Back in the club!

No, I didn’t die.  It’s just that for the past six weeks, I’ve felt too bad and sad and miserable to blog.  I didn’t have positive things to say, and I had to focus every bit of energy on healing from the voluntary surgery that knocked the wind from my sails.

Instead of running my usual 50km weeks, for the last six weeks I could only walk.  My pace started at a slow, painful 16 minutes per kilometer a week after varicose vein surgery.  I know, because I strapped on my Garmin and used it to record every painful step.  Walking the dog (which I couldn’t do for 2 weeks) counted; making my way to Hampton Street and back – that really counted; even picking up the kids from school counted (I couldn’t do this for three weeks).  I had no idea I would be so disabled by surgery.  It is a strange and terrible thing to go from super-fit, able and active, to completely disabled in one short hour of surgery.  I was startled by it, and still feel traumatized by the experience.  The weeks that have gone by seem dreamlike and strange, as if my body were no longer mine.

The hardest thing of all was about three weeks after surgery.  The pain had receded somewhat, I was walking more normally,  The bandages had come off.  I had running in my sights.  I went to lunch with my husband, and one of the un-stitched wounds, which had scabbed-over, opened up.  I leaked blood for two full days, despite compression bandages, steri-strips salvaged from my trail-running supplies, and a call to the surgeon.  The surgeon was an hour’s drive away, and wanted to see me Friday – but the wound opened on Tuesday.

It wouldn’t stop bleeding, no matter what I did.  Those few days were the worst.  I couldn’t stand up without bleeding; I couldn’t do anything.  I sunk into a dark place.  I felt like giving up.  Thankfully, my husband held me up, and the stubbornness in my character that I prefer to term determination kicked in.  I called my local doctor, begged for a single stitch to close the wound, and was given it by a lovely, compassionate doctor.

It worked; the bleeding finally stopped and I could begin healing again.  But I was shaken and scared.  And I was left with that stitch for 10 days, and still couldn’t run.  After those long ten days, I went back to the GP, who removed the stitch and suggested I wait another 7 days to run!  I couldn’t believe it.  I wanted to cry.

But deep inside, I felt a change in me.  I felt calmness returning, a sense of acceptance that all would be okay.  I decided to be conservative, to listen to my body, to walk, to slowly start to lift weights at the gym.  I didn’t push.  I let it be.  For one of the first times in my life, I allowed my body to determine what it needed.  It was wonderful.

Last week, the day I was to see the surgeon for a follow-up in fact, I finally ran.  For the first time in six long weeks, I ran!  My logic?  If the wound opened again, at least I had a doctor’s appointment!

It was a terrifying, joyous, hard, slow run.  I had this great plan – I’d been building it for weeks.  I was going to be sensible.  I planned on 1 minute run, 2 minutes walk, to do a total a 3k.  I started well – I walked the four minutes to my trail.  Then I began to run.  I meant to walk after one minute, I really did, but my body wouldn’t.  It just kept running.  It didn’t hurt.  I ran slowly.  Listened carefully for danger signs.  But there weren’t any.  It was simply all right.  I kept running for 4.6 glorious kilometers.

Was I elated?

I was scared.  Scared the wound had re-opened under my running tights.  But it hadn’t.  I waited a few days.  Then I ran 6k.  Waited a day. Ran 6.5.  Nothing hurt.  I was slow, of course, but I was okay.  I ran 17.1 kilometers that week!

Today, six weeks after surgery, I took myself to my favorite trail again, this time in my Five-Fingers.  I planned on 5k.  Partway to this goal, I ran into a friend who’d been following my surgery story.  She was as thrilled as me to see me running.  We chatted (I stopped my Garmin and didn’t feel restless!), then we ran our separate ways.  A few minutes later, I saw two other friends.  I ran with them for the next few kilometers, sharing with them the joy of moving again. Sharing the laughter.  Sharing the trail.

And it occurred to me:  I am finally back in the club.  The club of fitness and health and well-being.  Of running.  Of weight-training.  The gym and my bicycle and walking without a limp, and the whole wide world feels like a big, giant playground, and I am more grateful for this comeback trail than I can express with mere words.

It has been a long, hard six weeks.  It didn’t turn out as I’d expected or planned, and I am still healing.  But I have learned that by being compassionate with myself, I can heal.

I am not sure yet where my trail will take me, what distances I will aim for in the coming months.

For now, it is enough to run with joy again, to be back in the club.

Ouch! 9 days post-surgery blues.

This is the first time I’ve sat at my desk in more than ten days.  It hurts already.  I can’t straighten my left leg yet, or bend it either, for that matter.

I’ve been trying to be positive post-surgery, trying to see the light in the dark, searching out all manner of motivational sayings on the internet using my phone.  As I sit, sit, sit.  Between sitting and resting, I’ve been walking.  The surgeon ok’d up to two hours a day; of course, that quickly became a “must do – goal time” kind of thing, which I’ve yet to achieve.  I made it 85 minutes today, in two separate hobbles about town.

My pace?  A turtle-ish 15 – 16 minute kilometre.  Yup.  And that’s when I’m trying to go fast.  The doctor also ok’d running after 7 days – I waited until 8 days but could only manage 5 jogging steps (think Cliffy) and then had to walk.  I repeated this until I couldn’t do it anymore.  Until it hurt more than I could take.

I failed at my goal distance of walking to the beach three times (it is a 3k round trip walk).  On three separate walks I quit; I wouldn’t have made it home.  Extraordinary.

Today I did make it (it took 25 minutes to get there on what is usually an 8 minute run).  I stood and stared at the bay.  My leg throbbed.  I remembered all the wonderful runs I’ve had along this coastline, the adventures and the wind and the rain, the hot sun, the cap-fulls of water I’ve dumped over my head – all of it, I remembered all of it, and it brought tears to my eyes because I can only just shuffle now and I don’t know how long that’s going to last, or when I’ll be able to run free again.

I know surgery was the right thing to do.  I was worried about blood clots from my damaged vein – my Mom had suffered several mini-strokes in her later years, and I know how this disabled her.  It was right to have this operation when I am young and strong and able to recover well.

But it is so hard.  It hurts every moment of every day, and more at night.  I haven’t slept a good night in 9 nights.  My leg is black from mid-thigh to below my knee.  I can’t even climb up stairs.

It is hard to stay positive, to take friend’s kind words that this is a short thing and will be over before I know it.  Time has slowed to a terrible crawl; I have slowed to a terrible crawl.  If I told you I felt positive, I’d be lying, and I told you I’d tell you the truth, even when it was hard.

The truth is this is a horrible place to be.  I’m bereft and feel purposeless because I can’t even stand up long enough to make school lunch for my kids.  I want to howl and cry and throw things.  I want to run free in the woods but I can only do this in my memory right now.

Here’s what I know for certain though, beyond the emotions.

I will fight my way back. I’ve already begun.  I’ve walked every day since surgery last Monday, starting on Tuesday with 60 minutes (3×20 minutes), then 75, then 90, then 100.  I scaled back for the weekend as I was shattered, but got back up to 90 today.

This will not break me.  But it has changed me.  It has given me great compassion for older people, for the injured.  I will not look the same way at crossings roads ever again.  When I entered the hospital last Monday, I knew I was setting my healthy, strong self aside for a while.  I entered knowing this.

I can’t stay with you longer tonight as it hurts too much to sit and type.  I’d love to leave you with words of wisdom but I am still discovering what this has to teach me.  For now, I’ll leave you with the title of my favorite Bon Jovi song of the moment:  The Fighter.  I sing it quietly as I hobble right now.

Hope to see you on the trails soon…

Recovery

I’m alive! That’s the first thought I had upon awakening from surgery to have a bad varicose vein removed yesterday. The second was delight that I had not actually experienced any surgery. Haven’t not had surgery before, I was certain that some part of me would have been aware of what was happening. So delight on two fronts.

I’m home now and facing a few slow weeks of recovery. The surgeon had said I must walk a minimum of 30 minutes a day this week. To which I quickly replied, what’s the maximum? She remembered me then as “the runner” and allowed me up to two hours!

Today I’ve managed 3 x 20 minute walks, which feels terrific and gives me hope that the Two Bays 28k race in early January may still be in reach.

I put off this surgery so many times because great races just couldn’t be missed. It is a huge relief to have it done.

I’ll leave you with a couple of impressions. My anaesthetist reminded somehow of  Robin Williams; this was strangely reassuring. Food and coffee are wonderful things, especially after fasting. Nurses should never push wheelchairs quickly down crowded corridors when patients have leg injuries. Recovering from surgery is a bit like training for an ultramarathon. Rest is a hard thing to sink my teeth into, but it is part of recovery and I must do that too.

Best news of all? The doctor told me I can run again in just seven short days! So I’m off to enjoy some rest while I can!

 

 

Surgery!

Please excuse my long absence – school holidays came and went, along with the usual chaos/fun they involve, followed by two weeks of cleaning up the mess.  I did lots of great running meanwhile, including a beautiful 21km run from Torquay to Bells Beach and back along the Surfcoast Walking Trail

image

Views along the Surfcoast Walking Track near Torquay

 

a few great ones up at Mount Dandenong on my favorite roller coaster loop

A fallen tree near Mount Dandenong

A fallen tree near Mount Dandenong

and a wonderful adventure down on the Two Bays Trail last Friday.

View from Arthur's Seat on the Two Bays Trail near Dromana

View from Arthur’s Seat on the Two Bays Trail near Dromana

Which brings you kind of up to date.

And me just one week (gasp!) away from surgery.  Voluntary surgery, no less.

I’ve had this vein-gone-wrong in my left leg (okay, lets call it what it is, a varicose vein) since I was 32.  I remember the day I noticed it.  A lump appeared down low on my thigh.  I was convinced it was cancer.  In complete panic, I called my then-Doctor, got in to see him straight away (these were the days I worked in a suit in Melbourne and went to city doctors!), and found out I wasn’t dying.  That was a great relief.

But to be told I had a varicose vein?  Suddenly, I felt very, very old.  Now, varicose veins are genetic.  I hadn’t somehow caused it by walking or exercising too much, the doctor assured me.  But that didn’t matter.  Old people had varicose veins; therefore, I was old. Old.  At 32, that belief mattered.  It crushed me for a bit.

It took a couple of months, but I got over it.  Decided that as long as I was fully functional, so be it, I had a vein-gone-wonky.  That has worked a treat for the last sixteen years.  But during those many years, the vein grew and grew, became twisted and began to work less and less well.  I started to trip up more often on trail runs, always on that leg.  I got terrible cramps in that calf at night, that would wake me up and keep me up for hours.  And not-so-kind people began to comment (“Oh, look at your leg.  That must hurt.  It looks awful!”), so I started to hide it in long running tights.  I’m not about looks, I’m about performance.  But I’m human too.

Last year, I finally got the guts up to see a Vascular Surgeon, and she suggested all was not well.  And not just visually.  Such a messed up vein could cause blood clots.  And serious bleeding if I cut it (like, perhaps, by tripping over in the middle of a long trail run).  These things were important.  I planned to have surgery the next month, September 2013.  To address this thing once and for all.

Except I didn’t.  There were too many cool races to complete.  There was Marysville and Lorne and Two Bays and the Roller Coaster Run, and the Buffalo Stampede.  North Face too.  I didn’t make all of them due to a knee injury, but I did a lot.  These were followed swiftly by the four races of the Salomon Trail Series.  Where to fit surgery requiring four weeks off running?  I decided quietly in my head that September 2014 would be it.  Just before the whole thing kicked off again, in an endless, thrilling cycle of trail racing.

Just prior to the last race of the Salomon Trail Series (23k down in Anglesea) in September, 2014, I finally called the surgeon.  I wanted surgery right away, I’d decided ages ago, I said (thinking about the 28km Two Bays Trail Race I’d already booked for January, 2015).

“Perhaps you should have told me…” the receptionist/surgery booker replied.  I laughed and admitted I’d been putting it off for rather a long time.  She tried to squeeze me in before the surgeon’s next holiday, which was a week off.  While this did seem a bit risky (perhaps she’d be thinking of margarita’s instead of veins?), I gave the go ahead, but it didn’t work out anyway.

Instead, we arranged for 27 October.  Which seemed ages and ages away at the time.  For the last month, I’ve been kicking up my heels in joy along every trail I’ve run, like I’ve been given an extra month of freedom.

But now here I am, a week away from something I’ve put off for, oh, fourteen years or so.

While I can be courageous when I’m controlling the risks (long trail runs alone but fully prepared), when someone else is in charge my inner wimp climbs right out of the back seat and plonks herself down firmly in the front.  And makes me think about everything that could go wrong.  I’ve Googled all the surgery risks (mistake), examined posts in Forums about surgery gone wrong (bigger mistake), driven my husband nuts talking about the chances of me dying (he’s a very patient man).

Finally, I’ve come to terms with it.  Kind of.

Here’s the good stuff that I’m trying to focus on:  perhaps I’ll trip over less frequently.  My leg won’t be swollen and cramp at night.  I will wear shorts to teach again without feeling self-conscious.  Most importantly, I won’t be worrying about a potential blood clot having some serious impact on my life down the track.  Or bleeding out on a solo trail run (not that I worried much about that, but humor me please).

All that said, please send me some kind thoughts next Monday because I’m sure to be a little bit of a scaredy-mouse come the actual surgery.

The rest of this week holds some terrific training to get me in my final peak shape before Monday, and I’m going to soak up every little bit of it, starting with a couple of hours in the Dandenongs tomorrow.