs or my arms!” I remember feeling panicked and so afraid. I looked at my husband and began to cry and have a panic attack. I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t feel anything. I lay there as the doctor did test after test of taking my arm, my legs, my hands and feet and telling me to “press up” or “squeeze as hard as I can” or “lift my arm” or “lift my leg” and not being able to move. I could think about the act of moving my arm or squeezing his hand … but my body wouldn’t respond! What was happening??? Why couldn’t I feel anything??
Here I am … a 43 year old woman who has stayed in shape over the past few years who works out every day now and is training for more runs ahead … what could possibly be happening to me? For the first time in my life, I looked at my husband and said “Now I know what you are going through on a daily basis with your left arm (see my husband is paralyzed in his left arm after serving our country in the Gulf War in 1991 and lives with his paralysis every day of his life). I remember thinking “he has to live without one arm… what if I have to live without feeling to my entire body!!!???!!!” I was so scared. Imagine lying there helpless with doctors saying things like “There is definately something wrong .. .we need to figure this out”. I had test after test and it wasn’t until 2am that a doctor finally came back and said “you are suffering from a lack of electrolytes in your body due to excessive intake of water … in other words, you drink too much water!”
I remember thinking this was a joke? What do you mean too much water? And what are these things called electrolytes you speak about and what does that have to do with water??? I do what I have always been told by multiple doctors … “stay hydrated.” “Drink water” … “keep up the fluids”. Well DAMN IT, I do drink water! That’s all I do drink now and look what has happened to me??!!??
The doctor went on to say that a lot of athletes hear that message and don’t realize that while water is good for you and keeps you hydrated, as you work out and sweat and water is leaving your body, so is sodium and magnesium and potasium. Water alone doesn’t replenish these things … it just keeps you hydrated. Notice my test results when I was first brought to the ER … most of my levels were below average. This isn’t something that a consumer can check for themselves, like glucose levels. Now, since this has happened, I am almost “scared” to drink water, thinking I will find myself in the same position.
I am looking forward to my follow up appointment on Monday to ask more questions and really understand what happened and how I can prevent this from happening again. My best advice right now would be to not only keep hydrated, but keep the electrolytes up as well, especially after a workout. That can be using Gatorade, runners gel, gummy electrolytes (my favorite) or whatever else you find to keep that portion of you healthy as well!