Saturday, 28 May 2016

Vaulting training

I haven't vaulted much in the past couple of weeks because I've been busy preparing for the RDA qualifiers in dressage and showjumping (more on those to come another time) and I had the first round of County Athletics Champs (also more to come). It's been a few weeks since I vaulted on a real horse, but I have been able to have a few sessions on Milton and the barrel horse, and I've started doing some more training at home.
I'm now in the process of putting together a routine for Hartpury (RDA Championships) and another BEV competition a couple of weeks before Hartpury, in Cambridge. The Cambridge competition will be performed on a horse but it is likely that I will perform on a barrel horse for Hartpury. This means I can afford to be a bit more adventurous in my routine as I will feel a lot more stable.
For example, a forward roll, landing on the 'back'
Because I want Hartpury to be as near to perfect as possible, I've spent a lot of time working on that and haven't really thought about the Cambridge competition yet, even though it's sooner. It will be much easier for me to plan the Cambridge routine when I'm back on a real horse as I'll have a better idea of what I can and can't manage. It isn't a problem if I do the same routine as last time, so that might be what I resort to if I run out of time to get something new!
Backwards tailor seat
Anyway, the Hartpury routine has been something I've been mulling over for a while. Having watched lots of videos of international level vaulting, I decided I wanted to do more to act up to the music. At April's competition I only really picked my music about one day in advance, so I didn't have much time to think about that. This time, I'm much better prepared! I wanted something quite cheery and have settled on 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines'. It's a good tempo, and there's lots of scope for making the performance interesting.
Hopefully there will be a happier marriage of horses and flight than there is in this scene!
Picking the music was a good start - it's a piece with some great lyrics which really lend themselves to vaulting. It's about RAF pilots in World War 2 and there are various phrases such as 'looping the loop', 'steal all the scenes' and 'fly upside down with their feet in the air' which I intend to attempt to recreate! This has meant that I've learned a few new moves, including doing a forward roll from the neck to the horse's back, the Y-stand and doing a backward roll off the horse. They might not all make the final cut, but it's been really good for me to try them out and to expand my repertoire a bit.
In vaulting, you can lose marks if your transitions between moves are clumsy. Basically, the smoother you can move from one position to another, the more marks you will get. If you pick moves which don't flow naturally into each other then you lose marks - and you also lose a lot of precious time in which to be performing interesting exercises and gaining more marks! The CVC coaches have been helpful in making sure my routine is as seamless as possible. I've also been working on it at home - I've made myself a makeshift barrel horse and I practise going between different positions in different sequences to see what works best.
Said makeshift barrel horse is really just a few chairs and a stool put together, with two push up handles to be the roller! It's a pretty crude approximation of the real thing, but it's enough to have shown me that certain things aren't feasible and other things can work well. It's also given me the opportunity to make up my own moves, as it's forced me to think, 'how do I get from here to over there?' My furniture barrel horse is also useful for learning the routine, and for practising it to the music over and over again.
Once more from the top...
I suspect that I will soon grow sick and tired of the first minute of 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' (let alone my flatmates!) but I do need to do it with the music too. It's like when you're learning to play a musical instrument and your teacher makes you practise with a metronome - you realise that even though you thought you were perfectly in time, you're actually rushing some sections and slowing down in others. This is precisely what I've discovered by running through with the music: on some occasions, I can relax and move a bit more slowly; on others, I need to change what I'm doing as there isn't enough time or flexibility for me to do the move I had initially envisaged.
This one may have to get cut. I like it, but there isn't time for it all!
As well as making up the routine, I need to plan a costume. The only real requirement of vaulting clothes is that they are close-fitting - you need to be able to move easily, and the judge needs to be able to see the lines you are making. For Hartpury (which is an RDA-only competition), I will also need a helmet. Having a helmet is a bit of a pain because it could make certain things harder (e.g. rolling off). Normally in vaulting you don't wear a helmet at all because the balance problems outweigh the potential protection it offers. Because RDA vaulting is part of RDA activity as a whole, however, we have to wear a helmet. On the plus side, I can decorate the helmet to make it part of my costume (as long as I'm not making it unsafe or adding a peak). I am thinking of dressing up in kit which loosely mimics an RAF uniform - probably navy leggings and a pale blue top, maybe with some insignia (I'm thinking sew/iron-on badges) to make it a bit more obvious what I'm attempting. Although I can't add loads of stuff onto my helmet, I might be able to spray paint it! I have a plain black jockey scull to use so it's tempting to paint it to look like a leather helmet with flying googles, or just airforce blue with the RAF roundels. Should be fun anyway!
This child has an exceptional costume, but I fear it may be impractical for vaulting.
As well as the mental work and preparation that needs to go in, I'm working on strength and flexibility. Since hypermobility is a part of EDS, it's important that I do this carefully. My joints are pretty wobbly, and to compensate lots of my muscles have learned to tighten up. This has been fairly useful for everyday life (if painful) but now that I need to be able to move more freely it's a challenge to loosen them up without leaving myself open to more falls and injuries.
My legs are particularly tight - for years, physios have been trying to get rid of the spasms in my leg muscles without much success, and we've pretty much accepted that that is just how my ankles, knees and hips stay in roughly the right place as long as I keep standing and walking to a minimum. What physios haven't tried doing is opening up the joints - usually we work on strengthening the muscles, which doesn't really make sense when the problem is that the muscles are far too strong. Practising things such as the splits has been really useful for me in gently developing my flexibility, and although it does tend to make walking harder as I do get a lot more wobbly, I don't really care!
I get to lie down a lot anyway. Not that I'm any good at getting back up again...I need to schedule in something quite still after this as it takes a while for vision to come back!
Anyway, that's about it for a vaulting update. Not very exciting as I haven't done a huge amount, but there are some exciting ideas in the pipeline - not just competitions, but also (hopefully) a trip to the Magpie Centre RDA in Norfolk to show off what we get up to at Cambridge Vaulting Club. :) For the time being, feel free to enjoy this little sequence of photos which prove I still have a bit of work to do on nailing the landing from my new dismount!
Backward roll, straight legs - gently does it...
Looks like it's going OK...
Hm, might have overcooked the rolling part a little - going...
Oh well... harm done!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

East of England Disability Athletics Champs

This year, on the 7th May, we travelled to Chelmsford in Essex (where I went to school!) to compete in the East of England Disability Athletics Championships.
From last year.
For 2016, we were allowed to enter five events at ERDAF (last year it was four, and I opted to do 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m). Last year I had decided not to do the longer distances (1500m and 3000m) because of Oaklands RDA qualifiers being the day after, but this year they are nicely split up so I decided to do the longer races. Of the six on offer (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m, 3000m) I knew that I wanted to do the two longest and the two shortest, because I like racing longer distances but I need more practice racing shorter distances. Out of the 400m and the 800m, I decided to do the 400m on the basis that we don't get to race that distance very often but I will get to race the 800m at least twice this summer in St Ives.
Racing the 100m at St Ives last year.
So, on a glorious sunny Saturday we headed to Chelmsford. The 1500m was up first and the 3000m was the last race of the day, so I was in for the long haul! Fortunately my brother lives very nearby so I went back to his for lunch, which proved to be a lovely break from the competition, and gave me time to sit down, cuddle the dogs, and read a book for a bit - bliss!
Rosie likes sun too :)
The 1500m went well, although I didn't have as much time to warm up and get ready as I'd hoped because the journey to the track took longer than expected. Off the start, one of the other racers surprised me with how quick she was. In the first 10m I was slightly down, but by about 100m I had managed to pull up enough distance (and was on the inside) that I was able to lead from then on until the finish. This was always going to be a PB because I've never raced the 1500m before, but going by mile times (around 6 minutes) I knew I wanted to be under 6 minutes. The race was quite straightforward. I could have been more warmed-up to go a bit quicker, and having to steer around people was novel as we try to avoid that during training sessions, but overall it felt quite comfortable and reasonably quick. I finished in 5:46.07, which was good enough for a clear gold.
After the 1500m at 10.00 I had a good-length rest before the 400m at 11.00. My previous PB in this was from the only other time I have raced it, which was at ERDAF 2015. On that occasion, I clocked 1:38.67; this time I managed 1:23.95 for another gold. In recent training sessions we had been doing 400m intervals and the best I'd managed in those (which admittedly had the stress of being repeated) was about 1:28, so I was quite pleased with that result.
After the 400m there was a shorter break before the 100m. I'm not a huge fan of 100m - if you don't get a good start (and my starts aren't brilliant) then you don't have much time to claw it back. My previous PB was from June 2015 - 23.99. At Chelmsford this year there was a slight head wind down the home straight (Excuse Number 1!) and also I didn't get the best start (Excuse Number 2!). This was definitely my closest race of the day. I still won it in a time of 24.46 but the girl who came just behind me finished in 24.83 - a big enough gap for me to be fairly sure that I'd won it but close enough that I had to check with my mum, who'd been level with the finish line, to make sure! The pressure of having this other competitor so close to me really pushed me forwards but I'm not sure I handled it as neatly and technically as I could have. I must admit I was a bit surprised because the same girl had been 11 seconds behind me in the 400m.
Girl in question is in the yellow chair with the red top on. I think this was the 200m.
After the 100m I headed to my brother's for a light lunch (no vomming wanted in the afternoon!) and to relax in the sun for a bit. It was good to get away and rest. Although I love being around people, I do find it really tiring so getting away from the crowds was a good move for the afternoon's exertions.
I relate.
The first race of the afternoon for me was the 200m, at 15.05. This is another distance that I don't get to race very often, even though we frequently use it in interval training on the track. As with the 400m, my previous PB was from last year's ERDAF - 51.46. This year I'd done a lot of work on my start and on relaxing into the second half of the race so as to maximise power instead of just thrashing around like a wounded bear.
It seemed to work as I got another gold and another new PB of 41.95. Again, I think this is probably a bit quicker than I've managed in interval training sessions so that's a good sign that they're helping!
The final race of the day was the 3000m. By this time, quite a lot of people had gone home and I was really grateful to the officials for hanging on for this long last race! I'd never raced 3km before, so the only idea I had was what I'd managed in a solo session on the track back in April, when I'd managed 10:46. On that occasion I'd done a good warm-up but hadn't already raced four other events the same day, so I was prepared to cut myself some slack if I found the power to be a bit lacking in the old arms! As it was I finished in 11:15.46 which I feel is perfectly respectable at the end of a long day.
Hearing the bell go for the last lap feels gooooooooood!
I must have pushed hard in the 3000m because when I finished I felt absolutely dreadful. For the last two laps or so, I'd been having my vision become more and more 'tunnelly'. This was a bit of a problem because where I was lapping people (in some cases twice) it meant I had to be really careful whilst overtaking. At the end I didn't really have any vision at all. My mum hopped over the railings very elegantly to help push me back to the stands, then I plopped on the floor and swiftly had a brief (about 5-6 minutes) autonomic 'moment' (seizure!). I came round with a lovely cool pack on my neck which felt amazing and made me feel better quite quickly, but I was glad I had my mum there to get everything in the car and drive me home!
Team Cambridge & Coleridge at the end of the day.
So, to recap, that's five golds and four PBs (dammit 100m!). I was pleased that this year there was not a single wheelchair racer on the day (male or female) that was faster than me - last year there was one chap who beat me on the 200m but I managed to get ahead of him this time, including in the 100m, which was run separately for male and female athletes.
The more detailed results are below. Shout outs to Courtney Daly who is only in the U14 age group category but is already bloody quick, to Jack Norman (a team mate of Courtney's who finally edged her out by 1.25 seconds in the last race of the day after being beaten by her in the 100m and 200m), and to the three little chaps in the men's 100m with their dinky race chairs - they were very young but very professional!

L Bennett (F) - 05:46.07
J Norman (M) - 06:14.08
C Daly (F) - 06:27.05
R Gilbertson (F) - 08:34.08
C Connon (F) - 09:21.07
M Black (M) - 11:22.02

L Bennett (F) - 1:23.95
C Daly (F) - 1:33.82
J Fletcher (F) - 1:34.95
C Connon (F) - 1:49.07
M Black (M) - 2:45.18

L Bennett (F) - 24.46
J Fletcher (F) - 24.83
C Daly (F) - 25.60
J Norman (M) - 25.78
S Morrison (M) - 29.10
C Connon (F) - 30.34
J Robinson (M) - 32.13
M Gardiner (M) - 32.88 (primary school age!)
D Chalkley (M) - 36.50 (U14)
C Williams (F) - 43.25
L Street (M) - 59.16 (U14)

L Bennett (F) - 41.95
C Daly (F) - 47.82
J Norman (M) - 48.06
C Connon (F) - 53.97
S Morrison (M) - 57.90
J Robinson (M) - 1:01.94
M Black (M) - 1:16.68
C Williams (F) - 1:27.52
L Street (M) - 2:05.44

L Bennett (F) - 11:15.46
J Norman (M) - 13.16.40
C Daly (F) - 13:17.65
R Gilbertson (F) - 17:45.40
C Connon (F) - 18:29.08

The products of a couple of months' racing:
World Half-Marathon Championships, BHF Warwick Half-Marathon, GEAR 10k, ERDAF races.

GEAR 10k race

On 2nd May, I took part in the Grand East Anglian Run (GEAR) 10k road race in King's Lynn, Norfolk.
This year was my second attempt at GEAR. Last year it was my first ever road race and even though it chucked it down I had a really good day and enjoyed my first event. This year, I was going back with a better chair, more experience, and probably a bit more fitness. I really wanted to post a good time, and since I'd managed some good times on the track I really wanted to do better in the race. It's always a bit of a toss-up between road and athletics track - the road is usually a faster surface (as long as it isn't too rough) but the steering is usually more disruptive, and, of course, there may be hills! Fortunately King's Lynn is right in the fens and is incredibly flat, so that the whole course only varied in elevation by 1 metre. Consequently, I was hoping to go comfortably under 40 minutes for this one.
I <3 this course profile!
Unfortunately, I had foolishly fallen off a horse less than a week before the 10k race day. My back and legs were in agony although I was being my typical stubborn self so I refused to withdraw from the race. My theory was that it didn't matter if my legs hurt (since I wouldn't need them in a wheelchair) and that I would be able to ignore the back pain.
This is my 'I'm not in pain, honestly' face.
Before the race, we had space to warm up a bit and then I had a nice chinwag with a couple of the others...
...before we started to line up and I fiddled around getting my trip meter set up...
...and then we were off!
Ignoring the pain would have been great had it worked, but sadly the leg pain was excruciating throughout and the back pain was just horrific. In an attempt to ease some of the pressure on my back, I was using my stomach muscles a lot more to hold myself up, but they aren't particularly strong either. By about 3km I was struggling badly - not helped by a long stretch with head wind.
Head wind problems
It got so bad that, for the first time in a wheelchair race, I considered throwing in the towel. The first point at which I thought about it was fortunately far away from any marshals so I didn't have the opportunity to give in! I battled on but my pushing power was enormously diminished by the huge pain in my back and my stomach. Every time I had to sit up a bit to steer it was agonising. I kept trying to do a few big pushes so that I could have some 'glide' time to try and click out my back.
Ow ow ow ow ow
I wanted to stop and get out, lie down, and click it all back into place, but I honestly didn't know if I'd be able to get out of the chair or - more importantly - if I'd be able to get back in again. I tried my old mantra - 'this too shall pass' - but it didn't seem to be passing any time soon, and I knew that it wouldn't pass until I stopped. That would either be before or after the finish line - the choice was mine.
It was at this point that I wished King's Lynn were a little less flat! Although it was good not to have to go up any hills, I was really using any slight downward incline as an opportunity to stop pushing the wheels and prop myself up with my hands on the frame so that, for a short while, my arms took the strain of holding my body up instead of my core muscles. This isn't really what I wanted to be doing on these slight downhills - I wanted to be taking full advantage of them and really powering on, but I just couldn't. The pain was immense and I had lost so much of my passive range of motion that it was physically impossible to push through it.
Towards the end (after the 9km marker), a man running in front of me suddenly collapsed to the ground. He was having an epileptic seizure, and apart from me there only seemed to be one other person who had noticed. We were both yelling for a medic and trying to get the attention of the nearest marshal, who was close enough to see us making a fuss but couldn't really work out what we were saying. Fortunately, they managed to get the poor chap medical attention really quickly. In the end I only stopped for about a minute, but it felt like a lot longer - every moment that he was struggling to breathe felt like an age.
Read, learn and inwardly digest!
After stopping, getting going again seemed cruel, but I didn't have far to go - and at least I wasn't having a seizure. After finally crossing the line, I wanted to get out and lie down, preferably with some sort of sports masseur ready to leap into action on my spine, but then I got stopped and interviewed for BBC Radio Norfolk (which gave me a little bit of Alan Partridge-esque fame, I suppose!).
I morphed my face with Alan Partridge and this was the nightmarish result.
After that I gradually worked my way around to where I could be given my goody bag and a drink (thank goodness - I was really thirsty!) then I found a space in the middle of the market place and finally plopped myself out of Buster and onto the cold, firm ground. I had no idea where my mum was with my day chair but at that minute all I really wanted to do was try and ease the spasm in my back, and I figured that staying still would give my mum a better chance of finding me. Fortunately, she soon emerged from the crowds and set about reassuring the marshals that I was fine even though I didn't look it!
I was a bit disappointed by my time (42:47) as it was quite a bit slower than I'd hoped for, but I did at least feel the satisfaction of completing the job anyway. I'd earned myself another trophy - very similar to last year's! - and £30 to put towards my fundraising. I also beat my course record from the previous year, and in such a way that I hope to beat it again next year!
Another big achievement which I will almost certainly never replicate is that for the first time ever I recorded exactly the race distance on my GPS watch, which records to the nearest 10m. OK, so it's not that big an achievement, but it still feels good that I know I did some good lines!
The time is off because I had to start it whilst sitting waiting on the start line.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

A tricky couple of weeks

The last few weeks have been quite a challenge, not just because of general training and competing, but also because my health has thrown quite a few different things at me.
He can't get away! What shall we throw at him next?
It started with a series of seizures about three weeks ago. The first one happened one evening after a fairly busy day: I'd been at school in the morning, then had the afternoon off and decided to take advantage of it! First I went wheeling and had a good session at the track. I think I had aimed to do a 10k as practice for the King's Lynn race I had coming up (about which more another time!) but in the end I faffed for a bit too long and only had time to do 5k. However, I was comfortably under 20 minutes, even given the fact that I was starting and stopping in order to do some practice starts, and that for most of the more consistent stuff I was only working at a low intensity. After that, I went vaulting and had a good session. Unfortunately, waking up early and going to work with a 'normal' (i.e. tiring!) day there followed by two lots of exercise probably wasn't a great idea on that occasion. I've done it before and not suffered any ill effects but on this occasion it provoked a seizure. I hate it when my body does this: it's tired, so it responds by making itself infinitely more tired.
...and it isn't very helpful.
The next day at school was more of a struggle than usual: a full day, then RDA. At RDA I certainly wasn't performing at my best and I was feeling pretty frustrated to be honest. Back home in the evening, I had another seizure, and these kept on going throughout the weekend. I felt really rough and it got my mood down significantly. On the Saturday, I took myself off for some exercise therapy in the form of another 5k at the track - this time it took nearly 40 minutes! To be fair, a lot of this was because I was just trying to fit in as many sprint starts as possible, and because I wanted to get an idea of what would be a useful warm-up at future events where warm-up time and space may be limited. It was a light session but it was useful so it made me feel a bit better, even if only temporarily.
Blue is speed, red is heart rate.
On the Monday after those fun five days, I had an alright morning at school, then rested well in the afternoon before joining the others at the track for wheelchair racing. We did a series of 400m intervals then I did a longer 1500m run at the end before cooling down. It didn't feel as if I was back up to strength but it certainly felt a lot freer than before. That night, I didn't have a seizure! Unfortunately, I did accidentally eat some food with milk in. The results were not pretty but not quite as drastic as in the past. I was on the loo for a good hour before gathering the strength to send a distress signal to John who then appeared armed with lactase!
When I eat food with milk in, it's not just the gastric symptoms that are an issue. The symptoms evolve into cardiac symptoms, so my heart races and I can feel it beating irregularly. My stomach and guts are gripped with pain and the pain rapidly spreads into my lower back, until I can no longer move my legs. My vision goes blurry and starts to go black. As the tunnel vision gradually narrows, all I'm aware of is the pain in my abdomen and my back, and my heart pounding away at nineteen to the dozen. I can hear it amplified in my skull and I can feel my pulse throughout my body - in my chest, my ears and my head, of course, but also in my nose, in my fingers, and in the backs of my knees. I sweat a lot and feel absolutely ghastly.
Apparently this demonstrates what goes on in my body (although these aren't scans of me). It's a link between the gastric and cardiac systems which most people don't have and I wish I didn't!
Well, the lactase helped and I didn't go to hospital - hooray! It was very late by the time I got to bed but I was exhausted and slept well. The next day felt a bit like adding insult to injury: a full day at work. However, I'd booked myself a riding lesson for after work, and I didn't feel that it was morally acceptable to go to that if I didn't go to work. I was very tired and I felt as if I'd been drained (I suppose I had - most of the contents of my stomach and intestines had disappeared down the loo!) but I made it through the day.
The riding lesson was great - I'd booked a group lesson for an hour, but I was the only rider, so essentially had a private lesson for an hour. I was on Rolo, and we did quite a bit of flatwork before doing some work over raised trotting poles as practice for RDA showjumping. It felt good, and so much better than the RDA sessions I'd had recently, as well as far better than all the wheeling sessions and all the seizures and sickness had made me feel. The big advantage of this was that it helped my mood. I'd still been struggling quite a lot with feeling pretty rough mentally and being able to work consistently and successfully with Rolo was really satisfying. We work well together and when he's not being far too strong for my flimsy wrists we are a great team!
The old days! (Summer 2015)
The next day, I went vaulting and tried some new stuff: leg changes in canter. A leg change is basically where you start sitting astride, then move one leg over the horse's neck until you are sitting sideways, then you go back again to sitting astride. It's easy to do if you cheat, but if you don't cheat (have your legs completely straight, sit up straight and don't lean back, and release your hands at the right time) it's a lot harder. I was on Boris, the lovely big 17.2hh horse who is at this very moment representing GB in Belgium. I was a bit hopeless at leg changes to begin with, so we went back down to walk and I tried again to remind my brain and my legs of what they all needed to do!
This is us trying it in walk.
Once I'd got it sorted mentally, we went back up to canter and I tried again. First time, it was brilliant! However, it had worked that way round the first time I'd tried, and now I needed to try moving the other leg over, which was where I had struggled before. However, I was buoyed by my success with the first leg. The second time, I managed to get round to sitting sideways OK but then got a bit stuck. I tensed up, which was game over really - instead of being able to absorb the sideways rocking motion (from my perspective!) of Boris's cantering back, I was bounced around and I began to feel my head disappearing down the other side of his body compared to my legs. At that point I was vaguely aware that I probably would fall and that I should probably push myself far away from Boris instead of risk falling under his hooves. I gave myself a good push and let gravity do the rest!
Cantering on Boris for the first time - the only time I've worn that helmet so far!
I landed pretty heavily on my right hip, but got up straight away. Nett, who was lungeing, looked a bit shocked, as did everyone else - I suppose that the moment that your disabled vaulter flings themselves off a horse at speed and height is probably a slightly worrying one. Fortunately, I was OK enough to get up and limp back over to Boris for a leg-up and we headed back into canter to try a few other moves, then slowed to walk to go through some freestyle moves. I was glad I got back on straight away and although I felt a bit sore in my hip it wasn't too bad.
I drove home and then tried to get out of the car. That was the point at which I realised I wasn't going to get away with it so lightly. I just couldn't really move at all. It took quite a long time to get out of the car, and it was agonising. Normally I walk from the car to the flat, using a crutch. This time I thought I'd need my chair, but I couldn't actually bend over to get it out of the car. Instead I shuffled my way incredibly slowly with my crutch. I couldn't move my feet far apart - I could only shuffle each one about one inch further ahead of the other on each step, which equates to a lot of steps over just the few feet to the front door! That night, I went to bed with the hope that whatever had happened would have calmed down in the morning.
This horse is called Wishful Thinking...
It didn't.
...and this photo seemed appropriate!
I woke up several times throughout the night, always in a lot of pain. I was thirsty, but I didn't want to drink too much because I knew I couldn't make it to the bathroom to go to the loo. By about 6.00, I didn't feel I could go back to sleep one more time. I sat in front of a heater, trying to relax the muscles as much as I could so that I could get down to the car and go to school (again, in my head, I knew that I had RDA in the evening, and that I shouldn't go riding if I couldn't go to work!). It didn't work. I was in pain from my knees to the middle of my spine - extreme pain. I couldn't move. The very thought of sitting in my car and using pedals made me feel ill. At about 7.00, I rang in sick for the first time. At 8.30, my GP surgery opened and I got an early appointment. The GP had a quick look at me, prodded my spine, worried about the fact that going to the loo wasn't very easy, and sent me to A&E. Cue 'sigh' and a phonecall to my mum to ask if she could meet me there - John could take me, but I didn't want him hanging around all day when he has a PhD to write up.
I was a bit concerned by how many vaginal speculum boxes there were......!!
At A&E, I was sorted into the 'Majors' side. This means that you generally have a shorter waiting time and that you will be taken into 'Majors' rather than just the minor injuries area. More importantly, it means that for those patients who have arrived at A&E under their own steam there is a much more comfortable wait, as the seats are bigger, more cushioned and much more relaxing! From Majors, I had a few tests: a bladder scan, to see how well it was emptying; many tests in physical examinations (of reflexes and power/strength); and X-rays to rule out a fracture in my pelvis which they thought might be causing a lot of my pain. The X-ray did rule out a fracture but they were concerned that there was nerve damage, so I was admitted to CDU (the Clinical Decisions Unit) to await an MRI.
Bored in Majors.
At this point, I knew that I wanted to get out fairly quickly as otherwise I wouldn't be able to go riding. Apparently this is not a normal way to approach being hospitalised in huge amounts of pain and with zero passive range of motion (and not much active range of motion either, since my muscles were so tight) but my view was that if I were going to be discharged then that would mean I would be OK to ride, so I wanted that discharge (if it would come) to be in time for me to get to the stables. It had occurred to me that getting on a horse - let alone riding properly - would be incredibly difficult, and that I didn't really know how I would manage it. That wasn't important - where there's a will there's a way, but only if I was at the yard and not in a ward!
At least I had my Peppa Pig cushion :)
Anyway, although the wait for an MRI wasn't too long it took a long time for a porter to be able to come and fetch me and take me back to the ward. The route between CDU and the MRI scanners is a bit bizarre, as you go through a lot of the main hospital - in your bed and your unflattering hospital gown. I expected at any moment to spot someone I knew - as I normally do at Addenbrooke's! - but if any of my friends were around I didn't spot them as I didn't have my glasses. The scan itself was a bit miserable. I'm pretty claustrophobic, and obviously to scan your back you have to go all the way in. When I broke my back as a kid my mum was allowed to come too and help keep me calm, but she was still on the ward. They didn't want to change the way my head was resting on pillows to begin with, so my head was reeeeeeeally close to the scanner. I closed my eyes and dozed off a bit, and when I thought it was all over it turned out I had to go back in to have the higher part of my spine scanned, with my head in one of the cradle things (so pillows got moved anyway!). By the time that was all over and done with, I was feeling pretty drained, and wasn't nearly as chatty with the porters on the way back. I also really, really needed the loo by this point!
Or, do as I did - make lots of exciting musical compositions based upon the rhythmic whacking noises the machine makes!
Anyway, eventually they told me that the scans didn't show damage to my spinal cord, which was a good thing as it meant I didn't need emergency surgery. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late to go riding though... The scan did show that my muscles were in mega-spasm and that they were pulling my bones around, which was causing a lot of the pain and a lot of the neural symptoms in my legs. The only thing to do was to keep taking muscle relaxants, to stretch as much as bearable (which was nothing!) and to wait.
All my muscles.
So, in one week I'd had - on top of everything else - multiple seizures, an allergic reaction, and a bad fall which left me even less mobile than usual. I felt as if my brain had been mangled, my entire digestive system scoured, and my entire musculoskeletal system hardened into one immobile lump. To be honest, I still feel that way quite a bit - certainly the first two things, and the immobile mass of bone and soft tissue only seems to have wiggled at the edges. My legs are painfully tight and my back is agonising.
Oh, and that.
Two days after being in hospital, I headed to Norfolk with my mum. I was taking part in the Grand East Anglian Run (GEAR) 10k the next day, and although I wasn't feeling good I knew I didn't want to withdraw. I'd been really looking forward to the race. It was an opportunity to go around a good, fast 10k course: very flat, and all on road - perfect for wheels. I'd hoped to go and set a good time and I didn't want to lose that opportunity. On top of that, I knew it was a friendly race, and I thought it would be good fun.
Last year's race - very wet, but good fun!
Well, there'll be more of that another time! That race was a week ago and since then I've been a bit iffy. Monday was a very, very bad day. I was in a lot of pain, I was exhausted, I felt sick and shaky, and my mind was not in a good place. Fortunately, Monday was a bank holiday so I had some time off work. I had a lovely lunch with family but got tired pretty quickly. Once I'd had a little rest in the car, my mum and I wandered around a shop but then I began to feel really rubbish. After a very uncharacteristic cry in the car (normally I only cry in front of John!), I felt quite a lot better. I know I don't have to disguise my feelings from my mum, but to be honest it's just easier for me if I pretend most of the time. Not just with my mum, but with everyone - including John. It's quite rare that everything bubbles over but it did feel good to talk about struggling instead of just trying to ignore it. It made me feel a lot stronger and a lot more able to approach the next few days at work, and it was nice to plan some time at home the next weekend too (that's this weekend now!).
There isn't a good photo for the paragraphs above and below, so here's one of Rosie looking at a ladybird on her water bowl.
So, things are quite tough right now. I'm struggling a lot with fatigue, mood, pain, movement, dizziness, sickness, vision, all sorts. Sleep feels like a blessed relief, but it's elusive - pain and gastric symptoms (nausea, reflux, vomiting) make it difficult to relax enough, and waking in the morning feels incredibly hard. On the plus side, it's now only three weeks until half-term, when I will be able to enjoy a full week of fun things. Three weeks and counting!