Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jumping Off Cliffs

Needless to say, we had a great weekend!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lisa and the Blood Bubble

On Monday, Lisa was paid to play hooky from work and go down to sign up new blood donors at the ARCBS (Australian Red Cross Blood Services) Blood Bubble!

This is a topic near and dear to both our hearts as I received many transfusions during my time in the hospital. Someone's donation saved my life.

2009 celebrates 80 years of Red Cross blood services in Australia and the bubble is an information booth aimed at signing up new donors and testing for their blood type.

Lisa and a few of her colleagues took in hundreds of new donor commitment sheets and answered all sorts of questions for people.

She was even allowed to put on the mascot costume at one point. She said she'd always wanted to be a mascot!

Did you know?
- One in three people will need blood, but only one in thirty people donate.
- 470 mL of blood is collected when you give whole blood.
- Every whole blood donation can help save up to 3 lives!
- Within 24-48 hours of giving blood, your blood volume is completely restored.
- Red blood cells have a shelf life of up to 42 days.
- You can start giving blood at 16.
- You can donate whole blood every 12 weeks.
- Plasma and platelet donations can be made every 2 weeks.
- You can donate double platelets - helping twice as many people.
- Platelets have a shelf life of only 5 days.
- The most plasma donations made by one person was 938.
- Plasma donations can be used to make 16 different products.
- O negative blood is universal and can be given to anyone.
- Australia needs 21,000 blood donations every week.
- 34% of donated blood goes towards helping cancer patients.

It's been nearly twelve weeks since my last post about donating blood. That means if you donated blood that week, you're nearly eligible to donate again. Maybe you can even fit in a plasma or platelet donation in the meantime?

Many of you responded saying that you are regular donors and I really commend you for that! If you've never donated before, now is as good a time as any to start!

Remember to book your next donation appointment soon. Besides, who can say "no" to free cookies and juice?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Low Points: the Wheelchair Incident

Waiting for my leg, I hit several low points. These coloured my experience just as much as the high points, so I've decided to record a few of them here to serve as a reminder of how far I've come.

After the final decision was made, I started doing chin-ups in the hospital bed using the old traction rack that my leg used to be tied up to. I managed to get outside into the sun for the first time in 8 weeks the day before my last surgery and within two days after it. I was feeling healthier already. Things were never going to be as bad as they'd gotten again so every day was a good day.

I hit a bit of a low point several weeks later on December 18th. I was a month out of the hospital and finally getting to go in for my assessment at the amputee clinic. This was the day they would check over my stump and tell me if I would be selected for a prosthesis or not. Up to that point, I didn't know there was any risk that I might not get one. This was a frightening day for me but I wasn't overly worried.

I was taking every precaution and being safe so I took the wheelchair that day instead of the crutches. I rolled myself out of the parking lot near the hospital and down a little sidewalk ramp at a crosswalk to cross the road. When the chair hit the road at the bottom of the ramp, it bottomed out on my foot peg, throwing me face first onto the pavement in front of a car with tremendous sling-shot action.

I landed HARD on my stump. Yep, my freshly amputated limb broke my fall.

Imagine kicking your big toe, barefoot, into a brick wall as hard as you can and you're only part of the way to landing on a freshly amputated leg with all your weight on pavement.

To add insult to my injury, the wheelchair folded up and toppled over behind me, leaving me with nothing to pull myself up off the ground with. It was flat as a pancake. The car driver didn't move, he just waited patiently for me to come back out of my fog of extreme excruciating pain into consciousness, push myself up off the pavement with sore arms and stand up on my one good leg.

Several people passed in cars or on foot a few meters away but none stopped to help. I got up on my own, then had to hop over, bend down (one leg, not easy), pick up my useless wheelchair, unfold it and set it back up for sitting in. I was bleeding and very sore but my pride was really bruised.

I sat back into the chair, utterly demoralized. The very thing that was supposed to keep me from hurting myself (the chair) had just hurt me, badly, 20 minutes before I was to be inspected for suitability of a prosthetic and not a single person stopped to help me up.

I limped my chair across the intersection only to find that I had to climb a very steep hill on the other side. The thought of climbing that with bleeding hands was all starting to be too much. I was feeling defeated in that moment. It didn't last long.

I have no idea where this next one came from, but I started singing "Eye of the Tiger" in my head right then. Wow, I'm so freakin' lame. What's up with that? Have I ever even *seen* the Rocky movies? I need to update my iPod.

Either way, it sparked something inside. Feeling very battered but with renewed strength, I started climbing the hill with a little fire. My pain turned into anger and anger into adrenaline. I was moving at a huge pace. I felt strong again.

The hill to the clinic gets much steeper than the hill to the main entrance. If you take the road, like I did, you find out quickly that it's not meant for wheelchairs. The angle eventually became too steep. I was far too stubborn to go back for the main entrance.

With each push, the chair made about a centimeter worth of progress until it couldn't go any further. Pushing hard on the wheel rims just resulted in a wheelie instead of forward motion.

On top of everything, I didn't want to fall backwards and crack my head open on the pavement. To keep from losing control all together, I had to put both brakes on fully and stop dead in my tracks. Another moment of "what's next" self-sorrow swept over me. That didn't last either.

I was only half way up and I had ten minutes left to get inside. The chair was heavy and trying to hurt me, again. No help there. What would MacGyver do? Eye of the Tiger!

I stood up, went behind the chair, leaned over it putting my hands on the arm rests to center my weight and I started to push it the way one would push a grocery cart if they were riding it. I got some momentum up and pushed the chair the rest of the way up the hill, on one leg. So much for safely sitting in that one.

It was pretty fun, I think I even started smiling when I got the speed up enough. I was up the hill in no time flat. I even passed a car on the way!

When I got inside, I was taken in to meet the team right away. Ironically, they complemented me for using the "safety of the chair" instead of "risking the crutches". Up to that point, I'd never had a single fall on the crutches.

That was a very rough December day but I learned a lot about having some grit and soldiering on in spite of myself.

What I took from that experience:

1) You won't get help unless you ask for it so don't complain if you didn't. People are often afraid of offending you by offering it up. People LOVE to help, they just need to know it's alright to give it.

2) Problem solve: take advantage of the disadvantage. Make it work for you, not against you.

3) Listen to old 80's fight-movie soundtracks. Knowing the words might save your life one day! Or at least, your schedule?

Lucky for me, I had someone back at home to kiss my bruises and listen to me belly-ache about how rough I had it. Poor girl, she's the real champ in all this.

It's easy to be the one who's injured/sick/etc and much harder to be the care giver. I'm very lucky to have Lisa.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Leg Training: Day Five

Day Five: call him "Steve".

You might have heard Andrea commenting in the video (last post) about how many questions I ask her on a daily basis. She only *thinks* I ask a "lot" of questions. If she knew how many I hold back, she'd probably quit!

I've had several people ask me why I'm meant to limit my time on the leg each day. This is to allow for a few things to happen:
a) toughen up my stump and desensitize those nerve endings slowly
b) strengthen my leg muscles without straining them
c) keep me from developing a bad habit from over-doing it to a pain-point

I can't wait to actually put this thing to good use. It's still quite awkward right now but I think I'm already improving a lot. I'm down to one cane most of the time and that's just for balance when I stumble, etc.

Walking around the Southbank markets on Friday night and having an ice-cream went very well. The only trick is now there's not a lot of indication to others that I'm not so stable. The crutches were more obvious so people gave me lots of space; the canes are subtle so I got jostled more than once. No problem, Steve (my leg) and his sidekicks (the canes) held me up just fine.

The canes also keep me from falling down when I suddenly do something painful that I don't expect to hurt. I'm learning very quickly what those things are... rotating/pivoting in the socket: ouch!

The nice thing is that I'm up to three hours in the morning and three in the evening already, so at six hours a day, the volume of information I'm processing is huge and the learning curve is being whittled away at a nice pace.

Steve the stunt double needs a few adjustments but I'll be in to see my tailor in the morning so it's all good!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Leg Day!

Yep, that's me, today, on two legs!

We started off in the parallel bars and quickly moved to using two walking sticks. That was lesson one! Easy as pie once I stopped duffing my toe on the ground.

On to lesson two: walking outside on uneven ground, up a flight of stairs, down/up a slope and over rocky terrain. It all was all fantastic!

Andrea (my physio) is great! Lisa and I brought her a nice coffee this morning to kick off the day right and she got me moving so quickly. I feel really good about the progress today. I know it's going to be a challenge to do it "very well" but I'm taking it slow, trying to get it right rather than going too fast and getting a bad habit.

Walking on the leg feels a bit strange. The first few steps were a bit like walking in a ski-boot. By the end of the session it was more like walking in a snowboard boot. By the end of the day, it felt like a stiff hiking boot. All good signs that it's getting easier and more natural!

I have it home with me now! I'm still wearing it. Good luck getting this off me now!I'll be on two walking sticks for the rest of the week, then down to one stick next week, then off the sticks all together.

For the next two days, I can spend two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening on the leg. By the weekend that will be up to three hours each. After another week, I should be up to unlimited time!

I was able to wear the new hardware into work for a little bit. I had to take it off part way through the day to give my leg a rest but the grin didn't fade.

On my way out, on the crutches, I had to strap the leg and the walking sticks to my pack. Probably looked a bit funny carrying a leg on my back!

Can't wait to drive around with it hanging out of the trunk of the car or leave it sticking out from under the garage door some time!

Here's the video of my first steps:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Just a Test Drive

Today was a day of very mixed and overwhelming emotions.

I woke up feeling extremely anxious. What if it doesn't fit? If they see pain on my face will they decide I can't have it? What if there's another delay? What if my leg has changed shape since they took the cast?

Those fears were realized on arriving at my fitting! The liner they gave me didn't fit with my leg in the socket.

I was determined to get it on. I pushed harder and took more pain than I should have, yelling like a drill Sergent in my head: "suck it up princess, you push 'til you bleed or pass out, but you damn well get it on before they take it back!"

I got very very scared. I wondered if anyone would notice me hide it under my shirt and run out..

Lucky for me, the liner they ordered for me was just too thick (for now, I'll shrink) and they had a thinner one on hand.

To my very great relief, with the new liner in place, the leg popped on with a very snug but easy fit. I was elated! About a hundred minor little adjustments later, we were done and the stunt double was locked back away in a little closet, waiting for Thursday.

It was all over so fast! I tried playing the "but it's my birthday" card, but no dice, that gift has to wait two more days!

I would equate this to taking a really amazing luxury sports car for a test drive and loving every minute of it. You're absolutely sure this is the car for you: you know you can afford it, it's everything you'd hoped and you know it's got the best safety rating/fuel economy and horsepower money can buy. As a bonus, it even has the stereo, nav system and light-up-cup-holders you wanted plus you find out the dash lights up with sexy blue LED lights at night! You're ready to take delivery right then and there! That's when the salesman laughs in your face and says "we'll have to order one in for you, this one's already sold! Should be in next month."

The wait is killer but this next one really took me by surprise: there's a strange bitter-sweet sadness that this period of extreme challenge is coming to an end. I know the next one will be hard too, but I've been having a lot of fun!

I've enjoyed this period for what it was worth: every task required extra problem solving, extra time, extra balance. I've climbed mountains, hiked narrow trails, adapted a rock-climbing technique and swam about a hundred lengths of the pool. Everything feels like an accomplishment on crutches.

That cycle of achievement is addictive! I'm looking forward to what the next phase has to offer and I plan to keep that addiction through the next chapter(s) of my recovery.

After all the delays, my wait is nearly at an end. I was able to touch it, feel it, try it on and get that little taste of what it's going to be like. The wait now is all the worse but each second that ticks by gets me closer. Two more "sleeps" is an eternity right now.

Check out my fancy-schmancy diagram for more detail on the leg itself! Pretty cool stuff:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Clock is Finally Ticking

I received the official call today!

Nope, still not turning to the priesthood, that ship has long since sailed. Instead, as of next week I'll be transitioning from tri-pod back to bi-ped. (I know I've used that joke before but you can't mess with a good recipe)

I'm seeing my tailor on Tuesday to try on the latest in Robocop gear, then I have to spend an agonizing Wednesday daydreaming in 80's movie montage sequences about running through meadows and frolicking on the beach with my new leg.

Thursday will be the big day. I should be receiving Lefty's stunt double in the morning at rehab to take my first steps in five months. Andrea my physio has assured me that she'll let me take it home that day so I can sleep with it under my pillow.

I'm trying to overlook the fact that it's currently 17 weeks overdue, 18 when I finally go in. It's been one hell of a mental hill to climb. The physical challenge has been easy enough to overcome but the mental barriers have been the hardest to push through given the moving target dates.

You can bet the paparazzi will be out in full force to document the affair so keep your eyes out for updates!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Australian Wildlife Adventure

Dad and Verle left our place on Monday morning. It was tough to say goodbye but I'm really glad they had such a good trip. They're currently finishing it off in Sydney and fly home on Thursday.

We took them up to Mount Tamborine this weekend where we saw at least twenty bush-wallabies called Paddymellons in Palm Grove. Sunday night we went up Mount Glorious with the Graham clan for a BBQ and spotted both a large Goanna and a huge carpet python, about two and a half meters long!

This got me making a mental list of what they managed to see in the wild while they were with us around Brisbane:
- Koala
- Wallaby
- Kangaroos
- Spiders
- Water dragons
- Gecko
- Dolphins
- Bush Turkey
- Sea Turtle
- Possum (Brush Tail)
- Green tree frog
- Spotted brown frog
- Paddymellon wallabies
- Goanna (climbing a tree)
- Carpet Python
- Bats, bats, bats
- Cockroach
- Leeches
- Kookaburra
- Ibis
- Lorakeets

I'm sure I'm even missing a few more! If that's not a plug to come visit us, I don't know what is.
(note: wildlife sightings are extremely rare and cannot be guaranteed by Mike and Lisa)

Photo: our evening BBQ with the Graham clan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leg Update

Still no official word but the Oscar buzz is that Lefty's stunt double is set to make an appearance late this week or early next.

Needless to say I've been eagerly checking my phone every 10 minutes for the last two weeks for the magic phone call but it still hasn't come. I've taken to calling my prosthetist "my tailor" and I've been in to see my tailor several times now.

Last word was that the foot still hasn't arrived so final assembly still hasn't taken place. I'm starting to wonder if it's coming directly from Iceland via dogsled and... well... carrier-dolphin?

I'll let you know as soon as I get the call! Until then, every night is like Christmas Eve, only Santa is one sick SOB who keeps changing the date.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Walking the Yellow Mile

The Yellow Mile. 7 meters x 2 laps/minute x 40 minutes/week x 7 weeks = 7840 meters (where one lap is "there and back").

Last Thursday was entertaining in a ludicrous way!

My fingers were looking particularly "fing" that morning and my experiment to change my eye colour using nothing but lemon juice continued unabated.

Aside from brushing my teeth in reverse order and eating my cereal with a spatula instead of a spoon (you gotta keep things fresh), nothing in my morning routine had changed. I looked particularily dashing!

I arrived at rehab and walked the Yellow Mile as usual, brain screaming out the tune to Dr. Who and singing "the song that never ends" with deafening results inside my head.

That's normally the point in my week where my mind wanders. Back and forth, back and forth... I leave my head for a little while and when I get back, I usually find an epiphany of some sort waiting for me.

I achieve perfect Zen in there. This is of course because the Yellow Mile is exceedingly boring and in my highly unqualified opinion, becoming that comatose is basically the same as meditation for people who are really bad at sitting still or have short attention spans like me.

I was contemplating that fact when it dawned on me: I've walked nearly 8 km between two little yellow bars on an airbag, back and forth, back and forth with only the odd attempt at a moonwalk.

Is this my happy place? I sure hope not. The coffee is terrible and there's no cereal. I really love cereal.

I went from there to my orthopedic review where I was brought in for x-rays. It is necessary to pause for a moment here to consider my gigantic chart. That's an Australian 10 cent piece next to it, roughly the same size as a Canadian quarter.

Understandably so, the intern clearly hadn't read the last chapter of my file, the one entitled "All we had was a Hacksaw and a Pocket Full of Mischief". I know this because of what transpired next in the x-ray room.

Now normally I'm not one to push for reading. If someone would rather watch the movie that's their call but in the case of my Doctors, I do hope they're not waiting for Lucas or Spielberg to finish my epic tail on the widescreen. I'm still working on the ending and it involves training thousands of monkeys.

The conversation in x-ray went something like this:
Tech - Please put your left ankle up on the bench for x-ray.
Mike - That might be a problem.
Tech - Sir, we have to take pictures of the metal work in your left ankle.
Mike - Again, that might be difficult.
Tech - Are you saying there's no metal in your left ankle?
Mike - No, I'm sure it's still there... it's just, I didn't bring it with me!
Tech (finally looking up) - Sorry? What? Oh.. Hmmm... but the doctor requested... I might need to ask someone...

Back to the waiting room for me to sit and contemplate my Yellow Mile. This time there was a little TV to keep my brain from leaping out of my skull.

If you've read my original few posts, you'll remember the episode of M*A*S*H I cited in the Emergency room that night. To my delight, M*A*S*H sparked up in the waiting room!

In this episode, Hawkeye asks for the bone saw, then gets that concerned "I'm a doctor who cares too much" look and pulls off an amazing procedure to save a man's leg using some sausage tubing from the cafeteria! Too funny!

I kept laughing quietly to myself through the serious bits. Like Tom Hanks (Paul) said in the Green Mile: "You ever try to not to laugh in church when something funny gets stuck in your head?" Same thing!

Back inside my head, try to look serious... wow, 8 km... how many more?

"This is the song that never ends
it just goes on and on my friends!
Some people started singing it
not knowing what it was,
and they'll continue singing it
forever just because..."
(repeat until dead from line one)

naaa naa naa na na HEEEEY! na na na na! naaa naa naa na na HEEEEY! na na na na!