Over the last week several people that I either know or correspond with have been using an ice bath to aid with their recovery. Ice baths can be an effective way to offset any damage done during a long run by constricting blood vessels and decreasing cellular activity thus resulting in the reduction of tissue breakdown and swelling. Some studies have suggested that there is no difference between having an ice bath or having a bath in tepid water. I bring this up because when it comes voluntarily subjecting parts of my body to frigid water or ice … well, I just can do it. Not voluntary anyway!! It is … just … too … cold!!
The recent raves about ice baths have had me cringing and turning up my nose. Then I remembered something, I have been subjected to something similar to an ice bath before and it was SO not fun.
Eight or so years ago I was living and studying in Paris when a French aid organization offered me a job in Afghanistan. I hadn't been in Kabul for more than a week when I unknowingly consumed some contaminated water. I was on a trip to Charikar, a small town north of Kabul with a colleague. He provided me with bottled water. It looked like bottled water, tasted like bottled water; my colleague even confirmed that it was safe to drink. Well, it turned out that the so called bottled water was contaminated and it wasn't long before the nasty side affects reared their ugly head.
I spent the morning multi-tasking: viewing the attractions of Charikar whilst throwing up – all while managing to keep my headscarf from falling off. Even though I felt like crap we decided to return to Kabul during daylight when it was safe to drive on the road. I spent the entire trip throwing up out the rear window. The Afghan driver must have felt bad for me as he offered me his water and the few squares of toilet paper that he had to clean myself up between bouts of vomit. We made it back to Kabul prior to lunch, which was a lucky thing for me. I was dropped off to my Guest House (residence) where I transitioned from vomiting to simultaneous vomiting and diarrhea. The fluids were leaving my body quicker than I could replace them.
There was a room in my Guest House that resembled a lounge room, however instead of chairs and sofas it was filled with deep purple floor cushions. I had crawled from the bathroom into this room and was sprawled across some cushions when my French colleagues started arriving for lunch. I was still conscious, but barely and called to one of the fellows and told him that if I was still lying there in this state after they finished lunch to take me to a hospital. It was probably lucky I did that as they more than likely would have carried on about their business after lunch not really paying any attention to an Australian chick passed out on the cushions.
Lunch finished and by that stage I was barely conscious. A group of my French colleagues bundled me into a local taxi along with one of the trusted Afghan security guards – armed with a VHF radio , no French and limited English – and headed to a hospital. I don't remember much of this other than being carried into a building lined with hard stainless steel tables and a turban wearing male making his way towards us. Then there was a bit of a ruckus between my colleagues and the Afghan hospital staff. Next thing I realize is that I am again being bundled into a local taxi. I passed out and came to as one of the girls I worked with was arguing with a French ISAF soldier. We had driven to the outskirts of Kabul to the location where the ISAF soldiers were camped. She was trying to get me access to the French military hospital claiming a life or death situation.
Lucky for me it must have been a slow day as for whatever reason they allowed us in. I remember gaining consciousness again finding myself on a field hospital table under a large light surrounded by medical staff in a scene reminiscent of the M.A.S.H TV series. I can't recall how many saline I.V. bags they pumped into me, but it was three or more. Throughout this process I was in and out of consciousness and the next thing I remember was being stripped down to my underwear and placed on a stretcher of ice and wrapped in something similar to a plastic tarpaulin sheet. It was cold and it shocked my system. I remember crying and begging them to get me out. They could have given me some drugs or maybe I passed out again, I can't remember. The next time I woke I was dressed in military pajamas on a hospital stretcher bed.
So that was my ice bath (of sorts). Being subjected to lie on ice and be wrapped in ice. I am glad that I lost consciousness again because the memories I do have of it were not pleasant. It must have done the trick though in reducing my temperature and offsetting any cellular damage. Last weekend after my 9 mile run the plantar fasciitis on my left foot raised its ugly head. I tried to placate it by sticking it in an ice bucket. Do you think I could put my foot in that bucket? Nope! I would plunge it in and pull it immediately out squealing, much to the delight of my two kids. So, my hat is off to all of those runners out there who finish up their training sessions and races with an ice bath. For me – although the benefits would be great - it is … just … too … cold!!