The Worst Day of Existence
How can you handle your worst day ever?
You hear people say it consistently. “Oh my gosh, this is my worst day ever.” No one truly acknowledges those statements with any sense of sentiment. Occasionally, we all play the victim and believe our world is crumbling. We get a flat tire en route to a doctors appointment, later on we hurt our knee at the gym and then that night we get sick from something we ate and that’s when we decide, “the world is out to get me, this was the worst day ever.”
I know the exact date of the worst day of my life. It was July 25, 2018. I had just gotten home from a travel stint to USA track and field nationals, preceded by a two week trip to Uzbekistan that was closed out by a 3 day trip to Chicago to present at a strength symposium. I was proud of myself, I started to make some headway on the coaching ladder. Our throwers had great success at USA’s, bringing home a medal and multiple PR’s. In Uzbekistan, Garage Strength boasted a gold medal snatch performance and a world silver medal placement in the total. During the strength symposium, I started to feel as though I belonged with the big guys.
Meet Caitlin, while I am traveling the world, she is my wife crushing life and raising our two boys (remember, it’s 2018) while 5 months pregnant. Our oldest is six, our youngest is 3, ages where they love to push the envelope and test their limitations. Fortunately for my family, Caitlin does not enable those buttons to be pushed very long. She is a strict yet loving parent. On top of her handling the two lunatics, she would be running the business operations at Garage Strength. I’d be gone for most of the summer and we needed some consistency of leadership within the business. She had a lot of stress on her plate. Raising the kids, showering in a cold shower, paying the business bills (barely) and trying to continue showing support to me as I worked toward my dream of becoming one of the best strength coaches in the world.
July 25, 2018
That morning, we ran out of coffee. I remember driving to the local Catholic school to work with their football team in the early morning. I was fortunate enough to stop for a red eye (coffee and espresso) to get my caffeine fix. Walking across the street, I had a weird feeling about the day. A rapid headache and slight panic feeling, I thought nothing of it other than the fact that I was incredibly stressed from all of my time away from home and now I was right back to working my ass off. I coached two hours at the football practice, drove back to Garage Strength to get some work done for Earth Fed Muscle and then at 10am I went outside to coach our throwers. The throwers trained for about an hour outside and then bounced inside for a lift. Still recovering from the travel, I was beat up and tired. I knew a short lift would do me a favor but I also felt that I should go home and try to catch up on a nap, something I almost NEVER do during the summer time.
Our house in the summer can get quite steamy. We live in the woods in a 1936 Sears and Roebuck “Gryphon” pre-fabricated home. It’s just about 880 square feet in size without any air conditioning. Lincoln, our oldest was at swimming while Sanderson was playing in the living room. I sat down for lunch in my recliner while Caitlin was slaving away on her computer, paying bills and trying to decipher a clearer business plan to enable more effective growth for our company.
I found it a little odd that Caitlin asked me to turn off the lights in the kitchen and living room while she was working. She expressed having a nasty headache, she didn’t sleep overly well the night before and was generally fatigued from the last six weeks of mayhem. While she was working, I was busy being a mouth breather, snoring on the recliner, catching up on some rest. I woke up to Sanderson, our three year old, punching me in the stomach to get up. Caitlin again complained about her headache but then we both attributed the pain to a lack of caffeine and the fact that it was 93 degrees outside and we didn’t have air conditioning. I forgot to get her a coffee and forgot to buy us some beans to grind up for brewing in our french press.
She continued to get work done, I got my act together to head back to Garage Strength around 2pm and we briefly discussed the remainder of the afternoon. My brother Brooks would be hosting a Wim Hof class that evening at the gym, I wanted to stay, but also didn’t want to stay. It had been a long time away from the boys and I wanted to get home that night and spend some time with them on the trampoline.
From 3pm to 6:30pm I coached our throwers group in the afternoon. The Olympic weightlifters come in just after the throwers to get their lifts done. I distinctly remember turning my phone off, wanting to ignore everyone messaging me about random things throughout the day. Around 6pm I turned my phone on and realized Caitlin had been messaging me. She didn’t want to go to the Wim Hof course but instead wanted me to attend. We both felt it was important to show our gym that we value the courses we offer but I also wanted to be at home with the boys. Her messages were pretty nasty. She was fatigued, had a headache, was stressed by our financial situation and by the fact that I had not been home much of the summer. But fortunately, or unfortunately, who knows...I convinced her to go to the Wim Hof course while I went to be with our boys.
I got home about 10 minutes prior to the course starting. She was clearly unhappy with me. It takes about 10-12 minutes to get to the gym, now she would be late for a class she didn’t really want to attend in the first place, but she’s the best ever and ended up driving over to the class.
Meanwhile I had Lincoln and Sanderson playing on the trampoline. We were going nuts. I missed that feeling. Hanging out with the boys, jumping all over the place and wrestling and fighting and giggling, playing with your kids can be as relaxing as meditation. You forget about all the worries in the world and instead get engulfed by their happiness, joy and laughter.
That feeling I had in the morning of panic and anxiety came back. Something was wrong. I told the boys 20 more jumps and I was going to check my phone. 20 jumps turned into forty, I went up to the porch and saw dozens of missed phone calls from my brother, my two employees Jacob Horst and Jason Coon and even from my one athlete Rachel Fatherly. Something was wrong.
What is going on?!?!
I don’t handle panic or anxiety well. Finally, Jason Coon picked up his phone.
Jason: “Dane, something happened to Caitlin.
Me: “What the f*$k is going on?!?! Is she ok? Where is she?!!?!”
Jason: “She’s with your brother right now.”
Me: “Put my fu&$ing brother on the phone right now.”
Brooks (my brother): “Dane, she’s ok right now, she’s talking, she’s ok.”
Me: “What the hell do you mean she’s talking?!?!?! What happened??!?!”
Brooks later explained he initially thought Caitlin had a small seizure. Brooks suffers from epilepsy and thought this may have been something along those lines and wanted to see how she reacted. Jason got back on the phone, meanwhile Jacob Horst pulled up to my driveway.
By this time I had the boys in the house, I had warned them something serious had happened to mom. Jake ran up the steps. It had just started to rain and I will never forget Jake’s face as he broke down into tears. “Dude, something bad happened. I think Caitlin had a stroke. She couldn’t talk, she couldn’t move and was just making noises during some of the stretching.”
Keep in mind, this was all occurring during a span of 5-10 minutes. My first reaction was remembering the acronym associated with strokes: F.A.S.T….this stands for Face, Arms, Speech, Time. I called Jason back and got my brother on the phone.
Me: “Brooks, take her to the hospital immediately. Don’t wait, take her to the hospital right now.”
Brooks: “Ok, we are going to Reading hospital now.”
All I kept thinking about was the fact that my wife, the woman who has supported me with absolutely every dream I have ever had, was dealing with a serious life crisis while also being 21 weeks pregnant. Was Caitlin going to be ok? Was the baby alright? I knew she needed to get under serious medical care immediately. I felt helpless, I had the boys at home and couldn’t do anything.
Jason Coon came to my house to pick me up, my mom came to the house to be with the boys and Rachel Fatherly followed Brooks to the hospital while he took Caitlin. They called ahead what had happened, she was stable but still struggling with movement in her arm and her speech was still slurred. Jason and I arrived about 30 minutes after they had seen doctor’s care. Caitlin was able to tell them she was 21 weeks pregnant, to which they argued with her that she was definitely not 21 weeks pregnant because she was so big.
I got to the hospital and saw Rachel. I couldn’t keep my composure. I felt pathetic, Rachel offered me serious support, someone to hug and tell me she would be ok. I walked into the room and saw Caitlin on the chair, my brother next to her, I lost myself again. If there is something I learned immediately from this, I need to keep my composure a bit better during a high stress situation! Fortunately, during this time Rachel and Jason and my brother were offering incredible support as doctors came in and out of the room implementing various tests upon Caitlin.
After 2-3 hours of monitoring the baby, they were certain the baby was healthy inside the womb. They also felt that Caitlin had what is termed an intracerebral hemorrhage, aka a stroke. They needed to do even more tests of her. MRI’s and then the horrible CAT scan to see what exactly happened. She had 2-3 neurologists come into the room.
The neurologists had informed us that a CAT scan could have a negative impact on the baby BUT that negative impact is typically seen if a baby is exposed to radiation from 18 weeks old or younger. Finally, we decided to take her in for the CAT scan to learn if there was anything else to be expected. One of the hardest parts was seeing Caitlin break for the first time ever. I have known her for 12 years. She is the toughest person I know. She has had two natural births, both at home. She broke her toe once in our basement and never did anything about it (she’s an animal), proclaiming “What’s a doctor going to do for a broken toe? They will just tell me to avoid jumping and running. I will just avoid jumping and running until it stops hurting so I don’t have to pay for the doctor’s visit.”
When they strapped her onto the CAT scan bed, she looked ill. They put her into the tube and within 10 minutes they pulled her out. She broke. She lost her mind. I couldn’t blame her. What the hell was I supposed to say? I would’ve broken hours prior. All I could do was tell her I love her and that this is the best thing for her health and so our unborn baby could be safer. Her response, “I guess if I made Sanderson get wrapped for stitches on his face, I need to do this for him.” She went back in and 55 minutes later she came out. She conquered the fear and handled it well.
They moved us to a room, I slept on the window sill while Caitlin was still being monitored by various neurologists and her OBGYN as well. The next morning they brought us the results of the CAT scans, they sat us down and discussed the results and what the intracerebral hemorrhage did to her brain. They couldn’t understand WHY this happened, particularly because even while being 21 weeks pregnant, she still maintained healthy blood pressure and excellent fitness levels. They had no answers as to what caused it, although it may have had something to do with her pregnancy. The neurologists did mention that the raging headache and visual issues with bright lights were related to the ensuing ICH. The clot had already started to form within her brain at that point and the hemorrhage was imminent.
The Blessing in Disguise
Twenty one weeks pregnant, perfect health, great fitness levels but a fair amount of stress and the results, a stroke at 32 years old. The morning of July 26th, Caitlin was meeting with more neurologists and they had told me it’d be ok if I went for a walk to decompress a bit. We had just gone through a full blown discussion with a woman that had twins after having two boys as her first two children. Then another nurse was talking with us and we mentioned that I had dreamed of having four children but now that Caitlin had a stroke, we knew we did not want to put her body through another pregnancy. It was somewhat sad but at the same time, I was happy to see Caitlin’s speech was almost perfect and she was suffering slightly from a lazy left side. The doctors informed us that would restore itself within a day or two.
I went for a long walk. I picked up a big cup of coffee and then walked back to Caitlin’s room. I walked into the room and she had smirk on her face. We went through some discussions and she said, “I got an ultra sound. They said the baby is fine. They also figured out why they thought I was further along than 21 weeks. We are having twins.”
Sixteen weeks later, we met Seneca and Keenan. Of course that came with its own crazy experience but they are happy and healthy 8 month old twins. Crawling all over the place, beautiful and as cute as can be. Caitlin is still breast feeding them and we are also feeding them very well. They eat whole foods and sleep through the night. Caitlin is an incredible mom and her doctors did an awesome job monitoring her health throughout her pregnancy and labor.
So, the worst day of my life provided a lot of question marks but also a lot of answers. It showed me how to slowly change my work process to spend more time with my family, it showed me that money is great but in reality if I don’t have it, I really don’t care as long as I am spending time doing things that really matter to me. It showed me that Caitlin is an incredible human being, strong willed and able to handle stress better than anyone I know. It brought to light that our Garage Strength community is much more than a gym, it is truly a family of people who care about happiness and care about being healthy with loved ones.
Over the last year, I have set a date when I will stop working 70 hours a week. I have set goals for my business that are less financially driven and more driven by happiness. Caitlin is incredible and although we are not out of the woods, we have done a tremendous job gradually changing our business processes and making our lives slightly less stressful. We spend more time together during the day and spend more time discussing our future and what makes us happy. This day goes down as a celebration of the worst day I have ever experienced but it is the jumping point of changing our family and business for the better.
I love you, Caitlin.