How To Stay Positive

Positivity has been fairly key to getting through the last few months with as little damage to myself, my friends and my family as possible.  It is not easy to be positive when you have got things going on whether they are medical, financial or anything else but I have got a few tips for things that I have tried to do to help me.

Set your wallowing limits

This is an old, well practised strategy of mine.  If something goes wrong or something is tough, let yourself be sad/angry or whatever negative feeling comes but set yourself a time limit – for example, give yourself a day and then move on and start focusing on the positives.  Disclaimer – this didn’t work too well when I was on the drugs, I didn’t really have control over how I felt!

Remember – This too shall pass

I think it is important to be able to look past whatever is challenging your positivity, whether that is looking to the end of a recovery or looking forward to events in the future.  Making plans for the future has helped to keep my mind on track and given me something to aim for.

Count your blessings

I firmly believe that whatever you are going through you can identify things in your life that are good!  This was an easy one for me during this recovery, I have so many people and things to be thankful for.

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Remember someone else is worse off

Obviously this is completely dependent on what your particular challenge is but I’m sure you can always find someone else’s situation that puts yours into perspective.  When I was on crutches, I watched a lot of videos and films of people (real and fictional) who have been paralysed or had amputations which completely stopped me from feeling sorry for myself! Who recognises this film?

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Exercise

If you can’t make yourself feel more positive by persuading your brain that you should, the scientific way should help.  We’ve all heard it before – when you exercise your body releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy.  One of the most frustrating parts of my recovery was not being able to exercise as much as normal but from the second day I was allowed to do my rehab exercises and each week I have been allowed to do more and more.  It makes me feel stronger and it makes the light at the end of the tunnel shine brighter!

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VIP – One For The Girls

I try to keep my blog on focus – my hip and horses.  Today I’m going to talk about cervical screening.  I’ll try not to go into too much detail, I’m not going to be gross but this is something I feel passionate about and if I can make just ONE person listen to me on this subject, it will have been worth writing.

First, a fact: cervical screening (or smear testing if that’s what you want to call it) is offered FREE on the NHS to 25-49 year olds every 3 years (and less frequently for older women).  Not only that but follow ups and treatment are also free, should you need it.

In 2009, school girls in the UK up to the age of 18 were offered the HPV vaccine to protect against cervical cancer.  I was in the right age bracket and I had the series of jabs.  In the same year, the very sad passing of Jade Goody was well publicised in the media and as a result of this, smear test attendance nationally went up.  When you are 18, 25 seems a long way away and having had the vaccine, I never thought I would have an issue.

Last year I turned 25, I had my letter, I rang the GP, I booked a convenient evening appointment which wouldn’t affect work and I went for my cervical screening.  Having spoken to a few people about it beforehand I was expecting it to be a traumatic experience.  I can honestly say it was fine – yes, mild discomfort for a tiny amount of time but really fine.  I was pretty sure that that would be the end of that for another three years.

A letter in the post a few weeks later told me I had to have a colposcopy to further investigate my cervical cells – this time at the hospital.  I won’t lie, I was completely freaked out and pretty nervous about the whole thing.  My friend took me so that I had some pre and post appointment moral support but the whole experience was nothing like what my brain had built it up to be.  If you think of American TV shows that feature gyno visits, they are pretty bang on (on your back, legs in ‘stirrups’!)  I had a specialist nurse doing the procedure, a further nurse helping her and then another one stood by my head chatting to me and making sure I was ok.  Again, slight discomfort, took no time at all, minimal after effects.  And again I was sure that would be the end of that.

The letter in the post diagnosed CIN 1 abnormal cells which means unlikely/mild risk of developing cervical cancer.  No further treatment was needed, it said the abnormalities should go away by themselves but I would be invited back for a cervical screening in a year rather than three, just to make sure.

This year, aged 26, I got another letter.  It was just as easy to book my cervical screening appointment, it was just as convenient time wise and it was the most insignificant doctors appointment I have ever had.  I’m pretty sure when the nurse was done I said ‘was that it?’  Obviously a colposcopy is a bit more of a big deal than a basic smear and I think I had forgotten how quick and simple it was.  I was fairly sure that the abnormalities from last year would be gone and that I wouldn’t have any come back this year.

The letter inviting me for another colposcopy came three weeks before my hip replacement date.  Cue major panic.  Judging by normal appointment wait times, I wouldn’t be able to have it before my operation.  A quick phone call later, the team at Cheltenham General booked me in for an emergency appointment in a weeks time, before their clinic actually opened.  That’s right, they essentially made an exception for me in order to get it sorted – if that doesn’t show how important this stuff is, I don’t know what does!

This time I wasn’t worried, I went on my own and went straight to work afterwards.  I had the same team for my second colposcopy, it was quick, simple and fine.  The longest part of the appointment was sharing my concern with the specialist that I was in the same position a second time in the space of a year.  She said that the likelihood was that stress had stopped my body from kicking the issue and that’s why I was still in that position.  When I look at the year, a full time teaching job then moving jobs, houses and yards, getting put on the list for a hip replacement and moving jobs, houses and yards again is probably enough to consider the year stressful!  It has certainly made me think about my health when considering my future ventures.  The specialist said that if my cells were mildly abnormal this time they would be left for another year and if they were still there then, they would be removed.

In the early stages of hip replacement recovery, I got another letter.  This time the letter in the post diagnosed CIN 2 which means moderately abnormal cells.  Not only had the risk not disappeared but it had increased.  The letter told me I needed to have the cells removed and gave me an appointment date for mid July – less than a month after my hip surgery.  It was quite clear that getting these cells removed was a sooner the better kind of situation.  I checked with both my physio and my consultant (poor guy, he wants to know about my hip not my cervix!) about the logistics of getting in a position to have the procedure (American TV show style) which wasn’t deemed to be a problem.  Unfortunately, I would still be on blood thinners in mid July so my appointment was pushed back two weeks.

Today I had the abnormal cells removed.  I had the same team as I had for my colposcopys, the format of the appointment was the same and the only difference was that instead of taking biopsys of my cells, they were being removed.  I had Loop Diathermy (LLETZ) treatment which involves having a local anaesthetic in the relevant area (which I did NOT feel) and then having the cells removed using a thin wire loop which is heated with an electric current.  Sounds not particularly nice but again, mild discomfort was the extent of what I felt.  The worst part of the appointment was being told I probably shouldn’t go to work for a few days and that I might have bleeding for quite a few weeks.  Some studies say that having abnormal cells removed can lead to a slight increase in having a premature baby and others say that can be the case if you have ever had any pre-cancerous changes in the cervix.  I can’t really comment on the after affects of the treatment as I only had it today apart from feeling a bit lightheaded directly afterwards and the expected tummy soreness etc.  I can’t predict whether this will be the end of my dealings with the lovely ladies at the colposcopy clinic in Cheltenham, fingers crossed for my results letter in five weeks time and my next screening in six months!

Why have I written a thousand words about the adventures of my poor cervix I hear you cry!  Simply because the ‘Jade Goody effect’ is long gone.  So many people, friends, mums of friends and obviously many many strangers, don’t go to cervical screening appointments when they are invited.  People even ring the hospital clinic to refuse treatment of their abnormal cells!  Here is my plea.

If/when you are invited, go.

  • A few moments of awkwardness/discomfort/bleeding is nothing compared to what you would have to go through if you developed cervical cancer.
  • If you are old enough to legally let a male (or female) near your private parts, you are old enough to let a nurse!
  • The horror stories aren’t all true, the equipment used these days has improved significantly since screening was introduced.
  • You will generally be well informed about what to expect and can therefore mentally prepare yourself. With each letter and appointment I have had leaflets about what to expect.
  • The appointments are quick and easy, the NHS want you to attend so they make it as easy for you as they can.
  • Set a good example for your friends/Mum/sister/daughter. You may never have an issue but you might be saving their life by getting them to go.
  • Not all cancers can be predicted or tested for in this way. If you can do something to reduce the risk of getting cancer, why wouldn’t you?

If anyone has any questions about anything I have written or actually wants to know the gory details so that they know what to expect, contact me .  Like I said, if I can help one person, writing this has been worth it.

Finally, whether you are pre smear or having further investigations, don’t google it.

www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/cervical

www.jostrust.org.uk

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Week Five – Owning My Own Recovery

I wasn’t going to do a five week update as all the important next steps are earmarked for the six week mark HOWEVER this blog wouldn’t accurately document my journey if I missed out the feelings of this week.

Up until this point I have been really pleased with my progress, the op went well, the wound is good, the physio is going well, everything has been getting easier and I have pretty much smashed all of the goals set out for me in the generic hip replacement document and those I have set for myself.  That is until this week.  I have been panicking about the fact that six weeks should be the point at which I can walk unaided but I can’t see how that is going to be possible.  I can speed along with two crutches or one as long as I’m not tired, I am walking 2-4km a day but when I try to take a step unaided, I just can’t keep my right leg (my good leg) off the ground for enough time to take proper steps.  I just can’t do it.

My boyfriend has reminded me that in the space of a week (last week) I went from lying on my side and not being able to lift my left leg off the other one at all to being able to lift it right up several times.  My mum said that it doesn’t matter how many weeks I am on crutches, my brain will let me walk when my body is ready.  My top visitor Rachel (from My Last Week Of Pony Freedom), who has visited me every other week since my operation, said that it is just like when you are running up a sand dune; you start off with good forward momentum and then at some point it gets hard-going but you can work through it and get to the top eventually.

All this, and reading people’s words on the Facebook support group, reminded me that this is my journey and that each hip replacement recovery is individual.  It doesn’t really matter what it says in the book, it doesn’t really matter what other people do.  I desperately want to walk next week, I even had a dream last night that I could, but if I can’t, it is not the end of the world.

At the school I used to work at we used to talk about the children owning their own behaviour (essentially taking responsibility for their own actions and not getting bogged down in what other people are doing).  I have decided to embrace my own journey and own my own recovery!

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The Four Week Itch

I can’t believe four weeks have passed since my operation!  I have had quite a busy week and I feel physically tired in the old familiar way I used to before my operation (although from a lot less activity!)

When I wrote my week three blog, I aimed to get more secure using one crutch, which I have but I am still using two for proper walking.  If I wasn’t doing very much I think I would be fine on one but I have spent a lot more time at the yard and doing other things which involve lots of standing around and walking and my leg gets tired quickly. When it is tired I can’t walk properly with one crutch, I guess it is just not time yet.

I am now able to walk up the stairs normally, just holding onto the hand rail which is amazing.  I take my crutch with me and put it on the steps my left leg goes on but that is only really because I need it when I get back onto the flat!

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The big aim this week was to get back to work.  I have done several tutoring sessions and one full day back at the shop where I work.  Everyone has been very understanding and considerate and it has all gone really well.  I did have a major brain fuzz when I was first in the shop but I soon remembered what I was doing! It isn’t going to help my tiredness but I need the money!

Another change this week has been that I have started to forget that I am on crutches.  Sometimes I find myself standing up and then realising I have to sit back down to get a crutch otherwise I can’t go anywhere!  As long as I don’t have to go very far there are some things I can do crutch free.. this morning I had a proper standing up shower (without the shower stool) and managed to get in and out without a crutch, I am also pretty good at grooming and tacking up with as little movement as possible!

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Things ARE still moving forwards but I’m feeling more and more frustrated that I still have two more weeks before things really change.  I still have to wait two more weeks until I have my next physio session and can (in theory) ditch the crutches, ditch the anti-embolism stockings, start sleeping on my side and start driving.  My parents will also be going back home to Devon in two weeks which is going to be a massive change for me.  My mum has done SO much for me and aside from the fact that she is helping, it has been so lovely to have them close by for a change and spending some time together with our patchy pets.

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I am predicting that the next two weeks are going to be quite tough, I am working a few days a week and resuming my normal tutoring schedule as well as spending more time at the yard and trying to continue to progress.  Mentally, the tricky thing is that I also feel a bit like being four weeks down the line means I should be just cracking on with life and that I shouldn’t still be all about the hip  anymore.  I don’t want to bore people, I don’t want to be a broken record but my recovery is the big thing going on right now and it is pretty all consuming.

Week Three – My Brain Has Come Home!

Yesterday marked three weeks since my operation.  This week has whizzed by but it has been a good one in terms of progress.  I am feeling much more like myself which has allowed me to get back to some more normal activities like doing yard things and reading (though that is usually strictly a holiday activity) and some slightly alternative ones like watching football!

Aim one was to get off the codeine.  I haven’t taken any codeine this week and I have coped without it just fine!  I am still experiencing pain from my wound and pain when I do my exercises (particularly in my knee which the physio said she expected) but it is nothing anywhere near like what I was experiencing before.  I am still very tired but no longer feeling like something else is in charge of my moods.  It is not too bad being tired now that I’m able to sleep on the sofa (which Mum has been photographing again!)

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My second aim for this week was to progress to using only one crutch when around the house.  It is amazing how much more I have been able to do for myself since I have been doing this, I can actually carry things from room to room which means that when I am home alone, if I want to get food or a drink I can AND I can comfortably stand and do things unsupported (including taking advantage of Mum’s top cooking!)  Groundbreaking!  On Tuesday, I took the one crutch strategy to the next level, although my aim was to only do it in safe places, I went down to one crutch while I was at the yard so that I could hose off Pea (whilst my mum held her), sweat scrape her and clean and carry my tack..  Not sure it counts as necessarily a safe place but it made me feel good.  This morning I actually picked out her feet and put her bridle on, if I’d be given pony care goals for recovery I would be winging through them this week!

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Aim number three was to become more independent which I was and am still sure is the route to feeling more like myself.  In the last week I have been left unattended outside of my house by my mum and boyfriend (my top carers) on four occasions; at the pub with my friends, at Hartpury Festival of Dressage for 15 minutes while my boyfriend went to the garage, at the yard for a while and at a music concert at the school where I used to teach.  Totally aware that these don’t sound like grand achievements BUT I’ve always been a person who does my own thing so being able to do some normal activities was exactly what I needed.

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This week’s schedule of activities has thrown up a lot of feelings for me.  Going to the Hartpury Festival of Dressage gave me a massive boost of ambition.  I have always been an average person, average at school, average at uni, a very average swimmer, an average waterpolo player and, lets be honest, an under average rider!  I don’t have the benefit of riding all my life, nor have I had weekly lessons for all of the four years I have ridden and, awesome and bombproof as she is, Pea isn’t exactly a push button schoolmistress.  I have struggled with my confidence for nearly the whole time I have ridden (as I said in Riding – How It All Started) and if you add that to the fact my left leg basically did nothing it should have done and threw the rest of me out..  I have always been pretty hopeless.  Back in the day I wanted to do everything, showjumping, cross country, the lot.  I can’t put my finger on the point at which I decided that actually I like hacking around and I want to do dressage.  I’m not fussed about jumping, I know what I want.  I’m not saying I’m suddenly going to become the next Charlotte Dujardin but the combination of feeling like my leg might work in the future and watching people at the top of their game made me excited.  I keep watching this video of my last lesson which I edited together on one of my down days and thinking of all the ways I can improve on it!

Going back to the school where I taught for four years was another biggie.  A year ago I was preparing to move house, move yards, move to a new and exciting job.  Some of the parents whose children I used to teach weren’t aware of the roller coaster that I have been on for the last nine months and it is a bit of a weird one to explain.  Also apparently when you are on crutches and are wearing knee length hospital socks you are not meant to answer the question

‘How are you?’

or

‘Are you ok?’

with

‘I’m fine!’

I have no regrets about the journey I have been on, I wish that I hadn’t had to leave the job that I so enjoyed but moving back to the place I know and the place Pea is sorted was definitely the right decision.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the past this week.  I’ve also done a lot of thinking about the future but very very short term! The aims for this week are to get more secure on one crutch outside of the house as well as in it, to develop my stair climbing and to get back to work!!  I had physio yesterday and I’ve got some more strengthening exercises to do, some of my muscles are very tight and overworking whilst others aren’t doing enough so I need to try to change that.  Walking on one crutch and stepping up the stairs in different ways is going to help.  I was initially told to do the stairs good leg up first going up and bad leg down first going down but the physio has told me to switch it up and I’m pretty sure with the help of the banister I’m going to be stair walking pretty normally by four week mark.  Getting back to work will help that as the shop I work in has some very steep steps!  I’m a bit worried about going back as I’m still sleeping in the day most days at the moment but unless somebody is going to hand me a winning lottery ticket, I need to do it!

 

Hip Hacks!

If you think this is going to be a post detailing the gruesome reality of what they do to your hip during a hip replacement.. don’t worry, it isn’t! Most of my followers are not about to have replacements, lots may never have one, either way here are a few things that have made my life easier post op just in case it might help someone else!

Special mentions go to the raised toilet seats and ‘helping hand’ (see Self Preservation And Perspective) which I believe to be standard NHS issue – or certainly were from Southmead.  Although trying to go to the toilet anywhere other than my own home is a major issue, at least I’m sorted at home!  A special mention also goes to my drugs organiser which I talked about in The New ‘Normal’.

I have spent most of the last two and a half weeks sat in a chair.  One of the key things I was told I would have to do post hip replacement was to only sit in chairs with a seat height of 47cm or more.  I can tell you now, pretty much 99% of the chairs in the world are lower than 47cm.  Luckily, when my mum came up to stay she brought with her ‘the tie dye’.  ‘The tie dye’ is a big foam cushion that 15 years ago, after a family tie dying session (yes, that is the kind of random activity my family did once), my sister re-covered it with burgundy and white tie dyed material.  As a family of six, there were never enough sofa spaces for family TV watching so someone always ended up on the floor on the tie dyed cushion.  When we all left home I think it went into garage retirement but it has had a new lease of life in the last few weeks.  Not only does it boost my main home chair (which was very kindly given to me), but it has also been to two pubs, two BBQs and two dressage competitions and provided me with a bit more height and comfort than I would otherwise have had even if I do have to share it with my littlest four legged sister sometimes. Top tip – get yourself a booster cushion and take it EVERYWHERE.

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It took me nearly a week to crack sleeping and not waking up with my back aching and the muscles in my tummy hurting.  I just couldn’t be comfortable either lying flat or with my upper body raised by pillows (trying to mimic a hospital bed).  The groundbreaking moment was when I realised I could lie flat on my back with my legs bent up in front of me and it wasn’t breaking any of my hip precautions.  I have always slept best when curled up in the fetal position, having my legs bent gives me a small feel of that.  The whole thing about sleeping flat on your back is that nothing is going to move while you are asleep in that position so my concern was that in my new position something would move and I’d be at risk of dislocation.  The ultimate solution was a pyramid of pillows that my boyfriend creates which means I have some flexibility to bend or straighten my legs but they can’t move outwards and I am pretty secure.  Not only that but I can sleep!  Not all night, not seamlessly but it is so much better.  It might not work for everyone but it works for me so top tip – pillow supports!

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Wednesday 4th was my first shower in two weeks.  Luckily I already had a shower stool (ironically from a previous relationship) which I have kept for about six years on the off chance that someday I would need it myself!  Fitting me and the stool into the shower cubicle and being able to close the door was one challenge, the next was being able to access the many lotions and potions that edge the shower tray.  Before I turned the shower on, I had a practise run of picking up the shampoo with my litter picker which was quite successful – it was a rather different story with the shower on!  Luckily super mum had ordered a little basket to stick on the side of my shower and it arrived in time for Thursday’s shower number two.  No need to try to pick things up off the floor – trust me, even with a litter picker, picking things off the floor in a confined wet space without twisting or bending is basically impossible!  Top tip – shower basket!

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Before my operation my lovely boyfriend made a new hutch for Peter and Percy, my two year old guinea pigs.  They needed a new hutch because a. I had to put a false floor in their old bedroom because it was falling apart and b. they were having wet floor issues every time it rained.  When we were deciding what the new one would be like, I asked if it could be off the ground – not just slightly, properly!  What he made was not only beautiful and functional but has also meant that I have been able to muck my guinea pigs out myself since I left hospital.  It does a lot for my head knowing that I can do some things independently.  Top tip – arrange things at standing height.

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When my sister came to visit me in hospital (An Even Bigger Day!) one of my goodie bag presents was a sparkly unicorn cup with a screw on top and a straw.  This was amazing for the first week when pretty much everytime I moved I knocked something over – drink in a glass would have been lethal.  In addition to this I have never been that good at drinking but it was an important part of my initial recovery and having one particular thing to drink from really helped to measure how much I was drinking.  Now that I am hobbling round the house on one crutch I can carry my cup around – a spillable glass would still be a bad idea, I’m stable but I’m not that stable!  Quite aside from the practicalities of it, pink, sparkles and unicorns is pretty good for my mood!  It is the simple thing that make such a difference.  Top tip – get yourself a sippy cup!

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I hope these tips help anyone who has had or is getting a hip replacement, if anyone has anything to add I would love to hear it!

Thank You NHS!

Today is the 70th birthday of the NHS and I don’t feel I can let it pass without some acknowledgement for how the NHS has helped me.  I’m not here to get political (I don’t know enough to do that) I’m here to show my appreciation.

Whilst on the waiting list for my hip replacement I looked into the costs of private surgery which are just not realistic for normal people.  I feel so lucky to be living in a country with the opportunity to have surgery on the NHS.

The surgery I had as a child was never going to make my leg perfect, or give me the same physical abilities and opportunities as my peers but I was told that it was going to make it better than it would have been without the surgery.  Similarly, I could have struggled on without having the hip replacement but I know that once I have recovered, my life will be so much better for it.  I actually can’t imagine how frustrating my life would have been if these opportunities hadn’t been offered to me on the NHS.

Quite aside from me, even just in my closest family, my mum had four children under NHS care, my sister is an NHS midwife, my nephew was born under NHS care, we’ve had vaccinations and (some of us) physiotherapy and cervical and breast screenings on the NHS.  None of these things are insignificant.  If it wasn’t for the NHS care my dad received when he was rushed to hospital critically ill nearly two years ago, he wouldn’t have made our family Christmas walk that year (pictured below) and he certainly wouldn’t have made his birthday which we celebrated on Tuesday.  As well as that, I can’t even count the many other friends and family who have been well served by the NHS due to motorbike accidents, heart conditions, riding accidents, cancer and so much more.

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Everyone knows that the NHS are stretched.  Even in the beautiful new facility at Southmead it was clear that though their wonderful staff were giving all they could, each body was required to do the equivalent work of many.  Nevertheless, I wouldn’t complain.  I couldn’t complain!  We all owe a lot to those people – I know I couldn’t do their jobs!

On the radio the other day they were talking to a 93 year old man who still has the same left hip that the NHS gave him 70 years ago.  If mine lasts even half that long I will be over the moon!  Even if it doesn’t, I’ve got lots to thank the NHS for.

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