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My recovery is going well, I've been out walking every day and walked half the small by-pass today.  I'll try all of it tomorrow.  The entire by-pass is almost 6 miles but you can break it up into 3 different walks so I'll keep going with the aim of doing the entire thing within 2 to 3 weeks.  The only thing about walking is that I can't walk at my usual pace, if I try to speed up I feel the muscles around the wound tighten and I don't want to push myself to the point where I might rupture something on the inside and end up back in hospital.  It's a strange feeling, it feels sometimes as if a muscle has got caught on my lower rib, not a pleasant feeling by any means but it slows me down and stops me from overdoing it. 

I also drove today for the first time since the operation too.  I didn't receive much advice on leaving hospital other than to take it easy so I've been checking online for advice and tips.  One site advised that if I could stamp my braking foot hard on the ground then I should be ok to drive.  I was able to do that ok and felt strong enough to drive so I gave it a go and it was fine.  The wound itself has healed really well so things are steadily improving and I hope to be back at work before Christmas.  

Before the gallbladder operation, I would have considered myself to be fairly tough.  I have come through some fairly traumatic events in my time, after all, I grew up in a war zone and then the ‘Troubles’ started!!  Seriously, though, I’ve had a fair share of trauma and emotional pain but when faced with the hard reality of actual physical pain, I realised I wasn’t anywhere near as tough as I thought I was. I actually have quite a high pain threshold but there was one day in particular when I was in extreme pain and unable to take any more pain relief as I had reached my limit and most of it wasn’t working anyway.  There was nothing I could do but just sit there and endure it, which I did for 10 hours and in enduring it, I was humbled, and to be honest, I think something in me did break.  

Being confronted with the reality of my own human weakness has certainly brought about some profound changes.   Whether the changes will be temporary or permanent will remain to be seen but one of the positives I’ve taken from it is that I have definitely become more patient, not just with others but more importantly, with myself.  I realise that in the past, I have been far too hard on myself and tried to take on and do too much. There have been many times when I have driven myself to the point of physical and mental exhaustion.  Not only that but I would also have considered it a personal failure if I had ever fallen ill with flu or something, or worse,  ever had to ask anyone for help. 

Well, those days are certainly over and I will now happily accept all offers of help…well, maybe not all, just the useful ones or the ones I need!  I will also give myself time to recover.  I’m cutting back on the work front too and giving up the second job.  Time is more important to me than money and I want to enjoy as much of my life as possible, after all, no one knows what tomorrow may bring. 

Funnily enough, on the Sunday the pain started, I had changed my mind about the Robert Plant/Van Morrison concert.  Standing at An Grianan Aligh admiring the view, I had thought, ‘to hell with the cost, it’s a once in a lifetime event with 2 musical legends, I’m going!’  But by the time I got home, the pain had overtaken me and all thoughts of the concert were forgotten.  So, even if I had got a ticket, I still would have missed it.  My sister and her husband did go, she said it was brilliant.  She’s not a Van Morrison fan but she said he was amazing.  Of course, Robert Plant was amazing, that goes without saying! I was really sorry I missed it but c’est la vie!  I also missed out on my trip to England for bonfire night.  Ah well, there’s always next year – I hope!

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Pain & Pleasure

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There are so many things in life we take for granted, simple things like the ability to eat, move or sleep.  These are things we never really think about until we suddenly find we can't eat, sleep or move, for whatever reason.  A few weeks ago, I was having a very enjoyable Sunday, a day out to the beach with a stop off at An Grianan Aligh on the way home to admire the spectacular views on a cool, sunny, autumn afternoon.  What started off as a dull ache in my right side gradually turned into something much more painful by bedtime, requiring the use of painkillers and every home recipe I could think of, to counteract what I assumed was, a bad case of indigestion.

After a restless night, things had calmed a bit by Monday morning. I was expecting a gradual lessening of pain and discomfort through the course of the day but the pain remained constant and I spent another sleepless night trying to find a comfortable position which lessened the pain and ate little more than soup for fear of making things worse. By Tuesday, I suspected something more was going on than simple indigestion as the site of the pain had now swollen to include a hard lump.  Things gradually worsened over the course of the week with trips to the doctor and A&E, where I was finally admitted on the Friday with an inflamed gallbladder.  A scan revealed a large stone blocking the bile duct and a lot of inflammation in the gallbladder and colon. 

Over the course of the next few days, I was pumped full of morphine and antibiotics to try to control the pain and reduce the inflammation and things seemed to be progressing well until the Tuesday when I had another attack with pain beyond anything I had experienced so far.  On a scale of 1 - 10, I was asked to rate it.  This was a definite 10 but with screaming! I didn't think I was capable of feeling this level of pain and surviving and the thought of meeting my maker was one I welcomed if it would just end the pain and I cried like a child for the grandfather I lost at 8 years of age to come and get me. I was in so much distress the only thing they could do, on doctor’s advice, was give me a dose of morphine, strong enough to knock me out.  I was never as glad in my life for the wonders of modern medicine.

I didn't fare much better over the course of the next 24 hours, the pain worsened, the inflammation was increasing along with infection levels so they finally decided to take it out and so I was prepared for surgery the next day.  Talking to the surgeon afterwards, he remarked that it was a difficult procedure and although it wasn’t the worst gallbladder he had seen, it wasn’t far off it and the stone he removed was about the size of a walnut so it was no wonder I was in so much pain.   Another week in recovery, where those simple acts of eating, sleeping and moving still seemed monumental, gradually, the ability to move and eat improved.  I had been surviving on porridge, soup and custard for the best part of 3 weeks, too afraid to try anything more in case the pain returned and even I could see the weight loss (at least 10lb) confirmed by my sister who remarked when she came to see me, 'God, Aideen, you look terrible!  You're grey and your face has fallen in, all I can see is cheekbones and panda eyes!'  2 weeks in hospital is not good for the health, trying to recover from major surgery with a diet so nutritionally deficient that every day I could feel myself weakening more and more.  I was craving protein and fantasising about scrambled eggs and steak. 

By the second week, sleep deprivation was catching up with me (hospitals are not conducive to good sleep with lights on all night) and cabin fever began to set in.  It felt like I hadn’t been home in months and I longed for a night in the warmth and comfort of my own bed.  I yearned to get outside and feel a breeze or the sun on my skin.  Then, finally, on the Thursday, a week after surgery, I got to go home.

I was never as happy to see Strabane as I was last Thursday evening, I could have kissed the ground and the first thing I ate when I got home was scrambled eggs!  Divine!

So, I’m still on the light diet for this week and introducing foods one at a time.  My range of movement has improved but there is still some way to go and I’ve caught up on my sleep but with the limitations on movement, it isn’t what it was but it was certainly helped by having the pins removed from the wound yesterday.  My energy levels are improving daily but I won’t be walking any long distances for a while yet as I’m still quite weak physically.  I find it amazing that only 3 weeks ago; I could go for a long walk without a care in the world whereas at the moment I wouldn’t have the strength or energy to walk to our local shop. I’ll be off work for a while too; I can’t drive yet and have to take it easy but having endured the worst pain of my life, I have a new found appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.  The joy of a night in the comfort and warmth of my own bed, the absolute pleasure of being able to eat real food again and more importantly, being able to move, even if it is limited, without pain is one I will treasure for some time to come and look forward to getting my full fitness and strength back.



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