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One year on

Woke up early last Friday and went to get some groceries. At 07:50 as I was pushing the trolly past the bread aisle I felt a sharp twitch in my right hip…these things have become almost normal in the last 12 months but this one was special.

12 months ago, on Thursday, April 7th at 07:50 that Blue Skoda had hit me.

How do you mark that moment? How do you process everything that had happened since that moment? How do you take all the bad and place it in a drawer, and how do you choose all the good, respect and cherish it?

What about the driver? He said sorry when he stood there next to me, but that was the last we’ve seen of him. The poor guy had 3 points added to his licence and had to spend a whole afternoon doing drivers awareness course. Is that enough? Will that make him more careful when he sits behind the wheel? Was he on the phone? Was he texting? Not enough coffee? Did he do something special on Friday? Does he know what happened to us since the accident?

Do we really care about him? Should we be angry with him? We all make mistakes and we all want to move on. Maybe he’s moved on and had chosen not to deal with the consequences.

What could have happened had I not decided to stop & turn Right at the junction? Maybe he would have caught with me 2 minutes later on Crew’s Hill and hit me from behind?

Would we be going on holiday during spring break as we were planning to? Would I be in Paris and Copenhagen for work on the following week, as I was supposed to? Would we all be having the Passover Seder with our friends like we always do? Would we be flying off to Florence to watch the MotoGP race? Would we be celebrating Alma’s 4th birthday in our garden? Would I be riding the #RideLondon 2016 for the BHF? Would we be going on our summer holiday? What about work? What about the most basic things such as going to the toilet or not having to rely on huge amounts of pain killers just to get through the day?

And how do we thank all the people who have supported us through this journey? Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours…what about the doctors and nurses? Where do we start?

In my dreams I saw myself celebrating that 1st anniversary on my bike, on a nice spring day ride. But as I realised this was not going to happen I came up with a different plan.

My brother-in-law, Doron, came over with two of his boys. Over the last year he has been a tremendous help and was here to support us in the worst moments.

They’ve made some very special t-shirts for all of us, with our names on the back. The weather was fantastic and we set off on a family walk from our home in Finchley the the junction on Theobalds Park Road in Enfield where the accident took place.

16km through the streets, parks and fields of North London.

A couple of ice cream stops, some snacks and sandwiches and we made it to the junction!

But the main event came on the following day. The London Air Ambulance has recently signed a 3- year partnership with the Saracens and to kick it off they’ve chosen #DerbyDay. We were invited to play an active role and to help raise funds and more importantly, awareness. Of course we had our own fan club who had joined us! 4 families who have all been there for us, visiting me at the hospital and helping Yael and the kids in maintaining their daily routines, cooking, babysitting and keeping Yael’s sanity as much as they could.

The charity had put a piece about the event on their Website with a cool short video on it.

For us and for me this is all about payback. I owe my life to them. Without them the kids would remember me only from photos!

This is Dr. Simon Walsh who treated me at the roadside. I’m one of hundreds who were saved by Simon. We want the charity to continue saving lives and keeping families together


These are some of the images that were displayed on the large screens at the stadium during Simon’ interview with me.

This week we had 12 months follow up appointment at the Royal London Hospital and we jumped on the opportunity to go up and visit the helipad one more time:

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Little Alma brought her class’s mascot, Lex, along. There’s a school tradition where every weekend and holiday another child takes Lex home and get his album updated with his adventures and pictures. We think that after this holiday they will have to look for a new challenge as he’s been on live TV and on a helicopter !!!

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As I wrote to the team after the game, we have never met a group of people who are so professional, so dedicated and passionate about what they do and who provide such an amazing support not only when they treat you, but also in the long months following that, when you and your family go through such tough times.

In the coming months, as part of my on-going physical and psychological rehabilitation I will be seeing patients who sustain injuries similar to mine, who are starting their journey to recovery and who can benefit from my advice on what to expect and how to cope with these difficult times.

After the accident, because we did not fully understood the situation and how long it was all going to take, I told the London Air Ambulance that I’ll join their #RideLondon 2017 team. As we now realise I will not be cycling on the road for a while, Michael Marks, my friend, has taken it up and will be riding and fundraising for the London Air Ambulance. It requires £7M each year to run their services, so every penny and every pound count!

Michael’s LAA fundraising page

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3rd time lucky, or not so…

Summer. The nicest season on this island. We usually try to enjoy the long days and warmer weather and spend as much time as possible outdoors.

For me as a cyclist it allows getting the miles in early morning…I mean really early…or use the long evening to the same effect.

At the weekends we often load our bikes on the car (mind you there’s 5 of us so it is not so easy) and go somewhere where we can all explore the woods and trails.

But not in 2016…the summer of 2016 will always be remembered as the one we did very little in, if anything at all. To begin with I was on crutches and had a tube stuck in my belly, about 10cm bellow my bellybutton that was about 40cm in length and that had a flip-valve on it. Going to the toilet was very frequent and involved some gymnastics so if it was in a public place I had to use the disabled toilets.

I was supposed to be part of the British Heart Foundation’s team riding the Prudential RideLondon 100 mile at the end of July…sadly I had to call them up and to ask that they keep the place for me for 2017 and that they allow my friend Michael Marks to take it, which he did and raised more than £1,000. Unfortunately I will not be able to make it for this year’s ride but on that later…

Initially I was only able to walk around the house, then gradually extended it to short walks outside…we remember the first time when I came to collect the kids from school, which is only 600 metres from the house! Sitting upright was practically impossible so the sofa bed was permanently open in the living room where I was spending most of the time, lying on my back. Wearing normal clothes was another no no so the newly discovered fashion for me ended up being a mix of pyjamas and tracksuits.

I stayed on strong antibiotics for a few weeks after leaving the hospital and carried on taking strong painkillers and gradually reducing the dose. When I say song I mean bottles of Oramorph, a controlled opiate drug that is highly addictive and that has some strong side effects…it was later replaced with Tremadol and Codeine…just different names at lower doses. For weeks I was falling asleep a few times a day, but could not sleep at night because of pains and aches when trying to turn or move in bed. Common side effects like itchiness and constipation are something you just have to cope with…

It was only at the end of July when I was given a Green light to start physiotherapy and I only started driving in September but only on short journeys as the seatbelt and the bumps were causing great discomfort and my instincts were (and still are) rather slow.

Hopes that the urology side will resolve itself out with time were lost in August, when a fairly uncomfortable exam called Urethrogram showed that it will need to be repaired with an operation. Date was set for 2nd of November and my mission was to try and get as fit as possible, which would hopefully help coping with yet another trauma and support a speedy recovery…So that’s what I did: As my road bike was smashed by the Skoda I took one of our old mountain bike-come trainer, which I’ve built before the heart surgery in 2014, and rigged it up again on the turbo trainer, set it up for an upright position as I could not bend forward and placed a small stepladder next to it so that I can climb on/ off without falling over. It proved very difficult at the beginning but with painkillers and some persistency I was able to sit and pedal for 30-35 minutes at a time. I found it less painful than walking and it allowed for some decent cardiovascular work. As I was gradually weaning myself off of the stronger painkiller, I also gained back my appetite and had slowly put on some weight and muscle.

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One of the biggest moments of last summer was August 3rd. We had a follow up appointment at the Royal London hospital to see the surgeons and the guys from London Air Ambulance had invited us to visit the helipad and meet the team. For me this was another milestone…I grew up around planes and helicopters and the unique smells of jet fuel and oily bits are something I’m very familiar with, but there is something very special in that place. Sitting, or more like floating on top of the 17-story building, the helipad is a fenceless platform. You could walk over and step off the edge easily and it allows easier takeoff and landing approach for the choppers. It was a nice day and allowed for some amazing London cityscape views, but we were more interested in the team and their machine. The two images on the Right show the tiny safety label that is affixed above the patient’s head, which I remembered as being a massive sign that I was struggling to read when I was lying there.


Today we’re nearly in March 2017 and when I look back and as much as I try, there are many details that escape me but luckily we have pictures, piles of medical letters and trails of emails and WhatsApp messages to remind us of what was going on every single day. One of those moments was the day I got back to making pancakes…

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With all those drugs I’ve found myself spending days and weeks on the sofa watching reality shows with the favourites being American classic car restoration and hotrodding, and of course bike races…trying to concentrate on anything more involving or more challenging was very much impossible on most days.

In October, the London Air Ambulance Patient liaison nurse, Frank Chege, an incredible man, had organised for Yael and me to visit their headquarters in the city and to have a 2-hour talk with all the people who work behind the scenes at the charity, taking care of events, marketing activities, social media and fund raising. This was the first time this has been done and both of us shared our own experiences in the most open way. I swear I could see a few tears being shed 🙂

A few days before that, we had a bit of an emergency when one morning the suprapubic catheter had decided to come out. I thought I was going to explode as we rushed to A&E at the local hospital, and where lucky enough that there was a urologist on call there that was able

Later that month, a team, headed by Dr. Simon Walsh who saved London cyclists Victoria Lebrec’s life the year before, had won the Pride Of Britain Award and following that, I was invited, along with another 25 ex. patients, to a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Parliament, where politicians had gathered to pledge their support for the charity. It took place on the evening before my urology operation…I had to wear a suit…huh!!! I couldn’t remember when was the last time I wore a suite…could not even remember where my ONE suit was!!! This was an amazing and a very emotional experience but I had a very good time and it helped me get through the last few hours before I had to put on a hospital gown, say goodbye to Yael and go under the knife again. What was supposed to be a reasonably simple procedure that requires just a few days stay in hospital, had turned out to be yet another challenging, life threatening nightmare…I’ll discuss it in the next instalment.

#TBT…One year on…

So how did YOUR year go?

Mine? Well let me see…

On October 29th 2014 I went through the 2nd most complicated heart surgery…AKA The Benthal Procedure:

General anaesthetic, body temp lowered to 18 degrees C, Blood & Lung machine plugged in, breastbone split into two, chest open, heart opened, Aorta disconnected, Aortic valve removed and replaced with a mechanical one, Aortic root replaced with a Dacron sleeve, Coronary arteries reconnected, heart restarted, chest cavity stitched, breastbone glued and clamped and after 7 hours on the table, chest was closed…

Was it fun? I have no idea because I was asleep…I only remember waking up in the High Dependency Unit a few hours later.

Was hospital fun? Err…NO!!!! It was horrible, by far the worst experience I have ever had!!!

4 days in hospital with a bunch of tubes stuck in my hands and neck and a few more coming out of my chest, and a catheter…oh and lots and lots of drugs. I could not eat anything, It was hot, sweaty, the continuous chatter of the men around me was annoying.

Then they pulled the wires and tubes out. Wires were there in case they needed to fit a pacemaker, so where they decided it was not needed, they pulled them out…and that 1/4″ tube that was collecting fluids was a tough one to get out…

While I was still heavily drugged, the surgeon came in and said something about me being lucky…I was too dosed to enter a conversation so when he came in a gain the day after, I asked him what was it all about. He then explained that when the took the old aortic root out, it already had a small tear in it! In simple word this is called aneurism…except that in my case, by some miracle, it did not burst!

i also lost my voice…completely! It took nearly 2 months (!) to get it back. If you know me, I like to talk, a lot…so not being able to was not fun at all.

And then recovery…walking, walking, some more walking, then turbo-trainer in the freezing garage, initially just staring at the walls and then adding an iPad for entertainment. Then some jogging and 11 weeks after surgery, on the day, I went out on my road bike for the first time.

We knew that this operation was unavoidable and once this was established, we decided to do it ASAP. I did have some time to prepare physically so that I am in the best shape possible, which, as we learned, was key to a fast recovery.

However I did not have too much time to prepare mentally…I was busy with work, travel, family stuff and obviously training. On the day before the operation I did, what I then considered to possibly be my last ride ever…I stopped at one of my favourite spots and prepared a set of short videos for my family; one for each child, one for my wife Yael and one for them together…essentially saying goodbye and giving them some practical advice…sounds corny I know but that was the best I could think of at that point.

One we’ll sit down and watch those videos, with a smile I hope:-)

And today when I look back at last 12 months I can almost say “What was all the fuss about?”

Yes those 4 days at the hospital were terrible

Yes the first 5 weeks of recovery were a nightmare

Yes I still do a blood test every 3-4 weeks and I take Warfarin every evening between 6pm-6:30pm, with a whole glass of water and I use an app to track and monitor it. I also read and learn about new and future medical developments that at some point will make my life easier.

Yes I have to watch my diet carefully, avoiding high levels of vitamin K (didn’t even know it existed before the op), I cannot drink alcohol (well I can but then I’ll have to adjust the medication dose which takes months)

Yes I still cannot sleep properly and I have a frozen shoulder which is painful & that requires regular physiotherapy and may require surgery if that doesn’t cure it.

But

  

Paris, Sept’ 7th 2015; Giles House (Left) and myself arriving at the #BHFL2P 2015 finishing line

I can now cycle and run longer and faster than before (like riding 477km from London to Paris, in 3.5 days, with my friend Giles and in support for the BHF). I can work, I travel, I play with my kids and I can hug my wife Yael, and I know that what nearly happened before the operation, will never happen. It is now 6am, still dark and I am celebrating by getting out on the bike before another busy day starts 🙂

2nd Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

2nd Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

Recovery….

It is now 10 1/2 weeks since my surgery and recovery in general has been going well…there were a lot of ups and downs during the first few weeks (mostly downs) but as time passes I feel stronger with less pain (no more pain killers), Sleep (pr the lack of it) is something I will have to work on, long-term, as is getting used to the loud ticking noise coming from the mechanical aortic valve…

I am a lot more mobile (I can drive long distances!), taking daily exercise and all (or most) of the signs say that I am going to be OK…

And since I am still not allowed to fly and as I have to do regular blood tests etc., we had to settle for short local outings during the holiday season…so you are not going to see any wonderful, warm, sun-spelled photos but here is a small collection from a few trips to the RAF Museum in Hendon, to Trent Park and to the South coast; Milford On Sea and the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu. I was in a “One camera, One lens” mood so all these images were taken with the Mamiya 645DF+, Leaf Credo 50 Digital Back and a Mamiya 35mm/f3.5 D lens, a very versatile and capable combo that lets me shoot handheld at high iso and get some wonderful colours (yes also in B&W) and details. Images processed in Capture One Pro 8. Click on an image to view a larger version…Enjoy!

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                                 All images ©yair shahar and cannot be copied, printed or displayed without the author’s permission

Reset

It’s been MONTHS since my last post…for lots of different reasons like work and other things I was busy with, but those were all just side-stories…

I continued to work a lot, traveled a lot (mostly for work, naturally…), cycled plenty (how about >6000 km in 10 months?) but I was also busy with preparations for the main event!!!

The main event was an open heart surgery (OHS) which I underwent on October 29th 2014, Just 7 days ago. I am writing this post sitting at the dinner table at home!

They replaced the defective-from-birth aortic valve, with a new one made of metal and carbon fibre. They also had to replace about 5cm of the ascending aorta, called the Aortic Root, which was showing severe dilation creating a huge risk of aneurism…

The situation was compounded by a rare blood disorder which they’ve found a few months ago, causing my blood to clot a little slower than usual and leading to a long series of blood tests. Eventually the green light was given, under the assumption that this disorder could actually be caused by the defective valve.

So we went into St. Bartholomew’s hospital on the 28th after lunch. In the morning I felt like getting out one last time, you know…just in case…and did a 39km on one of my favourite local routes, which was lovely 🙂

After checking in, the nurse at the Vicary ward showed us around, talked us through the pre-op stuff and showed me to my bed. I was chosen to get on the table at 8am the next morning so after dinner I had to take a shower with a special antibacterial soap and was handed a shaver, which I had to use for removing any trace of chest hair…they do not want any hair to be dropped into the chest cavity during the operation!

They gave me something for a better sleep, I said goodbye to my wife Yael and that was it!

05:45 wake-up, into another thorough shower and at 07:30 Yael escorted me to the lift, gave me a big goodbye hug & kiss and up I went to the 5th floor where the operation theatres are located.

I remember rolling over onto a narrow bed and going into a small room with a small team who were all joking with me while fitting various needles into my hands and into my neck and after that I do not remember ANYTHING!

I woke up about 11-12 hours later, in the Intensive Care Unit. My first memory is from High Dependency Unit a couple of hours later, that was already after they removed the airway and the camera that were stuck in my throat, my lungs and heart were already running on their own and Yael says that I was even able to talk…nothing sensible obviously, but still…

The next 3 days were not easy…I moved out of the HDU very quickly, only 2 nights there but the help and care of the staff there were unbelievable! I was still hooked to various drips and wires, mostly for monitoring but also with a tonne of painkillers, and those come with all sorts of side effects such as sickness, dizziness, drowsiness and various other “nesses”…

Back at the Vacary Ward, I was put in a large room with a funny bunch of male patients, all in their late 60’s…”veterans” of various heart deceases, strokes, bypass surgeries, lung cancer and whatnot! I was the youngest and the only one who could not say a word…due to the camera that was stuck in my throat I lost my voice and we are still waiting for it to come back (personally I am not in a rush and am quite happy to stay silent for a little while).

I was determined to leave the hospital as quickly as possible. I mean the staff, care and service were all fantastic, but I kinda didn’t like being a patient, wearing a pyjama, having a constant bad taste in my mouth and listening to old people’s conversations…

So on Monday, November the 3rd, when the doctors did their morning round, I shared with them everything I was still struggling with but I also told them that I feel like I’m taking valuable space in the ward and that they will be much better off without me. 10 hours bureaucracy-littered hours later and we were in a minicab heading home!!!! Yael and my daughter, Arielle, came to fetch me.

Today, just 7 days after the operation, I walked my children to & from school, Yael and I took the tube down to the hospital for a blood test (I will have to do lots of those in the coming weeks/ months) and to change the dressing on the wound. We continued to meeting my parent for lunch at the nearby Hummus Brothers restaurant.

I expect to remove the dressing in a couple of days and to have a nice looking, 20cm-long scar on my chest. The wound is healing quickly, although the chest bone underneath it (the sternum) is going to take a couple of months to become one piece again. I have to be very careful with movement, lifting etc. and it will be a while before I can cycle outdoors. I was happy to find out however that the turbo trainer is great for getting back in shape, along with walking, walking and more walking.

I am utterly amazed at how today’s medical developments and the ability of the surgeons to mend you in such a way that you can go through this trauma one day, and a week later you can sit on the sofa with your loved one and watch Downton Abbey….I only missed One episode!!!!

I chose to call this post “Reset”. My odometer was reset on October 29th 2014.

 

Reset

 

 

A new era in Medium format photography

The Phase One IQ250 Medium Format digital back was announced today. This is the first time we see a modern CMOS sensor that is larger than 36x24mm (full-frame 35mm) in Medium Format.

CMOS technology has improved over the last 14 years, since the Leaf C-Most came out (36x24mm, 6MP) and the IQ250’s 44x33mm, 50MP brings high ISO capabilities, fast capture rate and excellent Live View functionality, previously available only in high-end DSLRs.

As expected, a number of naysayers and armchair warriors are jumping through hoops to find “holes in the plan” and to compare it to cameras 10 times cheaper; some in attempt to justify their own purchase decisions and some because they cannot see why some photographers like, want or need to shoot medium format…none of it is new and I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s a huge gap between on-line forum chatter and what happens in the real world…gladly in favour of the latter.

What they fail to realise, perhaps because they can only see and read numbers and charts on their computers’ screens (easier than stepping out and taking photos) is that this is a milestone for Medium Format and for Photography in general, regardless of format. Adopting and implementing this technology in “larger than 35mm” cameras is a sign of good things to come and it demonstrates the strength and the breadth of “Team Phase One” and its ability to innovate and to lead the market for the foreseeable future!

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