Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Long Road Back

I’ll warn you now this is a long entry and as my Dad always reminds me “You started talking at 3 months and haven’t shut up since” – welcome to my blog, South of 54.

I’m Lauren more commonly known as Wisey in some circles. A short, curly haired energiser bunny, a chemist who works at the Australian Antarctic Division and can’t sit still, well not very often and it’s a challenge. I have a pretty amazing job that not only allows me to do what I love, being a chemist, but also has allowed me to travel and work in a couple of amazing places – sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island (the Green Sponge) and Casey Station, Antarctica. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been south and I’m about to embark on the next adventure back to Casey. But before we start on that journey I’d like to share with you my journey back there, the long road … So let’s begin.

Post 10km KBA Memorial Cup Run, Casey  2014
On October the 20th 2013 I ruptured the posterior cruciate ligament in my knee playing touch football 4 weeks before I was due to fly out to Antarctica for work. I can still remember the pop sound when the ligament tore as I went over the top of two players, lying face down on the field with the words “Greg’s going to kill me” coming out of my mouth. The outside of my calf felt red hot and throbbed. It was so warm I asked my friend Doug “Is the bone sticking out?” Of course it wasn’t. I remember the feeling of beginning to go into shock while I waited in the club rooms on a stretcher for the ambulance to arrive to take me to emergency. It wasn’t until the MRI a couple of days later and then a follow up with the orthopaedic surgeon that I got the news I had completely torn my left PCL (Grade 3) - I'd done it good and proper. I’d still be able to go south with intensive physio and a brace, this would come to be known as my crustacean exoskeleton. So I was a good girl and did what I was told, physio exercises and wearing my brace. In late November I was cleared to go south to Casey Station, Antarctica – the first time I had gone to the icy continent. But that’s not where the story ends.

So I got back home late February and pretty soon I worked out that something was still not right. Back to my physio who encouraged me to see the orthopod again – this time I got a not so great response, “you need surgery but I’ll refer you to my colleague in Melbourne”. So mid-April I headed to see Mr Trivett in Melbourne where I was told that he would reassess the situation some 5 months on and then determine if I still needed surgery. In the meantime he wanted me to try and build up more VMO and quad strength even though he said “you already have really good quad muscles”. I was also told no more running something which had become an important part of my life, I was clocking over 110 km a week prior to the injury.

n+1 rule for bikes, there's another inside on the trainer ...
So what did I do?? I purchased a road bike, got back into the pool, hit the gym and on the 20th of May 2014 I did my first ever Bikram yoga class at the Bikram Yoga Tasmania studio. Now the reason behind me originally going to Bikram was that I didn’t want to lose my flexibility. I’ll never forget my first class with visiting teacher Andrew (T is for yummy Tim Tam and no room for light or air like a Vegemite sandwich – these will always stick with me and of course Mumma give me money). I had to miss hockey that year but the team sure didn’t miss out on me being there. I was at every training picking up balls and doing stick skill work and was still part of the team, even if it was partly for my cupcakes - Bec, Hannah!  In those 5 months I did everything possible that would give me the best outcome in preparation for surgery or not, that was in the hands of my surgeon. Now some would say I probably over cooked it and yes I probably did in hind sight but I’m never one to back down, determined my mother would say.

I went to my appointment in September where it was confirmed the draw (technical term there) on my tibia was so bad that reconstruction was the best option. On the 1st of October 2014 I went into Cabrini Brighton for my third ever surgery (first was wisdom teeth removal, the second was to realign my nose after a collision with a hockey ball – who’d play sport I tell you). Mum said I was apparently the talk of the theatre prep area because of my Antarctic and sub-Antarctic adventures (Not only have I been to Casey I’d also spent two long summers at Macquarie Island). Needless to say that the Antarctic circle is small and the team at Cabrini Brighton asked if I knew of Dr Anne Waterhouse who not only works at Cabrini but has also worked as an Antarctic medical practitioner. I was a bit amazed at the number of people in the theatre: Mr Trivett (orthopod) and his assistant, the anaesthetist and her assistant, theatre nurse and her assistant, an orderly and an observing orthopod registrar – PCL reconstructions are a rare occurrence. I can still taste the metallic taste in my mouth as the anaesthetic did its work and I drifted off to sleep.

Check out my Cankle!
About to be released from Cabrini
Waking up after the op and it was now time to face the reality of the road to recovery, the surgeon and anaesthetist saw me that evening. I was told the pins and needles in my leg were normal given they’d given me a nerve block as well as a general and that my temperature dropped during the operation but what I wasn’t ready to hear, and the words still resonate with me, was “The operation went well but we need to talk about some things we found when you come for your check up.” I wasn’t to see Mr Trivett for another 6 days just before flying back to Hobart. For the next two days I was mainly confined to bed, I think the staff and Mum were happy that the pain medication made me drowsy in that respect as I’m an extremely bad patient. I was only up and about for physio. Have you ever tried to step up and down a box correctly with crutches? Talk about frustrating but that was only the start, later on I would need to learn to walk again – I still grimace at the memory of someone who will remain nameless taking the piss out of my weird walk, lucky my hockey stick was not in reach! For once the Lauren that went at 110% had been slowed right down. Out of hospital and into accommodation nearby Mum soon learnt that there was no way I was staying put. I did numerous laps of the main drag in Brighton which must have amused the locals and even caught the train out to Brighton Beach making my way to the headlands looking over the beach houses.

Check-up day, the day before returning home – so Cecelia, practice awesome nurse, trimmed the stitches (best and neatest surgical stitches I’ve seen) and put new dressings on them before Mr Trivett came into see me. I forgave Mr Trivett for the Geelong footy poster on his surgery wall only because he did such a great job. The news he wanted to tell me was about the extensive cartilage damage he had found in my knee during the surgery, I’ve got pretty pics taken inside during the op if you ever want to see and your stomach can handle it. Some of the areas of missing cartilage are the size of my small finger nail, that’s large for me! It was the end of my long distance running days, especially on hard surfaces – “What’s the shortest distance you will run to get what you need?” I said 5 – 6 km, knowing from the look in his eyes he really didn’t want me to run again. I would be allowed to play hockey again but the key to my recovery and longevity would be cross training. To this day I still do the following: Road cycling and Mountain biking (as much as I can fit in), Bikram yoga (3 times a week), yin yoga (once a week) swimming, (2km 1 -2 times a week), gym cycle class (once a week), Meta fit – high intensity interval training (2 times a week), a couple of weights sessions and yes I still run (1-2 times a week).

Meet Skinny and Fatty, at one stage a whopping
4cm difference in circumference.
I returned home the next day and within two days had released Mum from her Lauren care. A week later and I was back at work terrorising everyone! But now the next challenge began the lengthy rehab – weekly visits to my awesome physio Dave, new exercises, measuring the difference between fatty and skinny (the names I gave my quads) all while trying not to tire myself out. I got known as the girl who would get around the neighbourhood and to and from work on crutches, so much so about a year later I got a cab and the driver asked if I was the girl who got around on crutches - he is without a doubt my favourite driver in Hobart! I’d got back in the pool and was water walking and by the start of November, one month post-surgery, I was back at Bikram – it was a challenge. But what I found most frustrating was learning to walk again and being told to stay on crutches for 8 weeks. I’m glad my surgeon never saw what I got up to at home – climbing the shelves to be able to reach things and not using my crutches. But the day came and my physio released me from the sticks, they did have their uses but were restrictive.

For the next few months it was the same saga – physio once a week, measuring fatty and skinny, how far could we bend, how was the draw on the ligament? It was small steps but eventually I was allowed back on the trainer, then swimming laps in the pool and then …. I was allowed to start light jogging on the dreaded deadmill, the two of us have never seen eye to eye and I refuse to get on one and run, I’d prefer to run outside in the pouring cold rain any day! With that also came change of direction work which coincided with the start of the hockey season. Yes I would be missing another season, well half of one. So instead of collecting balls I was doing change of direction work and then skill work – the change of direction worked I’m still not convinced about the skill work.

Pre umpiring the 2016 Premier League Grand Final with Alissia 
At about the same time I reacquainted myself with my roadie and yes it was like just getting back on the bike, even if it was in cleats which I still get nervous about! In my rehab program I acquainted myself with the bike rider rule of n+1 and somehow a mountain bike was added to my family. If I could no longer run the distances on the trails I may as well ride them instead. In June I took to the hockey pitch for my first game in one and a half years, heavily strapped but my physio and I were ready. It was a step by step progression and towards the end of the season I was nearly back to full games and was umpiring as well. The 2016 season just gone I was back playing full games and umpiring  Women's Ones and Premier League including the Premier League Grand Final plus a few games at the National Masters Championships – not bad for a comeback kid. The coaches still keep an eye on me and I hate the heavy strapping I have to wear for every game, think I need shares in a tape company.

 Just a bit of yoga on my beach at the Rock
All the while I’d still being going to Bikram, the standing balancing series was a real challenge but with persistence, perseverance, practice and the support of my Yogi family I’m nearly back to where I was before the surgery. Actually on reflection I’m further in some postures the fact I can balance on one leg and sometimes get my head to my knee reminds me how determined I was to not be beaten, maybe there’s a hint of stubbornness thrown in there too for good measure. I practice 3 times a week plus one Yin Yoga session a week and it’s not just about the physical aspects any more for me but the mental strength, the ability to let go and accept things are the way they are, not to judge, be present and do the best I can with the body I have today. I’m now in my 3rd year of practise and can certainly attest to that every practise my body and mind are different.

Stronger, fitter, smarter, just not faster
So let’s come forward to now – it’s just a month out and all things going well, no tripping whilst running in the Murrell, no flying off my bikes, no falling off elevated objects (those that know me well know I’ve always had tendency to dance on elevated surfaces) and I’ll be heading back down to Casey. I’m excited to return but with me there is a slight feeling of empty as I leave behind so many people who have been there and helped me on the journey back to where I am today. And that’s why I’m writing this blog so you can all be part of this next chapter, so you can see what I see and be part of what I am doing. It’s my way of thanking all of those people, and there are way too many of you who have supported me over the past three years to get back to where I am today. So I invite you to ask questions, set me challenges (yes yogis seal pose with a seal in the background somewhere is on the list, keep them coming) and be part of this adventure.

I'll bring this to an end with two quotes from one of my favourite movies - Lola Rennt, Lola is one of my nicknames given to me at Macca due to my running obsession and my red wig. The quotes below are actually from German footballer Sepp Herberger but I find they sum up how I approach things in my life today

“Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten”

“Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” 

Look out Casey the Pocket Rocket/Mighty Mouse is coming back … stronger, fitter, smarter but not faster - well maybe not as fast as I used to be.
"Christmas" 2013 at Casey Station Antarctica. Photo Credit: Lachlan Mason
Coming up next - The Return of the Human Clothes (thanks Dad for these great quotes, I never knew they would come in so handy)

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