Saturday, 26 February 2011

Things to be grateful for

Like the T Shirt says "Get off the couch". My new goal in life
Tomorrow morning it will be four weeks since my accident.  Four weeks spent living on the couch.

In that time what was first thought to be a twisted knee developed into a fractured knee with serious soft tissue damage, complicated by a blood clot in my right calf.  If that wasn't bad enough, two weeks after the injury I also developed a ripped tenon in my left knee which landed me in emergency on Saturday, and on Tuesday this week my doctor was talking about reversing my blood thinning medicine and rushing me into surgery on both my knees the next day.

Touch wood, since then things have slowly started turning my way, the rip in my tendon wasn't as bad as feared and my doctor is hopeful that given time and rest it will heal itself.
So today, rather than focus on the negative, I'd like to highlight some small things to be grateful for:

1. Just so long as I am sensible, I will walk again, and I will do so on my own knees.  As my surgeon said when giving me the news, he'd seen two people that week, both younger than me, who would never walk on their knee's again, whereas in a year or two I'll be back to where I was before the fall.

2. I finished my self-administered Clexane injections on Wednesday morning after my INR (International Normalised Ratio) reached 2.6 this week.  It had to get over 2.0

3. A medical system which despite the delays, bad advice, high costs and endless frustrations does exist.  Yes, I may have blown well over a $1000 on tests, wasted countless hours because of bad advice, but at least I've got access to a proper medical system.

4. Family and friends who have gone above and beyond to keep me company and look after me.  Especially my aunt who came and did my dishes and cleaning every morning, and my mum who has cooked, cleaned and transported me around.

5. A boss, no two bosses, who have been just brilliantly supportive through this, including allowing me to work from home rather than deplete my rapidly vanishing sick leave balance, and not placing any pressure on me to get back to work too early.

Of course it's not all good news.  I've been told to cancel my planned European holiday in May, because it will probably be June-July before I can even get back onto an exercise bike and it will be September before I'll likely be back out on the road, and that's all assuming no further complications.

My surgeon's encouraged me to get into the pool, so I'm hoping to get some good swimming sessions in over the coming months, and rather than my aim of doing a half iron-man this year, I'm now seriously considering aiming towards doing the Murray River Marathon (or at least half-marathon) at the end of this year.  This is a bucket list item for me, and doesn't seem incompatible with damaged legs.

I'm also now thinking of where I can go to now that my European holiday is no more.  Winter is my preferred holiday period, but I'm thinking that maybe I could take a couple of weeks in December or January, maybe head to Africa or something.

Dreaming is always fun.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Life on the couch

Today marks my third consecutive week of life on the couch since my accident at Port Arthur.   Problem is, I think I'm in worse condition now than I was at the beginning.

Starting at the beginning, I went and saw an after-hours doctor out in New Town on the Sunday morning immediately after the accident, where after a 4 minute consultation, costing $81, the doctor proclaimed that I'd damaged my knee (who'd have guessed), and should just rest it and it would come right.  Somewhat reassured by this advice I went home and began my life on the couch determined to give my leg every chance to recover quickly.

Two days later, I went and saw my normal doctor.  My leg wasn't feeling much better, in fact on that day it was starting to feel worse with an aching in my calf, especially when I was sitting up.  My doctor figured that given I'd walked out I probably hadn't broken anything so no need to get an X Ray, and that the ache in my calf was probably from a fluid leak in my knee.  He told me I should just continue to rest and he sent me home with a certificate for the remainder of the week, with the promise that if things didn't get better we could consider getting an MRI next week.

That afternoon my leg went from slightly painful to near agony, and I found I had to keep it elevated constantly.  Each time I stood up it was like someone put a clamp around my calf and squeezed and my leg would turn a deep purply red.  Eventually I found that by putting a pressure bandage around my calf, the pain eased up when I stood, so I lived the next few days with my leg up on the couch and a bandage around my calf.  That was week one on the couch.

I had tried to get another appointment with my doctor when the pain got worse in my leg, but the first time he could see me was the following Tuesday.  I limped into the doctors surgery and explained what had happened only to be told to not worry, things would get better, and continue to rest.  Fortunately I had been talking to a guy at work, Martin Blake, who had a knee injury and who had told me to insist on getting an MRI, and that's what I did.  In fact my doctor agreed to let me get an MRI and an ultrasound scan of my calf muscle, and he told me he'd call me if anything of interest came out of them.

I managed to book myself in for these tests the next day, and that's when things got interesting.  Firstly I had my MRI, and whilst the MRI man wouldn't tell me what he saw, he did insist I get an immediate X-Ray on my knee, and wanted to get me in the next day for my ultrasound which was interesting seeing when I spoke to them the day before I had been told they couldn't get me in for about three weeks and had therefore already made alternative arrangements at another ultrasound clinic.  He also told me to go back and see my doctor ASAP.

I went out to get the Ultrasound later that same afternoon, and it was exquisite agony as the nurse ran the scanner over certain sections of my calf.  It was also bad news:  I had a blood clot in my right calf, and again the doctor at the surgery urged me to get in and see my doctor the next day.

Somewhat worried at this stage, I rang my doctor to make an appointment.  I explained the situation, but was told that the soonest my doctor could see me was the following Wednesday, in fact the soonest any doctor could see me was the following Tuesday (5 days away). I made the appointment, figuring that if they weren't worried, then I shouldn't be worried.

I put up a cheeky posting on Facebook, about my Deep Vein Thrombosis  and I got a flood of  responses from friends telling me to get my butt into hospital.  Instead, I called up my doctors surgery midday the next day when I knew they would have my medical reports and explained my situation again.  This time I got a completely different response and was told to get down to the surgery that afternoon to see Dr Graham.

It was probably the most depressing visit I have ever had with a doctor.  We waded through 4 pages of damage that I had done to my knee and calf.  As well as the DVT in my calf, I had also fractured my knee, and I had various other soft tissue damage.  My doctor was both very surprised and very apologetic.  So much so, that he actually came into work the next day and worked out a recovery program for me, organised a meeting with a specialist that afternoon and got me started on my medicines despite it being his day off.

The problem was they needed to brace my knee, but they couldn't brace my knee because that would restrict the blood flow which was a no-no for the clot.  After my Doctor talked to a few experts the next morning, I was put onto a course of Clexane injections (self adminstered) and Warfarin tablets for my blood clot and sent off to see a orthopedic specialists that afternoon.   

The orthopedic surgeon showed me through lots of MRI scans, and tried to explain to me what he was seeing, but I have to be honest and say I didn't really understand it other than the take home message which was that he needed to do scope surgery to tidy up some things in my knee, but he couldn't do that until the blood clot treatment was completed so he sent me home and told me to do some icing and exercises and come back in a week with more scans.

So that was the end of week two.  I was back on the couch with a doctors certificate covering me for yet another week, but with my sick leave rapidly running out.

Week 3 had a few highlights, not many of them good.

Stephan came around with his dog on Sunday, and poor little Penny dog innocently tapped my leg with her paw to get my attention when I was in the kitchen.  It felt like a hammer slamming into the side of my knee and I spent five minutes writhing in agony saying something rhyming with duck over and over again.

A couple of nights later I woke up with what sounded like someone yelling in my ear, I reflexively flipped around in bed and in the process my knee twisted sharply and I launched back into my exposition of all things that rhyme with duck.  A small detached part of me was thinking how amazing it is that I could construct entire sentences with such meaning whilst using just one word as verb, noun and adjective.

Another day after that I woke up and rolled over in bed and felt something slide down my back, I sat up and looked in my bed to see a white tail spider wandering towards me. 

I should have said that the previous week I had been sitting on the toilet when I'd absent mindingly grabbed some loo paper.  As I pulled it out a great huntsman spider, which had been hiding behind the back of the loo paper roll, flicked out onto my lap.  No matter who you are, trust me, you have an automatic reaction when a spider flicks out onto your lap when sitting on the loo, and normally that would be OK, but when you have a busted knee launching yourself off the toilet is not good.  It wasn't fun at the time, but it was a funny story to tell afterwards.

Anyway, with all of this happening, I think I can be forgiven for thinking that I had pissed someone or something off somewhere and a bit of negative karma was coming back my way.

Just to cement this point, I woke up on Friday with a sore left knee, I assumed this was from all the extra effort it was under from getting around and especially getting up off the couch, bed and toilet.  I went to bed on Friday night hopeful that it would be better the next day, but I was barely able to get out of bed the next morning, and was too scared to get back in it when I finally did.  I clambered down the stairs, and perched myself on the couch.  It was 6am and I just sat there in the dark listening to the rain come down on the roof.

A couple of hours later I needed to go to the toilet, and after levering myself off the couch I made my way to the steps and it was then that I realised I couldn't get back up them.  To cut a long story short, I ended up having to get mum to come up and take me down to Emergency at the Hobart Private Hospital.  Except I then realised that I couldn't get down the steps at the front of my house either.  We called an ambulance, but they called back after 2 hours to say that due to a high call out rate it would be quite a long time before they could send someone to me, so after a bit of a think I strapped a plank of wood to my leg to keep it straight an we managed to get down the front steps, into the car, and down to the private.

I could only shuffle backwards at this point on my crutches, and six hours and nearly $500 later I stumbled back out of the hospital thoroughly sick of doctors.  They'd take an X Ray and then kicked me out the door saying nothing was broken (Again, I already knew that).  It was only as I slowly shuffled my way back out the door backwards that the doctor and nurses suddenly realised that they were sending a patient out the door who could barely walk and who lived in a split level house after they had done barely anything.  I think the doctor got a case of the guilts and belatedly offered to admit me, however I was so fed up with them that I just left.

So now I'm down at mum's on a different couch.  I've hurt my left shoulder trying to get off the couch, but we've now figured out a seat belt harness system so people can help me off the couch and we'll see how we go from here.

Not exactly living the dream.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Ghost Tours and Bridge Runs

Port Arthur Church
It was meant to be the first real test for the year.  It was the event I had locked in way back in November last year, it was my unmasking, my chance to come out and say "I can do this again", I'm a new me.  It was the 2011 Hobart 10km Run The Bridge.

There wasn't any real reason I had set so much stake on this particular event, except maybe the attraction that I hadn't done it before, so it was new.  More importantly, I think the attraction to this event was that when I entered I was still 10kgs away from even being able to do my first run (which didn't happen until January) and so it was a real challenge when I decided to aim for it.  It was something I was far from certain I could actually do.  It asked the question - could I persist, could I survive ... could I amaze?

But it's now been and gone, and instead of sitting here sore but contented having faced the challenge and come out the other side, I'm just sitting here.

I'm siting here with my leg bound up, just as I've been sitting here for the last week, a victim of a stupid misadventure.

I'd taken Ash, Jannaya, Sam and Will down to Port Arthur to do a Ghost Tour on A&J's last night here in Tassie, but as the night unfolded I ended up walking Jannaya and Sam back to the visitors center about half way through the tour as they were both getting a little too scared.

After getting them back safe, I decided on an impulse to go back and join the group, and this was where I took a step too far.  To be precise whilst heading from the solitary prison back down to the road, I quite literally stepped off a 5ft drop down onto the road without even seeing it.

I was scratched, banged around and a bit nauseous, but I hadn't truly realised the damage I'd done to myself as I quickly jumped back onto my feet before the group arrived and saw me in their torches.  I let most of them past before tacking onto the end, earnestly trying to hide my limp.

I realised I was in a bit of trouble as the first signs of shock gripped me a few minutes later (nausea, dizziness, sweating, over heating) but I managed to sit down and rest for a few minutes as the guide gave a bit of a spiel and then follow the group back to the visitors centre.

The next day (Sunday) I couldn't walk, and almost collapsed going down the steps in my house.  Rach took me to see the after hours doctor, who made the right noises about not worrying and pushed me out the door four minutes and $81 later.  When I saw my normal doctor three days later he also said to give it time before we do further testing, so I returned to my couch and waited.

It's now been seven days.  My doctor tells me I have fluid leaking from my knee which is causing my calf and foot to swell up and sometimes the pain is excruciating, especially at night.  I can't unfortunately get into see my doctor again until next Tuesday to get to do any more scans or tests, so I wait, and I rest, and I recover.

I've missed the bridge run, and likely I'll miss quite a few other events I had planned over the coming months, but I still plan to reach my goals, and my ultimate goal this year is to still compete in a half iron-man.  Maybe I'll get an MRI and that will end my dream, but what I do know is that it will be the physical, not the mental that will stop me.

... and watch out for me in the 2012 Run the Bridge, 'cause I'll be there.

Amy's Ride - Why a Metre Matters

Earlier this week I was cycling down the Southern Outlet on my way to work when I came to the section, probably a couple of hundred metres long, where there is no shoulder for cyclists and we are forced to move out into the traffic and take a lane for a while.

This can sometimes be a tricky maneuver as the road shoulder ends just around a blind corner, so you have to do plenty of checking over your shoulder to make sure that you're not about to get into, and most likely lose, an argument with a car or truck over who has right of way to that lane.

I had safely negotiated this little maneuver this morning, and was about two thirds the way through the "on road" section when a car horn suddenly blared at me from right behind my shoulder. This causes an immediate adrenalin reaction as a horn like that is saying only one thing to a cyclist: "I'm about to hit you, get out of my way".  Before I even had time to react a large dark-blue, pickup truck with personalised number plates "RADHUH" went flying past me with less than 10cm to spare.  I was doing around 50km/hr an hour, and this ute was doing at least the speed limit of 80km/hr as it tried to get past all the cars in the right hand side over taking lane which weren't going fast enough for it.

I was just a stupid cyclist who was slowing him down, and the only reason I'm alive is good luck.

Overtaking a cyclist in the same lane at that speed is plain unsafe in my book.  Doing it with 10cm to spare, whilst cutting inside other traffic is both illegal and close to murder.

This isn't an isolated case.  Just the week before as I was pulling up at the traffic lights at the end of the Southern Outlet a lady went past me in her car.  She had her mobile phone against one ear (which is illegal in Tasmania) whilst rummaging through her handbag which was on the passenger seat beside her.  She didn't even know I was there as she brushed past me with half a meter to spare.

As it turned out, I ended up just in front of her at the next lights, and I had to sit there as she hung out the window and screamed at me to get off the "effing" road and let her past.  I just shook my head as there was no way I could explain she was the reason I was taking up the full lane.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, because today was Amy's Ride, a ride whose purpose is to raise awareness of the need for safety on our roads.  Sure I could tell you about the struggles and fun I had doing the 100km, I could tell you how I managed to push myself and just scrape in with an average speed of 27.0km/hr and hence finish in just under 3hrs 30 mins (a new record for me), but the truth is today for me was about showing I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is and advocate the message that a metre really does matter.

Play safe on the roads kiddies, lives are at stake.