The Surgery Dairies: walking unaided again

So guys, this is the last posts of my surgery diaries! Thank you for sticking with me.  Today I’m going to talk about finally walking unaided again, and having the metal plates taken out of my hips. Ready? Let’s go!

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I think it was the following May after my second surgery in November 2007 that I began to walk alone again. My family and I had gone on a caravan holiday to get away for a week or so. By this point I was pretty confident with the front-walkers that I’d been using to get around the house so these came with us for inside the caravan, and I was now able to walk holding on to someone’s hand, although I was still using a wheelchair quite a bit too.

On the way back home from our trip to the seaside, my family stopped off at a motorway service station to use the facilities and get a stretch of legs. Rather than drag one of my walking aids out of the boot I’d decided to just cling onto my mum and off we went.

We wondered inside and headed towards the bathroom. As we got a little closer, she suggested I have a go at taking a couple of steps without her,

“You feel strong enough, my hand’s still here if you need it, and I won’t let you fall.”

If I’m being totally truthful, I didn’t really want to do it. I was scared and didn’t feel ready. I knew I had to do it sometime and it would make her happy so I let go.

Then it happened.

I put one foot in front of the other. I wobbled slightly, but I recovered and didn’t fall.

I put one foot in front of the other. I was doing it.

I picked a spot on the wall next to the toilets and I kept going. I didn’t stop until I was close enough to reach out my hand and touch it. I’ve never been really good at standing still on my own once I get going so I didn’t want to break the spell or risk hitting the deck.

I touched the wall.

I looked at mum, she looked at me. We grinned. We’d made it, we’d finally made it., all of us. She showered me with praise and admitted that she’d only expected one or two shaky steps before I grasped her hand again. “Me too” I told her.

We went back out to the car, and when we got close enough a took a few more to show my dad. He was happy, my sister was happy.

It was still a while before I was walking as much as I had done before the surgery, and I still carried on using extra frames for a bit, but now I’m back to only using Martha and I do even better than before.

A couple of years later in 2009 I had another operation to have the metal plates removed from my hips because they were giving my some discomfort. I was expecting it to be like my first hip surgery in August 2007 all over again, but I was up and around (not quite at full strength) with a couple of days and it didn’t take long at all before I was back to normal, which was a very nice surprise. Later than summer I packed my bags and went off to university.

No one has mentioned any more surgery since, so I’m hoping that I’m all done. For the foreseeable future at least.

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So, there you have it, we made it to the end of my Surgery Dairies series of posts. Writing them has been more emotional than I was expecting, but I hope you’ve enjoyed them and that I’ve managed to make you laugh somewhere along the way. Thank you for sticking with me and reading them.

Having a great weekend guys, and I’ll be back with some non-surgery themed posts next week.

Nic

The Surgery Diaries: Getting more walking frames

So there’s just under a week left of August which means that my posts reflecting on my surgery six years ago in this month are almost over. Thanks for sticking with me so far. Today I’m going to fast forward to when I had the second operation. If you’ve missed anything so far and want to catch up, feel free to do that by clicking here.

Eventually I managed to build up my walking stamina enough to be able to do it around the house again. The problem was that the Kaye Walker frame I was using at the time was too big to fit around our house, so I was given some smaller ones. One that went in front me but didn’t have wheels so I had to pick it up to walk with, and one that did have them so I could roll. We tried crutches too, but the physio and I decided very quickly that they weren’t the right kind of walking aid for me. I felt like I was going to fall over the second I got hold of them, and apparently it showed because the colour drained from my face.

I was back in my own bedroom too by this point and was no longer sleeping in the dining room on the ground floor. Mum made dad redecorate it for me as a special treat and it was nice to be back in my own space again, if not a little strange. Being able to use the bathroom unaided was also something I will never, ever take for granted again.

One little frame stayed upstairs and we kept the other one downstairs. I was surprise how well I managed with a frame that went in front of me rather than one I pulled behind me. There were a couple of mishaps, including one where I almost lost a front tooth. Thankfully it only came slightly out of place and was fixed when Mum accidently bumped my wheelchair down the kurb a bit too hard in her rush to get me to the dentist. My jaws rattled together and somehow this managed to knock it back into the right position it had always been in. Talk about lucky. I just had to eat soft foods for a week while it healed and it was good as new. Phew!

I was starting to finally feel a little bit better about how things were starting to happen. I could see progress every day, even if it was quite small some of the time, but it was starting to happen. I could see a time when I could walk unaided again, and I’ll tell you more about that in my next post!

The Surgery Diaries: Learning not to rush it

So there’s just over a week left of August which means that my posts reflecting on my surgery six years ago in this month are almost over. Thanks for sticking with me so far. Today I’m going to fast forward to when I had the second operation. If you’ve missed anything so far and want to catch up, feel free to do that by clicking here.

Six weeks after  I had the muscles in my legs lengthened, I went back to see my surgeon who was happy for the pots to come off my feet, and for me to only have to wear my leg gaiters at night from there on in. This was an amazing feeling! It was kind of nice to be back in my own wheelchair too, I won’t lie.

One of the things that excited me most of all was the fact that I could start to try and go back to wearing jeans again, rather than all the skirts and dresses that I’d bought especially to wear over the previous couple of months. It helped me start to feel like I was getting back to my old self again, even though there was still a really long way to go.

This was the time when all the hard work of getting myself back on my feet and making the most of the surgeries that I’d been fortunate enough to have on the NHS. There were often times when I was angry and frustrated because things didn’t happen at the pace I wanted them to and I felt like I should have been making things happen right away.

I was starting to walk again now, but very slowly. I could only comfortably manage a few steps at a time and I couldn’t even imagine being able to ever do it without holding onto something ever again. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t think that the enormity of what I was going through hit me until a point a couple of weeks after my second surgery. I’d been doing some work with one of the people helping me with my recovery. I think we’d been practicing getting me used to standing still for short bursts of time to build up my stamina. I was holding on to a table for dear life, but I was doing it. I walked part-way around the table I was using (gripping it tightly, of course) and then was allowed to collapse into my wheelchair for a much needed rest. I was feeling especially frustrated because it hurt quite a lot and used up most of my energy, and the fact that this was something I could have done quite easily before I’d had my operations made it feel worse. I decided to point out how I was feeling to the person helping me, and then they said something that really made reality hit home.

This person mentioned something about learning to walk again.

Oh, Maybe that’s kind of what I was doing In a way? After all, a few months before I hadn’t been able to stand, or even crawl and now I was literally having to take things one step at a time. Dang. I hadn’t looked at it that way before. Maybe I was just being too hard on myself. My family and friends had been using similar phrases for weeks and I’d been brushing them off, refusing to believe that anything that had been happening to me over the last couple of months had been a big deal. After that I tried to keep a rational head when I was getting mad and not judge myself too harshly.

The Surgery Dairies: Surgery, exams and all

So there’s just over a week left of August which means that my posts reflecting on my surgery six years ago in this month are almost over. Thanks for sticking with me so far. Today I’m going to fast forward to when I had the second operation. If you’ve missed anything so far and want to catch up, feel free to do that by clicking here.

The plan had originally been to do both the bone-breaking operation and the muscle-stretching one in the longer summer holidays that I had between finishing my GCSEs and starting Sixth Form, but for various reasons things didn’t happen that way. Surgery Number Two happened during the school year sometime in November.

Having my muscles cut and lengthened was even more tough than I ever thought it would be. When I woke up from this round of going under the surgeon’s knife I was so swollen that my legs practically met each other in the middle, and I was really bruised so much it hurt to sit. Mum told me a looked a little bit like a lump of liver more than once. Cheers, Mother, I love you too.

My feet were in pots and my legs were strapped into something called gaiters because I wasn’t allowed to bend them unless it was to get washed or do my exercises for the first six weeks. I’ve never done them so much in my life, just for an excuse to move my legs. Thankfully this time I was encouraged to stand and do bits of walking (with the gaiters still on). I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to wonder around without bending your knees, but it’s certainly a strange and interesting experience, but one I got used to pretty quickly. I was given a temporary wheelchair that I could use to keep my legs in the right position, but if wanted to sit in an arm chair in the living room, my parents would have to strap them to the coffee because they’d always fall off otherwise.

My school were great. They were really helpful and supportive but I won’t deny that I found keeping up difficult. I tried my hardest to throw myself into the work as much as possible in the first few weeks of term before I went back into hospital, but  was still doing loads of physio, rattling full of pain killers, (some of which made me tired), and still quite sore and achy in general. Concentrating was hard going. I collected as much work off my teachers to do while I was away to keep myself on target for the exams that I would take it January with my operation two months beforehand.  I knew there’d be even more physio, even more tablets, and I’d have to ease my way back into school slowly until I could bear to sit in a chair for long enough to last a whole day. I’d reached the point where I could just about do this after Operation One, but now I was back at square one again.

I took my January exams and they really didn’t go how I had hoped, but they did turn out just as I expected. Thankfully lots of hard work later I managed to pass them (and my next round of exams on top of those) in May so everything turned out well in the end. My second year of A-levels went even better and I achieved more than I ever thought I would. I got far better grades than I needed to get into the university that I wanted. Somehow I got through and that’s what mattered.

I know I’ve talked a lot about school today, but I’ll go into more detail about the impact of Operation Two and my recovery in my next post.

The Surgery Diaries: Banishing my hydrotherapy hatred

A couple of weeks after the surgery I was told that I’d be starting hydrotherapy as part of the recovery process and my heart sank. I’d had group sessions a couple of years before at my local pool and I hated it, although it was there that I finally did learn how to swim aged about 11.

At first I’d disliked it because I couldn’t swim without armbands and all the other kids seemed to be better than me which made me very, very sad. The physios there would make me work hard and then I’d have to go to school smelling of chlorine and answer questions from my classmates about where I’d been. They’d ask me how far I could swim, and I’d have to tell them that I could only manage five metres. I felt lame. I used to go to bed on Thursday nights and hoped that I would be too ill to turn up the next day.

Over the years though my Friday mornings in the pool paid off and I learned to swim not only on my back, but on my front AND under the water; the latter being my favourite way of doing it. Eventually I started to look forward to going, although I still didn’t particularly enjoy it. I liked it because it gave me a chance to meet other kids from other schools and everybody would try and help each other reach our targets when we could. I could see myself improving, but it got to the point where I couldn’t really take time away from school lessons to go anymore when the work became all about passing exams.

When I found out I’d be trying it again I felt really nervous because I was worried that I would have deteriorated, but at least these sessions would be one-on-one in a proper hydro pool rather than my local swimming baths.

Getting in the first time was hard work. I still wasn’t allowed to stand after the operations, so I had to slide from my wheelchair (with the help of my Dad) onto a bed/lift thing that lowered me into the water, and my feet   could barely touch the bottom once I was in. I was pleased when I realised that these appointments weren’t really going to be about swimming, but just about doing exercises mostly. The water was so lovely and warm, and it felt so nice just to be floating again while it look my weight, that I really, really looked forward to going. Luckily when I started my A-levels at school after summer was over; there was a gap in my timetable on the days that I was supposed to go so it was still okay. Schooldays felt long and tough at first so it was something nice to look forward to that helped me through my Tuesday morning.

A couple of weeks into the appointments I was allowed to try and take a few steps while I was in the water because it would support me and it wouldn’t be the same as trying to stand on my own or something. It was hard but It felt wonderful. Never again will I dread hydrotherapy.

The Surgery Diaries: Getting the new wardrobe

I think it’s fair to say that when I had my surgery I was going through what you could call a Goth style phase. I could usually be found sporting mostly black, oversized clothes with characters like Emily the Strange and Ruby Gloom on them. I wore dark make to school most days, dyed my hair black and had the nail polish to match. Most people wouldn’t know it though to look at me now, and that is thanks to my surgery.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that none of my cargo pants and jeans were going to be wearable for the next few months while I recovered from the surgery. They would be tight on my hips and press on my new scars. At the time before I had the procedures done, I was too self-conscious to wear dresses and skirts. Mum and I took to the clothes shops to get something for me to wear. We got dresses and skirts in all different colours, lengths and styles. There was even a pale denim mini skirt! I really didn’t care what I wore as long as it was comfy and looked half-decent, (which was more than could be said for me).

When I went back into hospital for operation number two (which we’ll get to soon, I promise) my family told the doctors that I’d taken on quite a different dress sense . Even for a long time after operation two I kept wearing The New Wardrobe. Even after I did go back to my jeans, I got rid of my old clothes. It didn’t feel like me anymore. And, my family had spent so much money on the new clothes, I didn’t want it to go to waste.

The Surgery Diaries: Getting home again

After what felt like a good couple of months I was allowed home again. It had actually only been less than two weeks since they’d done my leg and hip surgery, but I think hospital stays often tend to feel longer than they actually are.

The ride back was long and painful. The place where I had had it done was 60 miles away from home. I’d been practicing building up stamina sitting in a chair for the few days before the trip, but after a couple of hours I was really relieved to be able to do some physio and stretch out.

Not being in the hospital anymore brought with it a new set of challenges. My dad and sister were around to help out a lot more now, although my dad had to go back to work and Sophie was only around six at the time. Thankfully at the time my mother was working a job where she didn’t work the school holidays (which it now was, being August) and that was a huge help. Between us, we’d sort of managed to get a handle on how to work around a few things in the hospital, like showering and getting me in and out of the bed, but that would be different now. We didn’t have a walk-in shower at that time, and it was upstairs anyway, so lots of the routines would take a while to figure out. Dad would often carry me up the stairs and put me in the bathtub, but often my mother just washed me down in our kitchen while I was sat on a commode. We knew we had lots of things to figure out still, but in the back of my mind the count- down clock to Operation Two – the muscle bit, which I’ll get to later – had already begun. It was scheduled to take place around six weeks after the first, probably sometime around the end of September.

My dad had done a great job in turning our dining room into a living space for me. My hospital bed (complete with a Monkey Pole and remote control) had been put in there, along with all my other bits of equipment, and he’d set up a TV for me too, for when I didn’t feel up to sitting in the living room with everyone else.

The first few days were really trial and error with just about everything. The physios were really great at the time and came out two or three times a few to try and help us conquer new techniques and check my progress, with which they were always really pleased thanks to our huge family team effort to make the most of the opportunity I was given. The four of us were –are- a truly awesome team.

At first things were frustrating because I didn’t have much arm strength to pull myself up into sitting positions, or use the slide board very well and that took its toll on my mother quite a bit when dad was at work. For a while, it took three of us (mum, my sister and I ) to be able to get me onto the commode in time, with Sophie taking the arms off my wheelchair, mum putting the board beneath me, me trying to scoot along it, and mum having to pull down my pants on my behalf because I had to put all my efforts into lifting myself up enough for her to be able to do it, at top speed, before I fell down again. I still wasn’t allowed to fully stand up, and hovering was still really painful and hard. Throw in the added time pressures of a full bladder and I think we must have looked like we were competing in a rejected round of the Generation Game, but it usually ended up in us all collapsing in a heap of relieved giggles when we succeeded.

By the time I no longer needed the slide board (several months later) I had arms like Tarzan from sliding, wheeling and pulling my own body weight around. I’m now ashamed to say that I have lost most of this definition in the years that have passed, but my arms are still much stronger for it. Now I know that if I ever need to have any more surgery, I will definitely be investing in a good set of weights several months beforehand to try and make it easier on myself and my family.