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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.

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#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

Result!

This week has been so busy that I did not get a chance to stop and reflect on last Sunday’s big ride!!!!!

Some stats:

  • started in Oxford 08:15, arrived in Cambridge 13:44
  • 143.32km
  • Ride time 05:04 hrs
  • Stopped time 00:25 hrs
  • Average speed 28.28 km/h this is about 4 km/h faster than my normal average, I’d put it down to the long flat parts coming out of Oxford and approaching Cambridge, allowing me to keep an average of just over 40 km/h!
  • Fastest speed 78.96 km/h (!)
  • Total ascent 589m
  • Total decent 441m
  • Calories 5362
  • Average heart rate 137 bpm (my rule is not to go over 150 bpm even on the steepest hills)

All in all it was easier than I expected, there were fewer hills (although there were 3 big ones!) and the flat bits were fast and smooth. I’ve also managed to latch onto the tail of two guys who were flying and have given me a good tow

My family was waiting for me at the finish line, with a banner and a camera:-) and I’ve got a medal as well!!!

Training doesn’t stop here and it was only 3 days before I was riding again…this is a serious addiction!

But, the most important thing is that thanks to all our friends, we have manages to raise 485 GBP for the BHF charity!!!! This will for sure help pushing heart research in this country and bring hope to many who suffer from various heart diseases

The fundraising page remains active for another 3 months so of course you are welcome to send your donation, now that I’ve fulfilled my part of the deal:-)

http://www.justgiving.com/yayapro

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On a different note, I’ve figured out how to create a QR image for this site. You can now scan it with your smartphone and keep it as a bookmark:-)

Oxford to Cambridge in 6 hours

I have just registered for my next cycling challenge, read more about it on my fund raising page

I’ll be updating my blog regularly as I progress with the training in the next 4 months.

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First proper ride on the long way to making a 90 mile easy….did 50km today in just over 2 hrs. It was OK but I need to loose weight and train more…they say if you can do 2/3 of the way easily then you should be fine for the long one…we’ll see…