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!