Row hard, row fast

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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!!):

Birthday1

Birthday2

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:

Recovery1

My first trip outside in even longer:

Recovery2

 

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):

WallOfLove

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.

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I haven’t updated until now, not because it was a bad experience, but purely because I’ve been too busy. I’ll start with the negatives, which won’t take long as there’s so few of them.

The decision was that I need more experience, more time to improve. A decision I completely agree with. Of course I’m disappointed I didn’t get a place, but that shows I care about what I want to do.

The positives, however, massively outweigh the negatives. The first is to realise how far I’ve come in such a short time. Coming from pretty much no fitness, and suffering from malnutrition, through having had 4 surgeries, and an awful winter weather wise, I probably got about 5 months of inconsistent training, so all these things considered, to have been invited to trials is a huge achievement for me.

I also know I didn’t row my best, which originally disappointed me, but I realised that had I given it my best and not been good enough things would be in a worse way. The weather was awful, so windy that in all honesty I was exhausted before I even got to the start. At points I’d just had to sit at the finish of the stroke and brace, otherwise I was going back down the course!! When it came to my actual time trial, I just couldn’t connect with the boat, I’m not sure why, perhaps a combination of nerves and the poor conditions, I don’t know. So it was a pretty rubbish row.

In terms of feedback, I was given a lot of useful advice and the GB coaches said they’d liaise with my club coaches, and be there if I needed anything from them. They’re basically going to keep an eye on how I progress, having asked me to attend certain events, and I’m just waiting for info about a date to gain international classification, so that we don’t have to worry about that in the future. I’m taking the experience as very much a ‘not right now’ decision, as they want me to come back next year. Going through the process in itself has been useful, as now I know what to expect so that will be one less stress next time.

I think the biggest positive is that it’s shown proof that the training I’m doing is paying off. Last July, at the British Rowing Championships, in better conditions my time was 8:38, but last weekend, despite much worse conditions I did 6:43. So nearly 2 minutes off my previous PB, which I’m really proud of. If I gain that much in 4/5 months, imagine me a year from now?!

As the saying goes, if you fall off your horse, you need to get right back on it, so I was up at 5:30 the next morning ready for training. I know where I need to be, so I’m off to give it everything I’ve got and hopefully more.

Push that little bit harder than you think you can, because you want it more.


At the moment I’m concentrating on breathing and not panicking. For today is the day all the training so far has been for.

I’m terrified in all honesty, I thought I was nervous last time, but this is a whole new level. I’m trying to remain calm though, I know there’s nothing I can do now, but put all my effort into this afternoons trial. I’ve been resting and, focussing on the job in hand. I’ve got a few minutes spare now, hence the post. It’s giving me something to do, whilst sitting in the hotel. My boat hopefully is somewhere near now. It is coming on someone’s roof rack, whilst I’ve got my floats and blades in my van. We’re going to meet shortly and prep my boat, before a briefing and then the trial.

I know that even if it doesn’t work out now, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. I’ve been training less than a year, so I’m remaining realistic, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it. I want it with the whole of my heart, never have I been so focussed on something or want it so much.

I’ll be back in the next few days for an update.


Today sees my last training session before trials on Saturday. To say I’m nervous is an understatement, but I’m also quite excited. It will be a good experience regardless of the outcome. I don’t want to embarrass my club by not doing well enough, nor disappoint all the people who have worked with me to get me ready.
I am trying to remain realistic though. I only started training in June last year, and I had various occasions where I couldn’t train, such as the various hand surgeries I underwent, so I’m not where I would have been in an ideal training situation.
The enormity of what could come from Saturday, is something I’m trying not to think about too much. I know this is the next step in my pathway to my dreams, which is scary, and a lot rides on my performance, but I know it’s a process I need to go through to get where I want to be. I think that’s the thing to remember, this is what I want to do with my life. It’s not just a passing interest. I guess it’s a bit like a first interview for your dream job, so much rides on it, and you want to do yourself justice, and prove you’re the right person for the job.

Days until trials: 2. Scale of nervousness: 8, confidence: 3, and determination: 9


Where art thou?

Due to a number of things going on outside of rowing, my motivation seems to have wobbled a bit. I guess like all things, when your concentration has to be turned to something else you can’t keep as much focus on what you would like.

Having removed a number of the distractions, which were primarily related to my health. Mostly, important hospital appointments, so now I just need to process the information, but that is not as time consuming or distracting. I’m feeling more focussed again now, which is fortunate timing, given the proximity to trials next weekend.

I am concerned about trialling, I guess it’s more the unknown, and also knowing that I’m not as fit as I could be, thanks to yet another asthma flare last weekend. I know though, that all I can do is try my best, and remember I’ve only being rowing since June. I hope that even if I’m not good enough this year, they will see some potential and help me improve to the necessary standard.

I’m going to do a practise tomorrow morning, which I’m hoping will reassure me a bit, otherwise I’ll be stressed, and not focussed on my goal, which definitely will be counter productive.

I also think my motivation has waned a bit as well as I haven’t been on the water for weeks. Rowers belong on water, not on yet another erg!! I might be able to get out on Sunday, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

I’m being strict with myself this week. Making sure what nutrition I take orally is appropriate, ensuring I take all my meds on time, plenty of rest, and enough good quality sleep. To try and keep focussed, I’m also looking at some of my favourite achievement quotations, which keep making me think big and also got some motivational music on ready for tomorrow.

So the countdown begins: 8 days until trials. Scale of nervousness: 8, confidence: 3 and determination: 9.



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