Archive for the 'personal' Category

03
Jun
13

Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.

11
May
13

A little bit more every day

Things are coming along.  To compare:

Four weeks post-op:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Seven weeks post-op:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

Today, just shy of 10 weeks post-op

Knee flex post-op 10 weeks

Of all the things I’ve had to do to get this knee to flex again, this has to be the most difficult:

Knee flex rope pull

It’s part of about 90 minutes in what the physios at rehab call the torture chamber.  When you arrive you’re given a set of exercises that target your problem.  I’ve got about 10 different things to do in order to build up my quadriceps muscles and flex the knee, and could go into detail about each one, but that photo is all you need.  It’s the worst.

The rope is appropriate, because it’s like self-flagellation.  I flex it as far as the muscles will take it, then start pulling slowly on the rope until it hurts.  Then I pull just a little bit more and hold it for 30 seconds.  After about 15 seconds, you start to go a little numb in the head, but wake up again when it’s time to release it.  Then the pain comes back double as you slowly let the foot down to the floor.  Repeat six times, once a day.

Good news!  I get to keep doing this.  My rehab is going to be extended one week, after which I will have the opportunity to drop by the centre for a workout as often as I like.  Physio should also continue twice a week after rehab finishes May 21st.

25
Apr
13

Notes after two days of rehab

There’s a theory about the news business that says they publish stories of disasters in far-off countries to help remind their audience that no matter how bad things get at home, it’s a lot worse elsewhere.

I don’t know how much truth is in that, but I was reminded of it on day two of rehab.  As much of a disruption to my life this injury has been and will continue to be for months to come, it’s a chin scrape compared to the situation of three men I’ve seen in the changing room, therapy pool, leg workout, and stretching classes.

One of them is an older fellow who looks like he’s worked outdoors his whole life.  He has a vertical scar running from way above to way below each knee, and he walks so slowly… I haven’t found out whether he’s got artificial knees, but maybe we’ll get to talking tomorrow.

Another fellow looks completely normal until he’s in the change room, where you see a long, curving scar running from his hip to his knee.  He had a rare form of bone cancer and they’ve installed an artificial femur.  Though he had to stay six months without moving in hospital – I was climbing the walls after six days – he says he’s lucky: the medical technology used to give him the new femur is so new, had he been diagnosed with the disease only three years previously, they would have had to amputate the whole leg. 

The third guy makes me weep just to think about.  He is tall and good-looking, but looks like he’s been in a serious car or motorbike accident.  He has absolutely no use of one arm, which dangles bone-thin, limp and lifeless at his side.  His hip and leg on the same side are very deeply gashed, and he walks very awkwardly.  I haven’t talked to him, am kind of waiting for the right moment to engage him in conversation, so for the moment I remain in respectful awe at his guts and determination as he works his way through the workout routines.

I am so very humbled by what I’ve seen over the past two days.  Though I see it only from a distance, I have a new-found perspective on what it means to be profoundly injured, and the strength these people have to work on overcoming it.

I’m also gaining even more respect for the people who go to work every day determined to help people in such bad shape get well enough so that they can lead a reasonably normal life again.  They see them arrive and leave again a few weeks or months later, like a carousel of pain.  There must be deep satisfaction in knowing their work is vital to the people they treat, but the energy, enthusiasm and often humour with which they approach their work must come from some profound place only they know where to draw from.  I know I wouldn’t last a week in their position.

In the weeks since I’ve been getting around the city for better or worse, I’ve also been on the receiving end of countless acts of kindness from people whose names I’ll never know.  From the man who went all the way back down a spiral staircase to hold the door open for me to make sure I left the doctor’s office in one piece, to the men and women, young and old who without fail will see me with a crutch and stand up and offer me a seat on the bus, to the random people on the street who catch my eye and with a little smile wordlessly tell me: hey, I’ve been there, too – I can only say: thank you, Hamburg.

And there is progress.  One month after the operation, I could only bend it a little:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Three weeks later after 12 days of physio and two days of rehab, still a ways to go, but it’s coming along:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

 

17
Apr
13

Hooray-hooray, it’s not yet May, but rehab starts a week today

I’d love to do a leaping dance, but under the circumstances, maybe not.

Only a few days after receiving word that my medical rehab has been approved by the Berlin powers-that-be I get a call from the clinic saying my three-week program starts April 24.  Yipppeeee!  :)  I had been counting on it starting only sometime after the first weekend in May.  The clinic here in Hamburg has a great reputation and has just re-opened in brand-new facilities.

It’s just in time.

I’ve ditched the brace that had been clasped to the leg from ankle to hip for six weeks to keep the knee stable after the operation, but there’s still so little movement in the knee, I get worried that it’ll never be the same again.  It’s hard to see over the lip of the hill when you’re standing at the base.

I now get around mostly without crutches with a tension bandage around the knee, but it’s a hop-along scene.  This is what it looked like four days ago when I made the switch:

A friend congratulated me on the quick approval for rehab, saying all the pain they’ll be putting me through to stretch out the tendon again will be worth it.

I can’t wait…

19
Mar
13

jumping through hoops to get rehab

You never really learn how things really operate until you have to deal with them yourself.

All I want is some decent rehab programme, something to make sure I can walk again without a limp after ripping the body’s largest tendon and rendering my right leg useless for the time being.

Ian half-way home to HamburgMy regular doctor was telling me enthusiastically last week about a clinic where I could get a full morning programme of daily physio once the 6-week no-touch rule is over and I can finally take off this dead-weight brace it’s been so fun to drag around.

But when I went Monday to the specialist surgeon to whom he’d referred me to have the stitches removed and we later talked about physio, all he was able to offer me was a referral for two half-hour sessions a week.  The absolute bare-bones minimum available.  In Germany’s two-class healthcare system, if you’re a private patient you get silver service, no questions asked.  If you’re on statutory cover – in German gesetzlich – well, take a number, eh?  Nothing new there.

So this morning I went back to my regular doctor and told him of the enormous gap between what he was talking about and what the specialist gave me.

“Hmmmm…. let me do some quick phoning around and I’ll call you back in later,” he said.

Twenty minutes later he tells me the deal: in order to get rehab, I have to go first apply for it through the bureau that deals with pension issues.   Pension?  That’s the rapidly dwindling sum I’ll get when I retire, isn’t it?  I thought this was medical.

“It is,” he explained, “but your healthcare provider is responsible for your time off work.  They pay for that.  Your rehab is paid for by the pension people.”

The things you learn.

So he gives me a referral for a rehab clinic, reminding that I’ll first have to call the Hamburg pension administration bureau, who will set the ball in motion.

Knowing that sounded just a little to easy for words, I ask for and receive a direct number to call, some tips on what to say, and a merry send-off home.

The number they gave me was not in service.

Digging the right number out of the Internet, I wait on hold for the usual 10 minutes before speaking with a woman who informs me that my pension is administered not in Hamburg, but by the federal office in Berlin.  When I ask for the number in Berlin, thinking this is probably a routine thing,  I get an answer as cold as this late winter and probably as much as I should have expected: you can go find it yourself.

So I dig out the number soon enough and call the Federal Pensions Office and jump through the usual number-choice hoops before speaking with a woman who guides me through pages and sub-pages to the right forms to download and fill out.

There are seven separate forms totalling 17 pages.   Many repeat the same questions in a different way.  Some don’t apply to me, but I have to check a box anyway.  One ominous one involved giving my bank account details to permit them to extract any fees I might have.  No mention of what these fees might be for, or how much they are.

I don’t know why it has to be this complicated, but I suspect they do it this way to turn off those people who are intimidated by officialdom.  There must be a percentage out there who give up before even trying.

After filling all the forms that pertain to me, I have to take the bundle to my doctor to fill out stuff that pertains to them, then take that bundle to my healthcare provider who will fill out more little boxes, then I get to go to the post office and send the bundle off to Berlin.

Right now I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes so long to get approval, I’ll have long since passed the point at which rehab will do any good.

14
Jan
13

So I skate onto the ice and fall on my face…

…35 years ago…and that’s why I have to go in for an operation this week.

There’s blood everywhere, bright red on the hard, flat, cold surface, but I don’t notice it because my only thought is to stand up as best I can, turn around and make it back to the bench without falling a second time.

Canada Germany hockey game Hamburg 2012“Hey buddy,” a guy says, “your nose is really bleeding.”

And so began – and ended – this Canadian’s ice hockey career at 17.  I’d always loved playing street hockey, played it for hours and hours after school and weekends like any kid growing up in Canada, squeezing in an extra 20 minutes’ floor hockey over high school lunch break.  But it never gets cold long enough on Canada’s southwest coast to freeze the local lakes thick enough to skate on, and our town didn’t have an ice arena, so I never learned how to skate until I was about 30 and moved to Quebec.

But the fact I didn’t know how to skate didn’t bother Kenny, who convinced me to borrow some skates and hockey gear and go down with him and a bunch of other guys one night for their weekly pick-up game in North Vancouver.

“You can ski like crazy, man, so you can skate for sure!” he said, and I was dumb enough to believe him.  I fell to the ice within 10 seconds of stepping off the bench during the warm-up, and watched the rest of them play the rest of the night as I made sure the bleeding stopped.

The bruising spread across my face and stayed there like disappearing berry stain for three weeks, but after that, I never gave it much thought.  As anyone who’s really active in- or outdoors will tell you, you take cuts and bruises as part of the game, and this I figured was in that category.

Several years later at 24 while at a routine medical exam before taking a job with the railway the company doctor looks up horse schnozzmy nose and tells me that I have a deviated septum.

“What’s a deviated septum?” I ask him.

He angles a mirror around so I can look up my nose at the blockage up one nostril, asking if I’ve ever been whacked on the head or had trouble breathing.

“Well, sure,” I tell him. “But I never really thought about it that much.”

I knew I should get it fixed, but took another four years to get around to it.

By some dumb luck I managed to land an Austrian Ear, Nose and Throat specialist who’d emigrated to Vancouver after the war.

Once we agreed to go ahead with it and the first x-rays were done he explained in detail how my nose would look once the operation was completed and I could breathe easier again.

But he never once told me HOW he’d go about straightening it, so it was only a couple of weeks later while lying on the operating table that I learned just what it meant to re-straighten a broken nose.

Because after he’d squeezed at least three needles up there to make sure the entire area was frozen so well I’d never feel a thing, he started to go to work on my face.

If you’re queasy about such things, you can click away now.

As he inserted his scalpel and started digging away I felt nothing, but he made a scraping sound through the skull to my ears I’ll never forget.  I know all this because I was also dumb enough to let him convince me to have it done under local, not general anaesthetic.

I really wish I’d never been awake to see this, but what saved me was Demerol, a wonderful, legal drug when introduced directly into your veins makes you feel in an instant like you’re floating in mid-air.

hammer and chiselSo I felt good and relaxed until he pulled a silver hammer and what looked like a chisel off the tray and held it over my head.

“What are you going to do with that?” I ask him.

“You von’t feel a sing,” he says, “but if you vant, you can haff some more Demerol to relax you some more.”

The extra Demerol boost felt like what I’ve heard a heroin rush feels like.

After he was sure I wasn’t going to object anymore, he aimed the chisel up my nose, raised up the silver hammer, and started hammering.  He hammered and hammered and hammered and all I could think of was, they can do what they want with me, I could be trussed up and hung by the ankles from the theater lights and I wouldn’t care, just let it be over.

When he’d finished re-arranging my nose, he packed it with cotton and I was wheeled out to recover.  Three weeks later, I still had a bit of bruising, but at least I could breathe easier once the cotton packing was removed.

It’s now been 25 years, and I thought I’d never have to think of it again, but somehow, it’s crooked again.  Or maybe the operation wasn’t all that successful, or maybe the falls and hits playing sports since then injured it again and I once again didn’t care.

But I’ve been to three ENT specialists over the past two years in Hamburg, trying to get help for another problem: phantom smells.  It started about two years ago with a powerful smell of metal all the time.  Copper, mostly.  That went away, but now it’s other stuff.  I smell soap, burned wood mixed with soap, weird chemicals wafting through my head.  It comes and goes in five-day cycles.  They’ve given me an MRI and ruled out brain tumour, but I’m slowly coming to realise this is like tinnitus for the nose.   Like hearing sounds in your head that aren’t there, the nose smells things that aren’t there either.

But at every visit to ask about the smell thing, the new ENT took one look up my nose and said I should look at getting it fixed.  I’d tell the story I’ve just told you, and they all looked horrified and said that things have improved in the ENT branch since 1988, that fixing a nose is not so brutal anymore, and in any case, they’d give me a general whatever they had to do.

But I wasn’t going for it.

Then I visited a fourth specialist who said there’s still a problem, but such a drastic measure as re-straightening the septum isn’t necessary.  What he is going to do this week is clear out the scarring left over from the first operation, and perform a minor procedure to widen the passages so I can breathe easier.  I did a test a month ago at the clinic that showed I’m just not getting enough air.

I don’t usually yammer on about my operations, but since this is only the second one I’ve ever had if you don’t count the routine tonsil yank-out they did when I was 8, it’s a big deal for me.

I just hope one day I can play some hockey again.

This winter in Canada, for sure.

ice-skating-holland-netherlands-sunrise-hockey-stick-puck-rough-ankeveen

31
Oct
12

Halloween trick or treat gets an update

Has political correctness and touchy-feely taken over Halloween?  I thought they were kidding at first:

Well, if it’s serious, then this works both ways, and I think the message should get out to kids, too.

They cannot just barge onto my property and come up my steps and and stand before my door to scream Trick or Treat!

I find Trick or Treat to be a rude, nasty, mean and hurtful expression of juvenile greed, and I’ve suffered for it each and every year.  But this Halloween, that’s it.  Unless the kids ring the doorbell and calmly – but in a firm voice – ask for their candy, they won’t be getting any.  Here’s the handout, kiddies.  You still have a few hours to learn it.

“We, the gathered children of your neighbourhood dressed as we are in costumes which may or may not be the genuine product of our own handiwork, the work of our parents, or older siblings, or more than likely made in China and purchased at inflated prices at Wal-Mart, would like to politely request that you provide us, free or charge and without prejudice or right of redress, with a surgary confection of your choosing, either store-bought or homemade.  Failing that, we would be prepared to perform, again, without right of redress and free of artists’ royalties, a simple dance, sing a song, or tell a joke.  Should we opt for a joke, said joke will not contain elements harmful to any person or identifiable group.  The song, should we elect to sing it, is guaranteed not to be by Chris Brown, hero to some very sick people.   Thank you.”

I think that’s got a snappy enough ring to it, don’t you?  And it certainly levels the playing field.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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