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.
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…
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.