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For Jacob

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This is a story of firsts.  My first marathon, and my first child.

If you’ve been following along with my story from the beginning, you may recall that in Why do I Run? I explained that you’d have to wait for the real meaning behind why I continue to run.  Well, the wait is over.

If you’re expecting a lighthearted tale about my first marathon, I’m afraid that this won’t be it.  I was more than a little hesitant to write about this subject matter, but I feel that it may be helpful to a number of people who will find themselves in the same situation that my wife and I did.  Having said that, if this resonates with you, or you feel it may help somebody else, please share it with them.  That is why I am writing, as I know when we went through or tough times, we searched for the stories of others.  With all of that being said, here we go.

After tackling the Around the Bay 30 k race, I had decided that a marathon in May was definitely not something I was ready for.  I completed another half-marathon in May instead, and shortly thereafter, I signed up for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon to be held the following October.

Around the same time, my wife and I had decided that we wanted to start our family.  I can recall that in June of 2014, on the night before the last day of the school year, my wife told me that she was pregnant.  Obviously, this was amazing news, and we were both really excited for the upcoming addition.  There were even a few tears of joy shed.  My wife was due in February of 2015.

I had established a good base fitness level from the 30 k and half-marathon training, and after a little break post half, I set my sights on training for the full marathon.

I used the Runner’s World Smart Coach training program (the free version), which I still use for my programs today.

That summer, we had some friends from Sweden visit us and showed them around Ontario.  We had shared our happy news with our families and a few close friends, and revealed our news to our visitors too, as we knew it would be difficult to hide it from them since they would be cohabitating with us for two weeks.

My training was moving along nicely, and I was beginning to feel more comfortable at the higher distance levels.  In addition, I had learned my lesson about nutrition at the 30 k, and had started to use some energy gels.

Things were moving along nicely with my wife’s pregnancy as well.  The time for the first ultrasound came, and we were super excited to get to hear our child’s heartbeat, as well as get our first glimpses of them.  I remember my wife coughed at one point and we saw our little one do a little flip.  Truly an incredible experience.

In September, we moved into our first house.  We had been living in an apartment following our time in Sweden, as we figured (correctly) that moving back to Canada, having our wedding, and buying a house, would have been too much.

We found a nice spot that was good for us, and settled in.  The nursery was set up, and our excitement was growing.

The marathon was also fast approaching, only about five weeks away at this point.

I had managed to get my long runs up to just over the 32 km mark.  When training for marathons, I like to add 200 m to my runs to simulate the final 200 m of the 42.2 km marathon distance.  Just a little quirk that I include in my program.

I felt fairly confident that I would be able to finish the marathon, but at this time, was not 100% sure.  I set the following goals for the big day:

  • Finish.  At the very least, regardless of time, I needed to finish it.
  • Beat Oprah’s time of 4:29:15 (I figured if she could do it, I could too, and 4.5 hours seemed pretty respectable as a finish time).
  • Finish in 4:12:00, I figured if I ran pretty well by my standards, this was the time I could get.
  • Finish under 4:00:00, if things were going really well, I was kind of hoping to break 4 hours, but not expecting it by any means.

Much more importantly, things were progressing with my wife’s pregnancy.  She was showing, and our baby was making their presence felt with kicks and pokes which my wife felt regularly, and I was fortunate enough to feel occasionally.  I also started getting into the habit of talking to our baby by speaking to my wife’s belly.

A couple of months after the first ultrasound, we went in for the second. We were even more excited for this one, as we knew we could find out the gender of our child.  We both wanted to find out the gender, as we felt we could not wait for the big day.

My wife went in for the ultrasound, and I was invited in some time later. Unfortunately, we were told that due to the position of the baby, they could not determine the gender.  It turns out, our baby was being shy.  I joked that I was OK with this, because it meant they were being classy and ladylike if they were a girl.

The baby was still moving around and the heartbeat sounded great. However, my wife left the ultrasound with a bad feeling about things, thinking that something was wrong.  The ultrasound technician had asked her if she had been sick or dehydrated lately, as the amniotic fluid was low.

I don’t recall the exact timeline here, but it was either later that day, or the following day, that my wife was contacted by our doctor and told that she was to do nothing but rest.  She was being referred to a specialist due to the amniotic fluid being low.  This was obviously tremendously concerning.

We were worried, but I can recall feeling positive about the situation, just feeling that everything would be OK.  After all, the baby was being really active, as my wife felt them regularly, and we saw the movement at the ultrasound.  In addition, the heartbeat sounded awesome.  What could be wrong?

The marathon was now a couple of weeks away, but obviously, my running took a backseat.  I ran less, as I of course wanted to be home to support my wife.  I do recall one night in particular, where with my wife’s encouragement, I went out for a 40 minute or so run.  As I came back up towards home, the sun was setting, and a song came on my iPod called Safe and Sound by Capital Cities.  It has a very positive feel to it, and at that moment, with the music in my ears, and the sunset in front of me, I just felt really confident that everything was going to be OK.  I told my wife about this after I got home, just trying to reassure her, as I had been doing over the course of our experience.  In my heart, it was also what I felt.

After what seemed like an eternity, the day had arrived to meet with a neonatal specialist at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) Victoria Hospital.  We were of course nervous, and anxiously wanted to find out what was going on.  At this point, we knew nothing more than that there was low amniotic fluid.

We were scheduled for another ultrasound that morning, to be followed up by a meeting with the specialist.

My wife was called in first of course, and after waiting for about 45 minutes to an hour, I too was welcomed into the room.

I was really happy to see that the our baby was moving around a tonne, and their little heart was still beating away powerfully.  Unfortunately, once again, we were still unable to find out our baby’s gender.  Still being shy!  That was OK though, as we were just happy to see the movement, and hear the heartbeat.

The ultrasound technician left to get some printouts and my wife and I had a chance to talk.  She was really positive, and said that things seemed to go really well.  Part of her fear after leaving the last ultrasound, was due to the demeanour of the technician.  Conversely, at this appointment, the tech was much more outgoing and did not seem worried.

We left this appointment feeling really encouraged about things.  Of course, we knew that there was still some sort of complication, but things just seemed better now.  It can’t be a big deal if the baby is still being active and the heartbeat is so strong, right?

We went over to meet with the specialist, feeling really optimistic.  We waited patiently in the interior waiting room, and a doctor came in shortly thereafter.

The doctor introduced himself, and did not take long in getting to the diagnosis.  

There are some moments in your life, which you will always remember.  There are very few moments in my life when I can remember the exact words that somebody spoke to me, but this was one of those instances.

Sitting by my wife’s side, we were informed that “your baby has something called Bilateral Renal Agenesis, or Potter’s Syndrome.  This is what is termed, a lethal diagnosis.”

The doctor spent some time with us before leaving us on our own.  I can’t really even describe the feeling of hearing those words.  Shock, grief, sadness, disbelief?  None of them do justice to what we felt in those moments.

A short time later, the first doctor returned with the head specialist, who went over things with us in more detail.  Essentially, what this all meant was, that our baby was not developing kidneys or a bladder.  As such, they were incapable of producing enough amniotic fluid.  We were told that the cause of this condition is unknown, that we could have done nothing to prevent it, and that it is a 1 in 5000 type of occurrence.

The doctor explained that there was nothing that could be done for our baby.  Nothing.

This helplessness was especially hard to deal with.  As a parent, a huge part of your job is protecting your child.  I was powerless.

We were offered the opportunity to meet with a counselor which we did after taking a short walk and trying to wrap our heads around things. This of course, was impossible.

We met with the counselor which was part of a whirlwind of a day.  She would become very helpful in the lead up to the birth of our child, and in helping my wife after the birth.

She went over our options, as the doctor had.  I had decided in my head what I wanted to do, but in my mind, the final call would be up to my wife.  After all, she was the one who would have to go through things physically regardless of the course of action we took.

In the end, we both came to the same conclusion about what we wanted to do.  Neither of us could bear the thought of terminating the pregnancy.  We still wanted to have the opportunity to hold our child.

We would have the baby.

Our families were aware of the situation prior to us meeting with the specialist.  We ended up being at the hospital for quite some time that day. When we got home, we had the terrible task of informing our families that we were going to lose our baby.

Not that it mattered at the time, but the marathon was scheduled for the Sunday after we received this devastating news.

At this point, my wife and I tried to come to terms with things, which of course was pretty difficult.  There were many tears shed, and many moments of comforting one another.

We were of course both off of work at the time.  I recall one morning coming across a video online of The Foo Fighters performing their song Miracle on The Late Show with David Letterman.  When I clicked on the link, it began with Dave (Letterman, not Grohl) giving a heartfelt speech about the meaning of the song, and how it related to his relationship with his son, Harry.  I continued to watch the video, and the lyrics of the song really hit home with me given our situation.  This song remains close to my heart to this day.

As far as the marathon went, my wife and I decided that we would travel to Toronto, as the hotel was already booked, and we figured a night away may not be a bad thing.  I had decided that running the marathon itself would be a “game-time decision,” as I was not sure if I would be up for it mentally.

Prior to heading out for the weekend, my wife made a really poignant observation.  Again, one of those moments in time where you can remember exactly what was said.  She said to me, “everybody is talking about the baby like they’re already gone, and they’re not.”  As part of that conversation, she had the idea, that we should do things together as a family while our baby was still physically with us.

With this in mind, we went to some local parks and ponds, and took some really nice pictures.  We bought some books, and every night we read some to our baby.  Some of these were really tough to get through, but we managed.

I’m really thankful that my wife thought of this as something to do.  I hope that you never find yourself in our situation, but if you do, I recommend taking the time to build some memories, as difficult as it may be.

So, we headed off to Toronto, did the marathon packet pick up, and settled into the hotel.  We explored the view from the rooftop of the hotel, and just stayed in for a relaxing, quiet dinner, and night at the hotel.

Heading off to bed that night, we had decided that I would probably still run the marathon the following day and planned accordingly.

It’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I woke up early and got myself organized for the run while my wife slept. Before taking the short walk from the hotel to the start area, I did a couple of pieces of writing.  On my left hand, I wrote my wife’s name, and the initials of our yet to be born child.  Since we did not know the gender of our baby, we had chosen names for both.  So, I had two sets of initials on my hand (J.C.M. and I.G.M.).  In addition to the names, I had written “42.2 4 u” (42.2 km is the distance of a marathon).  After writing a brief note for my wife to read when she woke up, I gave her a kiss, and said goodbye, before making the short walk to the start area.

The race got started, and physically I felt good.  I must have drank too much water before the run, as I had to stop and pee about 12 km in (this took 17 seconds; yes, I guess runners time everything).

As I was running, our situation with our child was of course on my mind. I can vividly recall running down Lakeshore Blvd. and thinking about things that we could do together as a family before the upcoming birth in order to create some more memories.  As I was contemplating these plans, a song by the Counting Crows came on my iPod, Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby, which, given our baby had been diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome, struck a chord with me so to speak.  I remember thinking that it was kind of neat, that as I began to think of my child, this song came on.  Along with the aforementioned Foo Fighters song, and one other song that I will get to later, this song always reminds me of our firstborn child.

As far as the running itself goes, I was feeling good.  I recall having some knee pain at one point, which was unusual for me, but it passed.  As I got up into the mid 30s kilometre wise, I realized that I had a really good chance of making it under 4 hours, and I was actually able to pick up my pace towards the end of the race.

As I did this, I realized that I had managed to run some extra distance on the course, so, the cushion I thought I had to get under 4 hours was not as big as I first thought.  I pushed on, and passed a number of people towards the end.  I ended up finishing with a sprint as I knew I would be really close to that 4 hour mark.  The elites at the race started before the rest of the runners, so the timer at the finish line which was now in sight, was not an accurate representation of my time.

As I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch and it read 4:00:01.  I figured that I may have gotten under 4 hours, as of course, pushing stop on my watch could have taken a second or two after crossing the line.  I would have to wait until the official results to know for sure.  My watch also showed that I had covered 42.82 km, more than required, which is easy to do in big runs with thousands of runners.

I collected my medal (as an aside, I was not a fan of the medal as it had a store on it, Honest Ed’s, not something I would really want to display). More important than my finishing time, or a medal, was being reunited with my family.  I met up with my wife at our prearranged meeting spot. She had come to the finish area and saw me finish.  I was pretty focused on the finish line, so unfortunately, I did not see her.

We took a few pictures, walked back to the hotel to get our car, and headed back to London.  Along the way, my wife checked the official results: 3:59:59.

Once we arrived back in London, we decided to go for a walk in Springbank Park.  I took some pictures of my wife and her beautiful baby bump with the picturesque fall leaves in the background.  We also took a picture together of the two of us, a picture that is still displayed in our home, and holds a lot of meaning for me.  The spot where we took the picture is always a special place when I go running by as I’m reminded of that time together with my wife and child.  It has also become the spot where we go to remember our child on their birthday each year.

We continued to deal with the nerves, heartbreak, expectations, and all of the other emotions associated with the situation we found ourselves in.  A short three days later, about a week after the diagnosis, we were in the hospital awaiting the arrival of our child. 

The whole process went from Wednesday, overnight into Thursday.  We had originally planned on going through this on our own, together as a couple.  But, we had then decided that we would like for our parents to be able to join us after the birth, and have the opportunity to meet their grandchild.

As part of our preparations for the birth, we had been told that the butterfly is the symbol of prenatal loss.  As such, on the room number sign for our room, a small butterfly was posted.  This lets the hospital staff know the situation, so that you are not constantly having to explain the scenario around the birth.

The nursing staff that we were fortunate enough to have, were absolutely first class, and made our stay under very difficult conditions, as pleasant as it could be.

We were still able to hear our baby’s heartbeat as my wife was monitored throughout the process.  We had planned on having the monitor’s audio going throughout the whole delivery, but my wife decided closer to the time, that she would like the sound turned off during active labour.  The expectation was that our baby would pass during labour, and this would have made continuing with the process really difficult if we could hear the heartbeat stop.

Some babies born with Potter’s do live for a very short time right after birth, but in most cases, they do not survive at all.  This is because, due to the lack of amniotic fluid, their lungs do not develop well enough for them to be able to breathe.

On the afternoon of October 23, 2014, our baby was born.  As expected, our baby was stillborn.  His gender was finally revealed, and we officially welcomed Jacob Carter McKay into our hands, our family, and of course, completely into our hearts.

This was of course extremely bittersweet.  It’s hard to describe the conflicting emotions that you go through during this time.  I was of course incredibly saddened that our baby had passed.  At the same time, I was incredibly proud of my wife, and incredibly proud of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob.

Jacob weighed exactly 1 pound, but the weight and impact that he has had on my life, is immeasurable.

My wife and myself spent some time alone with Jacob.  We were told that we could spend as much time at the hospital as we wanted to.

After some alone time as a family, I went out to the waiting room and collected our parents.  I explained to them that Jacob had some bruising on his face from the birthing process.  When babies are born premature, their skin is really sensitive, so this bruising is common.

Our parents came in and spent some time with us and Jacob.  We ended up being happy with our decision to allow our families to be a part of this day.

We took a number of pictures to help us hold onto the memories.  Pictures with us, as a family.  

In addition, we read a story by Nancy Tillman called The Night That You Were Born which we saved for this day.  We also had plaster casts made of Jacob’s feet.  And together, listened to Miracle with Jacob in my hands. Hands on a miracle.

Again, I can’t say enough about the care and compassion we received from the staff at the London Health Sciences Centre.

In reality, we probably could have stayed there forever.  How do you let your child go?  We ended up staying at the hospital with Jacob for about seven hours.

When it was time to say goodbye, we were given a couple of options.  One was that a nurse could take Jacob away.  The second option was for us to take him away to what is called the “quiet room” on our own, where he would then be cared for appropriately.  Accompanied by a nurse, we took Jacob to the quiet room and said goodbye.

I went and got the car while the nurse took my wife downstairs.  With us,  we took a memory box which had a number of items from the day, the measuring tape Jacob was measured with, some of the clothes he wore, and so on.

We made the drive home, still in a state of disbelief that this had happened to us.  Not only did it happen, but it had all transpired within a week or so.

As we arrived home and exited the car, it was after 11 pm.  I have a vivid memory of the sky that night.  It was really clear, and full of stars.  Those stars to me, were a sign of a connection between my son and I.

A day or two later, I heard Coldplay’s A Sky Full of Stars which would complete the hat trick of songs that remind me of Jacob. Every time I hear one of them, I am reminded of our beautiful baby boy.  In a sky full of stars, I think I see you.

We went to bed on the night that Jacob was born, and surprisingly, did manage to sleep.  Over the next days and weeks there was a lot of grief obviously, and trying to come to terms with the events which had just transpired.

I can remember waking up one morning, and there were tears in my eyes as if I had been crying in my sleep.  Until that point, I would have never thought this to be possible.

In the time after Jacob’s birth, we would continue to read a lot of other people’s stories.  As my wife remarked at the time, “it is amazing that any healthy babies are born, considering how much can go wrong.”

So, how do you get over the loss of a child?  The answer is, you don’t. In the weeks and months that followed, my wife and I had the support of our families and friends, and most importantly, one another.

We would spend time both together, and on our own, with Jacob’s memory box.  Going through some of the items that were a part of the day.  I liked to smell his clothes, as they smelled like him.

To this day, it is still a little hard to believe that we went through this experience.

I have a number of rituals and ways that I stay connected to my son. When I look up at the sky and see even just one star, I feel connected to Jacob. When I hear the songs I’ve mentioned, I feel connected to Jacob.  When a butterfly flutters by, I feel connected to Jacob.

But perhaps most of all, when I run, I feel connected to Jacob.

He was with me for my first marathon, and he’s been with me for all of them since.

So yes, I run because I enjoy it.  I run because it helps me stay fit, healthy, and happy.  But, I also run, because when I run, I run with Jacob.

I plan on returning to the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2018.

This September, I will be running the That Dam Hill Ultramarathon in London, Ontario to raise money for the Children’s Health Foundation, in honour of my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and all of the children and families who use the services provided by the Foundation.

The Children’s Health Foundation supports the Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Health Research Institute, and the Thames Valley Children’s Centre.

I am attempting to “run” for 24 hours in order to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation.  This event is the Canadian 24 Hour Championship.  I am asking that each person who reads this post donates $5 (of course, larger or smaller donations are also appreciated) and shares my goal with 5 other people.  In addition to personal contributions, I am hoping for corporate donations.

The ultramarathon will take place in Springbank Park, and as it is a loop, will pass by the spot that reminds me of my son Jacob, a number of times.

If you would like to donate, you can follow this link to my personal fundraising page administered by the Children’s Health Foundation.  All funds are donated directly to them.

Thanks for taking the time to read my story, I hope you can make a donation, and will share my story (you can do so by using the buttons below).

If you are looking to make a corporate donation, or can put me in touch with somebody from your organization, it is greatly appreciated.  You may email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com to make those arrangements.

Thanks everyone, and don’t forget to donate.

 

For Hadley

With apologies to my wife, this is a love letter to the love of my life: my daughter (it’s ok, my wife knows this).

After the birth of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob, my wife Haylie and I knew that we wanted to continue building our family.

Of course, after having lost our son, there was some trepidation, and definitely a lot of worry about what might happen with a second pregnancy.

After spending some time reflecting, and waiting until it was medically prudent, we decided to begin trying to have another child.

My wife took a few inconclusive pregnancy tests.  Inconclusive, in that the indicators on the strips were not really that clear.  In the end though, it turns out that my wife was in fact pregnant, and we began the journey towards welcoming another child into our hearts and lives.

Having lost a child previously, my wife’s pregnancy was considered “high-risk,” and as such, we were able to remain under the care of the neonatal specialists at LHSC Victoria Hospital.

As part of our care, we were able to have an extra ultrasound a little earlier than normal, to rule out the difficulties from the first pregnancy: Potter’s Syndrome.  When the time came, we were exceptionally happy to see that things were progressing well.

A short time later, we were able to determine the gender of our baby at another ultrasound.  It is cliche to say that the gender didn’t matter, only that we had a healthy baby.  Given the fact that we had lost a baby previously, this of course rang more true for us than it may have done otherwise.

This ultrasound was not without its moments of worry.  We were told that our baby had an “echogenic focus” and another marker of some sort, the name of which escapes me.  Either way, neither of them sounded good, especially when we were told that these were markers on the heart and brain respectively.  After all, those are considered rather important.  However, since our baby was measuring normally on the developmental charts, we were assured that these findings were nothing to be concerned about.

Since I had complete faith in the excellent medical care that we were receiving, these developments were not a cause of concern for me.

Unlike our first pregnancy, our baby cooperated, which allowed the doctors to determine the gender.  We were very excited to learn that we would be having a little girl join our family.

Things continued to progress well with my wife’s pregnancy.  As we had done with our first child, we took some lovely pictures of my wife with her growing belly in some picturesque settings around our city.

Our second child was expected to be born around the birthday of our first.  While a part of me thought that it would be very cool if our little girl joined our family on her brother’s birthday, I was also liking the idea of her having her own day.

A few weeks prior to the due date, I ran my third marathon, The County Marathon.  I figured I could sneak it in prior to the birth.  Prior to setting out for the run, I wrote upon my hand the name of my son, Jacob, and BM2 for “Baby McKay 2,” since we had yet to decide upon a name.  Given the strong personal connection that I had developed between marathons and our son, I was a little emotional prior to the race.

In the early hours of October 16th, 2015, my wife woke me to tell me that she thought her water had broken.  I thought we could go back to bed for a bit, but she wisely disagreed with me.  We called the hospital, and they informed us that my wife should take a shower and then we should head in.

As we left in the early hours of the morning, it was of course still dark.  We exited our home, and I paused to look up to the sky to see that it was an exceptionally clear night.  I could see a multitude of stars in the sky, and as such, I knew that our son Jacob was with us on this journey.

We went to the hospital, and a nurse checked my wife over.  She advised us to take a walk and come back in a little bit.  We took a short walk, and my wife called her parents to inform them that things might be progressing on this day (they had a 3 hour drive to make).  I also informed my parents of the situation, as they were planning on making the 1.5 hour drive as well.

After our short walk, and our family communications, we headed back to the nurse.  She once again examined my wife and told us the great news that “I think you’re going to have a baby today.”  We were admitted, and of course, were tremendously excited by this declaration!

The birthing centre at the hospital is awesome, as is the care that we have received on both of our visits.  A private room is available, which includes a private washroom, and a nice view over the city.  In addition, we had a nurse by our side for the entire process.  It is an extremely comfortable environment in which to welcome a child into the world.  The care is nothing less than first rate.

Once things really began progressing, I was asked by our nurse to hold onto one of my wife’s legs, as she coached my wife through the process.  I was somewhat surprised by my active role in the birth, but happily so.  It was not until our daughter was very close to her debut, that the doctor was called in to finish things up.

At one point, our fantastic nurse mentioned that our baby girl had quite a head of hair.  I asked her if I could take a look, and gazed upon my daughter for the first time.  Although at this point I could only see the top of her tiny head, it was an incredible moment which will stay with me for the rest of my days.

Before very long, our daughter made her long anticipated arrival, and to put it mildly, my wife and I were overjoyed to have her.  Hadley Isobel Jane McKay brought us unspeakable joy on the day that she was born.  She continues to do so on a daily basis.

Prior to the birth, I had not planned on cutting the umbilical cord.  I figured medical procedures were best left to, you know, people with medical degrees.  However, once it actually came time to do so, I had changed my mind, and took part in this fatherly experience.

At some point after Hadley’s birth, I paused for a moment at the door of the quiet room where we had said goodbye to our son 51 weeks prior (we were only a room or two away from where we had had Jacob).  When we lost our son, people told us that we would be back in the hospital before we knew it, welcoming another child into our family.  I guess they were right.  We had come full circle.

We moved to another part of the hospital for the recovery, fortunate again to have a private room.

The night following Hadley’s birth, we were able to take her home.  We brought her inside, much to the interest of her curious feline sister, Winnie.

Both sets of grandparents spent the night at home with us as well.  In the days that would follow, my Mother-in-Law stayed with us, and helped us get acclimated to having a child to care for.

On the Tuesday after her birth, we took Hadley to her first check-up with our family doctor.  She looked Hadley over, and she was happy with how she looked, was behaving and so on.  Hadley had developed some jaundice, so our doctor told us to come back in a couple of days to have that looked at.

We continued to get used to caring for a child, and of course, our love for her just increased with each passing moment.

As per our doctor’s wishes, we returned for a follow-up a couple of days after our first appointment.  Our doctor observed that the jaundice had progressed to Hadley’s feet, which had not been the case on our prior visit.  She advised us that we should go to the emergency room to have her checked out.  Our doctor suggested that this was not abnormal, and that they might put Hadley under the lights for a bit, in order to alleviate the jaundice.

At this point, there was no sense of urgency, rather, just the suggestion that we take Hadley to be examined further.  We actually discussed going home first to grab the stroller, since we anticipated we might be waiting in the ER for awhile.  Thankfully, we decided to proceed directly to the hospital.

We arrived at the ER and waited for a relatively short period of time, before being admitted.  We were brought into the ER, and Hadley was examined, and had some blood taken.  At this time, everything was still calm, and we were unconcerned.  This would soon change, and our lives would once again be turned entirely upside down.

Suddenly, our room was a whirling storm of activity, with all sorts of medical personnel rushing in to attend to our daughter.  She was whisked away to be put under the lights immediately, with us left to wonder what the hell was happening.

We were informed that her bilirubin levels were exceptionally high, and that our daughter was in substantial danger at this point.  After our experiences which would follow, I soon hoped to never hear the word bilirubin again.

Of course, as it would be for any parents, this was extremely frightening, but given the fact that we had lost a child 363 days prior, it was perhaps even more so for us.

Shortly thereafter, our daughter was brought up to the Paediatric Critical Care Unit where we would end up staying for days.

We spoke to the doctor who gave us the treatment options.  He advised us that he would like Hadley to undergo a blood transfusion, and we agreed with this being the best course of action.

In my mind, I had imagined this process would happen mechanically, but in fact, it was two doctors who manually transferred blood into and out of our daughter’s tiny body.  In the end, Hadley received a double-volume blood transfusion at the tender age of six-days-old.

At some point in this whirlwind ride of a day, we were told by a doctor in passing, that “she’s OK, and she’s going to be OK,” which made us feel much better.  Our little girl spent the night under the lights.  The only contact we were really able to have with her was through the openings in the incubator to hold her tiny hands.

The following day, Hadley was sent to get an MRI, as high-levels of bilirubin can negatively impact upon the brain.  The scan revealed that there was in fact cause for concern for our daughter’s health.  Agonizingly, we would have to wait until the following day to meet with the neurologist, in order to receive the results.

The concern was that Hadley could have something known as kernicterus, which leads to cerebral palsy.  This was of course devastating news for us, and led to a very restless night waiting for our meeting.  We were given a room to sleep in not very far from where Hadley was staying.  We knew that she was in very good hands with our exceptional nurse, and the rest of the medical staff, but we still checked in on her throughout the night.

Before drifting off to sleep for the night, we had some very difficult conversations about what our life might be like should Hadley need some special care.

This all transpired on Jacob’s first birthday.  As our beautiful newborn baby fought for her health, and we agonized over her condition, we also had to deal with the emotions of having lost our boy exactly one year prior.

The following day, we met with the neurologist after what seemed like an eternity.  He told us that he did not think that the scan was conclusive in showing the worst case scenario.  He said he would like to do another scan.  Basically, there were two outcomes from where Hadley stood at the time: 1) she had kernicterus, and would develop cerebral palsy, or 2) she would be 100% healthy.  There was no middle ground.

Throughout our stay in the P.C.C.U, Hadley’s bilirubin levels were continually monitored, and in general, they continued to go down in the direction towards a normal level, which was encouraging.

On our second night in the P.C.C.U., we did not have another room to sleep in, as priority for those rooms is given to families from out of town, which makes sense.  That was OK anyway, as we were quite happy to spend the night in the room with our little girl.

The P.C.C.U services a number of communities in Ontario, not just London and surrounding areas.  On one night, a patient arrived via air ambulance.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely busy facility.  Fortunately, we were lucky to have such amazing medical care for our daughter.

I believe it was on our third night, that we were moved out of critical care, and sent to the regular paediatric wing of the hospital.  Our daughter continued to have her levels monitored on a regular basis.  In addition, she was regularly tested with different neurological tests, reflex type activities, and so on.  Thankfully, she was passing those with flying colours.

By the end of our stay, I could’ve administered those tests on my own, no medical degree necessary.

During our stay, we were in a semi-private room with another family.  They had been in the hospital for six months, ever since the birth of their son.  Once again, our own situation allowed us to really appreciate what families are going through on a daily basis throughout Ontario and around the world.  It’s pretty tough for a lot of people.

Our stay in the Children’s Hospital was first-rate, with tremendous nursing and care for our daughter.

In addition to the world-class treatment for our daughter, there was a Ronald McDonald sponsored area on the floor where snacks were available, as well as sleeping quarters for parents of patients.  Not a place where you ever want to end up with your child, but if you do have to be in a hospital under such circumstances, there is no better place.

I told my wife to take the Ronald McDonald accommodations in the hopes that she could get some rest.  I would of course have to text her from down the hall in order to come feed our little girl as necessary.  As a father who was new to changing the diapers of a screaming child at 3 am, I was thankful to have the tremendous nursing staff on hand, who took pity, and stepped in to help.  As an exhausted and stressed parent, this was invaluable.  Thanks again to those wonderful ladies.

In addition to the great medical care, there was, for lack of a better term, entertainment available.  On one or two days of our stay, a music therapist came to visit our roommate and sang some incredible songs which we were also able to enjoy.

Over the course of our stay, I had returned home occasionally to check in on our cat and pick up some clean clothes.  My wife also came home once or twice, as we needed to shower and so on.  Other than that, we were in the hospital the entire time, for a week or so.  While this was happening, I was unfortunately also required to plan lessons and whatnot for school.  Fortunately, my supply teacher at the time took on much of this burden, which she was not required to do, but I was exceptionally thankful for.

Over the course of our stay at the hospital, I continued to be amazed by the care we received.  Once patients are moved from the P.C.C.U they are assigned a P.C.C.U nurse who follows their recovery.  I can recall that during the visit from our nurse, we ended up chatting about our prior experience with Jacob.  She became emotional upon hearing our story, and said that unfortunately, in her experience, a lot of couples are broken up by such events.  She was happy that that had not been the case for us.

There is a chapel at the hospital, and my wife and I stopped in on one occasion on our way to the cafeteria.  For me, it was just an escape from the craziness of the prior week of our life.  I enjoyed the peace and calm that it afforded.

I did not ask God to help my daughter in this situation.  I did however, ask her big brother Jacob, to take care of his little sister.

Eventually, Hadley’s bilirubin level returned to normal, and with the doctors being happy with how she was progressing, we were cleared to go home again with our little girl.  The doctors were fairly confident that she was going to be OK.  But, they did want a follow-up scan in a few months to be certain.  In addition, we would have to wait to see if Hadley was meeting the various development milestones that are expected of newborn children.

Thankfully, Hadley continued to develop normally, and eventually, the time for the scan came.  After waiting for the results, we could finally be fully confident that our daughter was OK.  I already knew in my heart, from my own observations of my daughter, that this was the case, but it was of course great to hear the medical confirmation.

A short time after Hadley’s release from the hospital, we took her to our special spot in order to honour Jacob’s birthday, since we had been unable to commemorate it as intended while in the hospital.  During this occasion, I made sure to thank him for taking care of his baby sister.

Now, when I run marathons, I run with three names on my hand, my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and my wife Haylie.

Recently, I completed my fourth marathon, the Road2Hope marathon in Hamilton.  Afterwards, my family and I went for a walk to a local park.  My wife snapped this picture of Hadley and I, which is one of my favourites.

I’m beyond thrilled to report that Hadley is now 16 months old, and is a perfectly happy and healthy little girl.  She brings so much joy, pride, laughter, and love into the lives of my wife and I on a daily basis.  She is an absolutely amazing little girl.

I am extremely thankful for the tremendous care that my daughter received.  I am indebted for life to our family doctor, and to the heroic actions of the doctors and nursing staff at the hospital.

In honour of my two children, the patients and families that receive first class treatment and care in our outstanding medical facilities, and the great staff that provides that care, I am running the Canadian 24 Hour Championships, a 24 hour ultramarathon, in September.

I am attempting to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation, which not only oversees the services that Hadley received at the Children’s Hospital, but also supports research initiatives for children through the Children’s Health Research Institute, and provides support through the Thames Valley Children’s Centre to children and young adults with a variety of special needs.

I am asking you to support the Children’s Health Foundation by donating $5 (donations of any denomination are truly appreciated) and sharing my fundraising page with 5 people.  These small gestures can make a huge difference in the lives of children.

All funds go directly to the Children’s Health Foundation.

I am also seeking corporate donations.  If you know of any available partnerships, please email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com.

Thanks again for reading my story and contributing to a worthy cause.

Please follow the link to my personal fundraising page.

Let’s work together to make a difference in the lives of children.

The Lament of the Injured Runner?

Well, that doesn’t feel good.  I’ll just push through and hope it corrects itself.  How many of us have made similar utterances?  I know I have.

I’m 39 years old.  On my 34th birthday I ran my first half-marathon in Stockholm.  Since that point, I’ve added seven more of those, a couple of 30 k races, four 10 ks, three 15 ks, four marathons, and a triathlon for good measure.  Up until 3 weeks ago, I was “healthy.”

Oh sure, there were aches and pains.  I missed a week or so once with a calf that didn’t feel right.  Blisters, some discomfort in my hips, and so on.  But, up until now, nothing that has put me on the sidelines for an extended period.

A few weeks back, I was about a kilometre and a half into a planned 12 k run when I felt a sharp pain below my kneecap.  “Hmm, that doesn’t feel right” I thought.  My first instinct was to perhaps call it a day, but that is not the runner’s way.  I have often had an ache or pain along the way during my runs, and usually, it subsides shortly thereafter.  However, this felt different.  Having said that, I carried on, the pain did not, and I finished my run that day without any problems or concerns.

The next day I went about my business as usual, but, the following two days, I found there was pain when going up and down stairs.

I decided this called for some ice and rest.  I did so, and it felt better.  A week after the initial pain, I set out for what I refer to as a “j.a.r,” or “just a run.”  This is a rare occurrence which is free of time or distance goals.  I don’t run these frequently, but thought it was wise to take it slow.

My original plan called for an 18 km run, but my revised plan, given my new reality, was for between 3 metres and 18 km, depending on how the knee responded.  If it hurt right away, I would stop, in the hopes of not causing any further damage.  In the event that it felt good, I would enjoy the day, and go for the desired distance.

I started my run, and shortly thereafter, a dull pain kicked in slightly before my knee quickly flipped me the bird and said “hey dummy, something’s not right here.”  A short two minutes after my run began, I was walking back towards my home.

I was not a happy man.

This was extremely disheartening, and to be quite honest, I was rather bummed out.

In the days afterward, there was no pain, even on the stairs.  I could be up and down on my knees, and playing with my amazing 1 year-old daughter Hadley, without any discomfort.  The disappointment could not hold on in the face of the happiness that is playing with my daughter.

I planned to visit the doctor that week after giving it a few more days rest, and one more attempt at a short run.

I headed out four or five days later and things started off better.  No pain was present at first, however, four minutes or so into my run, the pain began.  By the 5th minute, I was reduced to a reluctant hobble.

I headed to the doctor the next day and was referred to a physiotherapist.

It was frustrating to be missing out on many mild days and ice-free running conditions which are often not present in south-western Ontario during February.  However, my mood remained good.  Although I am registered for some smaller races, my goal race will not happen until September or October (still deciding on which one), so I was pretty confident that those would not be in jeopardy.

My fingers are crossed that I’ll be back in business by March, which would allow me to prepare sufficiently for a registered half at the end of April.

Well, the physio appointment occurred and went very well.  I was asked about my stretching routine, which went something like this:

Physio:  “So, do you stretch?”

Me: “I’m not really what you’d call a stretcher (This is an understatement.  I do not stretch before, during, or after runs….ever).”

Physio:  “You are now.”

She was also quite impressed that I had lasted this long without sustaining an injury.

As a (slightly) sub-four hour marathoner, I always liked to think that the first km or two were a good warm-up, and that stretching was not really necessary.  Besides, who has time for that stuff?  Let’s get out the door, get the run in, and get back to being a father and a husband (and maybe plan some lessons for that whole teaching thing).

Anyway, turns out I have some issues with the IT band and my patellar tendon in the right leg.  Encouragingly, it does not seem to be anything that will keep me out of action for too long.

I’ll be honest, it was tough on that first trial day.  It’s been tough watching the nice days roll by as I can’t get out for my runs every week.  And, I noticed in the first week or so that the stress of work and life definitely was building up without the release that is running.  This was a bit hard to reconcile, as I pride myself upon not feeling stress in general.

However, I’m still able to be pain free otherwise.  I can still run around and chase my daughter through our halls and up and down stairs.  In the end, if I could never run a race again, I could do far worse than being able to chase the love of my life around as she smiles and giggles away.

There may not be much better than being a runner, but being a father is certainly one of those things.

I’m pretty confident, that before long, I’ll be able to do both again.

In the meantime, I’ll do my rehabilitation exercises, hope the knee comes around, and enjoy the extra hours per week that I get to spend with my daughter.

Are you a runner who’s been injured?  How’d you cope?  Leave a comment below as I’d love to hear your thoughts on injuries.

Thanks runners!

 

2016 Year-End Awards

A special thanks to all who have taken the time to stop in and read a post or two, or more here at perpetualkinetics.com this year.

I thought I’d end the year by handing out some awards.  Well, I actually won’t be handing anything out, because that costs money, and I don’t have any extra laying around to make exquisite golden trophies.  So, in place of that, I will hand out the First Annual? Winnies in honour of my cat.  It’s as good a name as any right?

Without further delay, I present to you, the First Annual Winnies, brought to you by perpetualkinetics.com.

ragdoll

Event of the Year Winnie:

This category is only open to events I actually participated in.  There are two contenders here, my first triathlon, Guelph Lake 1 and the Road2Hope Hamilton Marathon.  Both were very well organized and great events.

I was proud to complete my first triathlon, but I’m going to have to give the award to the Hamilton Marathon as I was able to attain a long awaited personal best.

Registration: Guelph Lake 1, Road2Hope

Runner of the Year Winnie:

No shortage of contenders here in an Olympic year.

In the end, it is hard to argue with Usain Bolt performing once again on the largest stage there is.

Triathlete of the Year Winnie:

Many worthy contenders in this category.  You have to of course begin any conversations with the winners in Kona: Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf.

Other notables are the gold medalists from Rio, Gwen Jorgensen and Alistair Brownlee.  And of course, the record setting performance of Lionel Sanders cannot be ignored either.

This was the toughest selection, but after consulting others (my wife) and thinking about it on my run today, I’ve settled on Lionel Sanders.  Hard to argue with a world record performance, and hey, as any smart husband knows, you should always listen to your wife.

Sports TV Show of the Year Winnie:

This is easy, and will probably win the award every year.  There is not a more well produced or inspiring show than the Ironman World Championships documentary which airs on NBC every year (even if my local NBC affiliate always airs an infomercial in its place and I have to find it on my own online).

Shoe of the Year Winnie:

The New Balance Vazee Pace is my shoe of the year.  I have never had a shoe feel more comfortable the first time it was on my feet.  I logged a lot of kms in these light-weight beauties this year, and had them on my feet when I notched a marathon personal best this year.

Blogger of the Year Winnie:

Check out FueledbyLolz.  My choice for the blogger of the year.

That Was Cool Moment of the Year Winnie:

Mirinda Carfrae tweeted that one of my runs was a “solid run.” Enough said.