Thursday, November 05, 2009

In which normal transmission is postponed by a bit of neurosurgery

Well, without wanting to sound too dramatic, I have been in hospital this week. I got home yesterday and am still trying to fully comprehend the last few months! Well, obviously I went silent on the blogging front and part of that was that it all just got too hard. The marathon went well, then there were the two disastrous half marathons, followed by an awful 80km cycle race in Featherston. It was cold, wet and very windy. I cycled most of the way on my own, got poured on, hailed on, finished ten minutes slower than I did last year, and injured my back. I spent the last 15k in excruciating pain, wanting badly to just stop and let the SAG wagon pick me up.

After the horrid race I got a cold which knocked me out for another couple of weeks, during which time my back refused to settle. I got the physio's permission to try the next race on the Taupo lead-up schedule, a four-loop 100k'er in Waikanae which was mostly flat. In the end I made it round one loop, with the back injury taking all the power out of my legs. I didn't have it in me mentally to keep going as I watched pack after pack fly past me.

At the same time I was battling more hormonal issues. My doctor and I suspected I was going through premature menopause, so I came off the pill so we could really see what was going on. I'd been blaming the poor training and the roller coaster of emotions on that. However over the last month it felt more like depression. I couldn't run because of my back, I couldn't seem to cycle for peanuts, I lost my appetite so was eating crap in an attempt to just enjoy eating SOMETHING, and my swimming wasn't going to be ready for the Rotorua half Ironman. In fact, my bike form was so dire that I even doubted I'd be getting around the Taupo Cycle Challenge.

To make it worse I then started suffering from increasing migraines. I spent Labour weekend on the sofa with no energy to do anything, with my head pounding, kicking myself for not cleaning our untidy house or running or cycling. Jo and I had been planning a Rimutaka incline run but I was in no state, and the Gearshifters had headed out to Paekak hill without me after I failed to keep up with even the slowest riders (having the day before finished second to last in the time trial).

I battled my way through work this week but by Wednesday night it was fairly clear there was something more ominous going on. I wanted to get through Thursday before heading off to hospital. I had to sit in on two interview panels and the Immigration Bill was due to go through its third reading. I didn't want to miss the event I'd been working towards for nearly four years, and I didn't want to miss celebratory drinks! I somehow made it through the interviews but twenty minutes into the third reading my workmates were bundling me into a cab and I was off to the A & E. Six hours in the waiting room in horrendous pain (nearly crying each time they called out someone else's name), then six hours out the back, where I at least had a cubicle for most of it, I finally made it onto a ward at 3am.

By way of explanation, on top of my four autoimmune disorders (Addison's Disease, Hypothyroidism, Pernicious Anaemia and Premature Ovarian Failure) I also have Hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. I was diagnosed at six months, had a shunt inserted to drain the cerebrospinal fluid, and managed to live a fairly normal life after that. I've been lucky in that the shunt remained unblocked for nearly 15 years. However it seemed my luck was finally over. The increasing buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in my head was causing a rise in intracranial pressure, horrific headaches and nausea. I was not in a good way!

I spent the next day waiting for surgery that never came, on nil-by-mouth and a drip, and then most of the next day as well. By the end of the next day the intracranial pressure had increased to the point where I was sleeping most of the time anyway. Finally I had the operation. I thought I'd just be getting the shunt repaired, but the surgeon recommended an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (slight crustiness warning). This meant that they drilled a hole in my skull and inserted a probe through my brain and actually made a hole in the wall of one of my ventricles to enable the fluid to drain away more naturally. The video I've linked to above shows the probe being inserted into a guy's skull and the hole being made in the ventrical. It explains the procedure quite well.

Because they'd actually made a hole in my brain I had to spent another couple of days completely flat. It wasn't a particularly pleasant time. The change in brain pressure caused the poor organ to freak out a bit so that I apparently didn't always make a lot of sense, and I had a reaction to the Tramadol I was on. I had some extremely unpleasant auditory hallucinations. It sounded for all the world like there were flies buzzing around in my head. Plus I was on such a high dose of my cortisol medication post-surgery that I was completely unable to sleep.

Thankfully my cortisol medication was dropped just enough to finally enable me to get a little sleep. I also took myself off the Tramadol and the hallucinations gradually eased. To my surprise I was hauled off for another CT scan which showed the procedure seemed to be working and my ventricles were returning to a normal size. With no signs of any brain bleed I was slowly allowed up and, with the exception of a brief vertigo attack, I was able to convince the physio and occupational therapist to let me go home. Question from the physio "So, what kind of activity do you usually do?" My response: "OK, really?" followed by a brief description. He decided I'd probably be fine after that! I mean I was at the gym doing shuttle runs and burpees the night before I was admitted to hospital FFS! And yes, hello stupid!

So now I'm home with seven clips in my skull and some reducing brain-pressure related disassociation. All things considered I'm feeling remarkably good. However obviously the Taupo Cycle Challenge is off, Rotorua is off. I'm feeling bad about being so hard on myself over the last few weeks when there was obviously something wrong. I don't know how many months my shunt's been blocked, as the pressure builds up gradually so it could have been affecting my training for some time. All I know is that it's good to know I came second to last in our time trial for a reason!

My plans now ... well, I don't think I should really have any because I have no idea how long I'm going to take to return to normal. I just wish I could have the very cute hospital physio as my very own to develop my comeback plan! I think I should probably just take the next couple of months to get better and enjoy myself and slowly rebuild the muscle I lost lying around in bed not eating. Sigh!

I'm feeling so much better that I'm contemplating a little time on a stationary bike next week, and then some walking with a little running thrown in after that. I'll get a PT to throw a rehab weights programme together for me so that I don't completely lose my muscle. Once the wound in my head heals I'll be back in the pool a fair bit I think.

So, well, that's my life! How's everyone else?! Mike - planning to travel to Welly for that U2 concert? :)

Now that I'm back you'll probably be getting reasonably regular updates on my rehab. I have a new pink pair of MiAdidas and a cute pink and grey 2XU set of trishorts and singlets to try out, so you can bet I'll be wanting to get some use from them!


Mike said...

Look, forget all that talk of surgery and hallucinations and some excuse about not being ready for Rotorua Half Ironman ... WHAT CONCERT IN WELLINGTON!?! What do you locals know that the rest of the world don't???

All I've see is this

Oh yeah, by the way, glad you're better, rest up and yeah, come back strong ... now about this concert ....

Pip said...

I think it's a bit more than a rumour now, and yes, that stage would be perfect for the Caketin. H and I were discussing the possibility before the little hospitalisation thing, and I think we both agree we'll be there!

Mike said...

I watched the live streaming the other day and I soooooo want to hear those new songs live! We'll see you there!!!

cath said...

o.M.G! Pip!! what a few months you have had!!! rest up-get well-all the races you want to do will still be there when u r ready!! hey...U2 concert?!....really?!!!....

Calyx Meredith said...

Oh Pip! No wonder you've been silent. My thoughts and very best magic spells are speeding their way to you. Take care of yourself!!

Sass said...

Have I mentioned lately how much of an inspiration to me you are? Overcome all manner of health related crap to be AWESOME! A little crazy but awesome nonetheless;p

Any time you feel like going for a little walk in the Sanctuary, I"m sorry, Zealandia (have I mentioned how pretentious I think that sounds??), I'm there for you bud:) And hopefully after Wednesday, I could even drive over and pick you up!

Also, I hit up my doctor friend about the cute physio but all he said was that was part of the physio job description before we ended up talking about something else;p

Marshmallow said...


HOLY CRAP, woman!! What you have been through, good grief!

Jennifer said...

I added your blog to mine! Can be seen on:

I have hydrocephalus as well- You are in my thoughts & prayers! I am hoping things start to improve with your health.

Pip said...

Hi Jennifer. Nice to meet you! I've added your blog to my Reader. I'm doing well. Still suffering from a little disturbed sleep, but I slept well last night, which was a relief. I'm having more issues with a locked up jaw and neck from all that bed rest. I find also that I'm still tiring quite easily. I'm going into work today for morning tea so that everyone can see I'm doing ok before they consider letting me come back. I think I scared them! Probably shouldn't have posted Youtube videos of the third ventriculostomy to Facebook. I'm also going to head to the gym today to sit on a stationary bike for a while. Slowly I feel like I'm getting myself back! I guess it takes a while when someone drills a hole in your skull and then makes a hole in your brain! A step up from a shunt revision ...

Michelle said...

You are my personal hero. I think I would have gone out of my mind with the surgery and the auditory hallucinations. You are obviously very strong. Hang in there and enjoy eating again. You will get back to where you were or even better before you know it.

Pip said...

Thanks Michelle. That coming from someone who's been bravely facing her own challenges!

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