Sunday, February 8, 2015

OK gang--time to get back on it!

I need to bring you up to speed on everything that has happened since I returned from Antarctica--some really unexpected and impactful stuff that has big implications for my 2015 year.  As an aside, I am busily writing my report on our Vinson expedition and I'll have that up this week--I think you'll enjoy the write-up, especially in light of what has happened post climb.....

So, as you might recall, i had weakness in my legs during the climb and a pretty severe quad issue in my right leg post climb--while still in Antarctica.  I attributed this to less than ideal fitness (which I'd still say was a valid assumption) but in the 4 weeks since I returned, we've now learned that there was something a bit more serious going on.

Once I returned to Delaware, I went through a series of 6-7 PT sessions focused on restoring functionality to my right quad.  These seemed to help some but it was perplexing how long it was taking--I never had any experience with such a persistent and significant soft tissue issue, that wasn't tendonitis.

In any event on Jan 29th, it was time for Judy and I to drive west for our two-month residence in Santa Monica.  We drove close to 1100 miles the first day over 17.5 hours, and then another 1000 or so over  15 hours the next day.  On the 31st, I awoke to significant cramping and pain in my right quad.  It appeared that all the driving had done a number on my quad muscles and it was disappointing that the progress I had seemingly made appeared to be unmade.  The final 600 miles to Santa Monica were a real struggle and Judy had to do the bulk of the driving but even just sitting in the car was a challenge for me and we had to stop frequently to stop my quad pain.

Finally, we arrived mid-day on Saturday the 31st and moved into our new home away from home.  We met up with Anders and Kara and had a nice time visiting with them.  Later Saturday evening, things took a very dramatic turn for the worse for me.  My quad began to spasm violently and I was consumed with incredible pain that had me screaming and writhing in pain.  This would come and go and i found myself trying to seek any position where I could control the spasm and the associated pain.

It was a very rough night and it when it didn't abate in the morning Judy took me to the emergency room.  The doc there felt I did not have Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) given my symptoms and the location of my pain.  His view was our drive had aggravated my muscle issues in the quad and that I needed to see a sports med doc and probably get on another PT regime.  He prescribed 5mg of Narco (heavy pain-killer) and 600mg of Ibrprofen every 6 hours to deal with my pain and inflammation.

We were fortunate enough to get into Santa Monica Orthopedic Group and see Dr. Bert Mandelbaum (he is a lead ortho with the US Men's National Soccer Team).  We did an X-ray and the doc gave me an initial diagnosis of a Femoral Neck Stress Fracture (FNSS)--essentially a fractured hip.  This was not a good thing.  Best case, 6 weeks on crutches followed by a few months of PT and likely case of surgery to pin the fracture with three steel screws into my femur.

Meanwhile, my symptoms were steadily worsening and I essentially lost the ability to walk more than 3-4 feet without agony and i was reduced to lying in bed in just one position on my right side.  Anything else set off the most unbelievable pain and a torrent of swear-words and screams that poor Judy had to endure.  Night time was absolute hell.  The doc upped my narcotics to 20mg every 4 hours (6 times the prior level) and put me on some very aggressive steroids.  This helped, but frankly not that much.  I've never felt this bad in my life and honestly, there is no way I could live with that pain for any extended length of time.

On Tuesday the 3rd, I had an MRI of my hip and an ultra-sound.  The later confirmed no DVT but surprisingly, the MRI discounted the FNSS diagnosis.  This was a relief for me but still left the root cause of my problems unknown.  More X-Rays and two more MRIs finally revealed the source of my agony:  I had very advanced Lumbar Spinal Stenosis--my discs in the L2 and L3 region of my back were compressing the nerve roots that radiate out from my spinal cord to my lower extremities.

This was not a horrible diagnosis.  The immediate next step was for me to come back on the 5th and see a spinal surgeon.  The night of the 4th was a real challenge--the pain changed and became more of a burning sensation where my leg literally felt on fire.  I'll spare you the details on the rest of the night but I did not sleep at all.

Thursday the 5th saw me unable to move from the bed and we called the spinal surgeon and told him it would be very difficult for us to make it in for our consultation due to my pain.  On the basis of this, he told us to head straight to the surgery center.  This was problematic and we had to secure the services of an ambulance crew to help me get to the hospital.  We had a bit of a misadventure and ended up at the wrong hospital which basically meant more pain for me.

Finally we got to the right place and i met my surgeon where we discussed my symptoms and the epidural procedure he was going to perform on me to deal with both the symptoms and the cause of my suffering.  The procedure itself was pretty straight forward (I was under anesthesia when it went down).  Afterwards, I awoke and soon found myself walking pain-free.  The surgeon had injected me with heavy duty nerve blocking pain killers and super-powerful steroids to calm the inflammation down.  Afterwards he told me another epidural would likely be required in a few weeks and that I'd need spine surgery ultimately to cut away the disc tissue that is pressing my nerves.  He also told me that I should expect the pain to return the next day or two but as the steroids did their thing that I should get pretty good relief.

I slept 12 hours that night--blissfully pain-free--and awoke essentially pain free on the morning of the 6th and have for the most part been that way since--what a radical change for the better!  I have to take it easy for the next couple of weeks and indeed when I walk I have to stop and rest every 10 minutes or so for a few minutes.  Hopefully over the next couple of months I can begin to add some more activity but clearly 2015 will bring an extended timeframe of limited triathlon and mountaineering training for me.  At this point, I know I will not be pursuing an Ironman this year and there is a very good chance I'll need to take a break this year from being an active triathlete.

I'm fine with this.  I was thinking I needed a down year this year anyways.  Right now I'm just so happy to not be suffering the way I did earlier this week.  I intend to enjoy life in Socal with Judy, Roxy and our two kids who are out here.  Today Judy and i sat down on the beach and watched the slack liners, skateboarders and others do their things and shared some fries on the Santa Monica Pier.  It was 75 and sunny--frankly life seems pretty darn good right now!

Vinson report up shortly!