Earth Mother

At 3:58pm on 30th September 2013 a beautiful baby girl was born to an amazing woman and her husband. And I was part of the most magical experience I have ever been witness to outside of the birth of my own two children.

My best friend and her husband have tried for a long time to have a child; IVF was not successful, and for a while they thought it would never happen. But, it has! and I am so lucky to have been part of it. I was the hand-holder, the coffee-bringer, the encouragement as it all became so tiring she thought she could not carry on, and finally the additional leg holder as my strong and courageous friend pushed her baby into the hands of the midwife. I saw the baby’s head enter the world with the cord wrapped around her tiny neck three times, and watched with breath held fast as the midwife gently unwrapped it before the final pushes saw baby wriggle and yelp. I saw the absolute joy in the faces of mum and dad as they were told it was a girl, and as the father held his baby for the first time, grinning like his heart would break. As the baby needed some gentle encouragement to breathe, I was once again the hand holder as mum had the final less exciting aspects of birth dealt with. 

Mum to be worked so hard. She didn’t even realise how hard she worked. She thought she couldn’t do it. She didn’t believe that she was creating a miracle with each painful push, even though it felt like nothing was happening. 

Baby is beautiful; smooth skin, beautiful curled fingers, a good head of hair, wide alert eyes and a wonderful cry. Mother is tired, beyond words, and dad is pretty shattered too! I left them to be a family as grandparents arrived, proud to have been part of the circle of life and excited about being such an important part of this baby’s life.

Micro-Discectomy: 6 Weeks After

I am making steady progress recovering from my micro-discectomy, which took place 6 weeks ago now. The scar has healed well, I am mostly standing straighter and the sciatic pain in my left leg has continued to improve significantly. The decision not to decompress the right side of my L5/S1 lumbar disc has not gone unnoticed though; there is pain on my right side. I am at this stage unclear if this pain was always there but not noticeable due to extent of my left sided pain, or if this has increased. I personally feel like it has increased a little, and there has been the odd day where the progression of pain has followed a similar pattern as that of my left leg, but it’s not continuous so I shan’t complain (much). I have had a couple of frightening days, in particular one evening where my left leg started hurting in exactly the same way as it had on my bad days prior to the micro-disctectomy; my calf became sore, my ankle tightened and my foot went numb and fuzzy, my entire leg became weak, with my hip feeling like it would snap. An odd and altered sensation in my groin area meant I almost went to A&E and I felt scared it had prolapsed again. But, after about 2 hours of panic, and a reasonable sleep, it felt better in the morning.

My back still ‘pops’ though. I have had several horrible moments when I have bent over ever so slightly, reaching forward or something similar and found myself stuck, having to hold on to something to get myself straight again. I have had several scary moments when I have bent down using my legs to take the wait as I have been told to do, to find that my back has wobbled on the way down and I am stuck in that position. I have also had some frightening moments where my back has completely given way and I have found my legs having to collapse due to the pain and found myself stuck on the floor. In between these more serious moments (probably once a day) I am getting many times when my back ‘pops’, or grinds, I can feel something moving. I suspect this has always happened, but prior to my micro-discectomy, the movement of my vertebrae would result in my disc being pushed out more and hitting my sciatic nerve, with a cascading effect of inflammation, pain, and a period of bed rest. Now, I am just trying to ignore it.

I am disappointed to note that I do not get to see the neurosurgeon for 3 MONTHS! So, someone cuts open my spine, pulls and prods me around near my spinal cord and nerve bundles, closes me up, sends me home and I see no-one for 3 MONTHS! I had been told by the Registrar who discharged me that my neurosurgeon would see me in 6 weeks. My GP thought I would be seen in 6 weeks. Yet, having not received an appointment by 5 weeks, I have been informed by the appointments team and the Neurosurgeon‘s secretary (curtly) that 3 months unless there is a clinical need to see him earlier. My GP also said that he has received no report regarding my surgery and so, had I not shown him my lovely scar he would never have known! It’s a shame as my continued back going means that when I am on my own I have to continue taking my crutch in case I hit an uneven patch. I have to take it anywhere there might be uneven surface as anything other than flat office floors etc have my back collapsing. It’s annoying more than painful; although it is painful too, it’s still nothing compared to how much pain I was in before my micro-discectomy, due to sciatic pain.

Doing Nothing is a Skill

Doing nothing is a skill; one that I am really not so good at. I am not a very good patient while recovering from my microdiscectomy. I am not great at the art of staying in bed. I have done too much really and today I am suffering for it. To be honest I have had increased pain for a few days, having spent a lot of time outdoors on Sunday and getting up and down from the ground; I felt fine at the time, but not now! Since then, pain has crept back in and I am now left with nagging aching nerve pain down both legs but in particular my left leg. I also have some localised pain that reminds of how it felt as I came out of surgery, really internal. It also feels like it might ‘go’ again at any time and I have to remind myself that this part of my back pain, the misaligned vertebrae, that is not fixed.

I also need to remind myself that a microdiscectomy sounds like a simple surgical procedure but they did cut right down into my back to my spine, they did cut muscles, remove bone and push ligaments and my sciatic nerve away (maybe others too), and cut away the disc, leaving it ‘open'; it’s going to take time to heal! Yes! I was told this, I was told 4-6 weeks recovery, but, I felt so good in the first 10 days; I felt like the 4-6 weeks were cautionary and that I was recovering significantly faster than that! I even reduced my codeine as I didn’t need so much of it and for some of the day was managing fine with just paracetemol. I have read on some back pain specialist forums that increase in nerve pain around 2 weeks after microdiscectomy is normal as blood flows back to the nerve which has been restricted for a while; it’s also been irritated more by the surgeon, and allow for as long to recover as it was compressed for. So, I am not worried that the pain means something more sinister. I just feel rather daft for running before I could walk so to speak. I was thinking I would be ready to go for a swim on friday, I have been walking a lot and have started bending a little – I mean come on, R is doing a sterling job at looking after me, the children and trying to keep on top of our home, but he is no miracle worker and things on the floor are dangerous, and bloody annoying! – but, feel like I have taken a big step backwards so am slowing right back down again.

My advice for anyone having a microdiscectomy is – you WILL feel fabulous for the first week, you will feel like it has gone brilliantly and that means you are recovering quicker than everyone thought you would. Please slow it down, and remind yourself that your pain is not a guide right now, that reduced pain will make you think you can and therefore should be doing more. You used to be guided by your pain levels but now you have to tell yourself not to do something like picking washing up off the floor, pulling chairs out from the table. Please take it really, really slowly even if you feel ok, as a miscrodiscectomy is NOT a simple non-evasive procedure for you. It’s simple for the surgeon performing it, but it’s still major surgery for your back. You will just have to learn to read more books, watch more films, catch up on some fabulous blogs and Do Nothing!

It’s Been a While: I’ve Had a Micro-Discectomy and Other Things.

I have been silent. I have had writers’ block. I have had reduced pain. I buried my head in the sand and stopped wanting to talk about my bloody back pain; talk about a pain in the back. I have plodded, and managed with lower level pain. Not disappeared pain, but bearable ‘let’s pretend it’s ok’ pain. Stoic. Just waiting for a date for my L5/S1 Lumbar micro-discectomy.

I stopped taking Tramadol about a month ago. How about that? It’s been worrying me, using this drug, and I feel fine without it. Great in fact. It’s been R’s 40th birthday; we went out for wine tasting and I wore heels; we had a party/gathering and I wore Fly London Wedges. I looked fantastic that night with my new dress, new haircut (even if I say so myself, as did others), and red glowing sunburn; I drank alcohol as I had no opiates or nerve blockers in my system, and it was great as alcohol dulls pain; I got drunk; we went out for post partying breakfast and I struggled to bend down to pick something up from the floor. And that was the end of the ‘good phase’. I could not get out of the car coming back from breakfast and we holidayed in a yurt for the following five days, up a steep hill, with a LOT of painkillers and the lovely diazepam to keep me going. It was actually fab, but despite backpain (you got to just get on with these things right?).

On Tuesday, having returned from holiday to just one day’s work before going off sick again, the neurosurgeon’s secretary called me; “How would you like to have your surgery tomorrow morning?’

So, this is what happened

Tuesday 18th June in the morning, I was called by the secretary, a simple yes or no, she will call me back with details. In the afternoon I got the details of where I need to be and what time. A mad rush followed, sorting out new jimjams (didn’t bother), cleaning and drying my finest pants (I had to take em off, waste of effort) and supervising R cleaning the bedroom so it was lovely when I came home. We organised childcare etc and I spent a little bit of time trying to calm down a very worried little Summer Girl, ‘what if you sleep for too long mama? I don’t want you to go!’

On Wednesday 19th June at 6:20am I said goodbye to my tearful Summer Girl, my slightly nervous R, and a Winter Boy who wanted to wave at the mini cab taking me to the hospital – there was no point disturbing the children’s routine, and it was last minute so who could have them at that time in the morning? It wasn’t an emergency so R did school run as normal – by 6:45am I was stood in a queue of dozens of other people waiting for their ops. ‘Fucking Hell’ I thought, ‘I won’t be seen first that’s for sure.’

Wrong! At 7am I was booked in, 7:15am wristbands put on me, a million questions asked by a student nurse (including, ‘are you pregnant?’ about 10 times). At 7:25am I was seen by the Registrar who told me I would be having a bilateral micro-discectomy and I signed the consent forms. I changed into the very fetching gown and stockings provided, keeping my lovely clean M&S knickers on. At 7:45am I was seen by the anaesthetist who kindly let me know he will ensure I will be provided for drug wise when I wake up. Not reassuring, as that suggests I will be in a lot of pain! I missed seeing the Consultant as I was busy contemplating whether or not to keep my pants on as I got changed when he looked for me.

At 8:43am and having been told my neurosurgeon prefers his patients with their knickers off, I was answering the following important question in the anaesthetist’s room: What Makes a Perfect Manhattan?

Next thing I know, it was 12:30pm and I was fucking freezing lying on my side in the recovery room. Not for long, as I got warmed up by a lovely blanket thing that blew air all around me. (I need one for home, but apparently you can’t buy them).

AND NO PAIN IN MY LEGS!!!

Thursday at 3:30pm – I left the hospital, having been discharged as ready and desperate to get home, with one of my best friends in the world having brought me a proper take away coffee for the journey home.

I am still waiting for the pain to return. I have done too much today, and so am actually hurting a little, and in truth I do have a little pain in my legs, but it’s throbbing pain which I think may even be referred pain. There are no stabbing pains as I lay down or sit, so feelings that my leg will snap off, no pins and needles (a little fuzzing). There is some numbness in my toes and that might never go away, but. FUCKING YEY!

The Technical Bits

No fusion! I had a left sided decompression, instead of the anticipated bilateral decompression as the surgeon didn’t want to remove bone from both sides; he said this would leave my already unstable vertebra even more unstable and the risk of fusion would increase significantly. Apparently this means a slightly increased risk of right sided prolapse in the future and need for further surgery, but he felt that was a better risk than doing it now when right sided pain was minimal. I agree. Actually.

The incision is Tiny. Really tiny. Hardly even hurts.

I am moving! I am walking! I can’t sit for too long, or stand for too long. I have a granny seat on the loo. I am trying really hard not to do too much, but I feel…NORMAL! Apart from nagging pain, which is healing pain so it’s good pain.

A success! I do have to wait and see, as it’s still early days, but I am pleased with my microdiscectomy surgery!

The misaligned L5/S1 vertebra is a backwards misalignment and could have been caused by injury to the vertebrae.  The Clever Mumsnetter, DillyTante, uncovered the likely cause of my back trouble, especially as this is NOT degenerative in my case, and all information since continues to point toward this being right.

SURGERY! (How Sad That I’m Pleased)

I am not going to moan about how much pain I am in today, or how slow the NHS system is. I am not going to complain that I have spent 18 months banging my head against a virtual brick wall to get someone to fix me. I am not even going to gripe about having to spend all day today at hospital, after a 9am neurosurgery appointment was late by 20 mins, and then having to wait 1 hour for an unplanned x-ray, having to wait for what I was told would be 2 hours in the planned assessment team, but turned out to be 4 hours. I am certainly not going to bang on about not being to go to work at all having told them I would be in at about 10:30am, or using up all my mobile phone battery reading mumsnet posts and not being able to call my husband to get me (had to use a payphone, how old fashioned is that?).

No. Not moaning. Because, I have FINALLY been put on my neurosurgeon’s waiting list for discectomy. Finally, someone has said they can do something to fix me. YEY! Ok, he has not given me guarantees, but the odds are pretty good though I think – 80/90% chance of an 80/90% improvement in leg pain. But, only a 15% chance of any improvement in my back pain.  That’s not so good, but I was expecting him to tell me something along those lines so not a surprise.

I liked this neurosurgeon. He was pleasing on the eye which is always helpful, and spoke to me, not at me. He was pretty honest, but was interested in my view about it all. I didn’t feel rushed and ignored like I have with so many other health professionals, a number on a list to be spoken to and ticked off/kicked out. I was expecting to be talked over and the decision already made; pleasantly surprised.

The recent MRI shows that the vertebrae of L5 (the top one of the L5/S1 section) is out of alignment, something called Spondylosisthesis – it’s sort of pushed forward over the top of the vertebrae below and this is probably why the disc prolapsed. He doesn’t know why this misalignment happened – could be injury, could just be the way my spine developed/a joint stopped working so well. The disc is now bulging into the nerve space, and there is still an annular tear which may well have been the shower curtain hitting my back (read my previous post about the theory of how the tear got there), but the disc would probably have already been bulging at that point and so an ‘easy’ target.

Mr Neurosurgeon said he would not normally enter into the idea of spinal fusion with a prolapse such as mine and right at this moment he is not intending to do so. He does not believe the success of fusion generally is good enough to put someone my age through that trauma, and that back pain itself can be caused by many many things and so fusing is too random. However, this vertebrae that is not in the right place, along with the fact that the entire rest of my spine is in perfect condition with little sign of degeneration, indicates that there is a large enough coincidence between me having severe localised back pain, my back ‘going’ regularly and the potential instability of the vertebrae. For that reason he is considering fusion.

So I have had some x-rays on my spine with me moving around in different positions (ouch!) to see if the segment is moving at all. Pretty undignified it was too, dressed in the silly gown with a gaping back, and having to reverse into the loo else show my butt to the very full waiting room.  If the segment moves, he will review his decision and consider fusing the vertebrae when he preforms the discectomy, if no movement, he will wait and try the discectomy first. If the back keeps going after the op and recovery (a good amount of time) he will fuse the spine. AND he told me how he would do it. OUCH again.

Recovery is quick for the discectomy – 4 weeks if I’m lucky!  If all goes well, I could be bodyboarding within 8-10 weeks – maybe even this summer!

“Let Boys Be Girls”

I am lying in bed trying to summon the energy to do some much needed chores: calling in sick at work due to another ‘relapse’ of back pain; calling a good friend to arrange her to visit so I can countersign her passport; checking on Winter Boy who is doing goodness knows what in his bedroom, and well, er, going to the Loo. My reluctance to call people is because this involves a game called ‘Hunt the Phone Charger'; my reluctance to do that, aside from the pain this produces is also largely for the same reason as not wanting to go to the loo and not wanting to check on my boy – Every Single Room in this place looks like we have been burgled and I cannot bear to wade through toys, clothes and other debris just to find a phone and to find my son.

So, instead I am sitting here with the skylights open, the sun on my face, putting it all off in the name of ‘writing’.

I have been thinking, with a smile on my face, about my little boy (who has, during the time of writing this wandered upstairs with the iPad asking me for daddy’s password so he can upload a Toy Story game) and his love of dressing up; it has got me thinking, not for the first time, about our values in this family of ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’ especially with campaigns around such as Let Toys Be Toys (encouraging retailers to change the way they advertise their toys to ‘boys’ and ‘girls’) and with some surprising attitudes of those in our social circle.

Like my daughter as a toddler (who, apart from occasionally forgetting to put knickers on before going out, has developed a sense of shyness about her body in front of friends and strangers in the last 6 months), he much prefers to be stark naked than trapped in the constraints of clothing; often discarding his clothes the moment he gets home. And even when he concedes that he needs to wear clothes, getting dressed can be a battle as he changes his mind about what he wants to wear for pre-school or to the park every 30 seconds or so. When Winter Boy has clothes on, he adores dressing up; between him and his big sister they have an ecclectic mix of princess dresses, doctors outfits, nurses uniforms and cowboy clothes, along with a few of my old clothes from when I was a size nothing (can’t believe I ever fit into some of those things).

But Winter Boy is never happier at the moment than when he is dressing as a ‘girl’. He has recently been photographed wearing his sister’s emerald-green sparkly party dress which shimmers in sunlight. Apart from being huge for him, he actually looked quite stunning in it and looked the spit of his sister at the same age. He wanted to be a princess and go to sleep as a princess that night, and so after a few enormous, sad, rolling tears of protest dropped onto the dress we let him get into his Thomas the Tank Engine adorned bed as Princess Winter Boy and after a princess story, he insisted we say “goodnight princess” to him.

We have just been given a big bag of clothes from a parent at Summer Girl’s school for Winter Boy. It’s all too big, but that hasn’t stopped him insisting on wearing his new Ben 10 shirt for 4-5 year olds to pre-school and his new 5 year old ‘Cars’ PJs to bed. However, despite his love of his new ‘boy’ clothes, he insisted, at 8pm on Friday evening, after stripping out of those much-loved ‘Cars’ PJs, that he was going to bed as The Queen of Hearts. After a few attempts at refusing by us parents, we gave in and let him dress up as the Queen of Hearts, have a story about Queens in bed; he went to bed without a fuss, tucked up in his Gruffalo duvet, with the little fluffy sleeves of the dress poking over the covers. He corrected me again when I gave him a kiss goodnight “say ‘Goodnight Queen of Hearts’ not Winter Boy!”. About 5am when he woke proclaiming that he no longer wanted to be The Queen of Hearts. R changed him back into himself and he snuggled with us, happily announcing that he loved being a Queen, but prefers being Winter Boy before going back to sleep.

I have been shocked at some of the things people around us have said about these events. Seemingly intelligent friends of mine have made comments such as ‘you can’t do that to him! it’s cruel!’ and ‘he won’t forgive you for that [photo]‘. When he has had a colourful wrap in his (apparently far too long) gorgeous blonde hair, there have been cries of ‘but he’s a booooy!’ and one time a male friend actually took the hair braid out when I wasn’t there (I was a little cross about that one I can tell you). Seriously, what do those who have a problem with him twirling in a dress or having fun braids, or wanting to be called ‘Queen of Hearts’ think is going to happen to him, other than growing up to be a well-rounded, well-adjusted child, and then into a well-rounded, well-adjusted man? Wearing dresses and having long hair and hair wraps wont ‘make him gay’ or ‘transgender’. If he is ‘gay’, well, then that’s just how he is anyway; as parents, andas his peers around him, we should be supporting and developing that aspect of his character as he grows, not stifling it by providing negative labels, which could lead to issues around sexuality, and ultimately unhappiness, as he grows into a man. If his sexuality is not already defined as ‘gay’, being the Queen of Hearts is not going to change that, it will just mean he is being a child having the time of his life. And I am loving watch his fun, cheeky, happiness grow.

Interestingly, my Summer Girl has just started a football club, as a result of a local good football club bringing coaches into her school. No-one seems to bat an eyelid at the notion of her dressing in a masculine manner, having her beautiful blonde hair scraped back, wearing football boots, shin pads, and football shorts. She too is being the child she wants to be, not constrained by the expectations of adult society. And it’s fabulous.

I should probably get up now…

A Nest. One Viper.

I am in such a bad mood. Frustrated, fed up, cross, angry. GRUMPY. I don’t know if I want to hit something and scream or cry. It’s that kind of grumpiness that makes me want to petulantly shout ‘oh just fuck off’ to anyone who says anything that annoys me. And it’s that type of crossness that means anything annoys me. You see that circle there? It’s vicious alright.

It’s not proportionate to events. It’s actually quite irrational. It’s not PMT, it’s not horrendous chronic pain. It’s pent-up frustration and unspent energy. And little things irritating me that have built up through the day and exploding like a fizzy bottle shaken too much.

I wasn’t in this mood all day. I had spent a lovely morning with my Winter Boy at a softplay centre, where there was a bored looking woman doing music and dancing with the children. And, as it turns out, with me. I have no rhythm any more and I suspect this realisation that I’m no longer able to rock with the toddlers added a teensy bit of Fizz into that bottle.

I had my third Expert Patients Programme session this afternoon. R had initially asked if he could drop me off, I said I needed the car. However, while I was out shaking pompoms and I utilised my fab female skill of multitasking and mentally realised that Summer Girl finished school during this session, unlike for the last 2 sessions over Easter holidays. When I got home I agreed with R that he does in fact need the car. It was not enough that I had bowed down to his greater wisdom. No. He was now cross about having to drive me there, and pick me back up again at 4:30pm. What was he going to do while I was there, with the children? Well, the same thing you had thought of doing when you  first suggested it and it was your idea. For Fuck’s Sake. And that was another dose of fizz added.

I was late. Ok I wasn’t late, I rocked up by the skin of my teeth, but that’s not the point. Because I am on R time, not my time. That means that before we leave, he needs to make himself a cooked lunch. And I am on Winter Boy time, not my time. And this means that before we leave Winter Boy had discarded his trousers and pants never to be seen again. As R drove the car along an alternative route to try it out, which is always great when you are late, another huge dose of fizz was injected into the bottle.

The Expert Patients Programme was good. We finished early at 4:15pm. R was not on his way, he was going to be 20 mins he said. Not sure how he figured he would be picking me up at the normal finish time of 4:30pm and so, with the wind in my hair, and my bones, the fizz started to creep up towards the neck of the clearly small bottle. But as I felt it rising, rising, I made a point of not shaking it, and started to walk. R met me half way.

Now, one thing that had kept me sane all day was the prospect of going swimming. With my new goggles. and my new nose clip. I had even dug out my flip-flops for the poolside and was ultra organised. Everything was packed right down to my razor for the long hot shower afterward, everything apart from my swimming cap. That’s around somewhere right? But, as I walked to meet R, I realised I really fancy some gym time, I need to burn sweat. I have too much energy, it needs to get out. I think about music and yes, that’s what I want! Can’t wait. R has obviously picked up my iPod nano from his locker at work, where it has been living for the last 2 months, as I asked to do so this week, and he went in today for something. The fizz settled a little.

I made tea for the children, and got ready, feeling my unspent frustrations all about to be pounded away at the gym. Couldn’t find socks that match, children had been playing with my goggles and headphones and then I asked The Question. I knew the answer as the words tumbled out of my mouth and I tensed everything up waiting for the bottle to explode as the words ‘oh shit! no sorry’ left R’s lips. I cannot exercise without music. I just can’t. OK, I can, if we are going to be picky about it. But I don’t enjoy it, I can’t pace myself and it goes from being fun to being a huge chore. I spent the next hour trying desperately to download Spotify to my Smartphone, only to find it’s not that fucking smart. So, absolutely devastated, crushed, that my perfect plan fell apart, the fizz quietly spilt out of the bottle as I stopped myself from throwing the phone at the wall.

But, that wasn’t enough to ruin my plans. I would just have to  swim, with my new goggles and new nose clip. But, can I find the FUCKING SWIMMING CAP? And so my evening has actually been ruined. I can’t go swimming now. I’m too cross. The bottle has no more room, and has been shaken violently. I am so fucking cross I am not really sure what to do with myself. And because it’s not entirely rational angst, I can’t deal with it ‘sensibly’.

The best thing to do is quietly take myself off upstairs to engross myself in social media world, but as I am not rude, I tell R I am going upstairs. ‘no you’re not! Dinner is here, if you’re not going out, you got to eat, you didn’t eat lunch’. I’m not hungry, but I might be tempted ‘what is it?’ ‘fish and chips’. FISH AND FUCKING CHIPS? FFS. we had that last night! I don’t want that again. Especially as I made a special tuna with chilli and garlic, home-made chips and salad. I don’t want oven chips, spaghetti and breaded fish. Bleurgh.  And at this point, the only thing that I can do to resolve this situation is to let the fizz outa that goddamm bottle and have a full-blown Proper Strop.

The cork hit the cat, who had tried to nuzzle and suckle and irritate me, after I had stomped up the stairs, and thrown myself onto the bed in a dramatic impression of a teenager not allowed out with her friends past 9pm and so I did petulantly shout ‘oh just fuck off!’ at her.

And I am now nestled in my duvet, fluffed with pillows I still feel poisonous because things didn’t go my way. And I still haven’t got my unspent energy out.

And I’m now fucking hungry.