Home of the Optimist

Weathering a Storm


Sometimes life throws you a curveball: often just around when you start thinking, ‘Yes, I’ve got this..!’ Complacency - get ready for a schooling!! ​


One of mine came during a period of juggling too many projects, a tick bite on my leg: so what? ( Read ‘The Human Trampoline’ for ‘so what!’ ) We all have narratives we like to construct for these sort of things. It’s how we order, decide relevance; others are probably available, it’s really all about what happens next… Time for me to practice what I was preaching...


It’s been a crazy couple of months; gearing up for a big trip away, getting the house ready to rent out, big changes with work, moving to a new country, saying goodbyes to friends and family… How many plates can be spun? Crack on, miles to go before I sleep!


Connected or unconnected, I go out climbing one evening and the next day find a sheep tick in my right shin. It’s tiny, I try and get it out with a tool. A few days later, I can still feel a roughness where it was and realize the head must still be in there. I dig it out with a sterilized blade, no tell-tale ‘bullseye’ inflammation appears, done…

The leaving party dawns – a weekend of revelry, dancing and farewells – emotionally charged for sure but mainly just great fun. During the proceedings, carrying heavy speakers, putting up tents, dancing; my lower back starts to hurt. My back has hurt quite a bit over the years, I’ve not given it an easy time. It’s half the reason I became a physio. After a climbing fall 5 years ago an MRI scan told me I had some disc herniations. ( Did you know that in 2015 they did a study of people who had never reported any major back pain, the 40 year old group’s scans showed 68% had disc degeneration, 33% showed disc herniations…) So what? Do my activations, breathe, get on with it…


Monday morning I wake up in my tent, dry mouth, sore head, stiff back - time for a pee… Just push up and reach for the zip for the door…

WORST PAIN I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED!!!!


I won’t bore you with the detail, suffice to say the only way I could stand, even with activation, breath, visualization, gas and air, was a paramedic giving me a large shot of morphine.

Another disc herniation right? Get back home, dose up, breathe, activate, let it settle…

After 5 days of this, the cold sweats start. My doctor agrees I should head to the Emergency Department - more gas and air, heavy painkillers and I’m in an ambulance… A second MRI shows an abcess building around my lumbar discs and spinal nerves. It’s spreading rapidly and could cause some serious damage. I’m rushed to the spinal hospital 2 hours away. 2 emergency operations follow to remove the abcess and decompress the nerves…

A background infection (The pesky sheep tick? Right sided neural symptoms from L5 Lumbar area match with the dermatome where the tick bite was…) with an inflammation to act as a focus, and a weakened immune system, and loads of stress – the perfect storm.


SURPRISE!!!


Waking through the haze of general anaesthetic, reality slowly dawns – we are not going to be leaving in two weeks – this is some pretty serious stuff. Find the breath, find the inspiration, activate, build it back. It hurts, do it anyway; move, hurt, rest, breathe, visualize, repeat.


A friend gave me a diary, which makes for some pretty interesting reading now – dark places, triggers of fear and loathing. Flights cancelled, dreams lost, straining to empty my bowels with a pelvic floor that didn’t work anymore, having to use a catheter to pee, struggling to make it down the ward and back to the bed with crutches… But there are a lot of glimmers for the future there too – even plans for salvaging the South America trip…

Rehabilitation can be a humbling experience. My day focuses around making it a little further down the ward, heavy on my crutches, breathing through the pain. I keep noticing this super jovial guy, always laughing and joking with the nurses. ‘Lucky bugger!’ He gets around just fine, barely using his crutches… A few days later I’m beginning to explore outside the ward and meet him in the lift. We have a chat, it turns out he’s had a car crash and due to vascular damage, he’s getting his leg amputated next week. He is dealing with this: thankful to be alive, he is resilient, he is happy. Note to self…

Return home at 3 weeks post op – TERRIFYING! The loss of support, routine and safety…my stairs look like vertical cliffs - can I cope?? Slowly the support of loved ones, the familiarity of home, seeps in through the tension and soothes me. I surround myself with things that inspire me, slowly build the walks, visits from friends, normality beckons…

Status Report: Pain killers, muscle relaxants, anti inflammatories, nerve relaxants. Forward bend – mid thigh – major pain, back and hamstrings/sciatic pain. Squat – ¼ depth, support of sink or door handle, stiff, some pain. Stairs a huge effort. Weaning off crutches. 15 minute walk with walking pole. Saddle numbness, catheters, some incontinence…

Find the breath, find the inspiration, activate, build it back. It hurts, do it anyway; move, hurt, rest, breathe, visualize, repeat... Push hard 2 times a week.

Bodywork: gentle Cranio-Sacral sessions from local osteopath. A full session of activation and lumbar mobilisations from a physio friend. Nudging slowly into better range and quality of movement, more belly breaths! Keeping the glimmers going, realizing what is a realistic, inspiring goal, and what is false gold, keeping you stuck in a bad point of focus. South America is finally let go of, but New Zealand beckons for January, I can do that…

Status Report: 3 month post op - No medication. Forward bend – mid shin, some lumbar pain, tight hamstrings. Still using catheters, occasional accidents with increased effort… Saddle numbness right side. Walked the Snowdon Horseshoe on Christmas Day with Kate – 8 hours of walking – exhausted but HAPPY!!


New Zealand – land of the long white cloud.


I’ve been climbing, pretty much back to my pre-episode levels, helped by a bunch of extra strength work. Even had a little surf… Friends and family, supporting, loving, encouraging - thankyou all, you know who you are!

I focus much more on breathwork and putting myself in that resilient state – let the body work at its best for today and stay positive. Give it good sleep, eat well, allow some treats, allow some down days… Visualize change, doing what inspires me, knowing I am enough to enjoy my life, able to give out the good stuff. Do something new, activate, feel the breath and deep core engage. More bodywork to open up stuck areas, restricted lines. Work on the shadowy areas, light them up - don’t let the long-learned cheat patterns have it all their own way, be playful, have fun.

Status Report: 6 months post op – No medication. Forward bend – floor, tight calves. Full depth squat, no pain. Still some numbness, still the catheters, still a rather slow and confused bowel. Ready to work, thinking how I can best serve people in my community right now… Keeping going with strengthening work, gliding the nerve, keeping a vision of thinks working in harmony, inspiring change…



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