I know it's half way through February and I haven't got round to writing any blog posts yet in 2019! Yikes, what a terrible person I am!! Well, hopefully when you read this you'll have some understanding as to why.
In December last year, I saw Dr Rogers who suspected I have a problem in my spine that is referring pain down my leg. This sounded like it could have been a good explanation to my struggles.
Being in the UK and treated by the NHS for the last seven months, I've figured out ways to get seen quicker. It's basically a case of pestering people on the phone. On December 18th I was referred for a lumbar spine MRI scan. On the 19th I began calling the hospital, and on the 20th I got a cancellation and had the scan.
Waiting for the results would be the next challenge as Christmas and New Year would slow down the process. And then, getting an appointment to see a doctor that is very high in demand will be an even tougher challenge.
Anyway, I persisted and spent a lot of time on the phone pestering my way to get things moving. By the way, this is really not my normal style, I'm far too reserved and 'British' to be pushy but this is me being tested beyond my limits!
In the mean time, I was to take a new drug which should help me with the pain if it is nerve pain from my spine. Unfortunately, you can't take this painkiller with the anti-depressants I was taking but this drug is used for that purpose too. I stopped taking the Sertraline that I was on and gradually increased Amytriptyline to address both issues.
Dr Rogers told me that I could begin running again gradually as I won't be making the condition any worse. I figured I'd do 30 minutes every other day and monitor how the pain changes as I increase the drugs. I thought that I was coping alright as I'd begun to run and spend more time outdoors which helps me mentally. I was crying a lot but assumed it was due to having no diagnosis still. I think actually it was down to being depressed and not treating it enough. (I might have had people tell me I was slipping!)
After being a massive pest I managed to secure myself an appointment to get the results on January 11th. As I walked into Dr Rogers room I saw my MRI scan on his computer. It was clear to see that one of the discs was a different colour to the others. He explained that this was the area he suspected there would be a problem. And that the darker colour was degenerative wear and tear.
There's a slight bulge in the same disc but really not dramatic and not impinging the nerves. He said that if someone came to him with this scan in no pain at all he wouldn't be surprised. It's pretty normal.
As I was listening to the prognosis I could feel emotion building up inside me. Yet again, no definite diagnosis. I was only just managing to maintain my cool but I kept back the tears until leaving his room. Walking down the hospital corridor despair took hold of me. What is wrong with me. I don't believe Dr Rogers thinks my spine is the cause. I don't believe it's the cause.
I have no choice other than to keep increasing the drugs to see if they make any difference to my pain. The doctor wants me to have an epidural steroid injection in my spine. If this cures the problem then it proves the problem is from my back. Unfortunately, I have to wait quite a while for this and have other consultations first. More waiting!
My mum had kindly come over to Manchester to attend my appointment with me. After all of these appointments, scans and tests I'm starting to get quite a lot of anxiety when I see a doctor so having someone with me is great. We spent the day together and chatted lots. When we got back to the house and I spoke to Emily (one of my best buddies) I got even more emotional. The frustration is just unimaginable!
That night as I lay in bed still crying, I reached my limit. I just need a break from it all. I can't escape from my pain unfortunately but I need to do something. I never ask for help. I'm far too stubborn and independent for that. But this last year has taught me that it's okay to ask for help and if anyone I care for was in need I hope they'd ask me. I messaged my boyfriend and asked if he could pay for me to visit him until I need to return for my next appointment. Thankfully he'd been thinking exactly the same thing.
Within a week I was on a plane and travelled back to my home in New Zealand that I've been away from for eight months.
Anyway, 2018, thank you for being the worst year of my life and teaching me many lessons. And 2019, please be better!
Since I last wrote a blog I've had more needles in my legs yet again. I had two types of nerve conduction tests done on my legs and again nothing was found. Yet I'm still in pain.
I constantly go in and out of thinking it's in my head and then being positive it's not.
Over the past year and a half I've been told to reduce my activity level more and more to the point where now I'm super sedentary. I've changed my daily routine completely and now spend most of my time sitting (this is not how I have ever lived my life). Unfortunately, my symptoms are now getting worse with the more sitting I do. I feel like whatever I do I'm not getting better. I always follow the advice of the professionals but it makes no difference.
I'm starting to feel like I have no escape. I've recently got to the point where I just want a break from everything. I want a break from the worry. I want a break from the mental turmoil of not knowing what's wrong with my body. I want a break from the pain. But I can't have it. Whatever I do I can't escape it and I'm exhausted.
X X X X X
Last Monday, I had an appointment to see the surgeon that performed the compartment pressure test. Unfortunately, he'd been called to an emergency so he couldn't speak to me. Instead I saw another orthopaedic consultant. He had no knowledge of my history so I showed him the five page document that I constantly add to as I have more tests done. As expected, he said that I've had every test available from his department and there is nothing else they can do.
I cried my eyes out while I was in the room and continued to cry for the rest of the evening. I can't tell you how awful it is to have something wrong with your body but not know what it is or how to make it better. If there was a way that I could give up and run away from it all I would.
X X X X X
The next day, I saw a doctor that I've been pushing to see for about seven months. He had been described to me as 'god-like'. He's been known to fix many athletes but I've not had the money to see him privately so I've had to wait a long time for an appointment.
As I've done so many times now, I recounted my story and symptoms to Dr Rogers. After frazzling the poor mans brain with excessive detail, he got me to stand and balance and bend and hop etc etc. Then followed the usual pushing and pulling of my legs before Dr Rogers said he was done.
Expecting another 'I dont know whats wrong with you' response, I wasn't really sure if I should ask. For so long all I've wanted is a diagnosis. Whether it's a good or bad one has become less important. I just want to know what's going on with my body.
I sat anxiously waiting for the same usual response. But this time it was different. In a calm and confident voice he said he's pretty sure he knows what's going on. I was in complete shock. He didn't give me a full diagnosis as he wants to send me for another MRI for confirmation but he's pretty confident he has the answer.
He thinks it's my spine. Something isn't right with the lower part of my spine and its causing symptoms lower down my leg and to my foot. This explains why I can't escape my symptoms no matter what I do. He didn't go into to much detail with me there and then as it's best to have the scan before discussing anything further.
Just being told by a well respected doctor that he thinks he knows what's wrong was such a relief. Knowing that I'm not going mad is a huge weight off my mind. And this is a big step forward. I know I've been here before, got my hopes up and then plummeted to the ground when it's not been correct so I have to reserve my excitement slightly.
Even though I have more waiting and more tests ahead of me I feel like I have a little more control over the situation now as there are things I can do at home to help myself. I've been prescribed some medication which may help to alleviate symptoms in the meantime and I've been advised I use a TENS machine on my back. As I've had no control over my own recovery for the past year and a half, just having these two things makes me feel so much better.
I still can't fully relax and feel like the end is in sight, as this still might not be the correct diagnosis. I have had too many peaks and troughs in this journey. I get my sights set on recovery only to find that the diagnosis was incorrect. I'm getting to the point where I can't cope with another downfall. The only way to deal with this is to keep some reservations, and focus on my artwork which I can control and occupies my mind.
X X X X X
Over the past six weeks I've completed a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course. It's been great to build friendships with people experiencing similar feelings to myself although for hugely varying reasons. I've learned techniques to regain focus, calm my mind and set worry aside. I am far from happy and this injury is far from over but I've learned a lot of ways to cope better and be kind to myself.
This whole experience has taught me so much about the suffering people go through silently. The people that are close to me will know the extent to which this has affected my life but others that barely know me may not have seen the pain. If you know someone that's going through something challenging this Christmas send a little love their way. They may not look like or say they are struggling but they will definitely appreciate you reaching out.
Happy Christmas X X X
On Friday I went into hospital to have the pressure tested in my legs to see if I have chronic exertional compartment syndrome. It has been a year and a half, almost to the date, since the onset of this leg pain. I have had so many tests that it's starting to get quite ridiculous now. The symptoms I'm suffering with pretty much match up exactly to compartment syndrome.
The test involves having long needles pushed into each of the four compartments in each leg to test the pressure inside. You then head off to do some exercise, when you return the tests are done again to see if there is an increase in pressure.
The test if often done by itself and then you would be referred for surgery at a later date. As my consultant was doing the tests in theatre in the hospital, he booked out the surgery in case the results were high.
I had read so many horror stories about how painful the pressure test is that I was terrified. My heart rate and blood pressure were seriously high even though I was laying down.
The first set of test were done and I had completely overestimated the pain. It was absolutely fine. I experienced basically no pain at all. All the acupuncture I've had has been way more intense. The results of the first test were all very low. In fact, one of the compartments that I've been having a lot of trouble with was extremely low.
I went off for a run and then came back to the hospital to wait to be called back to theatre. As I waited I continued to jog on the spot. As I was exercising, the burning and aching that I feel was there but any time I stopped the pain disappeared instantly. I knew that my legs weren't responding as they have in the past when I've been training hard. I was advised to stop running back in June so it's been a long time since my training has been at the normal level for me.
Back in theatre I lay down and waited for the needles to be inserted deep into my legs again. The first reading that came back was lower than the original test. One by one each of the compartments had its pressure read. They were all pretty much the same and only one had increased a tiny amount.
So surgery didn't go ahead which felt like a relief for about half an hour until I broke down.
What on earth is wrong with me?
I've had so many tests done and nothing has been found. I've had so much physio treatment and nothing has worked. I've stopped training and every time I return to running the pain comes back. I've had my biomechanics looked at and made adjustments which has definitely improved my running but the pain is still there even with standing exercises.
Maybe it's all just in my head.
This isn't the first time I've thought this. I completely understand that the mind is a very powerful thing. That's how I've managed to battle through previous challenges. I am completely happy to accept that it's in my head if it is. I just want to get the problem fixed.
I feel like I'm starting to go mad.
My consultant is going to send me for some nerve testing but if that comes back with nothing then he really doesn't know what it could be.
I just feel so lost and like I have no control over any of this. Over the past year I have done all of the exercises and adaptations that professionals have advised me to do. I've worked so hard and done everything in my power to try and sort this out but it's not worked. I feel so helpless and it's not something that I'm used to. I've always worked hard to achieve anything I set my mind to and this is something I can do very little about.
I feel so fed up and I just want it to all be over.
My mind keeps flipping between just accepting that I can't do much exercising and accepting a more sedentary life or continue to keep fighting, staying as strong as I can and searching for an answer. This whole experience has been such a roller coaster of emotion that it is really wearing me out.
For the moment I am going to throw myself into my art work as it's something that I have control over. As hard as it is I'm going to try and take my mind off of my leg (this really is impossible but I'll try). I really want to be back in New Zealand but that isn't a possibility for now. I'm beginning a CBT course this week to help me deal with everything and hopefully make me feel better.
Fingers crossed something is found soon. :)
I feel like I've been waiting forever for the results to come through from my latest MRI and bone scans. The wait is over and I have finally seen my consultant. I knew the results would be negative and I wasn't wrong. I've known all along that I don't have a bone problem. I think, as an athlete, you know your body enough to know the difference between feelings of soft tissue or bone.
My whole life has been built around being outdoors and being physically active. Over the past year and a half, the pain in my lower legs has slowly increased and the level of activity I can complete pain free has drastically reduced. I have become a shadow of the person I used to be. I used to jump around and be full of life. I used to smile all the time. I didn’t realise how much I relied on exercise and adventure for my mental health. Now I spend a large portion of my time crying and I take antidepressants to get me through each day.
The last time I wrote a blog was three months ago. I haven’t written since then as I haven’t been coping very well and sharing my life with anyone other than my very closest friends and family hasn’t been a priority. I’ve probably had the worst six months of my life so far.
After having two months off running when diagnosed with a stress reaction, my leg still hurt to walk but I began the back to running program as I was told I’d probably left it too long.
This was back in May when I also returned to the UK. Two weeks into the back to running program and the pain was getting worse. I persisted thinking it may be due to my legs doing no exercise for so long. Over the next month it got to the point where I was in excruciating pain within two minutes of running. I went to the doctors but was back to square one even after having seven months of treatment in New Zealand.
I'm 34 years old. I've been running for 22 years. In that time, there's been two occasions where I've had bone problems. During both of those times I've been taking a progestin only contraceptive.
I want to share this with you not to spread fear but just to make you aware and prevent you from being in the same situation as me.
As someone that trains hard to maintain or improve their fitness and performance, injury is pretty much my worst nightmare. Nobody trains hard to have it all thrown away.
Receiving the news that you must stop training for whatever sport you love is heartbreaking. If you are anything like me you probably won't hear much else from the doctor giving you that news as the emotion takes over your concentration.
You too are probably hooked to the endorphins released from pushing yourself in sport but don't worry, you can get through this. Here are my top tips for maintaining sanity whilst recovering from injury...
It’s been a month since my last blog and boy, has my life been different!!
I got the results of my MRI scan through. I didn’t thoroughly understand what the outcome was but I did understand what I was told to do. NO RUNNING!! (and giving up on this years goal)
You can imagine how my heart sank when I heard this. I was then presented with a bundle of paperwork describing in detail what I COULD do. It went like this:
For the next month focus on aqua-jogging! No running or walking for exercise. Let pain be your guide. If you do anything that hurts, don't do it!
Not even two months ago I announced that I'll be attempting to run the length of the UK. This wasn't a spontaneous desire or some drunken New Years resolution. This had already been in planning for a year and half but I wanted the ElliptigOz adventure to be complete before sharing.
If you follow me on any of my social media channels you'll have seen that I'm struggling with an injury of some sort. This may sound vague but I still don't know what's going on in my calf. I've been seeing physiotherapists for four months now, also a podiatrist and now a sports physician. I've had massages, suction therapy, acupuncture and all manner of treatments. I've been for an x-ray and an ultrasound scan, and nothing has come from these but I've been informed something isn't right.
The last time I went to a vineyard I ended up texting the person stood next to me telling them I was in a vineyard. You can imagine how sober I was!
This time was slightly different.