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.
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.
There’s no real reason I haven’t blogged, other than lack of time and nothing much to say.
Let me start with the traditional January pleasantries (when exactly is it late enough in the month to stop saying these?!)
I hope you had a lovely Christmas, and a happy new year. I wish you a healthy and fun filled 2014.
Okay before anyone asks my Christmas and New Year were memorable for many of my family whereas they’re completely forgettable (forgotten technically) by me.
The tale starts the 22nd, when we decide due to bad weather I’d drive up that night. All good and fine when I eventually managed to leave at 20:30 for a 2:30 drive. The next day is spent uneventful (for once), until I realise that having come up early I didn’t have enough of my anti- seizures medication to cover the whole period. Trip to the chemist the next day “oh, sorry It’s a special order, we can’t get it in time”, so being sensible we go to the local hospital, who thankfully can supply it after a long wait, but we weren’t urgent, so I’m not complaining, I’m just grateful they were so understanding. They had to go to the other side of the hospital to get some though as it was a specialist drug. So all sorted, ready for Christmas.
Wrong. I wake from a nap, coughing and coughing and getting more and more breathless. This is where the fun began. I phoned 111 who insisted on sending an ambulance. I’m sure emergency docs would have been fine. Except my body decided that having a seizure as well would be extra fun. Had that treated and managed to escape just before midnight. Apparently I was quite entertaining as I was rather full of drugs and insisted to my mum that I could walk, to which she replied, no you can’t now sit down!! That was me told.
Christmas Day I don’t really remember much of, I was suffering the after effects of the night before. Had dinner did all the usual Christmassy things and then had another seizure, apparently I spent quite a lot of the night in resus and was looked after by a cute doctor (dammit why do I have to be unconscious when the hot doctor is around?!) woke up the next morning very confused as to why I was in a hospital bed. Had multiple seizures whilst there so don’t remember much other than them feeding me mostly baked beans as that’s all they had that was dairy free!! I wasn’t allowed home until I was 24 hours seizure free. Managed it and got home, only to have another seizure, so back I went. Had the same paramedic both times, which was handy.
On the whole I was treated fantastically, received good care and the doctors tried their best for me. Nobody knows why I had so many as usually I only have one, could have been a virus, they don’t know. Given they don’t Know for sure what causes them it’s difficult. I’m hoping the neurologists will shed some light on them ASAP. I’m grateful they’re not epileptic as that would be much worse, but they’re still far from ideal.
I managed to get back down to Cambridge the next day. Upon which I was sent to A&E as there were concerns that my retinal tear had got worse. Assessed the next day in emergency eye clinic. Thankfully no worse and should be safe without treatment phew!!
I thought that was it, until New Year’s Eve, I partied hard- we painted a friends house!! But then the coughing started and I became breathless: got home and rang for help. Due to 111 not being perfect they put my lack of proper breathing down as low priority!! Poor paramedic was not impressed although worryingly we remembered each other from a previous visit!!
It was a long night in A&E not that many drunks, but it was very busy. I think it worked in my favour as I was actually put on a ward round so saw a specialist who was quite helpful and I saw a respiratory nurse which was handy. I was admitted for the day and let out late that evening.
It’s been fairly quiet here since thankfully, other than a bit of grumpy asthma still. I’ve got a busy month with specialists, but hopefully things are going to start moving forward.
I’m in the process of sorting out changing to Direct Payments from a care agency. An agency who have been an absolute nightmare and I’m garnering the energy to put in several complaints about them. I’ve got two PAs lined up, but no funding as Social Services messed up the admin so I’m stuck at the moment especially as the agency are terminating my contract. So I’m at risk of having no care for a while, which is not going to be good for me.
Why do we have to fight for such basic things? The ‘care’ agency debacle is definitely worth it’s own post, which will be done soon I hope.
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.