Sunday, 18 May 2014

The one I didn't want to write...

So here it is, the blog I didn’t want to have to write.

Forgive me for taking so long to post this one. Since finding out I wouldn’t be at this year’s World Cup, confirming I can no longer realise my dream of becoming a World Champion, I feel like I’ve experienced every emotion under the sun; I struggled to know where to start and I needed to get my head around those feelings before I tried to capture some of them, and articulate them in the best possible way.

This is by far the hardest blog to write, probably because I don’t want to be writing it! I can have a tendency to isolate myself when bad things happen, but it wouldn’t be fair to ignore this one as so many of you have taken a great deal of interest in my journey. At the very least I really want to show my appreciation for all the support my blog has generated, even if, at times, all I want to do is hide away from the world!

I am very lucky to be supported by my loving family. As an ‘athlete’ I also have access to one of the English Institute of Sport’s Performance Lifestyle Advisors. She recently shared with me Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief. Now this may sound a little dramatic, but the ‘grief cycle’ has been shown to transfer to personal change and emotional upset resulting from factors other than death and dying.

Kübler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief

Time is the greatest healer. That is clear, not only from the graph above but also from personal experience. I know in time everything will be okay.

For now though, it hurts.

I’ve lost the chance to achieve a goal of mine that, not only have I worked incredibly hard for over these last eleven weeks, but absolutely and completely dedicated my life to, one hundred per cent, for the past fifteen years.

I have no idea when I’ll get to the acceptance stage. I’m not even sure where I currently sit on the graph as I keep fluxing between the anger, bargaining and depression stages meaning I'm not much fun to be around at the moment! The image below nicely shows some of the emotions attached to each of the stages. I certainly concur with the majority.

When I started blogging about my ‘road to recovery’, I was fully aware it could end like this. Clearly I hoped it wouldn’t but I positively put myself out there, and, in doing so opened myself up and made myself vulnerable. Dealing with my emotions in a very public way is not something I usually love doing. It inevitably made me accessible for support, encouragement, and reassurance. Equally though I was susceptible to criticism and judgement, something I was all too aware of.

Although exposing myself emotionally was scary at first, not once have I regretted telling the world about my ambition. In all honesty I’ve been overwhelmed by the response, but fundamentally I whole-heartedly believe in vocalising goals and dreams. This is something I’ve learnt throughout my career and ultimately put into practice, along with my teammates, as we ventured towards a home Olympic Games in London 2012.

The vision was most definitely gold. The reality however was bronze. Some could perceive this as a failure. Winning the bronze was maybe a success. In the end neither of these outcomes really matters. The immense pride I possess comes from the fact we had the courage to set that goal in the first place, and tirelessly work towards it, responding positively to both the encouragement and criticism that came our way, particularly on commencing the centralised programme in 2009.

The vulnerability, in both cases, was actually the thing that has made the experience worth living, which reminded me of a TED Talk I’d heard some time ago by research professor Dr. Brené Brown. Dr. Brown has spent a decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, and believes “vulnerability is absolutely essential to whole hearted living.” I couldn’t agree more and would highly recommend her talk on ‘The power of vulnerability’ (2010), which she followed up with ‘Listening to shame’ in 2012.

I’m not quite ready to be philosophical just yet.  Although having read this back it’s getting a bit deep and may sound like I am. I know as time moves on I will get there, but for now it’s still too raw. I do however feel that same pride. I tried my hardest. I literally gave it everything I had leaving me physically, emotionally and mentally drained on many occasions.

To get back playing in an international friendly after eight and a half weeks post my second back surgery in a year, and to be fitter, stronger and more powerful than I was pre-surgery is a testament to the work I put in. Unquestionably I have no regrets, which, as in 2012 will eventually leave me feeling contented and fulfilled.

Now I’ve got started I could go on forever, but I want to save some bits for my book! I have a few thank yous but first I’d like to wish the girls all the best in The Hague. There’s nothing more I would like to see than my wife Kate, lift the World Cup. Of course, I wanted to be by her side when she did, but we’ve both shared so many highs and lows since our debuts in 1999 and she truly would be worthy of this success.

I hope this next bit doesn’t sound like I’m picking up an Oscar; but there are a number of people I’d like to thank. I definitely couldn’t have done this alone and I’m afraid there isn’t a better platform for me to do this:

Firstly, I’d like to thank You. Thank you for taking the time to read my posts, supporting me with comments, tweets and in person. This really was something I didn’t expect, certainly not to the level at which I received the encouragement anyway. To receive messages from familiar and unfamiliar people, without doubt brought a smile to my face through some pretty tough times.

I am also extremely touched that my story has inspired many of you going through similar battles, in other life pursuits, or to share my story with others or use it as part of material for students to learn from. I loved hearing them and appreciate your time and honesty in sharing these with me.

To my international and club teammates old and new, thank you for every email, tweet and text. You all know exactly what this means to me and your support has been incredibly humbling. Thank you to anyone who passed me on the bike and told me to keep going, moved equipment in the gym, gave me a pat on the back, a look at the right time or gave me a cheer when I got back on the pitch, it all helped.

To Batch, Ben, Emma and Luke. Thank you for the countless hours you put in to treating me, writing programmes, assessing me, training with me, working on bank holidays including Easter Sunday, but most importantly embracing the challenge that this could be done. We did a bloody good job, and in my eyes, we did it.

Finally to Kate for driving me here, there and everywhere, cooking, washing up, cleaning the house and doing the washing whilst I train, do my exercises, write my assignments or just rest and recover ready for my next session. These are just some of the practical things, which allowed me to pursue my dream; but thank you mostly for being there, and understanding as you always do.

Everyone loves a fairy tale ending; I was confident I’d get mine. The books and films that really grip you though are the ones that leave you wondering how it will end.

That is me now.

I don’t know how this will end, but I promise one thing: I will continue to commit passionately and whole-heartedly – I will continue to embrace vulnerability.

“Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really vulnerability is courage. We must ask ourselves, are we willing to show up and be seen?” Dr. Brené Brown

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Back On The Pitch

It took me a while to get to sleep last night. I was getting a bit excited about being allowed to warm up with the team playing Canada today!

Now for those of you who know me you'll know my feelings on warm ups! I really believe that what you do in your mind to be ready is the most important before a game, physiologically there is clearly a need but it doesn't mean I enjoy it. I often wonder how many warm ups I've done in my lifetime: in the last week I've done 12, which is quite typical, so that multiplied by the number of training weeks and years I’ve been playing it must be getting close to tens of thousands. This surely makes my feelings on warm ups more understandable, today’s warm up though was a special one.

One thing I’ve not mentioned up until now is the role of nutrition on my recovery. This is something I’m extremely conscious of anyway as over the years I’ve learnt to appreciate the impact it can have on performance. The last two weeks have been particularly crucial; due to the increase in training my susceptibility to illness has also increased, and getting ill was something I couldn’t afford to happen. Supplements have played their part: fish oils, vitamin C, creatine, beetroot juice, cherry active are all things I wouldn’t normally take but my nutritionist wanted to not leave any stone unturned.

Daily supplements which have massively helped my recovery

I know I won’t get any sympathy for this comment but one of the hardest challenges for me has been to get enough calories in! I’ve been getting up early to make smoothies, and eating snacks left, right and centre to get the right amount of carbohydrates and protein. I’m a really slow eater though and sometimes there just isn’t enough time for me to eat enough food. It did at one point take me back to my U21 England days, when the coach would force me to stay at breakfast and eat toast against my will. I’d sit there for ages, chewing away, trying to get it down me and I hated it.

I definitely feel better and very strong for all the calories. A few test results have shown that my legs have grown in size by two to three centimetres in diameter and I’m more powerful because I can jump higher. Even though I know it will be tough, this is really encouraging for when I return to hockey this week.

I’m obviously looking forward to returning to the group and joining in training for the first time since February. It will be weird to be back as my identity for the last eight weeks has been as a rehab athlete, where I’ve been in control of my own training, working with a small group of professionals who have all done all they can to help me and I’ve become comfortable within that environment. Now I need to change to being a hockey player again, getting my astro shoes on, checking I’ve got my stick, shin pads and gum shield. I’ve worked incredibly hard to be here at this point in time and this is the time to not let up and keep pushing on.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Keep My Head Up; Keep My Heart Strong

Whenever I go on twitter I will often see one of the FIH’s (International Hockey Federation) tweets counting down the days to the World Cup. The excitement for the tournament is building, but in all honesty whenever I catch a glimpse of it I get a sickening tug in the pit of my stomach.

FIH World Cup Countdown

Today’s countdown says there’s forty days to go which is still a great deal of time to for me to make huge strides forward. That’s just less than six weeks away, and with how things are going I really believe I can be fit in time. To be at the World Cup though I need to get selected into the team; and that date comes much sooner. Everyday I tell myself to keep fighting and put myself in the strongest position possible, ignoring that feeling in my stomach as much as I can.

I’ve had one hell of a week: it’s seen me go from just starting to run, to doing hockey-running sessions, 1 v 1’s and sprinting on the treadmill at altitude. The hockey-running sessions involve different types of movement you’d expect to see on the pitch like tackling, passing and dribbling which were interspersed with the hard yards including accelerations and decelerations, which is the thing that really takes it out of you. It felt so good to get a stick in my hand and instead of any chocolate eggs this year, my gift on Easter Sunday was to do some 1 v 1’s.

I’ve also completed four killer running sessions and two hideous bike sessions at an altitude of 3000m: the equivalent of the third of the way up Mt. Everest. We are very lucky to have a chamber at Bisham Abbey and the resident EIS (English Institute of Sport) physiologist Luke Gupta, has kindly agreed to oversee my intense two week programme which will hopefully speed up my adaptation and accelerate my fitness, so when I get back onto the pitch I’ll be better able to cope.

At that altitude, because there is less oxygen in the air, the sessions have definitely tested my mental reserve. It starts to become very easy to question whether this is all worth it. The answer is always yes and always will be. Having the opportunity to get in the altitude chamber to speed all this up does give me a lot more hope.

Unfortunately I’ve never been blessed with a great deal of natural speed, strength or endurance. I’ve always had to work extremely hard on this part of my game. Not surprisingly it probably wasn’t until I endured two years of rehab between 2003-2004 after my perineal tendon ruptured, requiring three operations, when I really learnt how to train properly.

Back then rehab taught me how to: set goals, short cuts don’t exist and how to push myself physically. On the pitch I always played with a great deal of passion, but that didn’t necessarily transfer to the fitness sessions. I personally believe that knowing how hard you can work in a sporting context is something that’s learnt. Some learn quickly, others a bit longer. Inevitably for some, they never get there. Of course being told by one consultant that I would never play hockey for England or Great Britain again, made me realise how much I wanted it and more determined than ever.

Back in the chamber Luke has been measuring my lactate levels, so between each set he’ll stab my ear and milk my lobe to collect my blood for testing. He’s even been monitoring my sleep with the use of a device I wear on my wrist. This recognises movement and so can tell how many hours sleep I get each night, which is massively important in how well I recover between sessions.

Sleep Monitor

Mentally it’s getting tougher as the final preparations are starting to take place. The team hockey sessions have occasionally been tough viewing; my main aim is to keep up with everything tactically and to not become isolated by contributing whenever I can. That will be even more important as we now approach a period of match play against various visiting nations.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Back On The Track

I hate watching hockey! Well, let me clarify that: I hate sitting on the sideline when I should be out on the pitch playing. The Investec League Play-offs have just finished and having to miss out for the second year running was just painful. These are the weekends that everyone wants to play in and it’s just gutting not to be involved. Having learnt from experience I’ve now taken to staying more in the background when it comes to my team; lets just say it’s better for the health of my heart by not living every tackle, pass and goal.

I did have lots of lovely support though wherever I went. Many hockey supporters who were avidly following my blog wished me well in my recovery and believe me all the support and encouragement really helps.

The last week of training has gone well. Obviously I’m pushing things along as quickly as possible, and after surgery or any injury pain is inevitable on the road back to recovery; but what is the difference between pain and pain? When I’ve had any pain, particularly in my back (which thankfully hasn’t been that often), I get so many annoying thoughts running through my mind. Why’s it painful? What have I done? Should I carry on training? Is it good or bad pain?

I tried to explain to someone the other day that because I have no visual concept really of what the surgeon has done, I keep imagining things popping out of places they shouldn’t! Again, completely irrational thoughts take over my mind to the point where I end up in tears whilst trying to convince myself that I’ve not done anything different that could’ve caused it. Normally it’ll last that day, the next morning I’ll wake up and it all feels fine again and I’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s completely ridiculous; I know it is. Even when I’m in this state of mind I try to tell myself it’ll be fine tomorrow, but it doesn’t seem to help.

On the whole I’ve enjoyed a good week’s training led by Ben Rosenblatt, our strength and conditioning coach who has also been working all hours to not only write my programmes, but to support me through many of my sessions. The blood flow restriction training has finally come to an end and I really feel like my legs are strong. My trunk exercises are now including some flexion, rotation and side bends. Progression can definitely be seen which keeps morale high. I also reached a huge milestone this week: I ran for the first time! That definitely makes me feel even closer to my target.

Three running sessions and five footwork sessions down: many, many more to come. It’s time to ramp this up!

The short movie below introduces Ben and also shows some of my exercises from the last two weeks including the dreaded blood flow restriction session.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Putting My Back Into It

It hurts to sit on the toilet and I get the shakes when my foot’s on the clutch: This week has been an absolute killer and it comes to something when my favourite time of the day is sitting in an ice bath! I’ve pretty much been non-stop all week and the DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) I’ve got is absolutely reaffirming this for me.

My Calendar - 5th Week Post Surgery

Being busy, in general has felt great, even the DOMS to a certain extent. Usually I hate getting DOMS but at the moment it’s a sign that my muscles are working very hard and ultimately will be getting strong. The assignment I had to finish early on in the week for my psychology degree, basically took away my chance to just go home and flop on the sofa after a hard day’s training. It’s also delayed this blog to a certain extent but now is definitely a time to prioritise my rehab, which includes rest and recovery.

Annoyingly a common misconception from others of being injured is that you can’t do much and therefore have loads of time. That could not be further from the truth as my schedule shows: I guess in some ways it would depend on what kind of person you are and how you approach the training but for me I’ve always found it much more time consuming. I also think it’s because I’m not in control of my daily timings, relying on when I can get a physio appointment, trying to fit my sessions in around watching the team hockey sessions whilst sometimes completing three or four sessions a day.

On a positive note my training is quite varied now. There’s nothing worse than to be stuck on the bike for weeks on end. I’ve been continuing with my reformer and physio exercises, whilst my strength and conditioning coach Ben, has gradually been building in movement stability, ankle stiffness, trunk, glutes and hamstring endurance, footwork skills and finally, the daily dose of blood flow restriction strength training!

Blood flow restriction training does exactly what it says on the tin. It involves me pumping up a blood pressure cuff around the top of my leg to limit the blood that can get through, and then performing a Bulgarian squat and a single leg bridge. That in itself wouldn’t be too bad; it’s the fact I have to do maximum repetitions, have only thirty seconds rest and repeat four times. The burn is just excruciating. It takes every ounce I’ve got to keep going, pushing out one. More. Rep. The release of pressure and return of blood is a relief, however twenty-four hours later it’s time to repeat it: this time with DOMS.

I’ve been very lonely in my sessions this week. The majority of my sessions have been by myself and this is by far the hardest part. The team are often on the pitch and obviously Ben (who has been amazing) can’t be in two places at once. Not many really have a clue what I’m up to day to day, and it’s down to me to do the work and I’ve often relied on my trusty visualisation skills to get me through. I’ve always done it.

Ever since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games where I sat in the stands as an ambitious eighteen year old watching the medal ceremony, absolutely gutted with finishing eighth, completely naive because I thought we could win it, and wishing I was one of the Australian’s receiving their gold medals. Chris Pickett, who was our manager at the time, turned to me and said “that’ll be you one day”. I looked at him, then back at the women standing on top of that podium and I thought yes, that’s what I want to do, I want to be Olympic Champion. I had always wanted to win a gold medal but I didn’t realise how much. I was prepared to do whatever it took. I took a photo and that became my vision. It still is.

2000 Olympic Games Medal Ceremony
Argentina Silver, Australia Gold, Holland Bronze

In the lead up to London 2012 in particular it gave me a great source of motivation. During the hard sessions, or when difficult decisions needed to be made, I would see myself, along with the team, standing, arms aloft on top on the podium in front of the home crowd. We all know how this ended, but it definitely helped. So now I picture myself at the back of the line-up, walking out for the first match against USA in eight weeks time.

I have to believe it. Otherwise I might as well give up now.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Breathing Myself Back To Life

If I’ve got any chance of making the World Cup squad I can’t just let the recovery happen, I’ve got to make it happen. From day one I naturally began thinking about, and exploring ways in which I could speed the process up whilst remaining safe and not rushing things so I don’t breakdown.

There are a number of weird and wonderful machines and facilities available to me at Bisham, which will all help further down the line. I’ve already been using the Pilates reformer machine and I will no doubt write about the anti-gravity treadmill and altitude chamber in the future. This, however, is where the hyperbaric chamber comes in.

The Hyperbaric Chamber
The Light Clinic - University of Reading

I’d heard bits about it, mainly speeding up recovery using oxygen and pressure. How? I had no idea, but I had to find out.

Now for the sciency bit…

Apparently, under normal conditions when a person breathes in, oxygen from the air will saturate the red blood cells in the bloodstream by around 95%. If we were to breathe in pure oxygen, that saturation could be increased by a few percent. However, in the hyperbaric chamber the pressure is increased to 2 bars, which is the equivalent to 10 metres underwater (or so I’ve been told). This added pressure, coupled with breathing is pure oxygen through a mask means the oxygen also dissolves into the plasma, which increases the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream by ten times. Not only is there more oxygen, but also the plasma is able to seep into tissue spaces where there is no blood flow enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself naturally.

After meeting Doug Jones, the science doctor who runs The Light Clinic at Reading University, and he explained the potential benefits, all I could think was ‘get me in there’! So, for the past two weeks I’ve been spending 90 minutes a day in the chamber. There isn’t a huge amount of research around the effects on my specific injury, but there’s a load around how it helps leg ulcers in particular, and with oxygen being life’s healing power, I’d be a fool not to try it.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a bizarre experience. It was perfectly fine, just a little odd. After crawling into the cylinder shaped, white tank like submarine (with space enough for two), I’d try to get comfortable before the blast of noise like an aeroplane taking off commenced until the right pressure was reached after around five minutes. On goes the oxygen mask where I desperately gulp away whilst imagining the oxygen swarming my body mending my muscles and anything else that gets in it’s way.

For the second week Henry Weir, one of the players from the men’s squad, has joined me in the chamber. Unfortunately he went over on his ankle rupturing one ligament and tearing another so he also wants to speed up his recovery as well. Armed with various options to pass the time, Sudoku puzzles were a favourite, concentrating on university work was a struggle over the Darth Vader breathing impressions made from wearing the mask (the real Vader, not my Dad’s!), although randomly the War Horse soundtrack resulted in being most conducive to studying.

Lastly I’d like to mention Doug again to say a massive thank you to him for being so welcoming and accommodating. There were a few difficult times when I really appreciated seeing a friendly face, hearing about his sporting stories or spinal insert inventions, from someone who genuinely cares about what he’s doing; making people feel better. Thanks Doug, the signed photo is on its way.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Back In Business

Now the hard work begins.

The Rehab Room at Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre

I will be spending many an hour in the rehab room at Bisham Abbey over the coming weeks. The last two weeks I’ve been pretty cautious with my movements, the idea was to keep a straight back mostly but doing some really gentle mobility exercises. From time to time I experienced a few twinges, which in all honesty petrified me. Even if it only lasted a couple of seconds until I realised everything was ok, it’s still so unsettling; the thing is, I know I’ll have those feelings for, well forever I guess.

The rest of my exercises at the moment revolve around core stability and activating the muscles I’ve not used for a couple of weeks whilst keeping a flat back. In a word, they’re BORING! Some of them don’t look like much, and mostly require concentration to keep my core engaged, whilst moving the appropriate limb. Some of them don’t look like much, but after a few repetitions you really start to feel the burn. I have to do some of them three times a day and I have to do them. There are no short cuts when it comes to rehab, if I miss things out, I don’t progress or run the risk of not recovering properly, that’s the bottom line.

I tell you what though, it feels great to be able to do something, and on a positive note, the nerve pain I’m experiencing down my leg seems to be responding confidently.

The person in charge of everything I do is our squad physio, Emma Batchelor. The working relationship I have with Emma is critical. I simply can’t do this by myself and I’m very much reliant on her. In all honesty it’s not something I relish, I like to be in control of what I do day to day (Emma will tell you that!) and I want to know the reason for everything we’re doing; if I had a pound for the number of times I’ve said “so, why are we doing this”.

With Emma I’m extremely lucky. Not only does she know her stuff and is very experienced, she is also completely dedicated and works every hour God sends. I often have to call her in the evening and at weekends and I know she doesn’t mind and I’m so thankful for everything she does. The other day though Emma said that she also saw getting me back fit as a challenge. I can’t tell you how much that means to me, I don’t think Emma does either, well she didn’t! To hear that just gave me so much confidence, knowing she will do everything she can is all I can ask for, and it doesn’t half make me feel a hell of a lot better.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

It always astounds me at how quickly my outlook can change. I’ve had a really positive first week back at home, which was topped off nicely by the visit of, and lunch with HRH The Countess of Wessex.

Luncheon with Royalty!

This positivity continued into the weekend, which included a trip to Windsor in the gorgeous sunshine. I’ve spent the majority of this week at home but on the two occasions I went into Bisham Abbey, where we train as a squad, the irrational, negative or emotional thoughts, or what I call the dark cloud of worry descended.

Still in my anesthetic state and without much energy on my feet, I went to see the team before a pitch session. There were differing reactions to the ‘show and tell’ of my disc fragments but it was great to see them and their support has been and continues to be fantastic. On leaving the pitch though they started the session and I watched a couple of minutes. Now, I’ve been playing hockey for 25 years and successfully recovered from four operations (to date!) and still, that little negative thought of how far there was to go popped into my head. I couldn’t even begin to imagine myself jogging, let alone sprinting whilst pushing and hitting a hockey ball.

I know too well that dealing with thoughts like this is part and parcel of recovering from an injury, if I get them on a good day they’re easy to shrug off, remembering ‘one day at a time’ and move on. If they creep in when things aren’t going so well it can be a completely different ball game altogether. I’ve already apologised to the squad in advance for any sudden, inexplicable bouts of water works or mad moments! On Monday it wasn’t so extreme, and it was saved for the privacy of my own house but that’s how quickly it can turn. Thanks to Kate and Heads Up, it didn’t last very long.

Now they were two very small moments from the past week, the majority was hugely positive. The feeling has started to come back into my right leg and foot, which is encouraging, although it has been replaced by some neural pain, which again is not entirely unexpected, and actually in my head feels like a more normal reaction than a numb leg. My surgeon was also really pleased with everything and happy for me to progress.

I also had my staples out, eighteen in total, which can be viewed below if you like that sort of thing! It was a little more painful than I thought it would be but this really signifies the start, it’s time to move this rehab train forward!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

You've Got My Back

The last few days have been a little up and down physically and emotionally. I’ve been very teary on a number of occasions; my Mum tells me that anesthetic can have that effect post surgery. I’m sure that is part of it, along with feeling very tired and not getting a great deal of decent sleep, but I think the over riding common denominator is when my thoughts turn towards the World Cup starting in 88 days.

I’ve had so many amazing messages of support over the last few days. Some have been from complete strangers. Others have been from those who often tweet regular encouragement during tournaments for club and country. The majority though have come from current and ex-teammates, including the best piece of advice from someone who was unfairly hampered by injury throughout her career. She simply said “One day, one session at a time”. It sounds like such a simple concept but it’s so hard to do, especially I find right at the start when you have a lot of time to sit and think. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at my calendar and counted the number of weeks it is until the World Cup and compared this to my recovery time from last year. I think it’s understandable, yet know it’s completely unhelpful. I know I can only do what I can do, obviously I will be pushing it to the limits but my mantra for the foreseeable future will be ‘one day at a time’.

Physically I don’t feel too bad, my back feels stiff and it’s frustrating not being able to stretch it out but the pain is manageable. The numbness in my right leg and foot is constantly at the back of my mind. My calf was twitching like crazy last night, which I was desperately convincing myself was a good sign. I’ve been given a few mobility and core exercises from the hospital physio and other than going for short walks, there’s little else I can do.

My overriding comfort throughout the good and the bad over the last week has been the tremendous amount of support. I know I can’t get through this by myself and I can’t thank everyone enough for the emails, texts, tweets, Facebook messages and comments on my blog. They all help, every single one of them. In the email I sent to the current GB squad explaining my impending operation, I used this quote…

“When the mind says give up, hope whispers one more try.” Anonymous

I know this is going to be a battle, but where hope remains, my heart will never give up.

In the meantime I’m loving Ellen DeGeneres’ app. Heads Up! It’s providing much hilarity at times when it’s very much needed. Laughter, after all, is the best medicine.

Clearly my Dad has not seen Star Wars!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Disc Wars: Surgeon Strikes Back


So here it is, what I like to call the pesky crayfish causing havoc floating around my spinal cord! No wonder I was in a fair amount of pain

L4/5 disc fragments removed during surgery

I was hoping to blog yesterday but I was completely out of it from the all the anesthetic, morphine and antibiotics. Then after managing to get a bit of roast beef and mash down me, in a sleepy haze and still drugged up to the max I started to feel slightly nauseas. The nurse clearly underestimated my ability to vomit so handed me the small sick bowl, he must’ve thought small girl, small amount of vomit. As the feeling rose I quickly grabbed the bigger, bed pan tray off the side, once he saw the tsunami that ensued covering all the sides, he left me to it!

The operation itself went as well as could’ve been expected. Although at one point I didn’t even think I’d get it done yesterday. The hospital policy says all patients must be tested for MRSA, something that they’d forgotten to do when they admitted me. With me lying on the trolley waiting to go into theatre I could hear mutterings in the corridor to the tune of ‘she shouldn’t even be down here’, and ‘how could you have forgotten’. Waiting for surgery is stressful enough as it is; I can assure you, this didn’t help one bit.

Once again, thankfully it turned out to be okay. A positive result would only change their post surgical procedures so they took a swab, I was given antibiotics as a precaution and once they got the result I would still be in theatre leaving them the ability to change anything if they needed to. As it turns out, they didn’t.

One of the things I’ve found hardest to deal with during past injuries has been the completely irrational thoughts that seem to unwittingly hijack my mind from time to time. This is undoubtedly no different this time and it seems the night and weekends (when doctors and physiotherapists are less readily available) are when it’s most likely to take hold. Last night when I was lying in bed my right foot and leg started to go numb. Cue irrational thoughts. Or are they irrational? This one potentially isn’t but I’ll be sure to let you know what I mean over the coming weeks. During the operation my surgeon had to move my nerve around quite a bit and it was very tight in there, a completely rational answer for what I was feeling; but I didn’t know that at the time!

The little bit gruesome scar and drains...

The VERY gruesome paper pants!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Back to the Future

Tomorrow I’m having surgery on my back. To be honest, now that I’m less than twelve hours away, I’m a little bit scared.

In contrast, since finding out the results of my MRI scan three days ago all of my thoughts have been wishing away the time, wanting it to speed up so I could get this operation over and done with and crack on with my rehab. Every day waiting I considered a wasted day, another day taken off the other side in my race to be fit for the Hockey World Cup starting in 93 days.

Unfortunately I’m no stranger to back problems, and this will be the second operation on my back. Just eleven months ago the disc that sits between L4 and L5 in the vertebrae decided to finally give up after having been prolapsed since 2006. By giving up I mean it ruptured, and the exploding fragments started causing havoc by floating around my spinal cord and pressing on the nerves going down my legs. The pain was just excruciating, a dull ache lingered constantly all the way down to my calf. A sharp pain intermittently made it impossible to get comfortable, leaving me tired, drained and often brought to tears.

After four months I successfully made it back to playing hockey, but now it seems the same thing has happened. When the doctor called me with the results I completely and utterly lost it. I was in physio and I don’t think she knew what to make of me. With tears streaming down my face all I was thinking was, that’s it, my career’s over, I’ll never play again!

As it turns out there was some confusion over which disc had ruptured. It was confirmed the next day (after a really bad nights sleep) that it was in fact the same disc as last time, I literally breathed a sigh of relief and sensed another rehab challenge on my hands.

With just one more sleep to go my thoughts move away from rehab and anything to do with hockey. It’s weird really, I guess it’s because it’s back surgery, it makes it feel a bit more serious. All I want is for it to be okay, for my surgeon to say to me when I come round that it all went to plan and I can start to rebuild once again.

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