Small Gains

Yesterday I walked to the pub. I was so excited about it, I put it on Facebook and my friends congratulated me on my huge achievement. I had walked to the pub! It was a considered walk and, at times, strange as I adopted a cycling type step to help me through the soreness towards the end. I got there though and going back was altogether easier, thanks to the few shandies I had!

The pub is barely a quarter of a mile away.

Since my lumbar nerve root injection two weeks ago I’ve not noticed any real difference. I was told it could take up to two weeks to take effect. Last week I walked the dog from my shop in Dumfries to the parcel office and back, which was a huge achievement, but I suffered afterwards and had clearly overdone it. Until yesterday I hadn’t really tried again.

This morning, as a I rolled over, my back gave an almighty crack. It’s done this before and in the back of my mind that crack is the undoing of the natural bone fusion which will mean I don’t have to have surgery. I hate it. And I’m partly too frightened to find out and partly too mortified to go to a very busy neurosurgeon and tell him that “My back cracked.” If I mentioned it to my husband I know he would dismiss it as nothing and I’d feel foolish, which is why I’m telling all of you instead – like admitting guilt to a secret diary.

However, despite my enormous crack (I thank you!) I actually feel fine this morning. No soreness in my hip or legs, just a nagging pain in my back which I feel more and more these days. I lay on my left side for the first time in a year and a half this morning. I can’t remember looking at the bedroom from that angle! Today, as it’s gloriously warm and sunny and my day off, I shall attempt to mow the grass out the back (which neither of us has yet attempted this year and which is in danger of being declared a Nature Reserve!)

I’ve approached a couple of gyms in the town about membership. I’ve never joined a gym for anything other than casual membership, so to commit to a year’s worth of use is a big step. The two I looked at were like chalk and cheese, one tiny and crowded – the other huge and roomy. Despite a slightly larger cost and being slightly further away, I’m going for membership of the bigger gym. My initial idea was that if I went to the nearer and smaller leisure based gym, I could leave the dog in the shop on hot days and walk there. The further away large chain gym will mean me having to drive out and then drive back to collect the dog. It’s not too far and he’s used to being at the shop.

I got on the scales yesterday for the first time in ages and got a very pleasant surprise. I’ve not been dieting, or even watching what I eat, and lately have been bringing a lot of takeaways home, but I’ve actually lost weight! I’m still a full stone heavier than I was when I was running, but less than I was post-Christmas. I think I’ve actually been too busy to eat!

Tonight I shall buy myself a swimming costume. The two I have are yonks old and should be consigned to the bin. I shall also get out my running leggings and see what still fits! Mr Khan, the neurosurgeon, was very specific in what I’m allowed to do and said I’m to try treadmill walking (initially on the flat), stationary cycling (I’m allowed to use the Spin Bikes too!) and swimming using a variety of strokes. When I start to improve I can join a pilates group and use a hilly programme on the treadmill. I know I’ll feel as if I’m starting again at the gym, but I shall make a point of wearing every half marathon T-shirt I’ve won, just to quietly let people know where I’ve been.

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A Date with a Doctor

It’s been ages, I know…I’m sorry. I’ve not been idle, but I haven’t had very much to share. Since I last posted about meeting the neurosurgeon I’ve been back up to Edinburgh to have my nerve block injection.

It went well, I think. I was a total jelly going in, anticipating the worst of course, but the doctor (who just so happened to look like Tony Hancock – I’m not sure if that reassured me or not, but it made me look at needles in a different way!) was just excellent. Calm and happy to calm me down, explaining every step as if he did this every day, which of course he does.

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The whole procedure took about half an hour or so, with me lying on my stomach whilst initially I had a CT scan. Once the offending nerve was located (pictured here being squashed by the vertebrae moving into the nerve space) the doctor marked it with semi-permanent pen (thanks for that, now I look like a massive game of noughts and crosses!) and inserted anæsthetic. That was the most painful part. After that I couldn’t tell you what he did, had he not explained it all beforehand! I felt nothing.

A needle was inserted into the nerve root and a mix of cortisone and anæsthetic was pumped into the nerve. This will take up to two weeks to take effect and may last for up to a year.

Or it might not work at all.

After I waited for twenty minutes until the doctor came to check on how I was and then I was allowed to leave.

Now I have to wait. If the injection takes effect I could start walking on the treadmill and cycling on the stationery bike. I tried on Monday and managed 0.5 km in 10 mins walking (my limit!!) and cycled 5k in 13 mins (not my limit, but enough after the walk). As you can see my walking is especially affected. If it works I can start to build up fitness and core strength again. I can start to lose some weight.

 

 

 

 

 

Meeting Mr Khan

Yesterday I went to the Department of Neurosurgery at Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital to meet with a surgeon. Understandably I was very nervous; this guy was entirely capable of inflicting pain and putting me off my feet for weeks. The person we met with, though, was the most attentive and reassuring doctor I’ve ever known. He spent over half an hour with us, explaining my MRI and the options it threw up.

My third vertebral disc has just about disappeared; instead of being a lovely spongy bit of spinal padding, it’s now a sad little slither of nothingness. The vertebrae either side of it have been banging against each other and, as a result, are starting to fuse together by their own accord. The pain I’m getting in my leg are the result of nerve damage being caused by all this going on – the spinal channel is currently narrowed and the nerves are getting jangled and prodded when I try to walk or stand.

What Mr Khan suggested was looking at non-invasive methods first. This is because the surgery I would need to have (and might still need) is massive. It involves taking pieces of bone from my hip to pack the fusion of bone and then fix the two vertebrae with plates and screws. It would take months to recover from it. It’s not a bad a recovery as it used to be, but it’s still a huge operation made worse, in my case, by some spinal curvature (scoliosis) probably caused by the fact that I have one leg longer than the other.

So what I’m going to try is a treatment of nerve numbing drugs, allowing me to get on with life whilst my spine hopefully continues to fuse itself, accompanied by an injection of anaesthestic, guided by an MRI,  into my spine. I’ve been given a timeline of four months, after which time I go back and see Mr Khan. I’m to keep a diary of what’s going on, how I’m feeling, how I’m coping and if I can do more or less with the drugs. The side effects of the drugs are pretty nasty and I’m going to feel spaced out for a while until my body gets used to them. I may not be able to drive or work during that time. I’m prepared for that.

I did challenge this; I’ve been in so much pain for so long – I just want to be well again, even if that means surgery. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life faffing about with things that might not work. I had already got the idea of surgery into my head and had accepted the need for it. However I totally understand, once Mr Khan had explained, the benefits of doing things this way.

If the drugs work, I could be walking short distances on the treadmill within weeks. I could start swimming and cycling. I could try some gentle pilates. Within a few weeks!

 

I couldn’t leave without asking the all important questions:

Did running cause this? Perhaps, but Mr Khan said he would rather see a fit 50 year old runner with this problem than an unfit 30 year old couch potato!

Could I run again? Yes. I would have to start with short distances on an even surface and might be restricted to shorter runs (up to 10k) until we know how stable my spine is. Basically I have to behave myself.

 

So there it is. Today I will try and get the prescription satisfied so that I can start the drug regime this week. Then it’s a wait and see.

 

Forget Snow White, I’m a Dwarf

SleepyToday I am Sleepy and I probably will be all day, with perhaps a touch of Grumpy.

Why? Because I’m currently trying to process the gluten to which my body has long since told me I’m intolerant. During my last visit to the doctor I mentioned that in addition to all my other maladies I am wheat intolerant and that my uncle has Coeliac Disease. Apparently the menopause can bring on CD, so my doctor was quite insistent that I get tested as soon as possible. Did I also mention that I was menopausal? Oh it just gets better and better!

Sadly being tested for CD entails me eating as much gluten-containing food as I can for two weeks and then having a blood test. I started on Monday and, at first, didn’t notice much of a change. I was surprised, because a lot of the time I feel ill almost straightaway after eating wheat products. It’s now day five and I could sleep for Scotland. Lethargic isn’t the word; I feel totally drained and I’m struggling to get going in the mornings, even to go to my beloved gallery.

I also have a permanent stomach ache, which is just making me feel rotten. It’s not bad enough that my back is sore no matter what I’m doing but, for the next two weeks, I know I’m going to feel…well…shit. There is no better word for it!

I’m trying to make the best of it, enjoying foods I’ve forgotten I used to be able to eat. Normal and cheaper foods; cakes, biscuits, pastry – real bread! My breakfast today consisted of Tiger Loaf, lightly toasted. There is a gluten free Tiger Loaf made by Udi, but it starts to fall apart after the first couple of days. This was real bread. But, as much as I’m loving retasting these foods, I’m hating this. Roll on next Sunday!

I finally have a date to meet with the neurosurgeon up at Edinburgh to discuss my spinal surgery. It’s not until the end of March, but that means that my surgery should take place before the middle of April. It’s giving me something to focus on as my stomach churns over and over. I’m not second guessing what he will suggest, but I have been researching options just so that I can be informed when he speaks to me. I expect they hate people like me with Google on tap, but I need to understand in order to process the whole experience without going mad!

Excuse me now, I need to stand under the shower for half an hour in order to wake up!

 

 

 

Festive Fat Felling

It sounds far more adventurous than calling it weight watching, doesn’t it? I’m Festive Fat Felling!

Since last writing I’ve really stuck to my calorie reduced living. I’m not dieting as such; all I do is note down the calories in what I eat, try to stay around 1200 calories a day and drink plenty of water. Sometimes I’m just over and most times I’m just under. I’m still eating platefuls of delicious food and drinking my beloved gin and, most importantly, I don’t feel as if I’m dieting. For instance, tonight I’m having an Indian takeaway meal and I have plenty of calories left in the bank for a gin or two!

And I’m losing weight! So far I’ve lost 8lbs or half a stone in 13 days. I should know how much that is in kilos, but I really don’t care. I’m an imperial/metric crossover kid, still old enough to remember doing imperial maths at school and still young enough to remember being shown a 50p coin and gasping at its alien form. Some things I do in imperial measure and others in metric. It’s probably annoying but, again, I don’t care.

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I’m back at work and I have to admit that the three weeks I took off at Christmas have given me a false sense of wellbeing. When I do next to nothing I feel great. I’ve been back at work a week and I’m knackered. Not just sore, but very weary. I’m getting worn out by the constant pain and there is nothing I can do about it. I take the pills I’m prescribed and have a couple of (allowed, medically and dietary) G&Ts a night and then I try and get a night’s sleep. Those of you who have endured long term chronic pain will understand that there is no position of comfort for any length of time, whether it’s standing, sitting or lying. I’ve taken to sleeping with a pillow under my knees to try and take the pressure off my back. I can’t sleep on my left side because I still have bursitis and sleeping on my front hurts my back. So I try to move between lying on my back and lying on my right side as gently as I can. It hurts whatever I do so I rarely have a really good night’s sleep and that adds to my tiredness. Something else for me to moan about!

I’m really pleased, though, with my weight loss. I’ve said that I’ll try to lose a further 30lbs, with my goal being me being even lighter than I was when all this started. I might not achieve that and, to be honest, if I could just get back to my pre-injury weight, I’d be happy. Another stone would do that, so it’s not much to ask of myself and it would probably help with  my recovery post-surgery.

I’ve no news on that front. My doctor suggested a four month wait from referral, which takes me to April time. Whether that’s to meet the neurosurgeon and discuss options or not, I don’t know. I’ve scheduled a regular doctors appointment to keep on top of pain management and developments, which is helping me feel a little more in control.

Again, if anyone wants to befriend me on MyFitnessPal, I’m Paintergirl21. I’ve amassed a few very supportive contacts already from all over the world. We support each other’s achievements and give advice when its asked for.

And, as runners, we all know about motivation…

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The Wall of Used To

My running blog has rarely been just about running. If you can be bothered to look back, like many other running blogs, it’s often been about coping with injury and how that has affected the running that I’ve done. In many ways it became a ‘victory over adversity’ type blog, living up to its title ‘A Running Battle’. Of course adversity is presently having the upper hand and a year long battle with pain has meant that this blog is now chiefly about the ups and downs of pain management! It isn’t the blog I want or ever intended to have and I’m not sure what I can do to change that.

Many of my former followers have drifted away, probably bored by the lack of running stories. If I’m honest, I’ve stopped reading many running blogs because I’m not in the right frame of mind to read them without huge pangs of envy. How I haven’t run a jogger over yet is just a feat of mind over matter and hearing how my new-to-running friends are doing is pure perjury. Of course I admire them and encourage them, but deep down I am as jealous as hell. Walking past a wall full of medals collected over the last five years doesn’t help; it’s the Wall of Used To.

Yesterday I travelled to Carlisle to talk about my disability. It’s the first time I’ve been to Carlisle in ages, certainly the first time with the mobility scooter. Planning a journey to anywhere presents a whole lot of new issues which before I wouldn’t have considered. My husband summed it up perfectly at the meeting when he said “I look at disabled people in a whole different way now.” I was asked, as part of the interview, if I would be able to go to Manchester. Yes, of course, but I would have to Google it to death, I replied. We’ve recently changed the car to an automatic which would help with driving through town. Once there, I would have to think about where could I park so that I could access areas without the need to climb stairs. Once parked, I would need to have room to get in and out of the car (opened the door to its full extent and turning round in the seat to stand up using the roof to pull myself up), and then get the mobility scooter out and together. Then I’d have to navigate a route using decent drop kerbs (because some are like steps, rather than slopes!) and pedestrian crossings (because you can’t just step off the kerb and cross) and doors that open automatically. It takes planning. Nothing in my life is spontaneous any more. Every journey, every weekend away, every night out has to be pre-planned to the nth degree. It’s tiring. And sometimes degrading.

Today I climbed on the scales and got the shock of my life. I’ve put on a grand total of two stones in weight since this time last year. Running was always my way of keeping my weight down and staying sane. I might not have always felt like going out, but I usually felt better coming in! I need to lose weight. So I’ve linked up with MyFitnessPal again. It used to be a way of logging activity rather than weight. I’m hoping that it will be again. For the moment though I need a way of controlling my calorie intake and a way of monitoring my progress. I’ve opened up on their forum and asked for support. If you read this and are a member, look for paintergirl21 and ask for friendship. I need every friend I can get.

 

The Verdict

A few weeks back I went for an MRI. It was a surreal experience. You are basically sent, lying down, into a brightly lit cylinder. Before going in you are given ear protection and a panic button. The panic button is there because the cylinder you are slid into isn’t that much bigger than you are and it could feel claustrophobic. As I decided to close my eyes and keep them closed throughout the procedure, I had no idea how close the ‘ceiling’ was until the end. That was a smart move! My scan took about half an hour, in batches of four – five minute scans. Each one was very noisy, with a series of clicks, whirs and bangs and in between each the radiographer reassuringly told me what would happen next.

The results were sent to my orthopaedic consultant and I finally met with him today. The verdict is that I have Spondylosis of the lumbar spine, basically arthritis in my lower back. The third and fourth vertebrae have worn out and the disc between them is bulging out on the left side, pushing against nerves and causing pain in my leg. I got to see my body cut crossways and lengthways – really amazing to see!

The upshot is that I need surgery on my spine. My consultant is referring me for surgery today, in fact he was doing it when I left, and I will have to travel to Edinburgh Western General for treatment. I have no idea how soon that will be and I’m prepared for a long wait, such is the NHS. The good news is that the surgery isn’t as major as it used to be and I should only be off my feet for a few days. Also the MRI showed that the rest of my spine is in perfect condition, even more reason to have the surgery and get on with the rest of my life!

So, that’s where I’m at. After a whole year of constant pain I’m looking at a few more months and then surgery. After that I don’t know if my bursitis will clear up on its own or if I’ll need a second surgery for that. I’ll speak to the surgeon when I go to Edinburgh. I suspect they’ll do the spinal surgery and then see how that effects everything else.

The consultant could not tell me what caused this. Spondylosis is a wear and tear disease. I’ve had back problems since I was 16, so this is probably just something that was bound to happen. It could be that the running aggravated it, it could be that the running held it at bay as I lost weight and gained stability in my core – who’s to know?

I actually feel better knowing what is causing the problem. I feel better knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel, albeit surgery. I also feel better that, at last, I have proof that I’m not faking it, there is really something seriously wrong. I can actually use my mobility scooter and not feel a total fraud!