Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm affraid of the dark

In the hours between 10pm and 7am the demons come. They start to growl and rumble when I'm sitting on the sofa and I delay the action of lying down to go to sleep until they can be stilled by my fidgeting no more.

As I sit on the edge of the bed I have to shuffle into just the right place so that when I rock to the side to lie-down the gremlins only have a small window of opportunity to tear and chew at my muscles in my side. If I get my position wrong, the gremlins torture my aching spine as I move my legs to get my knees and feet away from the side of the bed and onto the protective support of the matress.

I lie and pant, breathing through the pain as the terrible beasts writhe within me, their scaly, spiny backs heaving against my spine and scrabbling at my rib-cage. My left arm hawks my pillows into place wherever my head has ended up. My right had goes between my knees to reduce the misalignment of my pelvis to a minimum. TSK holds a frozen ice pack wrapped in a towel to my spine and it acts like a magical ointment, slowly drowning the gremlins until they fidget no more...

but it is not over. As my breath slows again to shallow panting that is currently the norm, I know that my midnight alarm will go again, that the back will spasm, the gremlins needing to go for a wee. I will doze on the loo, not wanting to stand, not wanting to sit until the gremlins get cold and tell me to go back to bed.

They aren't satisfied with bed though and like a baby, I have to take them downstairs and feed them. Only they eat Paracetamol and Co-codamol and Ibuprofen and other drugs I have never heard of. Once they've been fed, I have to burp them. I walk up and down, back and forth in a living room that's filled with kitchen and chairs and laundry. There's not much space to walk but I stroll up and down, jiggling my baby gremlins up and down, sucking the air in through my teeth, waiting for the drugs to work and my muscles to get used to movement again.

I do dishes, I tidy away. I want to sleep but I don't want to lie down. I crouch down to the freezer, bending my knees, not my spine and retreive another icepack. It is tied around my waist with a towl and kept in place by my dressing gown belt like a geishsa's robe and I shuffle like my feet are bound.

Once I have decided I have enough pain releif and mobility to lie down without fuss I head back to bed. In a futile effort not to disturb TSK, I try to lie down carefully but inevitably I scream so loud he is there, exhausted, at my side asking me what he can do. I try to think of something that will help so he can feel like he is helping but I have nothing. He gently touches my hair, touches his forehead to mine. So gentle so that he doesn't hurt me more. Sometimes I NEEEEED him so badly to do everything at once. Apply the cold pack, move it here, move it there, move my pillow, put my dressing gown on, take it off, remove my socks. He works quickly and precisely. He calls the NHS helpline for me and I talk to the nurse between gasped breaths and screams.

Finally at 1.40 we are all back to sleep until the 4am charges start. Great explosions of pain in my waist. These are caused either by my overwhelming urge to lie in a different position than the one I am in (impossible) or by the urge to eat something since I threw up my lunch and only had a cup of soup for dinner. I feed the gremlins their drugs and start the prowling dance around the living room again, this time feeding on grapes and cheese to quash the hunger pangs. Success, then failure as the hunger pangs turn to burp-pangs and yawn-pangs - for every process in this body hurts right now (yes, even farting is a carefully orchestrated squeeze). As my body processes the food, I let out series of little yelps. Burps are released in tiny quantities but inevitably the piece-de-resistance stops me in my tracks and makes my knee buckle as it takes the strain off the spinal muscle that suddenly has so much to do with burping.

TSK's ankles appear at the top of the stairs and I explain my midnight feast, sending him back to bed. The next time I see him he is bringing me a morning cup of tea, despite my grumpy and depressed response that, "I don't know what I want!". I admire his loyalty, determination, care and effort and am genuinely grateful but also I am nauseous and sure enough 5 minutes later I am sweating and 7 minutes later I am talking to god on the great white telephone at the top of the stairs, each heave followed by a pathetic, mewing, "Ow!". I detest throwing up. With a bad back it is hell.

This proves it though, the co-codamol is the only drug I have taken in the last two days - giving the ibuprofen a miss after I accidentally over-dosed twice (though medically, I didn't, in my head, not following the instructions and taking a double-dose, twice, pretty much constitutes an OD). I phone the NHS helpline again in the desperate hope that the nurse at the other end will tell me I probably have an infection and should go to see my GP and tell her she's an idiot. So far I have been diagnosed over the phone and that doesn't seem acceptable to me when I am in so much pain... SOOooooHHHHH much pain. However, she merely suggests I talk to madamme GP again and get some painkillers that don't make me puke.

By the time I talk to Yon Doc I am so happy to be getting something that might not make me puke, my fears of an infection are quashed and I merrily accept the next trial feed for the gremlins. It comes with a recommendation that I buy anti-nausea drugs to accompany it. The nurses, the doctors, the pharmaceutical ladies, the people at work all seem to have gone through this hell themselves and I'm embarrassing myself thinking that my pain is any worse (and therefore comes from a more severe source) than theirs. I suck it up and pick up the new drugs.

My appetite is re-whetted by consumption of plain Jacob's crackers - the only thing I could face this morning and which TSK took a special pre-work trip to the shops for. I head out to "The Starfish and Coffee" in Woot Bass for pancakes, syrup and bacon. Briefly the thought crosses my mind that the bacon might be uncomfortable later but that's what the anti vomitting drugs are for.

The "shopping" (I picked up a £4.50 Jaegar blouse from Oxfam as well as the drugs) done, I decide to visit my local beauty-spot, Jubilee Lake, as I've lived here for a while and not been there yet. I take a path that starts at the back of sainsburys car park and follow it for about 2 miles before it peters out to nothing between the school playing fields above and a steep slope to the sports club playing field below. The fallen trees, brambles and ivy are inpenetrable to a girl with a bad back and a big thick down coat so I retrace my steps until I can take a rather illegal trek across the school playing field. Thankfully, no grumpy headmasters give me a hard time and the kids keep their footballs to themselves. A strike by one of thoses basetards is my worst nightmare today.

A few suburban streets later I find a footpath running behind all houses, the Wiltshire downs reaching out to the M4 and the Cotswolds beyond and I stop to try out the new drugs since it is time. A yellow tit flits through the trees right before me and I tempt a robin to interact by breaking off a bit of Jacobs cracker for it.

Continuing on my 0.5 mph plod I arrive at the path down to Jubilee lake. It's little more than a small duck pond. About 30 ducks are laughing at my stunted gait as I stop every so often to encourage a burp or a sigh. The back muscle can only cope with one blow at a time and burping and walking is not on. The lone fisherman is warily avoiding the lone swan. He's too engrossed to notice me stopping but it's probably a relief since the down coat is still muddy from last weekend and I'm wearing my fleece walking trousers to keep out the cold.

Back at the road, I read the sign which informs me that the area surrounding Jubilee Lake is one of our surviving ancient woodlands so I am happy it is there, even if it is only a little duck pond and some trees.

When I get to the top of the hill above Jubilee lake it becomes apparent to me that I have walked too far. I still have to get home. It doesn't help that I try a shortcut and come across yet another footpath that stops at a school. It strikes me that once upon a time, any Tom or Harry with his Dick could have walked through playgrounds unvetted and emerged the other side to continue his way home. Sadly though, I had to retrace my steps away from the locked gate. I passed the other side of the school. The leafless hedge full of toys and tennis balls of the summer. I hobbled down Longleaze and pep-talked my way back to the house, hardly veering to avoid carelessly left dog poo.

The last hill was the finest challenge yet. The new drugs were working. I squeezed the few gremlins that were still awake to one side and strode up the hill, front door key in hand. I turned the key and it crippled me to my knees. I conclude that I have hurt my back screwing cabinets to the wall and head back to my favourite place - a hot bath.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Where did life go?

It's Sunday morning and yet it feels like a week day. With the skiving I have done last week, I'm not sure what day it is anymore. I realised yesterday I haven't blogged since the Wild Wales Challenge in August.

It's not skiving as such. About 6 weeks ago I began to work 50 hour weeks. Driving to Wales and back 3 times a week (for the hours I work mean a return train journey can take twice as long) has taken it out of me and taken it out of my training and my work on the kitchen so last week I started to reclaim my life.

On Monday when I got into work at 1pm after a morning of marking up a countertop, my resource manager told me that my project manager was worried he was killing me. I responded that he was justified in such a thought and that I was in the process of reclaiming my life. On Friday I also got to work at 1 after a morning of plumbing and when I completed my timesheet, I still managed to book in excess of a standard 37.5 hour week.

The plumbing is finally finished. The living room is almost back to normal except for the oven and sink, awaiting collection by freecyclers. There are two cabinets to go in place where the plasterwork still needs to dry and then the final hole to cut in the countertop for the new hob before the pictures appear and my house is open for guests again.

My racing season has been somewhat futile as ever. All about having fun. I am incapable of keeping pace with the leading woman and my team mate, Claire but I try and I find my place amongst the unfit men at the back and I encourage my team mates as they lap me.

Training has been limited. When I do go to the office from my home address, I inevitably jump in the Vanu since I'm late, so very late and will want to be home urgently via a shop to buy eats then continue with the kitchen. There have been no saturday rides for a long time.

Let's be honest though, except for Canada (where commuting was the only riding I got to do), I have traditionally been a lazy winter cyclist anyway so really, more than ever before, I have found snippets of time to train this season.

Every Tuesday night I join the Swindon Road Club in the gym at Fitness First and we let all our frustrations rip in an hour of stationary bike madness to Faithless and Chiccane and, bizarely The Ace of Spades finds its way in there.

The room is hot and dark, which is a relief because the sight of sweat running down the walls might be unsightly. The bikes are no more than a bent elbow's distance appart, meaning I occasionally make contact with the clammy elbow next to me.

We do various excercises, spinning the pedals in double-time to the music, adding resistance and keeping single time with the music, adding more resistance and standing up. Then, after the climb we sit down again and try not to touch the dial, just keep hauling the pedals around. This is good, it replicates the cyclo-cross need to keep sitting the weight on the back wheel whilst climbing a steep hill.

Then the sprint tunes - as my legs whirr by, the lack of resistance means my knees start to lock-out - getting left behind by the pedals so I add resistance to give me something to sprint against and before I know it I am in a race, pushing to the finish-line to get there before the person next to me - wherever "there" is. The instructor knows what to say to keep us pumped, keep the brain working - or stop it working during the minute-long sprint sessions when he asks us to give 110%. "This is my key philosophy..."

Claire and I have discussed stealing the CD to play over the commentary tannoy at the national championships.
Trying desperately not to cramp-up on the way down Pen-Y-Ghent. 3rd of "The Three Peaks" in September. The event was fantastic with perfect sunny weather and not too hot. There was an amazing view off the top of Whernside, looking at the Howgill fells and lake district beyond. I didn't take enough food with me and was starting to cramp up on the way down Whernside. I stepped off the track and put onen foot into a deep rabit hole. When I fell, both calf muscles went into cramp, leaving me screaming in the grass until I could persuade the pain to leave me. A bit scary for the passers by! At the bottom of the ascent of Pen-Y-Ghent, I comandeered some rasins from a spectator which got me through the rest of the day.

The day was marred by my dad not riding. Three weeks before the event he was knocked off his bike by a car-driver. He had surgery on his face a week later to plate a broken cheek-bone and, understandably, was not ready for the event. This would have been his 36th attempt at an event he has completed every year since he was 24. He is 3rd in holding this record (consecutive years ridden) and now it is over, thanks to one split second of undue attention by some muppet in a car. Mostly, I was looking forward to making my come-back to this event with my dad in his 60th year on this lovely planet but it was not to be.

Playing in the tank tracks at a local event in October. Wearing the new teams' colours. This was the hottest cyclo-cross race I have done in the "winter". We all sat in the field in our shorts and teeshirts afterwards and it's why I'm very pink.