I’m not quite sure where to start……

It’s been a while since I last posted anything, unusually long for me as I try my best to keep blogging whether that is to reflect on my own experiences or to keep others updated on conditions throughout the winter months. Until recently I wasn’t sure of writing about the last few weeks as its been a pretty depressing experience all round. However, having done allot of web searching I thought my experiences may help others in their struggle with injury and (hopefully for me) continue to keep a diary of return to fitness and climbing.

Boarding vessels in Iraq a few days after my 21st Birthday

Boarding vessels in Iraq a few days after my 21st Birthday

It’s no secret I have carried a back injury all summer, what people won’t know is that this injury has plagued me for nearly 12 years after falling through a false floor during the Iraq War. Over the years each episode of back pain and sciatica has typically lasted over a week, each time I remedied the pain with lots of pain killers, stretching and resting. This year’s dose came around in March shortly after climbing Smiths Route with Dave and Hannah. Now I look back on it; the three of us stood waiting for nearly two hours to get on the route, we then caught the team up infront and stood again waiting on a really awkward stance in the cave. Poor posture has more often than not brought the sciatica on and I can only think that it didn’t help my back on that particular winter’s day. Fast forward to April and things were looking better, the sciatica had dulled somewhat and I was rewarded with my first two new routes of the season down at Lochailort – The Young Pretender and Jacobite Rising. This was to be my final good day on rock as a little later that month I went to Skye and for no particular reason awoke unable to walk or stand for longer than 2 minutes – this was definitely the worst it had been. Since that point I have managed to control the pain and been able to work brief periods over the summer albeit with a numb left foot and the never ending sciatic ‘shock’ making itself known whenever I planted my left leg.

Many days spent on the floor trying to get some relief

Many days spent on the floor trying to get some relief

Keep on smiling - Every working day harnessed an underlying pain, but this image taken on Skye says everything I remember about 'summer' 2015

Keep on smiling – Every working day harnessed an underlying pain, but this image taken on Skye says everything about the ‘summer’ of 2015

Almost eight weeks ago I was meant to be working on Skye when another turn for the worse sent me to A&E. Being prescribed morphine; I knew it was bad news. With the help of my Osteopath, Physio, Doctor and finally several trips back and forth to specialists in Glasgow I finally had a diagnosis; a prolapsed L5/S1 disk that was putting pressure on my spinal cord and squashing my sciatic nerve. At this point I couldn’t stand for longer than 2 minutes and had walked no further than 30 meters, something I was completely unaccustomed to – it was driving me mad!

For anyone who knows what they are looking at, this image clearly shows the prolapsed disk and the way it is effecting my nerves

For anyone who knows what they are looking at, this image clearly shows the prolapsed disk and the way it is effecting my nerves and spinal cord

Even brushing the teeth had to be done horizontal.....

Even brushing the teeth had to be done horizontal…..

Just prior to the initial Nerve Root Block - an expensive procedure that didn't work

Just prior to the initial Nerve Root Block – an expensive procedure that didn’t work

Today seven weeks on and eight days post microdiscectomy, I can safely say I am feeling much better. I don’t feel like I am quite out of the woods yet as I have some lasting symptoms, which apparently can be expected at this stage. The last few weeks have been a valuable insight into the anatomy of my bodily core mechanics and how we as climbers need to be very aware of the importance of stretching after days on the hill rather than prioritising with social media or the ‘post hill pint’ – activities I have certainly been guilty of.

The specialist that operated on me was confident I would be back in the game within eight weeks as I had (thankfully) worked on my core previously which would potentially mean a swifter rehabilitation. I have however, given myself until December to ensure a structured and steady program, one which I hope to enjoy and relish bearing in mind the last thing I need is a relapse of this hideous injury.

Happy to be upright again - leaving Hospital in Glasgow

Happy to be upright again – leaving Hospital in Glasgow

For someone who has been insatiably active for as long as I can remember this period has not only been financially difficult (approx £7000 out of pocket) but also an incredibly dark experience for me, thankfully Jane was there to pick me up when I needed it most, as was our ever playful Husky who seemed to enjoy my company rolling round the floor with him all day.

A familiar view for me as Jane once again drives us through Glasgow as I lay flat in the van

A familiar view for me as Jane once again drives us through Glasgow as I lay flat in the van

Goose enjoying the company

Goose enjoying the company – kinda!

Now I have three months of rehab and training to look forward to – and I really am looking forward to it. Strange how these things revitalise your ambition and motivation not only for climbing but for life in general. I can only hope the next few weeks are productive and any lasting niggles die away as we wind up for what I hope is going to be a productive and pain free winter climbing season!

More motivation in two brilliant books

More motivation in two brilliant books

8 Responses to “A Painful Summer”

  1. Giles Trussell

    Hi Steve,
    I was interested to read your situation.
    As you may remember I had a microdiscectomy on L5 which was in Feb 2014, had similar pre op difficulties to yourself over 8 weeks – Crawling around the house was common – I couldn’t walk up stairs without my leg buckling – as were progressive walks beginning with 10metres, then 20, then 30 etc finally with 200metres from my house and then back a major success. Tramadol was my pain relief and the withdrawal symptoms once operation was done were weird.
    Post op you will progress well as I did. I went a bit mad with the running or as it was hobbling and raced well in the LAMM in June – 4 months after the op. I also did a kayak race in May 31/2 months post op but that was touch and go. Road Cycling and swimming (without tumble turns) formed a good part of my rehab too. Interestingly I had difficulty clipping in and unclipping with my left foot on the road bike – quite comical.
    I think your time frame for winter is good and like me you’ll be up and productive and pain free. I did have issues heel plunging due to foot drop but that has improved throughout the last winter. 20 months on I do still have bad back days and numbness in my left foot but on the whole I could not have imagined such improvement. Due to desensitised left big toe I have fallen off a couple of routes seconding due to lack of awareness of toe pressure so something to watch out for.
    I have been working on strength training and conditioning and have found at least two types of exercise to be more cautious of – stiff leg dead lift and bent over rows. Also with my funny running gait I have developed left hip pain but part of that is down to a poor stretching regime which I am working on again and which gives relief. When I run the pain goes!
    It would be good to chat to you sometime to see how things are / compare things and offer any advice I can.
    As my consultant said, whatever the outcome our body’s are very good at adapting. I was also told the nerve can recover at approx 1mm per day and given that I had 1 metre of nerve damage that would be 1000 days til I will know for sure the full extent of my recovery.
    As far as recovery goes I am sure you will be like me and go at a speed that feels good and manageable…I never really experienced any setbacks.
    There you go then, that operation is a game changer isn’t it, life returns.
    Cheers
    Yours aye Giles

    Reply
    • verticalfever

      Giles, great to hear from you! I have sent you an email about possibly meeting up for a chat. Our injuries and symptoms are very similar so some advice about further recovery would be greatly appreciated.
      Hope to hear back from you soon!

      Reply
  2. Simon

    Steve,

    I’ve enjoyed your blog of activities immensely over the last few years.

    Your recent experience struck a chord. A slipped disc put an end to my ambitions of a commission at RMAS some years ago.

    Ever since it has been a case of stretching, Pilates and physio as a means to keep on top of the ‘degenerative disease’.

    Plenty of potential for spiralling thoughts with that hanging over oneself, but it has now become a lifestyle. Even managed to be more sensible with physical activity!

    The mental battle is the hardest, and I do sympathise.

    As you say, there is hope, and I look forward to hearing how the healing and strengthening process goes.

    Heal well, and above all be smart!

    Simon

    Reply
    • verticalfever

      Hi Simon, many thanks for the message. I’m sorry to hear your injury has put a stop to some of your aspirations and ambitions but I’m also glad to hear you have ‘rearranged’ your lifestyle to still enable you to enjoy life participating in sports.
      It’s amazing how many supportive messages I’ve received since posting this blog, all have had a positive impact on my psychological standing.
      My understanding and appreciation for pilates has increased hugely and I must say I feel the excersises are fast forwarding my recovery.
      Stick with it, I wish you the best of luck Simon!
      Steve

      Reply

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