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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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!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!