54 + 12

Tuesday saw my 54th birthday. It’s incredibly reassuring that finally I appear to be comfortable in my skin, regardless of the fact that it’s now showing a few more lines.

My faithful running partner, Murphy the Jack Russell, had his 12th birthday yesterday. He shows no signs of slowing down, even though he is now technically older than I am. I hope that at a comparative age I’m still going as strong.

However, if yesterday’s run is anything to go by, that’s not likely! I’ve not run for a few days, struggling with what I thought was a weakness in my left quadricept femoris muscle (front thigh), a lasting gift from my pre-surgery issues. I’d hoped that the daily yoga I’ve been doing would help free it off a bit, but yesterday proved otherwise.

Since surgery I’ve been having physiotherapy, weekly at the start and now monthly, for a year and a half. The damage done by the motion of the vertebrae as they squashed nerves has been fairly significant and I’ve got an overall combination of no feeling at all, excessive sensitivity, and reactions to touch in places that aren’t being touched! It’s not a terrible thing, just a bit weird at times. Touch my lower back and I feel the touch on my backside and part way down my leg, a fact that my husband finds very amusing.

Although my physio has been focusing mostly on rebuilding my core, which to be fair was shot after I had my son by Caesarean Section and then again five years later when I had the same operation following an Ectopic Pregnancy, one of the exercises she has given me is to help the nerves supplying the quad muscle.

Being a bit of a Google Doctor, I’m really interested in learning more about the physiology of what is going on. My ‘A’ Level Biology based curiosity is wanting to understand the what and the how, rather than just accepting the situation. It helps me to get to grips with why a certain exercise is effective.

From what I can understand, unless there was far more extensive damage to the nerves, what I am experiencing is probably not just nerve damage to the femoral nerve which serves the quads, but also damage to the nerves around my core and hips. Some muscles just aren’t getting the message and so my body is asking others that it can talk to to help out and prop me up. And the nerves that are responding to the call to duty are the femoral nerves and, when my poor quads can take no more, the ones serving my glutes take up the charge.

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 Quadriceps femoris, with different muscles in different colors.
rectus femoris – blue
vastus lateralis – yellow
vastus intermedius – green
vastus medialis – red

(Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadriceps_femoris_muscle)

Yesterday I woke up wanting to run, even though it was raining. Murphy wanted to run too, judging by his extremely excited reaction when he saw me putting my running gear on! I had decided to abandon my 10k training plan. I’ve got to 4 miles. They are a slow 4 miles in comparison to what they would have been a few years back, but they are 4 miles. I recover from them quite quickly, normally, so I know I have the potential to do more. Yesterday, with this nagging leg pain in the back of my mind, I decided to go easy, do two miles and leave it at that. It was a trail 2 miles, so more demanding than if I’d gone out on the road.

I set my interval timer to one minute, meaning that I intended to run for one and walk for one. I was taking no chances, other than going out and coming back – but I didn’t have a lot of choice about that. And the rain, but it was just drizzle most of the time. In fact it was nice to run in; not too warm, not too wet and midge and clegg free.

The first half a mile was great, but mostly downhill. I kept up a steady pace, even without  the benefit of beat paced music in my ear. (The last couple of times I’ve been out have been without my phone or earbuds. I haven’t missed them to be honest.) As I approached the end of the mile I could feel the strain on that quad and knew that a couple of miles was definitely all that I was going to do.

But my OCD wouldn’t let me stop at one mile and turn round, it compelled me forward to a break in the route before it would let me go. I ran an extra wee bit to the end of the trail and stopped to give Murphy his half way treat and me a bit of a stretch. With nothing to lean against, I stood like a flamingo with one leg pulled up behind me and wobbling to keep my balance!

The mile home was sore. It’s mostly uphill, no matter which way I go. Not only, by then, was my left quad hurting, but my glutes were giving up the ghost too. I inevitably slowed down and, in the end, was mostly limping back. I made it though and did a reasonable 2.3 miles. Murphy probably did an extra half a mile, with all the running on and back that he does. Oh to be 12, even in doggy years!

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As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing daily yoga. The commitment actually helps me to remember to do my physio exercises which, on their own, are a bit grey-looking. A lot of what I need to do in those exercises is covered in the yoga, so I get a second bite of the cherry. I’m enjoying using an app called Daily Yoga, which is so good that I’m actually going to subscribe to it – opening up access to more exercises and more individualised content. I’ve found that even by doing the 10 Day Beginners Tour I’m already becoming more flexible. Having part of your spine welded together takes away a degree of flexibility and some things I still, even after a year, find very difficult to do. I’m having to relearn how to do some things (refer back to nerve damage), such as coming from a seated pose to a standing one, and invariably have to use a table or chair as a prop. The Daily Yoga is helping with that. Plus I should mention the ‘skip’ function? Very useful when you are told to tuck your legs to your chest and roll along the length of your spine, only to look like a fly in its death throes. Skip that, thanks!com_img.jpg

Today is the day after and, yes, I do have some residual aching but it’s okay. My leg hasn’t fallen off in the night and I will survive. A few gentle runs and plenty of yoga and physio and I will get there. Maybe it will take a little longer than I thought. The Jedburgh 10k has been put on the back burner. I just won’t be ready in time and I won’t push myself. I’ll relax and gently build up the miles, perhaps even mostly on the treadmill, and just thank my lucky stars that I can walk and run a bit!

 

Beating the Heat

I’m sorry that I’m not posting more often. I think I got out of the habit when I was unable to run (and a bit depressed about posting about not running) and it’s just difficult to get back into it. Especially as I have so much to rebuild.

It’s been so hot here recently that running has been largely out of the question, but this morning I decided to hit the trails early and get a couple of miles in. The sun had been up for hours, but it was still cool as I headed out of the door accomapnied by Murphy the Running Dog. He was happy to get out as the heat has largely stopped his walks too.

I’ve somehow managed to resurrect my old Garmin Forerunner 405 through a series of resets and battery drains. I am amazed that it’s still working! I’ve had it pretty much since I started running and the battery should be goosed by now, but it keeps resurrecting itself. The Jesus of Sports Watches!

I’m running a 45sec/15 sec split using LoLo’s 10k app. Two things to explain there: Firstly, I’m running for 45 seconds at 7 mph and then walking for 15 seconds at 12 mph. This averages out at about 11 min/mile pace on the road, a little slower on the trails. Secondly, I decided, in the middle of my second shot at the 5k app, that as I wanted to work up to 10k anyway, I might as well hop across to the 10k program now. I’m was on day 3 of this plan today, a 2 mile run. The 45/15 split means that I’m pretty much running continuously, but giving my extremely tight calves (and plantar fasciitis) a chance of getting to the end of whatever I’m doing.

In the trees the temperature was bearable, but as soon as I came through into the open I could see that both Murphy and I would struggle if I did my usual there and back route, so I decided to run around up to the castle and benefit from almost constant tree cover. Thankfully the midges were pretty scarce, so this was still a good decision. Apparently there’s a national shortage of midges because all of the puddles have dried up. I can assure you that there are still a few puddles on this running route, left behind as the sun never gets through, but the midges could be seen dancing in the sun and I just made sure my eyes and mouth were closed when I ran through them!

 

I got to two miles just past the castle and decided to just enjoy the walk back and cool down a little. My new running shoes, Asics Noosa FFs, are a little on the small size (even though I bought them in a full size bigger) – so I’ve not been wearing socks in them. Unfortunately a couple of tiny bits of grit ensured two lovely blisters today. I’m looking for a good pair of inexpensive trail shoes now! I’ve seen some Karrimore shoes at Sports Direct which will do, but didn’t want to pay the extra £4.99 postage to get them! I’m sure that our local store can order them in for free if they don’t have them in stock! I may have to invest in another pair of runners if the Asics prove to be just a bit too small.

I’m still attending Physio at the local hospital to try and help with my core strength, inflexibility and plantar fasciitis. I’ve got a shed load of exercises to do on a three times daily basis, which I sometimes manage – but often forget to do! To make up for this I’m also doing a Daily Yoga challenge, which I forgot to do yesterday – so that’s going well too. Jeesh.

I’m hoping that I’ll have got far enough through my program to run at Jedburgh in October. It’s the hardest 10k I’ve done (so hilly and windy!), but I enjoy the route and it would be nice to get back to doing something reasonably competitive. 5ks aren’t really my thing, they are too fast and I don’t enjoy them the same. (Although I do like the BUPA Winter 5k run up and round Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh! Maybe I just like hills!) I’ve always said that 6 miles is my distance, even having run at half marathon distance and beyond.

So that’s it. I have a goal. Get myself race fit for October and see if I can beat the hills of Jedburgh again.

Running in the Big Outdoors

The rest of the country are, apparently, enjoying a sunny and warm Bank Holiday Monday. It’s dry here and not blowing a gale; I’m confident that our two weathers are the  same.

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I’m staying at my mother’s house near Stranraer in south west Scotland. We live about two hours away, still in the same region of Scotland, but further east. I’ve missed a couple of days of running through work and being here, so today I decided to head out for a run.

I’ve been re-following a Couch to 5k programme written by Jeff Galloway and mostly using the treadmill. I don’t really enjoy running on the treadmill and my poor old treadmill is starting to show its age. There is no treadmill at Mom’s house and as she lives right on the coast it was a no brainer to run on quiet roads. I don’t really know the little roads round here, so Mom suggested a circular route. It was quite short (I obviously run further than Mom thought I do!) and was part road and part trail, but it was lovely running outdoors!

 

I’m back to running intervals and I’d worked up to 3:1 run:walk intervals on the treadmill, but adjusted this to 2:1 for this first outdoor run for a while. I’m becoming quite sensible in my old age! It worked well and I covered 3km in about 20 minutes.

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I’ve thrown all of my pre-surgery shoes away, runners included, because my gait has changed and the wear patterns were making me unstable. All of my running shoes were fairly worn anyway, so I didn’t feel as if I was throwing a fortune away, but I’m now left with one pair of runners – a pair of Sketcher Go-Runs which I didn’t enjoy wearing much before. They have a drop heel, encouraging me to walk and run on my midfoot and toes, and they are definitely helping with the plantar fasciitis which I’ve had since November last year. I’m due to go to see a physio tomorrow so I’ll wait to see what they say. I will need to buy a new pair of road shoes and a pair of trail shoes too, so a bit of gait analysis is required!

 

 

The Bionic Woman

I grew up in the 1970s, watching such TV delights as Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, The Six Million Dollar Man and its spin off The Bionic Woman. How little did I know, as a skinny ginger-haired kid, that I would too be bionic!

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I closed my gallery for Christmas on Christmas Eve and I was, by then, totally exhausted. I couldn’t stand for any length of time, and I couldn’t walk at all without pain.  I was hoping for a surgery appointment in the Christmas holidays, but with no date appearing,  I rang the Admissions Clerk a couple of times and explained that, as a self-employed person, I needed a date and an early one at that! Having been given (and then turned down) a date previously which fell in the week before Christmas, my by far busiest week of the year, I didn’t want to keep my gallery closed any longer than necessary. To their credit the date came through the fairly quickly after that.

I won’t bore you with the details, but watching this video explains the surgery I had.

http://www.spine-health.com/video/spine-fusion-surgery-video#vm_A_569b6008

Short story – I am now bionic. Fact.

I don’t remember much of the aftermath; I went from recovery to the high dependency unit thanks to low blood pressure. I do remember trying to focus on details of the room, which changed as more and more lights seemed to be put on around me, but I don’t remember much other than the constant nurse checks. Once my BP increased everyone seemed to relax!

I came out of hospital four days after being admitted. All I had to do was prove that I could walk to the toilet, go to the toilet and navigate the stairs. It was a little earlier than I’d anticipated,  my husband had even booked work for that day, but the junior doctors seemed happy.

People now seem split into two groups on discovering that I’ve had surgery; half think I should be in bed all of the time and the rest think that’s you fixed,  why aren’t you in the pub?

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Truth is, my recovery consists of walking, sitting and lying down. I am currently paying the price for over-estimating how much I can comfortably walk. I thought it was more, my body says no! So, without pain afterwards, I can probably walk a third of a mile without issue. I can sit down for up to an hour and a half in total, yes in total – in a day! The rest of the time I’m lying down. I might be doing abdominal exercises, I might be resting on my side, I might be posting on Facebook or doing my blog. I might be sewing, doing my diary or watching TV, but all of those things I can do lying down! What will change over the next few weeks is how much more walking and sitting I can manage.

Some things I’m not allowed to do at all, like anything involving bending. I can’t put on my shoes. I can’t hoover. I certainly can’t load and unload the washing machine, make a bed or put my socks away in the bottom drawer. I can’t drive. I can’t catch a bus. I can’t put the dog’s lead on, unless I can coax the dog to jump to a surface at my hip height!

This will all improve and by 8 weeks I should start physio again, appointments permitting. I should be starting back to work at that point too. By then I should be able to walk three miles. That’s a lot of shoulds.

My only worry at the moment is that besides the back pain, which is understandable, I also have nerve pain on my outer lower left leg. I can’t bear to have it touched, or for the bed clothes to even brush it. If I wear close fitting leggings or long socks, it’s bearable – but it’s there. It feels as if a layer of skin is missing and the nerves are exposed. I’ve got the same thing to a lesser degree to either side of the surgery site. I’m hoping that this is temporary. In any case it’s better than I have had and I’m grateful for that.

Does anyone else have experience of spinal fusion?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up

My updates have become sparse of late; I’m busy at work and tired when I get home and, honestly, posting updates here, when I’ve got little to say about running, is sometimes a step too far. And I apologise for that.

That makes it sound as if I’m being negative about everything and I’m not, not at all. I’m so annoyingly positive I think I’m starting to get to my husband, who is naturally not quite as positive. I look past the surgery to the days when I can walk without pain, really walk – up hills, over dales, along all the forest walks I so miss. I’m now waiting for the letter to tell me when my surgery is due. I need to know.

Hubbie says I’m to make sure my will is up to date. I’m sure that’s from a practical point of view and not that he’s envisaging death on the operating table. Pretty sure any way. It’s something we’ve talked about for a while because provisions we’d made for our children when we first made a will are no longer necessary. I’m sure my son, now 24, knows exactly who he wants to live with and it’s definitely not his dad! I’ll do my will, if only to give hubbie one less thing to worry about.

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We rarely think, when injured or ill, how that affects the people around us. I’ve gone from being a really fit 50 year old to a disabled 52 year old. And, as you know, it happened BANG, like that. Hubbie used to ferry me around from race to race, standing at the start and the finish to watch me go and, eventually, come back. He didn’t get the whole fitness thing; being able to lift a Scotch Pie from the fridge is exercise enough for a working man. I did get him running at one point – I think he was missing me when I was training as much and decided that if I was out, he’d come with me. He was good too. He did two races and, despite declaring his impending death as we slogged towards the finish line, he came close to running a sub 30 minute 5k.

When he was brave enough to admit that he wasn’t enjoying the training, I put away my whistle and clipboard and he accompanied me on his bike, becoming my Semi Silent Coach, who delighted in cycling behind me and “just watching”. It was like being chased in slow motion by Benny Hill on a bike.

Now he’s the guy who helps lift my mobility scooter in and out of the car, tries to park as close to the shop we need as possible, watches me grimace when the pain catches me out and worries about what could go wrong in a few weeks. I love him for all of those things. And I worry only about him and how he’ll cope.

This week I received my Blue Badge, the accolade of disability. I have been determined, under strict criteria, impaired enough to warrant an award. I carry my Blue Badge with me everywhere, waving it at imaginary wardens. It will help and I am determined not to abuse it, as I see others do. I shall not abandon my car anywhere and plonk the badge on display before I leave declaring “I’m allowed, I’m disabled!” I will not park all day in disabled spaces. In my world, that’s just taking the piss. I will use my badge with discretion and not so as to annoy the hell out of everyone around me.

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This weekend I’m setting up a new exhibition at the gallery. I’ve suddenly become all sensible and decided that, in order to set it up without hurting myself, I’ll close early and take my time. I’ve even turned down the offer of lunch so that I don’t put myself under additional pressure. I am learning to cope with this, just in time for it all to (hopefully) end! Typical, isn’t it?

We learn from the things that affect us, no matter how slowly. 

 

Light at the end of a very long tunnel

Some time in January 2017 I will be sporting a very long scar. On my last visit to Western General in Edinburgh Mr Khan, the neurosurgeon I’ve been seeing, asked how things had been. When I told him a little better for a short time, after the nerve block injection, and now worse than ever he said “Right, I’m booking you in for surgery”.

He then went through a large list of all the things that could go wrong. And gave me three sheets of double sided paper also listing them, in case I didn’t take him seriously.

For a start the scar will start somewhere at the base of my neck and go all the way down to the base of my spine, unless he’s also a fisherman – in which case it’ll be a small and inconspicuous scar. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between. When it’s healed, I’m thinking of getting a zip tattooed along either side of it.

The operation, if successful, could reduce my nerve pain by up to 85%, maybe more. My back pain is another matter and that might only improve by 50%. As I’ve had back pain since the age of 16, when it first declared itself a potential problem, I think a 50% reduction in that pain is fantastic! In any case, I’m happy with those figures. It’s the nerve pain, caused by my spine damaging the spinal cord, that is the most severe.

And, honestly, if it wasn’t for the drugs I’m taking I wouldn’t be able to stand up, never mind walk at the moment. I’m now on 1800mg of Gabapentin a day as well as 200mg of Celebrix. It’s no longer enough anymore and this week I will be asking my doctor if I can increase it again. Judging by how often I’m needing to do this, the damage to the nerves supplying my left leg especially is pretty extensive; at times I can no longer feel my leg and most of the time I have pins and needles. I’m also now getting a ghosting sensation, making me think that something is touching me. It’s all very strange and very painful. By evening I’m exhausted.

I put up with more than I probably should, largely because, as I said before, I’ve had back problems since I passed out in my mother’s arms at the age of 16. I’d been making my brothers’ beds (other than to help Mom, I can’t think why!) and turned quickly. I didn’t notice the pain at first, but by night I was in real trouble and the next morning, after descending the stairs, I just collapsed. I can distinctly remember seeing everything go black and tell my Mom I was about to pass out, to which she replied “No you’re not!” Sorry Mom, I did – leaving you to catch me!

I’ve recently been back up to Edinburgh to have a ‘long back x-ray’. Apparently this can’t be done in all hospitals, they have to have a specific bit of kit, so I drove two hours up the road to a lovely swanky new hospital near Dalkeith to get it done. As ever the staff were amazing. The letter inviting me up actually arrived when I was on holiday and I should have guessed from its tone how laid back this particular hospital seems to be!

I was really concerned, on opening the letter, to see that I’d missed the appointment, so I rang the lady who had sent it. “Oh that’s fine Julie, don’t worry about it – when can you come in? This Friday? Next Monday? You choose!” I’m sorry? I get to choose my own appointment? “Friday’s are bad for me,” I said, warming to the vibe, “How about Tuesday?” “Sure, ” she said “That’s fine – just turn up. The receptionist will know nothing about you, but that’s no problem.” Okay. Hmmm.

She was right though. The receptionist just pointed me in the direction of the X-Ray department, where someone met me and took me through. Within ten minutes I was out and x-rayed! I even got to see my ‘long back x-ray’! I could clearly see the curve of my spine going from right to left – the undoubted cause of all this – and the two vertebrae at odd angles, with no disc in between. I stopped short of a selfie with my spine, but only just!

In a couple of weeks I’m going into Dumfries for my second MRI scan. And then I’m just waiting for my surgery date.

Mr Khan had been most apologetic when talking about the timescale. “It’s going to be a long wait, I’m afraid!” Expecting another six months of hanging about, I don’t think he was ready for our reaction when he said “Yes, the full twelve weeks!”

Is that all? I explained that, as a sole trader, I was needing have the gallery open up until Christmas anyway, but after that I was all his. So I’ll be booked in for major surgery anytime after Christmas Day. Boxing Day even.

I’m still getting emails about running stuff, which I usually delete straightaway but haven’t yet had the heart to unsubscribe from. I should really. I can’t see me getting back into running the way I was before all this suddenly happened. I certainly can’t see me running half marathons, never mind the full ones I intended to run once I’d retired and had more time for training. I think I’ll be exceptionally lucky to build myself back up to the standard I was running at. I’m not discounting being a runner again, but I’m also not willing it so. I have to prepare that I may have to content myself with something less damaging to my back, perhaps cycling. It’s sad, but at least I know I was once a pretty reasonable runner, capable of a sub 30 minute 5k, a sub 60 minute 10k and a 2.22 Great North Run. Some runners half of my age won’t be able to claim that! I really should stop those emails…

I’m keeping positive; I have to stay positive – I can’t afford to let the mask slip. When asked, I always reply “I’m OK” or “I’m fine”. I’m going out less, I know that. I can’t really do nights out on the mobility scooter, and pub crawls are tough going when you can’t walk far! I have to plan every invitation to the nth degree, so a lot of the time I just don’t go. I hate asking Grant to push me about in the wheelchair and, after a few pints, he forgets the need to use kerb drops and races me across the road in front of oncoming traffic. I really didn’t think I was annoying him that much!

My Drug Alarm has just gone off. It’s time for my next dose. I make light of it when the alarm goes off in public; “Ooo, time for my narcotics, pass me the spliff!” It’s not a case of taking when I need them, because when I need them is usually too late. These pills have to be taken as directed – to maintain my haze, man.

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Attending Gym

I maintain three blogs; this one (obviously), an arty one for my business and a motoring one for the club of which I’m secretary. It takes a lot of time of which, generally speaking, I don’t have much! I’m working my way through them this morning.

However,  here I am! And I bring with me tidings of reasonable cheeriness.

Since I last posted I have been attending Gym. I tried to approach it in a similar way as I used to my running, but I seem to have less inclination towards Gym as I did running through woods in the early evening light. The urge to Gym isn’t as strong. It’s more of a necessity than a dedication. With maybe a bit of determination thrown in.

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Yes, that’s me, smiling as I cycle away. Believe that and you’ll believe anything.

On average I go to the gym three times a week. I walk, I bike and I swim. In that order too. I don’t know why, it just became ‘Routine’.

I started walking 1km on the treadmill at a slowish speed and now I can walk 1.25km at a less slow speed. Well, let me be honest here. I can walk 0.5 km, then I painfully limp the remainder. I’m just building up the amount of pain I can endure.

Cycling has never been an issue. I could stationary cycle 10km even when I was at my most injured; these days I’m following a walk with a cycle and sticking to 5km so that I don’t break myself. I’d hate for that to happen. Again.

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Then, with wanton abandon, I haul my sorry ass to the pool. I love swimming, really love it, but I really hate getting changed. I’m longing for the day when I can step into a changing room like Mr Benn and, as if by magic,  emerge ready for the pool and then ready for home, without need for a soggy towel or a squirt of talcum powder.

Multimillionaire Duncan Bannatyne can rest easy; I’ve signed up for a year of Gym. The way I’m going, I can’t see me running through the woods any time soon!