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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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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My 3 Rs: Recovery, Reassessment and Reinvigoration.

After almost two weeks of enduring a cold and struggling to do much more than get through a day’s work, I’m ready to start running again.

At least I think I am!

I’m actually sitting here changed and ready to run, waiting on my iPhone charging before I head off…to the bottom of the garden and my treadmill. My cold is still firmly lodged on my chest and it’s causing me to cough, which of course affects my breathing. I frightened myself a week past Sunday when I ran the Fleetwood Half – I really shouldn’t have run feeling the way I did. But I did.

I’m heading out to the treadmill so that I am in control of the distance, the speed and the location. I’m trying to be sensible!

I’ve looked at my running programme and I’ve decided to follow the finisher’s plan again. I’m not in the right place (yet) to look at improving. So far every half I’ve done since doing the Great North Run in 2012 has been worse. I just want to finish one around the 2:20-2:24 mark. I’ve not been far away, but far enough to make me feel as if I’ve been running backwards for a while. And I realise that there are valid excuses for this; valid excuses don’t make me feel any better.

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The cunning plan.

So my plan looks a bit like this! Long runs of 4, 12.5, 4, 14 and 5 miles before my race, all at 2:30/1 ratios and 11 min/mile pace hopefully giving me a 2:24 race time.

I’m trying to lose a bit of weight so I’m watching my calorie intake and portion size and plotting these on the My Fitness Pal app. If I lost a stone I think I’d be happier as well as lighter. I don’t look in the mirror wishing I was a stone lighter, I look OK, but I feel as if I’m ‘hauling ass’ at the moment. I’m naturally heavy. I don’t look my weight, I don’t think. People are generally surprised to hear how heavy I am and I realise that I am probably more muscly than a lot of the people who are surprised.

I know I need to tone my core; I do keep going on about that! I will try. No promises on that!

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Lastly I am going to restart the Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge in an effort to loosen myself up. It was working, but I had to stop. I will try and fit in the 15 – 20 minutes a day!

See you later!

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Heading down to the gym, on a perfect running day – sacrilegious!

Running Home and Away

Last week hubbie and I went away to Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, for a few days R&R. We had decided, at the start of the summer, that taking a few short breaks would be less disruptive to our businesses and lives than taking one long holiday. We had already visited Coniston in the English Lake District for a few days at the start of the school holidays and Oban was our next destination. Mindful of how I worried about running in Coniston I contacted the Oban Runners via their Facebook page prior to leaving, just to check out some routes. They recommended a 6 mile loop around a loch about a mile away from where we were camped which sounded perfect.

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With views like this I might forget to breathe! ©Julie Hollis, 2014
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Gorgeous weather has followed us around the north of Britain!
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The only piece of road I ran on!

I was, however, meant to do a 4 mile run on the Monday we were away, with one of the miles timed. After a reccy walk on the day before we discovered that the route between the campsite and the loch ran mostly along a disused railway track and was almost completely off road. It was ideal. Instead of running around the loch (and believe me I was sorely tempted) I decided to run out for two miles and then run back. It meant that 3 miles were largely in the shade of trees and, with the weather so warm even first thing in the morning, this was important. It also meant that I could do my warm up mile to the loch and then do my timed mile along the loch shore (which was pretty flat). For once I had it planned to perfection! The only possible fly in the ointment was that the shower block closed at 10.30 for cleaning, so I needed to be back before then in order to get cleaned up!

 

My warm up mile was a nice easy one at 10:40. I’ve been running 2:30/1 ratios because these seem to suit me at the moment so imagine my surprise at seeing my fastest mile of the year at 9:22 pop up! I was gobsmacked. This must go to prove that there is truth to what Jeff Galloway says – walk breaks can help to make you faster. I ran an easy two miles home at 11:32 and 11:08, making it home before the showers closed!

The view after my Magic Mile! Loch Creran is a beautiful and tranquil place.
The view after my Magic Mile! Loch Creran is a beautiful and tranquil place.

I know that run walking isn’t for everyone and my efforts are often met with a mixture of confusion and disapproval in races, but using these methods I’m getting faster and recovering from injuries quicker. I can easily sustain 9 minute mile running in the two and half minutes when I have to and walking for a minute adds surprisingly little to the overall pace. Basically it works for me.

Yesterday was my long run day again and I was down for 12 ½ miles. The weather seemed to have cooled down a tad from the furnace we’ve been living in for the past month or so (I’m not complaining, but it has made training difficult for this pale skinned Celt!) and I was looking forward to some cool running. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be and despite setting off early I was thwarted by the heat yet again. At 3 ½ miles I decided to turn back, making 7 miles and then run the 5 ½ later when it would have hopefully cooled down again. Despite the weather the 7 miles were bang on long run pace, one minute slower per mile than race pace. When it became clear that I would be running in the dark before the temperature and humidity reduced I opted to complete the run on the treadmill. Fanned and entertained by Star Trek Voyager, I ran the rest of the 12 miles at a slightly faster pace.

This morning I knew I’d almost run a half marathon! My quads, hip flexors and abductors were all complaining when I moved, but a long walk with the dog solved most of that. Whilst walking I was able to stop and take some photographs of the trail where I tend to do my short runs. The trail has changed such a lot over the last few months, with entire sections of the forest removed by the timber workers, it’s really quite odd to see.

On a nutrition note I’ve decided to ditch the chia seed gels I’d been trying. This is for a few reasons; they are expensive, have a short shelf life (great for long distance runners, but out of date by the time I need them) and they are bit too gooey for me. I’m still looking for something, but in the meantime I’m using a combination of Dextro energy tablets and jelly beans. Any ideas on this would be appreciated.

 

 

Running Long and Tapering Down

Today saw my last long run of this training programme. After today I’m on the taper.  And, to my relief, I’m feeling…

G-R-R-R-E-A-T!

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The weather forecast for today was dismal, so imagine my surprise to see sunshine and blue skies this morning. The weather gods were obviously smiling, so, after a breakfast of porridge, bananas and honey and having done my email duties for the morning, I set off. I had decided to run a tougher route than just along the fairly flat shore road. It’s my 4 mile loop which, if run again, becomes a 5 mile loop. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but if you take into consideration that if I’m doing a 4 mile run I walk to warm up and cool down adding the extra distance. If I run right round it’s 5 miles. Honest it is.

The run starts with a first mile which is mainly uphill. I always find that tough when I start off; my legs aren’t properly warmed up and my calf muscles are still too tight. However, I soldier on. After that the route undulates with some good hills to climb and descend. It’s a good route and I prefer to run a loop than go there and back. The only issue with this route though is that it tends to flood and yesterday we had some pretty nasty rain. I was expecting the worse.

The worst bit wasn’t as bad as I had expected, although as this road is being used as a diversion route for a farm which is cut off at present thanks to roadworks, it has suffered a bit. The road was pretty broken up in parts, with massive holes on either side; I feel sorry for the folk who live round there. The holes, predictably, had filled up with mud and rainwater and with the increased farm traffic the sloppy mud was being distributed all over the road. It was unavoidable and my lovely Brooks trainers are no longer quite as lovely; they are drying as I type, in the hope that the dirt might brush off. We’ll see.

I had taken with me my 33 Shake chia seed gels and my Camelbak with ¾ of a litre of water with a High 5 Zero tablet in it. I had been just using water, but I felt that I needed an extra boost. The High 5 Zero tablets had been sent out by the Edinburgh Marathon Festival organizers with my number, so I felt duty bound to try them out and I liked them; not too juicy tasting, salty if anything, and gentle on my stomach. I was a bit concerned when I got home though to discover that I had almost all of my ¾ litre left – I’m not drinking enough. I need to watch this, especially if I’m racing in warmer weather.

I planned to take my gels at miles 4, 8 and 12 but after mile 8 I forgot and ended up taking it at mile 9 instead. In the end I just didn’t bother taking the third one – I was managing fine with what I’d taken. Maybe the drink was helping there. I like the chia seed gels, but they are a bugger to swallow in a hurry when you’re a bit out of breath. I always take them on my walk breaks, but I inevitably run out of time. If I’m honest this is putting me off them and I’m wondering if I can do anything about it. I might contact the makers and see what they suggest.

By mile 8 the forecast weather had arrived and it was throwing it down. I stopped to call my son at home as I’d left two machine loads of washing on the line and knew that it would be soaked again by the time I’d run the last of that loop home. I decided at that point to head home and complete the run on the treadmill. The wind had picked up and the rain was extremely heavy – it wasn’t worth slogging out another loop. I may be mad, but I’m not crazy!

Having set up Star Trek on the DVD player I set off to boldly go (again) and boldly went with the Voyager crew. I felt surprisingly good and even ended up increasing the pace in the last couple of kilometres.

With my 14 miles complete in about 2:39 I had a rushed lunch of scrambled eggs, toast and humous and a strawberry soya milkshake and a quicker shower before heading into town to do the weekly shop! As a result, I haven’t sat down much, which might explain why I’m feeling so good! I honestly don’t feel pained enough to have run 14 miles – maybe that will come tomorrow!

But I hope not!

So now the taper begins. I’m pleased to have run my last long run before the race – I’m looking forward to saving my legs a bit. I’ve got two 30 minute runs to do this week, then a 5 mile run next Monday and two final 30 minute runs and then it’s race day!

After last week’s podiatrist downer I have some good news. I went to see my chiropractor (he of the Vulcan death grip) and told him what the podiatrist had said. When I got to the part when I relayed that I’d been told basically to give up running he stopped me. “Don’t give up running,” he said “Running has given you so much. Strength, confidence, achievement – don’t give up!” It was what I needed to hear. All athletes get injured. I don’t have the financial backing that elites have, but I do have a very good chiropractor who listens to how I’m feeling and helps me. Sometimes I need to work through injuries and having his support, as well as Jeff Galloway’s running plans, help me do that.

After all, if a 14 mile run leaves me feeling like Tony the Tiger, I’d be daft to let that go!

 

 

A self-affirming 6.5 easy miles

Sunday saw the first real increase in mileage since I restarted my training following injury.  It was a lovely day, a truly lovely day.  The sun was shining, there was just a gentle breeze and it was a cool 5ºC. I decided to head down along the shore road, despite the fact that it was just 6 ½ miles and that I could have done a loop of my favourite route. Truth is, I expected (bearing in mind that it’s been a very wet winter) that the route would be flooded in at least a couple of places and I really didn’t fancy paddling this close to the birth of my new running shoes! They deserve to stay reasonably clean for a few more weeks, at least!

An idea of the amount of water we're coping with - this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!
An idea of the amount of water we’re coping with – this was a field when I started out, but the high tide and increased river height caused a flood by the time I was heading home!

I’m also just training for a finish; I’m not trying to get a PB. I have had a string of rotten half marathons, because of injury, weather and both, and I just need to finish comfortably this time and then build on that. An easy run along the shore road was what I needed, all I needed.

Jeff Galloway was in my head, as ever. His app gives me reassurance and guidance. I’m getting better at using it, altering my pace and walk/run ratios as I need. I also took time to look around me and enjoy my lovely day. I met a couple of friends who watched me run off and come back again, grass in hand. I do love horses!

My new neigh-bours!
My new neigh-bours! Groan!

I ran the first 3 miles reasonably well. It is still taking me that length of time to get into the rhythm of running. After 3 miles I’m more relaxed, possibly not as fast, but happier. I think forced inactivity has just put me out of step with my running spirit and it’ll take me a while to find it again.

I ran the 6.5 miles at between 11 and 12 min mile pace. Not fast, not far, but fine.

Since then I’ve been reading my running mags avidly. One of them has suggested using meditation and self-affirmation as a way of boosting self-confidence. This is a great idea for me because I do tend to doubt myself, especially on long runs. I tried it last night and I’m going to add this to my training programme. Basically I relax each muscle group from my feet up, then imagine myself walking down a staircase to a lovely familiar place and when there I tell myself that I am a good runner, repeatedly. When I’m ready to finish I count myself from three to one and open my eyes. I’m happy to give this a go and I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences with self-affirmation.

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Last news from me for this week is that I’ve decided to fundraise again this year. I’m booked into three half marathons, almost 40 miles of racing on top of many more miles of training and a couple of 10ks thrown in for good measure – I think if I could raise a bit of cash for a worthy charity that would be great. I decided on Diabetes UK  in memory of Tina, my friend who passed away recently. Tina had Type 1 Diabetes and to raise money in her memory would be a fitting tribute. Diabetes UK were delighted for the support and have already sent out a fundraising pack, including a smart technical running vest. As I have already secured my places in the three races I don’t have to raise a certain amount for them, but I would like to raise at least £200.

If you would like to help please click on the banner to go to my JustGiving page or follow the text donation instructions. Thank you!

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Click to donate via my JustGiving page

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