Life: a how-not-to-do-it guide

posted 03 March 2005

So, it's been a long and complicated week so far. Let me fill you in.

I've been working on a big project at work. It's not the biggest one we're working on, but it's worth a lot of money, and I was put into a position of some responsibility over it. It was stressing me out, especially since it was nearly 2 weeks late. We tried to launch it Monday and decided against. In an attempt to get it out the door by Tuesday, my godlike sysadmin and I stayed at work until nearly 10pm. On Tuesday, we actually attempted to launch it and had to back out again after it went disastrously wrong. Again, I stayed until 9.30pm with my sysadmin and our QA guy in an attempt to get it out the door.

Two successive 13-hour days of high stress had already knackered me, so by Wednesday morning I had the flu that's been going around and felt like shit. But I couldn't delay the launch another day, so I went to work. We launched successfully, a process that takes 5 or 6 hours to complete when you include all the immediate post-launch testing. When you include the post-launch meeting, it takes the whole day, by which point I was feeling like shit on a stick. Hence no blog yesterday.

Having worked myself into illness, stupid in itself, I took the day off today. But everything up to this point has just been the prelude to my real stupidity.

Having recently moved to Finsbury Park, I also had to switch gyms -- to another branch of the same gym, actually. Since I'd never really had a proper introductory session at the last gym (I joined and then failed to go for a month, then went on vacation, then moved house) I decided to splash out on a little personal training: they do a reduced-rate "triple pack" deal for £20. But when I turned up to do that two weeks ago it emerged that it wasn't the real deal: you didn't get a "program" (a set of exercises tailored to your goals -- which is what I wanted) and the trainer was simply following a script which would blow the majority of your three half-hour sessions on tiresome cardio work. So I cancelled that -- which was tricky -- and got the real deal instead. But then I had to cancel one session, and then forgot another session while I was working late on Tuesday. So by now I was feeling guilty that I was messing my trainer about.

So this evening, having spent the day off work sick, I decided that despite this I couldn't cancel again, and it would be fine if I went to the gym and just took it easy. This was mistake number 1. I also decided that in order to prevent myself sneezing and coughing all over everyone -- wait for it, yes, it really is as dumb as you think -- I would take a cold tablet immediately before leaving the house to go to the gym. (You remember all that stuff on the side of cold medicine packaging that says not to operate heavy machinery while taking it?) Total headslap, at least in retrospect. But clearly, I was ill and not thinking straight.

The thing about taking it easy at the gym is that you take it easy. But personal training is the opposite of taking it easy. Her job is to make sure you exercise fully and really push yourself. I felt fine initially, so I pushed on regardless. I found I was yawning a lot, and -- despite it being me who had swallowed that cold pill 30 minutes earlier -- could not think why that might be. Then, towards the end of the session, I began to feel a little light headed. No problem, I thought, I'm just tired, I'll be done soon. Then I felt really light headed, so I sat down. My trainer grew concerned and fetched something sugary for me to bring my blood sugar back up. Unfortunately, I was now in full swing: I began sweating profusely and felt chilled, sounds receded into the background and were replaced by the sound of blood pounding in my ears, and my vision receded into a dark tunnel. None of these are good things, and my trainer was thoroughly worried now. My trainer called an ambulance. I insisted that she didn't, but since I had by this point slumped from the seated position to lie on the floor, my protests were not very convincing.

Now, I can't really blame her for this. I know from past experience (and third-party reports) that my collapses look really dreadful from outside: I go sheet white, pour sweat, and lie motionless on the floor -- a lot like someone who is, y'know, about to die. 'What?', I hear you ask, 'this has happened before?' Yep, it's happened several times, always when I over-do it at the gym, usually after I've not been for a long time, but sometimes if I've not eaten or -- in this case -- been ill. The cold pill probably didn't help either. And the really, head-slappingly dumb part of this is that I knew it would happen. Sometimes when I work my legs really hard -- as I did today -- I get a strange coolness down both arms. Every time this has happened I've had one of these episodes. I'm not sure why it's related to working my legs -- maybe they just use a lot of blood. But recognizing this has meant that the last few episodes have been very mild, since I stop or go easy. But today -- for reasons already mentioned -- I didn't do that, and carried on.

So back to me on the floor. Five minutes have passed. I now have my trainer, a random gym-member who happens to know first aid, and the gym manager standing over me with expressions of terror, concern, and imminent lawsuit respectively. I am feeling much better, perfectly fine in fact, and the threat of dying from low blood pressure/sugar/whatever has been replaced with the very real danger of dying from embarrassment. Random-first-aider, a lovely girl with an Irish accent and an unpronounceable name, is complaining about how long the ambulance is taking. I can't believe they've called the ambulance, and I really can't believe they think three minutes is a long time for an ambulance to show up: what is it, parked around the corner? In Trinidad, if the ambulance shows up at all you consider yourself privileged.

Now mortified, I sit up, still a bit shaky, and have some more of the sugar drink, and soon feel well enough to walk to the office to recover a bit, lest the sight of a comatose man on the floor of the gym put further members off their exercise regime: remember, everything so far has been happening on the floor in the middle of the exercise room. As we're doing this, the paramedic arrives - four minutes after they called him! I have never been so impressed with the NHS in my life. Yet more embarrassing explanation ensues, and the NHS man insists on doing something so he takes my pulse rate with a little digital thing that clips onto my finger and checks my blood sugar level with a pin-prick and another tiny little digital device: again, all this impresses the fuck out of me -- my knowledge of medicine is stuck in the third world still. Everything is normal. Paramedic-boy -- he's younger than me -- came in a car. He tries to cancel the ambulance, but while he's on the phone to do so they turn up, leading to yet another repetition of the story and another round of heartfelt apologies from me. Honestly, somebody could have been actually dying tonight, and here's three hard-working NHS paramedics called out to look after an idiot who went to the gym while he had the flu and was on medication. I felt so guilty!

So now I'm home, after yet more expressions of concern from random gym-members in the changing rooms and again at the front desk. I feel fine, but mainly I feel like a prize idiot. I have definitely learned my lesson about over-doing it and paying attention to when my body says it's not up to it. So I am definitely not going to work tomorrow: yet another project will be delayed, I know. But I won't be risking my health, which is significantly more important.

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