Well, why not? I want to and I can.
Many people question my rationale as to why I do so much exercise, particularly whilst being on TPN. Honestly? There are so many reasons, some personal, others less so.
Number 1 is probably the most crucial sport/ exercise makes me feel good. It helps keep me strong physically, provides great escapism, and is fantastic for my mental well-being.
I think that being fit and as healthy as possible is what helps me avoid so many complications and is great for symptom management. On paper, I shouldn’t be as able as I am, but I work hard to keep strong and it seems to pay dividends.
It gives me purpose and drive, things that are so often lost with chronic health problems.
I have a reason to get out of bed every day, something to work towards. The goal constantly evolves – doing the same exercise faster, or with a heavier weight etc… it’s never completed.
I can definitely tell the difference when I’ve not been training. I am fatigued whether I train or not, but the fatigue I experience from exercise ensures I sleep well and as a result helps me manage my underlying fatigue.
It is of course a balancing act. It is imperative I listen to my body, if it’s screaming for more sleep then that’s what it gets. If I have horrific DOMs then I adjust that day’s session to manage it. If my gastro symptoms are flaring, I focus on managing them. It’s the same for any athlete, you learn to adapt and respond to what you’re feeling. For me with unstable health, it’s an invaluable skill, it means I’m aware of when things are straying from my ‘normal’, and I can be proactive about my health.
It’s also a lesson in time management, trying to fit my degree, my training, medical treatments, appointments etc.… into the day or week, without overloading it and skipping important things like rest periods as well as everything that goes into being an adult aka paperwork!!
It’s also a learning experience, there’s more to any sport than just being able to do it. You need to master the skills, practice the smallest movements until you don’t have to think about them, learn how to manage pre-competition nerves, performance anxiety, and how to remain focussed during an event and training sessions. A major competition could be years away, but you have to give your all every training session as that can be the difference between Gold and Silver come match day.
You also learn how to manage setbacks, bad sessions, poor results, and injuries, working out how to continue contributing to your goals even if you can’t train like usual.
These are very handy tools for life, whether you have a disability to manage or not.
Away from personal development and enjoyment, there is the challenging of assumptions.
I once sat at a Gala Dinner celebration post International race and during a conversation with a newly qualified dietitian, she said to me, but you can’t row if you’re on TPN. I replied that she’d seen me compete therefore it must be possible. She reconsidered her stance and said it shouldn’t be possible. When I asked her why, she said that we are meant to be too sick. I explained that the point of TPN was to facilitate me living, and that there were many people doing extraordinary things on TPN. We spoke some more and she said she was going to talk to her colleagues about me, to make sure everyone was helping their TPN patients live their dreams, and if she worked in that field in the future she’d tell her patients about me.
This isn’t about boasting or showing off, this is much more important; this is about raising awareness in the purest way, by being in the community, by taking these chance meetings to show what is possible. If my actions encourage someone else to follow their dreams, I will be ecstatic.
“Something is only impossible, until somebody makes it happen”.
It’s not just about encouraging people on TPN to be more active, it’s about the positive impact exercise, and movement can have on everyone, particularly those with chronic illnesses.
I believe so deeply in the power of movement for recovery. It can be difficult knowing how to start becoming more active again, and this is something I would really like to help people with. I would like to enable those who want to become more active learn a safe and effective way of facilitating their goals.
Many people have been exposed to bad advice, either from physiotherapists, Doctors, the Internet, other people with their condition(s), and ‘well meaning’ family and friends. This can destroy their confidence and make people unsure how to take the first steps into a more active lifestyle.
The key thing is that it needs to be person specific and targeted appropriately.
The benefits of physical activity are numerous and I want to show and help people realise that it is possible and important to become more active despite your health problems. There are so many myths to dispel and barriers to break down as part of this. Many people want quick fixes to control their symptoms, whereas physical activity has been shown to help manage so many conditions. I’m not for one minute suggesting throwing away medications, but that we need to be as proactive in helping ourselves as possible.
It is not a cure, but like many things, it’s a management tool.
That’s why I do sport.
So over a year has passed, where have I been?! Well I have been very scarily fighting for my life.
I’ll try to keep this short, but it’s a long story.
Last September, having a relatively good period of health, I’d taken my handcycle and gone on a three-hour coaching spree in the absolute pouring rain. I’ve been less wet in the bathtub!! Other than resembling a drowned rat, I was feeling absolutely fine. I warmed up, dried off etc… and went to bed.
The next morning was the beginning of the nightmare that has been the last 10 months. I woke with backache, nothing spectacular and not horrifically uncommon- I sit down all day and had spent 3 hours on my bike in the freezing cold, something was bound to hurt. The odd thing was that I couldn’t straighten up. Refusing to pay too much attention to this, I applied heat, convinced myself it was a bad muscle spasm, got medication from the GP, and arranged an emergency sports massage. As the day progressed the pain got worse, it wasn’t responding to heat, ice, pain meds, muscle relaxants etc.… I carried on though, as the day progressed I started shaking and not being able to bear my weight whilst sitting up, despite this I still coxed a crew, well it was that or they didn’t go out and I couldn’t bear that.
Things kept getting worse, I had to take the weight through my arms when sat, I still couldn’t move to an upright position, but still I denied a serious problem. The Calea nurse came and went, my carer came, and I insisted I wanted a shower (despite the shaking and severe pain thing). She insisted I sought medical attention so I messaged a medic friend of mine who replied with “You should have phoned an ambulance 6 hours ago”. Reluctantly I considered this, with her messaging every few minutes to check whether I’d phoned an ambulance.
With much reluctance, I gave up, and the carer phoned for help. I got a friend to come round as well. By this time I was just lying on the bed yelping. Still trying to convince myself it was just a muscle spasm and this was fuss over nothing.
Eventually the paramedics arrived, by which time things were getting a little hazy. I recall them walking in and thrusting Entonox at me without saying much. I think they could probably hear my yelps in the street. With plenty of Entonox on board, they managed to get some sense out of me.
I remember we did my basic obs; everything was fine bar the raging fever, which I hadn’t noticed at all. At this point, I remember saying, “Is this the time to tell you I have a central line?” Cue serious faces from them and checking I was serious. We rushed, very gently over to A&E, where I continued to consume copious amounts of Entonox.
The Doctors were fantastic. It was clear I had an infection and it was assumed I had a central line infection that had probably gone septic that was causing all the pain. They tried, but failed to follow sepsis protocol- I should have had a stat dose of IV Domestos before leaving ED, but they were too worried about me breaching to get it sorted. They also didn’t sort out my pain relief properly and left me screaming in agony all night.
I had started having huge back spasms that brought my knees to my chest. The plan was badly thought out and they decided to send me for a PICC before starting my PCA, by this point, my back was continually spasming and I was stuck, completely in the foetal position on my side, which made for PICC insertion difficult. They also failed to sort out my dignity – I was desperate for the bathroom at 5 AM, but couldn’t get on a bedpan for the aforementioned reasons. Eventually my team came and decided that I probably had a line infection and would be up and out of there in a week with some IV antibiotics, but they would do a spinal MRI just to make sure. The plan was to put an In-Out catheter in until the PCA started and I’d be able to move more easily. The ‘minor’ problem being no suitable catheters on the ward, and I think the world’s slowest walker went to the other side of the hospital to steal some from Urology. Then there was the faff that the nurses didn’t know how to use them, errmmm it’s a catheter it’s not that hard and you put Foley’s in regularly.
My bladder by this time was progressing from hill to small mountain and eventually got impatient, I won’t tell you the rest, but I was a very soggy and unhappy patient.
Eventually things were settled, I had the PICC placed so I could get some decent pain relief, I moved to my usual ward, but I was still having massive back spasms. Eventually someone added in some IV diazepam and I finally managed to start sleeping a bit better.
MRI day came, I was told off for moving too much- they’d taken away my pain relief as it was out of hours, and I hadn’t had any diazepam for hours. Eventually exhaustion hit and I fell asleep in the scanner.
Back on the ward, the next morning and hell really started to happen. The MRI showed I had a massive Paravertebral abscess from L4- base of sacrum, Discitis at L5/S1 and Osteomyelitis at the same point, as well as a few other bits and pieces. The question was what to do. They said they couldn’t biopsy because of all the nerves in the area, but the blood cultures were showing nothing. Therefore, we started chucking more antibiotics at it.
I just didn’t get better. After 2 weeks, I was still as bad clinically and my fevers hadn’t gone anywhere. More antibiotics were trialled, but after 5 weeks no change. A 6-week course of other antibiotics was embarked on. I was starting to turn a corner, the labs were looking better and my fevers were down. Then 5.5 weeks into the course fevers returned and my labs were off again. We extended for another 2 weeks, at point 7 weeks and 5 days having been fever free for nearly 2 weeks I spiked a massive fever. I told my consultant and she said it was just a one off and not to worry. Cue a whole day of fevers. I woke up the next morning and found my consultant at the end of the bed “I wasn’t expecting to see you today”, “well I wasn’t expecting you to have fevers all day” she retorted!! After a long discussion with Infectious Diseases, they decided a 12-week course was the answer.
Sometime during this experience, somebody decided that I might be having antibiotic fevers and they wanted to stop my antibiotics for 48 hours and see what happened. Part way through that experience I spiked an over 40°C which persisted for the whole day, at some point in the early hours of the morning I was woken by the Critical Care Outreach Team, one of the scariest points of the experience, they are NOT a good sign. Thankfully, I went back on to the antibiotics and the fever came down. I had a similar experience when they changed the antibiotics to one I told them never worked for me, and that didn’t go well either.
So having had 5 weeks of mix and match antibiotics I then had a 12 week course of IV Domestos (other brands of bleach are available).
Somehow, a week turned into 100 days, I don’t quite know where or how, but what I thought had been a couple of weeks had turned into several months.
Eventually my birthday loomed, yet another big birthday that was looking to be a disaster. People did their best. My Mum sent some 30 balloons, they were much larger than anyone ever expected and caused much amusement on the ward!!
They also let me use a meeting room to have a little party the weekend after my birthday. I was so grateful to everyone who came to make it a special day. I eventually crashed out and fell asleep in the party!!
Birthday joy (and the giant numbers!!):
During all of these antibiotics, I had to undergo major physio- I couldn’t sit up to begin with and we did a lot of work to get me moving again. The first day they hoisted me out of bed I didn’t even make into the chair before I had to go back to bed again.
This was one of the hardest fights of my life. I was determined I wasn’t going home needing to use a hoist. Nope not happening, no way. (I have nothing against hoists as such, but I wasn’t letting this infection change my life even further). We battled a lot; there was a lot of tears, a lot of pain, but also a lot of laughter. I was fortunate enough to have the most amazing Physio and OT team. I don’t think I could have done it without them. They told me it was all my work, but they were there cheering me along, making me believe I could do it. I honestly think the outcome would have been different if it hadn’t been for them. Towards the end of my stay the physio changed and he was not at all supportive and I think would have made my recovery a lot less effective. Thankfully, by the time he was involved I was well on my way back to recovery.
My first time in a chair for months:
My first trip outside in even longer:
Shortly after my birthday came Christmas. Hospital Santa left me a nice present, and I was allowed a few hours home with my parents. We made the best of it as we could, but I eventually hit a wall and needed to go back.
I got to play with my beautiful gerbils though, who I hadn’t seen since September, and I’d only had them about 3 weeks before I went in, but, they seemed to know who I was and were very well behaved.
I spent Boxing Day recovering in hospital and slowly opening some more presents. I learnt Santa is extra generous when you’ve been fighting for your life!! The next day I got a few more hours leave and went home again. I had to wade through masses of paperwork and try to get some sort of semblance of normality going on. There were more presents (yay!!) and then back to recovering at hospital.
Eventually I started being able to get more independence. I still couldn’t sit up straight, and was stuck in a huge wheelchair, which reclined and tilted in space, which was fantastic at the time.
During this time, I was also assessed for Continuing Healthcare to try to get me more support at home. I had to prove that my needs were mostly medical rather than social, and that they fulfilled a few other criteria. A lot of stress, a lot of paperwork and unpleasant experiences accompanied that, but eventually I was approved.
I was to be sent home with 24/7 live- in care. This was a huge shock and is still taking adjustment. It also meant I had to sort out the spare room as it was basically a junk room, and we had to make it habitable somehow. Fortunately, just before I went in some friends and I had cleared the room a bit so that the gerbils could live in there, and people could stay the night at a pinch.
There was still a lot of work to do to make it habitable though.
By now, it was February and I was finally off my antibiotics, but still under the care of the Physio and OT and still trying to sort out the care arrangements.
I was given weekend leave, which was exciting and a big step forwards (and a huge one back as well as I was to discover). I was chief delegator whilst sat on the sofa. Eventually I fell asleep, I woke up shivering. I assumed I was just not used to the normal temperature of my house rather than the Greenhouse of the hospital. I was due to go to a formal meal and then a meeting the next day, which is why I choose that weekend for leave.
I continued to shiver despite a warm bath and many layers. I headed off to my dinner regardless (Denial is fantastic!!) Eventually I stopped shivering and didn’t think much of it. The next morning I woke feeling okay, and then all of a sudden the Rigors hit again. I was vomiting and apparently looked horrific. I was adamant I was going to my meeting, and then all of a sudden it hit me and I was desperate to go back to the hospital to sleep.
On arrival, we mentioned it all to the nurses, and I had a raging 41°C fever. ‘Flu had just hit the hospital and was about to hit the ward, so it was assumed that was the problem, and we would continue with preparations for discharge on Tuesday. They took some blood cultures just in case, but my primary consultant had just gone off sick too, so it was assumed to be one and the same having spent an hour or so talking to him on the Friday.
We continued planning for discharge, being reassured again it was just ‘flu, and then a nurse asked me why I was being started on IV antibiotics. I had no idea and we thought maybe it was a clerical error; suddenly a Doctor appeared and explained that I had sepsis again. This time they’d grown a bug so they knew what to treat. This was a kick in the teeth; having already had 17 weeks of Vancomycin my body wasn’t keen on more. To add to the joy I also managed to contract MRSA and got myself moved to a side room.
I redecorated the room with all the amazing cards and letters that my friends had sent. I couldn’t believe the amount of support I’d had over the last five and a bit months.
The Wall Of Love (several layers deep in places):
Another 2 weeks of IV Domestos and I was ready to go home. It was a new world I was going into, my hopes and dreams had been crushed (that’s for another post), and someone was going to be with me 24/7. For a creature of isolation, this was going to be a big change.
I made it 5 days and then aspirated vomit into my lungs. Having done a sputum sample I’d grown some nasty bugs and needed some IV antibiotics to treat it. 10 days after spending over 6 months in hospital, I was being readmitted. This was to be a simple couple of days impatient so that I could pass my test to treat at home. This, however, being me meant things didn’t quite go that way. What I hadn’t been told on admission was that my kidney function had gone awry. I continued with treatment and then one day I started becoming really drowsy and unresponsive. The nurses weren’t worried and thought I’d just had too many of my drugs. I was in a state; I was very distressed, as I couldn’t work out what was happening and why I couldn’t stay awake etc… The night team came on and the HCA went ape, she demanded a Doctor came to see me immediately I was completely different to the night before.
The doctor came and informed me that my kidney function had deteriorated even further, and that I had nephrotoxicity because of the opiates and benzodiazepines I was taking. She started treatment for that and kept an eye on me over night and into the morning. Around the same time, I’d had a bag of TPN and started feeling increasingly unwell. My obs were further off, and my central line tunnel was very swollen and painful. I’d become septic for a third time, despite already being on strong IV antibiotics. My heart rate slowed right down, my body was struggling, and I was actually very scared. Thankfully, with aggressive treatment things have recovered – my heart rate is still very slow at random, points and my kidney function is not completely back to normal. I have kidney pain now from the Acute Kidney Injury, but I’m hoping in time that will change.
I was eventually stabilised and managed to get home, but things have been rough since then. Having gone into hospital in September it was now April and I’d fought for my life three times in six months, lost my hopes and dreams, and had a completely new lifestyle to work with. I have permanent back damage, and have only just started managing to sit up straight again.
My life changed majorly and it was one of the scariest and exhausting experiences of my life.
Where I go from here unknown, and is definitely for another post.
If you’ve managed to get this far, I’m very impressed and I’m sorry it’s so long, but for an 8 month long rollercoaster ride from hell I’ve done my best to condense it. Thank you for your efforts, and of course to everyone who supported me during this hell.
I’ll be honest, my lead up to Henley Women’s Regatta wasn’t great. I’d missed a lot of training through illness and injury and was really not in the shape I wanted to be. To the extent that, I was seriously considering scratching about 2.5 weeks before the race. Coach wasn’t having any of it thankfully.
To have even half a chance at winning, I knew I had to stay well and get the most out of the sessions I had left.
With good fortune, I stayed well and injury free and managed to commit to some decent training. I regained speed quickly and my erg scores started to tumble. With a few days to go before I started to taper, I finally managed to produce some scores I could be relatively happy with, and the belief that I could perform started to reappear.
So I bundled everything (but the kitchen sink!!) into the car, and set off to Henley. I arrived just in time to see some of my squad mates race. I met some friends for the first time, saw some old friends, and generally had a chilled out afternoon.
I had a straight final so was only due to race Sunday afternoon, but I love Henley Women’s Regatta, so went
down for the whole weekend, it’s such a great event.
I went to prepare for an evening paddle, to discover that my foam roller, that I use under my knees in the boat had been removed and left at home. So after a quick strop, we used some bits of kit for a temporary job and I went out for a paddle. It was good to be back on the water, although being surrounded by 8’s is always a little unnerving in a single. It’s like being in a Smart Car surrounded by HGVs!! The session went mostly to plan. I found my balance (well as much as I ever have!!) and did a few starts. It seemed okay, and I managed to hold off the 4’s and 8’s coming down for a while. I did nearly capsize just before coming in when I had my right blade parallel to the boat and my left was well into arms away, but I managed to stay calm and rescue it, phew!!
We then went back to the hotel, unpacked, had food etc…. The plan was to chill out for Saturday and have an evening paddle. So I had an early night and a late morning, my PA and I went out to get some snacks, but otherwise I sat around and mooched. My parents arrived in the afternoon, which was lovely. I was going to go out for the paddle, but we decided that driving 30- 40 minutes, for a 40 minute outing and then the same back, was probably not worth it in the grand scheme of things. I wasn’t going to gain anything significant from the outing, but I could injure myself, or tire myself out so I decided to stay watching DVDs instead.
My coach was kind enough to run around the shop and get a new foam roller, whilst we acquired a saw to do the job.
I had an early night, having packed everything and prepared all my kit and drinks for the next day. Not long after I woke I got a frantic phone call from my coach saying there was a problem with the timetable and we were due to race at 1150 not 1500. This gave me less than 2 hours before I needed to boat. Many phone calls, tweets and emails were sent, and I managed to get hold of someone, who said that they’d just noticed it as well and were in the process of checking it. Thankfully 1500 was right, which is what we’d been told originally, so I had to spend some time calming down.
We arrived at 11 so had plenty of time to prepare and cut down foam rollers. I just rested and chatted until it was time to prepare and get on the water. We were heading up to the changing room when an unfortunate incident occurred, which involved me being tipped out of my wheelchair and dislocating my shoulder in the process. This resulted in a very stressed and annoyed me, with a rather wonky shoulder. I quickly put my shoulder back in and tried to get my head back into the race plan.
I boated and rowed up to the start focussing on balance and length, and remaining focussed on my race and my boat not what was going on around me. I got up to the start, and had fun with the cross wind. We were called up to attach to the stake boats. I arrived got lined up and then they decided to change the person holding it, and also move the length of the platform out as well. Eventually we were called to Attention. I quickly checked my blade position, took a focussing breath and then “GO”.
I had a good start, and moved off quickly, I powered through my first few strokes, and realised I could already see my competitor from the corner of my eye. Without losing focus, I continued to push on, by the Island I already had about 2 L clear water, so I settled into a safe rhythm, remembering my coach’s sole instruction “Don’t F*** Up” I continued to pull away, so I started to wind down a bit- I was told to keep it safe and not push on unnecessarily. I settled into a 75% pressure pace, and just kept my focus and calm, whilst trying not to get too excited. As I drew towards the finish, everyone was cheering and shouting, and suddenly I heard “Claire, you can stop rowing now” Possibly the most bizarre hooter/whistle in the world. Suddenly I realised I had won!! Yes, finally after a horrid season, I’d done it. I wound it down and continued rowing so that I could get back to the boathouse. Some people didn’t realise that I had finished racing and were shouting at me to keep going and not give up- I think I was doing arms only at the time to try and recover a bit!! As I continued rowing down people were still clapping and cheering- this is what I love about HWR, people support everyone, complete strangers came up to me to congratulate me, it’s a lovely feeling.
I got back to the boathouse and out of the boat- for once I didn’t throw up!! But I did cry instead. I know it sounds daft, but it’s been such a rubbish season, it was such a relief to have done this. I got an understated fist bump from coach and then I went to roll into a shower before getting dressed up for presentation. I discovered I was only 12 seconds off the course record and I’d only been rowing at 75% so I was a bit annoyed about that, but the time I won in was about the same time I’d won my semi in last year, so despite all my problems this year it shows I’m in better shape than I thought.
I took my parents shopping, well I mean I showed Mum lots of things I wanted and convinced her to part with her credit card for some of them!! They sadly had to go and couldn’t stay till the presentations as it’s nearly 4.5 hours for them to go back home and Mum had work the next day. My aunt and uncle stayed a little bit longer and then headed off. I was called into the presentation enclosure and we kept having to move people out of the way as otherwise I wouldn’t get to my presentation!! There was a bit of talking and speech by Naomi Riches MBE, before the presentations started.
Eventually it was my turn- after remembering to take off my brakes, I made it to the front. I’m not good in these sorts of situations, I get really nervous, but I managed to not drop the trophy which was the main thing, and remembered to try and smile as well!!
We made a quick exit after that as I was pretty tired and still had to do the drive home. We did our goodbyes and made for home.
So that’s my story of Henley Women’s Regatta. It was as ever a fun experience, and really enjoyable.
Training has been going rather well recently, I’m not as fast as I’d like, but then what athlete ever is!? But my endurance is improving, and with that should come speed, so fingers crossed it is on the right path.
I’ve been trying to look at the nutrition aspect of my training recently. This of course is a very complex area for me given that I can’t tolerate much food orally and only absorb part of what I do manage to tolerate. Both my gastrointestinal team and respiratory teams have some involvement in my nutrition, the latter because of my reflux affecting my lungs. Each have an opinion about what should and shouldn’t be done, and me being me, generally have a different plan to both of them!!
Whilst they argue it out, I’m focussing on the basics- hydration during the day being the biggest, and the focus today. I get my primary fluids overnight in my IV bag, and can only tolerate around 300ml of oral fluid a day. So I need to make that 300ml contain the most value it can. I need to consider what I need, what I can tolerate and what I have planned for the rest of the day and the next days. I can rehydrate effectively day to day with my IV fluids, but trying to quench a post-training thirst, or rehydrate after a sweaty first session are not so easy to do. It’s not practical, nor safe to hook up extra IV fluids every day due to access and de-accecessing requirements. I will do it if it’s a dire emergency but it’s not ideal in any way (for my personal situation).
Some things I tolerate better than others, and at different times I tolerate different things. Generally water is the fluid I struggle most with, so I have to avoid drinking pure water. Instead if it’s just for rehydration as opposed to for refuelling, I’ll use an electrolyte tablet added to water, as I tolerate this reasonably well. If I need calories as well as electrolytes I’ll use a carbohydrate powder mixed in and for ‘Recovery’ I’ll use a protein/carb mix, but I find that hard to digest so tend to only use that on evenings.
I am pretty obsessed with fluid balances, output/input etc as well as weight. Dehydration is known to have a massive impact on performance not only physically, but mentally. A quick search produces thousands of articles discussing the negative impact it has, as well as hopefully mentioning the dangers of overhydration, so I’ll skip the details. Dehydration also affects one of my other health problems, so I have to be extra careful- I’m still learning though, and for me it’s not an exact science as so many other things affect my stomach and its ability to tolerate oral fluids. My days of glugging down a big glass of ice cold juice are well over, although I dream of this on a hot evening, because if I over do the fluids I end up with them coming back up, and my hydration levels worse than they were before I started.
Unfortunately with the summer coming, things get that bit more complicated, as I need to find some way of getting in extra day time fluids without being able to increase what I put in. It’s difficult and we’re still balancing it out, but now I have a second line in, I can piggy-back fluids to run with TPN, without it taking any longer. I’m hoping that this will work, this is the first year I’ve tried this so fingers crossed it works out okay. The risk with this is that I end up with fluid overload and best case scenario end up taking a lot of loo breaks, the worst case heart failure. So it’s a delicate balance!!
The downside to there not being people around who have tried this before, means you’re kind of on your own out there. It’s a work in progress, and I’m hoping to work with a sports nutritionist soon, so he might have some ideas, but due to the circumstances has never worked with a TPN athlete before- at least he should know the basic nutritional stuff, I just go with common sense and try and make some educated judgement calls.
It’s now less than a week to Henley Women’s Regatta, so I’m started to plan my fluid options for that. Thankfully I’ve only got the one race, so it’s easier in terms of hydration than last year, but is very much weather dependent and based on pre-planning estimates.
Hopefully it’ll work out okay and I’ll be a nicely pre-hydrated, ready to kick butt on Sunday!!
That’s the reality. Three years ago I started TPN, it saved my life, and completely revolutionised it.
I wrote extensively on this topic 2 years ago here: https://rowrowyourboat.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/365-little-days-later-why-pinnt-means-so-much-to-me/
Now I am back, this time to talk about fundraising for them. They’ve stuck by me as every challenge has cropped up, have introduced me to some fantastic friends and some random people who I love dearly. I have three years of additional life to celebrate, and I have definitely done some living in those years.
On Sunday I take on the Bupa Westminster Mile- don’t worry I haven’t suddenly learnt to walk, I took up wheelchair racing as part of my cross-training, so I thought why not give it a go?! It’s time to repay the favour, to ensure they can continue their fabulous work, plus I get to race (can take the rower off the water, but can’t take the racing mentality away!!).
I only started training for wheelchair racing in February and much has been punctuated by niggles and meetings getting in the way, so I’ve not had many sessions, and seem to have the worrying knack of tipping my chair, including in my first ever race!!
I’ve now done 2 competitions and 7 events across those, I’m not fast, but I’m having fun- although I have collected 5 medals and a third place out of those.
I hope anyone reading this will take time to read my fundraising page http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/claireconnon where I wax lyrical about the work PINNT do, and consider sharing and supporting this fantastic charity and my crazy endeavour!!
—–Please note MY autism, this is not reflective or representative or any other person with autism on the spectrum, this is my story and even then doesn’t do the complexities any justice in the slightest.——
Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day. Yes, yet another one of those darned awareness days that come up on your timeline and you think what does it matter to me?
Well it doesn’t, not really, but it matters to some people. I’ve spoken about my opinions of awareness days previously and this one seemed to go off very quietly compared to some of the awareness events I’ve seen previously.
As for me, I’m aware of autism, 24/7, 365(6) days a year. Why? Well if you don’t know you’ve clearly never spent any time with me in person, and if you’ve not had that dubious pleasure, then I was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder a few years ago.
It had been obvious to myself since I was very young that I was different, I didn’t like what the other kids were into, I was too weird, even for the weird kids. I didn’t want to be in groups, and preferred writing and studying to painting, had an obsession with reading and various other ‘normal’ things that combined with some not so ordinary things weren’t picked up on until I was in my late 20’s.
When I was at school, many still believed autism, particularly Asperger’s (as it was at the time) was a male only disorder; they had just about mastered checking for dyslexia but anything more than that was beyond them.
As a girl, I presented typically, but here is the crucial difference, I presented typically for a female- unfortunately this is still a very much unresearched area, but there appears to be key differences. Even my Special Education Needs trained mother missed the diagnosis. Looking back she says she can see it clearly now even from when I was a tiny baby who wouldn’t be left with anyone other than my parents, but even then didn’t really want to be with them. It was much more complex than that, but hopefully you get the drift.
I never hugged on a regular basis until I went to uni at 18. I had never settled at school, I loved getting an education, but had very little interest in my peers. Uni was a change in so many ways. The perks of going to Cambridge are numerous, but one is that research has shown it to have a higher than average percentage of people with ASD, which is hardly surprising considering what you need to achieve to get in there!! I was finally in a place where I could be myself, a very strange experience and hugely overwhelming, those first few days of each new year were particularly hard as you had to get used to change all over again.
That’s all in the past though, the point of this is what it means to me to be autistic day to day. Well I don’t know. I’m not autistic day to day, I’m me every day. Autism is just the way my brain is programmed, and therefore it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s impossible to know if something is a Claire-ism, a quirk like any neurotypical person has, or because I’m autistic. Day to day I’m used to how things are. My head is like a constantly whirring motor seeing all the little things you miss, hearing the conversation you’re meant to, plus those all around you, hearing every noise (I had to ban cat scarer devices), all the idiosyncrasies you don’t register, ever seen Monk? Well my brain is like that all the time, just with less germ phobia!! It’s exhausting, spotting things that aren’t done correctly, and by correctly, I mean in the manner which befits my brains working. Ever had an argument with a 29 year old about putting the wrong sock on first- yes it does matter. Maybe not to you, but in the rules of my world it does.
For me those rules aren’t optional. People talk about it like it’s an anxiety disorder where something horrendous will happen if things don’t occur in a particular order, but that’s not the case, the rules are put in place by my brain and are so that things sit neat and ordered in my head, they stop some of the chaos waving it’s arms so violently around, but if they are broken, although I may have a melt-down, I know there’s nothing going to go wrong because of it is. A break from the never ending chaos that goes on in there would be strange and probably unsettling, after all I hate change!!
The only time I get a calm in my midst is when I’m out on the river, I don’t know what it is about rowing as such, but the escape I get whilst I’m rowing is fantastic. Maybe it’s because I can focus on the structure, there’s no space in my head for all the little “Me, Me, Me’s” waving their arms around, there’s space for technique and that’s about it.
Autism is one of my newest diagnoses, although along with my genetic illnesses, I’ve had to live with it the longest. It’s strange as although it has a massive impact on me generally, I find it is one of the least complex- it isn’t going to give me sudden breathing difficulties or sepsis, for me to live with. Maybe it’s because I’m so used to dealing with it, and dealing with it unaided. I’ve had no medical input in that respect since diagnosis, and of course no support throughout school. There are many things I’d like to improve in respect to my ASD, but there’s no funding or networks in place to deal with it, so I just make do. If people can’t handle my autism, then that’s their loss, because beneath the crazy exterior of my ASD, is just a crazy, human being like the rest of you. Oh and you miss out on the penguins, all the penguins.
It was amazing. Truly inspiring- a word I try to avoid using too often, but genuinely you could feel her passion as she spoke. It was interesting hearing some of my own rational for the things I do, being spoken aloud. I can understand why she wants to return, to be the best in the world for as long as possible is a great aim in my eyes, and I don’t blame her. If you can do it then do. Life is too short to live with regrets and ‘what ifs’.
My friend I took as my assistant was sent down to the front to see if Katherine would come and see me as I couldn’t get down to her. She spent ages with me, thought my boat looked fantastic, posed for a few photos, and wrote me a good luck message!! She seemed genuinely interested in my experience and what I’d been through which was pretty cool.
I was buzzing that evening, it renewed my focus on training and reminded why I was doing what I was doing.
Sadly it didn’t last- I’ve been fighting a chest infection pretty much from November, and eventually about 3 weeks ago, I was referred urgently to a respiratory consultant as I had a very serious bacterial lung infection, I’d been in the gym that morning and the doctors weren’t entirely sure how I’d managed to keep going. I was started on home IV antibiotics, but a few days later I realised I wasn’t doing too well and was brought into hospital. I’ve been here two weeks, bored and feeling like I’m wasting a bed, but I’ve been lucky apparently so yay!!
Home today, and already planning when I can get back into training, going to start slowly building lung strength as well as generally getting stronger. I’ve been doing a bit of sports psychology reading whilst I’ve been in, as well as catching up on a few documents I needed to write. Unfortunately I’m limited on the ward as there is no Wi-Fi, only in the main concourse, which when you’re having multiple IVs, waiting to see consultants, physios, dieticians, specialist nurses, and anybody else who might need to be involved, plus having visitors (which is always awesome) and oh being pretty unwell mean work has been limited and succeeded by sleep many times!!
I’m feeling positive about my future though, these last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, with a new diagnosis, and lots of new treatments to fit into my hectic schedule- Anybody know how to add a few hours into the day?! But I’m determined, this combined with my other respiratory team may actually manage to get on top of the situation and sort things out, which will make me hopefully an even more able rower when my lungs aren’t restricting me so much.
I kept being visited by people from the chaplaincy, not sure what it was about me, that attracted them (other than the first two who discovered I was the only one awake on the ward- first time I’d been awake at that time since I’d been admitted!!) but I managed to see 4 of them in the space of about a week. They were all lovely and caring, but kept telling me I’m inspiring. I’m really not, I’m not doing anything special. Just fortunate to have been given the life I have and I’m determined to make the most of it. I want to put my mark on the planet someway, make my life mean something- pretentious perhaps, but I hope that I can do something for the greater good in my life.
I am grateful, I have my family’s support, fantastic friends, a good network of support, talented HCPs involved in my care, a roof over my head, nutrition, a job I love, a decent education, I don’t go without and am in the position to do some volunteering. What more could I need? My QoL is pretty darn good when I’m out of hospital.
My life is complex, not the one I set out to life, or a path I ever expected to find myself down, but I am, and I am going to make the most of it, and make sure I appreciate it as much as I can.
Next project is getting back to health, and getting back into my degree. Wish me luck.