Interview by Meghan Angelica Paul and text by Joash Kong
You know the usual drill — we all make resolutions to get fit, then break it straight away. Of course, the use of hashtags like #fitspo and #gainz have us all enraptured over clean-eat smoothie bowls, lithe bodies in the middle of piloxing, and super-cute workout gear. There’s even bootcamp training, aerobarre (a mix of boxing and ballet), anti-gravity yoga and even burlesque dancing — all a far cry from the old ‘run four laps around the park’. So when Iris* decided to up her fitness regime just that little bit (her routine had consisted of only one HIIT class a week), she had no idea that just one spin class would lead to a series of health complications — that almost cost her life.
“WHAT’S THE HARM?”
“I only decided to go for spin class because my sister had pestered me to go along with her, and of course I thought, ‘Why not?’” Iris said. The harrowing experience that happened during and after that one class was something that she — and nearly nobody — expected. “We went for the class over a weekend last year. Everything was fine, then there were the moments the instructors told us to raise ourselves from the bikes while spinning.
“At one point, I couldn’t really lift up my body — I was that weak! The trainer did mention to keep on cycling if we weren’t able to lift our bodies, so that was what I did for the entire class. After that, we had to do some stretching,” Iris recalls.
It was only after the warming down that things started going downhill. “We were just standing on the spot and stretching, which was fine, then when I tried to stand back up again, my leg muscles had no strength and I just dropped to the floor.”
At the time, of course, it seemed funny. Iris mentioned that she and her sister laughed it off, but as she tried to really stand back up, she found she couldn’t. “I had to use the bicycles to pull myself and prop myself up.” Then, she realised, she couldn’t move her legs to walk. “When I tried to take a few steps, I really couldn’t. I could only walk with support but then there were stairs at the studio, so every time I supported my own weight, I dropped.”
She tried to be tough and soldier through it but she still needed to be supported all the way back home. “It was tough as the building had a lot of stairs, and even climbing up the stairs of my house was tough,” the 28-year-old auditor said.
At home, she seemed okay. The next day her leg hurt a bit more but it was manageable. It was only as the weekend was almost over, things got scarier. When Iris went to pee, her urine was brown. Then, she started vomiting. “I knew something was up so I told my sister about it. We didn’t know if it meant I needed to see a doctor, so we Googled it, which brought up something called ‘Rhabdomyolysis’. “Basically, it can happen as a result of a direct or indirect muscle injury and can lead to serious complications such as renal (kidney) failure, causing them to not remove waste and concentrated urine. So we went to see a doctor who confirmed the diagnosis and he gave me some medicine,” she elaborated.
Despite taking time off work, her condition deteriorated. The urine situation didn’t improve, and she couldn’t keep food down either. They went to see another doctor for a second opinion, and she immediately took a blood sample. “Apparently, I had too much myoglobin in my blood, which was releasing high levels of toxins into my blood. The average person’s level is between 60 to 100, but mine was in the range of thousands. So I had to be hospitalised.”
“After two or three days, nothing was working, so they asked me to undergo dialysis. At that point, my kidney had temporarily shut down, so I wasn’t urinating,” Iris said. Thankfully, after the third dialysis, she could pee a lot more than the past few days, with the colour of her urine returning to normal. After the 10th day, the toxin levels in her blood went down to 150 and she was discharged from the hospital.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
A week or two after being discharged, Iris could finally climb stairs. “The thing is, the muscle injury is still there, but it didn’t hurt. So my muscles were still very weak but the doctor did say that it would take a while before it returned to normal.” She only started exercising again months after that, but never went back for any spin classes.
This encounter did make Iris realise one thing, of course. “It’s important to not overdo anything, especially when it comes to exercise. The most important advice I can give is to just listen to your body if it is telling you that it can’t push any further,” Iris said. Thankfully, Iris has had no recurring symptoms. So while she’s slightly more cautious, it was an eye-opening experience.
“I wouldn’t consider this a near-death experience. While it’s made me more careful, it wasn’t to the point where I restrain myself from living.”