Little Green Shoots..

It’s beginning to brighten up here in Darkest Devon. In the morning, the woodburner is lit a little later. In the evening, the nights draw in a little more softly. And in the garden, all is quiet. Except, that is, for one or two stirrings, hidden in amongst last year’s mulch.

Today was a beautiful, cold, early spring day. And I thought, it’s been a long time since I wandered around my garden. These last few months, it hasn’t been easy to negotiate the uneven ground or climb the few steps at the back of the house. I’ve been a little nervous of stepping on black ice or slipping in a puddle. But today, it was sunny and dry – the perfect day for a little meander. And look what I found!

Hellebores - official evidence of spring!

Hellebores – official evidence of spring!

These hellebores grow in clumps on the east side of our house. They suit the shady, moist ground close to the wall of the house, and they’re already nodding their heads in the breeze.

Don't step on these crocuses!

Don’t step on these crocuses!

Irish has got the planting bug. He’s planning a bigger vegetable patch this year, and has been busy over winter, digging chicken poop, and a lime mix into the soil. I think it’s looking pretty good – and the chickens seem to be enjoying all the little grubs that his spade is turning over for them.

Nice Butt!  The chickens clearly agree..

Nice Butt! The chickens clearly agree..

And as I pottered about, I started noticing things I could do – little things, that wouldn’t hurt my sore hips. I thought to myself, ‘I could just cut back the old foliage those ferns so that the new shoots get some sun’. Or ‘Why don’t I quickly pick out all the dead grass on that bank that I couldn’t manage in the autumn?’. And I began, slowly, gently, a little bit painfully, to pick up my old hobby of gardening, the hobby I used to love before the PAO. And I realised how much I missed it – the fresh air, the birdsong, the turning things over. And underneath the old bracken and dead fern leaves, I found the best reward of all:

The best reason for gardening in February EVER.  Fact.

The best reason for gardening in February EVER. Fact.

A little patch of snowdrops that hadn’t existed at all last year! I may have been absent from my garden for the last six months, but it seems to be just waiting for me to return to it. And I can’t wait to get started.

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Back in the saddle…

Hooray!  Just don't make any sudden movements

Hooray! Just don’t make any sudden movements

Well, it’s been 4.5 months since my PAO, and I seem to have let the blog go a little bit. I am sorry – but unsurprisingly, the drop in posts coincided with my return to work – and something had to give! I found going back to work quite tough at first, but I’m properly back in the swing now. Luckily, my employers have been tremendously supportive and during my first few weeks, I worked reduced hours until I’d got my energy back.

Since my last PAO post, my recovery has been pretty smooth and steady. I no longer have to attend hyrotherapy but have kept up with the physiotherapy, attending a series of gym classes at my local hospital for people with lower limb problems. This has really helped with my strength and as a result, I can now:

Walk without a limp for a lot longer (but I still need a crutch or a stick because of my other hip)

Do several wobbly lunges (this does hurt), dips, squats, and bridges

Do about 20 minutes on a stationary bike and 3 or so minutes on a rower.

I’ve been cleared by Mr Witt to do some low impact weight-bearing exercises now, but of course, there’ll always be a limit to my mobility until I get my left hip done. Most of the time, though, it’s the left (unoperated) hip, that is giving me more trouble now. I am amazed and delighted with the difference to how my right hip feels. I don’t feel so unsteady on my right hand side, although there are times when I still feel real, acute pain low down in my butt and in my groin from the pelvic breaks, and that makes me really wince.

One of the best milestones in my recovery was my first riding lesson – check out my smile in the photo above! I spent 15 minutes walking and trotting around in circles on a very safe, lovely pony, and my instructor was amazed at the difference in position and strength of my operated leg. When I ride these days, I’m a bit lop-sided because my left leg (which previously was always the stronger one) is now holding me back. Woop (although I do feel sorry for the poor pony)!

Trot on! Riding again at last.

Trot on! Riding again at last.

For the past year or so (pre-op), riding was a life-saver for me. I missed my mobility, I missed running around the hills of Devon, and discovering a riding stables where the instructors were willing to let me have a go was such a blessing. I adore borrowing my ‘spare legs’ and I’ve turned out to be quite good at it (with limits – getting on and off is always a challenge). Doing so much core stability in my physio seems to have been a big help. I also seem to be ‘liked’ by horses, and the instructors say ‘oh look, they recognise that you are lame’. Sure enough, the first time I returned to the stables, the horses and ponies took a massive interest in my operated leg, sniffing it, nickering at me, trying to ‘groom’ my hip through my clothes.

I’m not the only horsey addict in the family – the two girls are also having lessons, which has led to lots of imaginative play. And Irish and I are rather happy about that – riding is an expensive hobby, but preferable to an interest in boys at this age!

Playing horses - a lot cheaper than boys (potentially)

Playing horses – a lot cheaper than boys (potentially)

Irish has promised (rashly, I believe) we can look into loaning a horse/pony once all my PAOs are out of the way. Hmmm – I wonder..?

PAO recovery week 11: Sciatica sucks

I haven’t been posting too much this week – my Way of the Dress blogging routine has been completely upset by the recent setback in my recovery. A week ago, I discussed it with my GP who decided a new X-ray would be sensible. I ended up waiting in A&E whilst three different orthopaedic doctors reviewed the new X-ray and compared it with one from my 6 week check up, which had been sent down from UCLH. This was necessary because the X-ray showed lots of fractures, but the doctors couldn’t tell which ones had happened during the PAO and which ones might be new – how reassuring!

In the end the consensus was that there were no fresh fractures, but Mr Witt has agreed to review the X-rays to be sure. In the meantime, my physiotherapist’s best bet is that my central nervous system has been aggravated by the trauma of the surgery and is reacting to the increasing levels of activity and weight bearing by responding more strongly to pain. This is why the pain moves down my leg from my hip – it’s traveling along the sciatic nerve. I’ve been banned from physio and told to go back to using two crutches. Grrr – I’m so frustrated!

In the meantime, here are some sciatica-busting moves I’ve found useful…

1) Bouncing gently on a gym ball to keep my core engaged and stop my back muscles from getting weaker

2) The ‘tennis ball’ sciatica treatment as recommended by many Hip Women!

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place a tennis ball under the small of your back and using your hips, manoeuvre it slowly around your sacroiliac joints until you find a tender spot. Then relax against the tennis ball and you’ll start to feel the pain dissipate a little.

3) Very gentle hamstring stretches: the sciatic nerve runs down the hamstring so by stretching the hamstring you can release pressure on this nerve. I was taught one gentle exercise that I can do whilst sitting:

Sit on the front edge of a dining chair, with your heels on the floor but keeping your knees relatively straight. Holding onto the edge of the chair, lean forward from your pelvis, keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch at the back of your legs. When the stretch becomes more comfortable, lean forward a little more and hold for up to 20 seconds. You can do this one leg at a time if it’s more comfortable – just keep one leg bent at the knee, and stretch the other one.

4) Lots of yoga ‘cat’ poses, moving into ‘downward dog’ when I feel able to.

Like this:

…and not like this!

Don’t try this at home – or with your cat.

Downward dog – I can do it JUST LIKE THIS. Ahem. Photo from http://www.yogajournal.com

5) Saving the best till last – this exercise was the most helpful in reducing my pain levels.

Lie on your back with knees bent, and let your knees fall gently to one side, then lift them back to centre. Let them fall to the other side, then back to centre. Repeat until horrible nauseating pain has gone away.

Reclining twist – from http://www.diveintampabay.com

After a week or two of awful pain, I’m now on reduced levels of painkillers and starting to walk around the house without crutches – although with a little less confidence than before. My next physio appointment is tomorrow so hopefully I’ll be starting a more comprehensive rehabilitation programme again soon. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and sending a BIIIG thank you to the hip women who helped me through a wretched couple of weeks. Being happy with wonky hips would be a lot harder without you!

PAO Recovery Week 10: A Setback.

Dammit – things were going so well!  Until a week or so ago, I was making great progress.  As I wrote in my previous PAO update, I was beginning to do some weight bearing physiotherapy , trying to move away from crutches, and generally enjoying being in much less pain and much more mobile.  So much so, that I think I got too confident and…oops.

*Sniff*

I was trying to do some one legged bridges (raising myself up on my operated leg) and it felt sore.  Well, I thought to myself, physiotherapy exercises do hurt.  Every physiotherapy exercise I’ve ever been given has hurt when I first tried it.  So I did a few more.  And that night, when I went to bed, I noticed a soreness down the side / back of my right thigh.  It hurt when I bear weight through my leg, when I squat, when I sit down, when I stand up – and over the next few days, it didn’t get any better.

After an uncomfortable hydrotherapy session I decided to take it up with my GP, who sent me to the Accident and Emergency Department for an urgent X-Ray.  Three different orthopaedic doctors compared the X-ray with the previous ones taken at my 6-week checkup, and decided that there were no changes between the two.  This is good news, because it means my adventurousness hasn’t resulted in a fracture.  Blood tests revealed nothing unusual so infection is also ruled out – hooray.   Unfortuately though, it has left me with a series of guesses as to what is causing the problem.  Sciatica?  Bursitis?  Iliotibial band?  I’m not sure.

Ouch…what have I done?

But still – meh.  In terms of pain and mobility levels I have regressed weeks.  I am back on two crutches, need serious amounts of codeine to help me sleep through the pain, and can’t sit, stand, walk or sleep for long. And I’m still at a loss as to what is causing the pain.  It isn’t localised to my joint – in fact the mobility in my hip joint is continuing to improve.   This pain radiates down the back and outside of my thigh, even as far as the outside of my knee.   And because I don’t know what the matter is, I don’t know how to try and fix it.  I’ve been told to lay off the physio and wait to see if things improve without any weight bearing or other kind of aggravation.  Grrrrrr!

Thankfully I have another physio appointment in two days, so I am really hoping for a) some answers and b) some exercises that can help me reduce the pain.  I feel like I’ve retreated back to a codeine-induced zombified haze, and I just don’t want it to be like this any more. Last week, I was getting excited about  returning to work soon, and now I’ve been signed off for at least another four weeks.

Are there any PAO-ers or ‘hip women’ out there who can give me some advice?  Does this sound like anything you experienced or have heard of?  I’d be so grateful if you could help me get rid of this pain and put me back on the track to becoming the bionic woman (minus one-legged bridges, which I may very well never attempt again.  Ever).

PAO surgery and recovery – week 3

PAO Recovery Days 14 – 21

This is where the recovery starts to get interesting.  During this week, my mobility and stamina noticeably increase.  I don’t need an afternoon nap every single day. My ability to complete the physiotherapy exercises and stretches really improves.  I am sore and stiff, but I find that I can lie more comfortably, sit for longer, and when sitting, reach for things like the telephone or a glass of water without feeling an uncomfortable pull in my hip.  Hooray!

Some of my friends drop in at random points during this week, and we sit and chat for a couple of hours.  The normality is heavenly.  I learn to pace myself – I spend the morning in bed, and get up in the afternoon, or vice versa.    My appetite is returning, as is my ability to read and hold a plot line in my head.  I become a little more confident on crutches, and putting my right foot down at the ‘wrong moment’ becomes less of a drama and more of an annoyance.

This week I begin to wonder when I can start physio.  I start to feel that I can complete the exercises given to me in hospital competently enough to progress to..what?  I chase up my physiotherapy department at my local hospital – but grrr, despite having been sent a copy of a referral letter from UCLH, they are clueless.   ‘We’ll call you back’, they say.  They don’t.  This is really frustrating.  I decide just to up the repetitions and frequency of the physio exercises I have been doing so far, until I get an appointment.

On the frustration front, I start to wonder if I am progressing as quickly as some other PAO-ers.  I read blogs where other people have felt like going miles on their crutches by week 3 – not me.  I can just about manage to get to the end of the driveway and back – and this feels like a big step for me!  I need a big lie down afterwards.  Reading about the experiences of lots of other ‘hip women’ on their eponymous Yahoo Group gives me a lot of confidence and helps me to realise that my recovery is actually pretty good – not the fastest, but by no means the slowest!  I try to bear in mind the smiley physiotherapist girls from UCLH who kept reminding me that PAO-ers are by nature a rather competitive bunch, and that I don’t need to make a race out of this.  A PAO is a tough operation, but I can’t help it!  I am so eager to reduce the pain and improve my mobility – or at least, have the energy to deal with the mobility that’s left.

Here’s a weird thing that really helped me push through the pain barrier that prevented me moving from lying in bed to sitting on the sofa.  You think sitting on the sofa doesn’t need stamina?  Believe me, I needed lots of it in week 3.  Anyway, one of my friends suggested I try an Xbox game to relieve boredom and take my mind off being still all the time.  They recommended a game called Skyrim.  Hmm, I thought, it looks a bit dungeons and dragons-y.  This is not normally my thing.

Skyrim – it’s not what you think. Well it is, actually, but you might like it anyway..

But hey – I can’t move, I can’t go anywhere, and I’m too tired to knit or concentrate on small print in a book.  Surprisingly, this game was the most absorbing thing I found to do.  I’m no game expert – in fact, it took me ages to work out how to prevent my little elf character from running into walls, but once that was done, I had a lovely time collecting flowers, making potions and generally faffing about.  The game is supposed to be about killing dragons, and carrying out quests, but I think I’ll save that for later.

Dragon problems? Nothing compared to a PAO, honest..

My youngest (step)daughter (8) is most disappointed in my lack of dragon fighting ability.  ‘HipOptimist’, she says.  ‘Look over there.  A dragon!  Kill it!  With your big axe!’

‘Nahhh’, I say.  ‘Why don’t I just catch this beautiful blue butterfly instead?  Look, isn’t it pretty?

‘DRAGON!’ she yells.  ‘Get your bow and arrow out!  You need to kill the dragon or you’ll never level up!’.

Oh dear.  She is right, isn’t she?   You can tell that the smiley-but-demanding physio terrorists are nothing new to me.  I get this all the time.

I’m not a natural dragon-fighter.  However, I am not a natural sofa-surfer either and well, needs must.  When I’m feeling a bit better, I suspect I might well go back to knitting, gardening and baking.  But if you can’t find something to occupy yourself on the sofa and daytime TV just doesn’t cut it for you, you might find yourself resorting to this.  You have been warned!

A house full of flowers…

My last few – rather infrequent – posts have focused on my major pelvic surgery and the rehabilitation process, which has taken up most of my energy for the last month.  A side effect of this is that my poor garden has also had to take some pain.  I took this photograph just before I left for the hospital – the sun was out, the flowers were in bloom, the weeds were under control (sort of), and I really felt that the garden was starting to fulfil its potential.

Home sweet home…

Unfortunately, in the four weeks since my operation, I really have neglected things.  I’m tired, I’m sore, and when it rains (and we have had our fair share of rain this summer), I worry about my crutches slipping.  But the biggest inhibitor is the fact that on crutches, I have NO carrying ability – something I never considered before surgery.  Fancy a cup of tea?  You’ll have to drink it leaning against the kitchen worktop next to the kettle, because you won’t be able to carry it into the sitting room.  And drink it quickly – before your standing ability runs out entirely!  Meh.

For the first couple of weeks, I was too tired even to sit in the garden.  I missed my flowers, I missed my daily walk around the garden checking for the new buds that are developing, brutally removing anything slug like, or identifying the latest tendrils of honeysuckle.  So we decided to bring the garden indoors!

Sweet Williams in posy vases – chicken optional

..and again…

Flowers were banned in the hospital ward that where I’d spent the past 6 days.  It was necessarily a clinical, sterile, grit-free place. It was so good to see green and growing things again, and even better to surround myself with them – a symbol of new beginnings and blossomings. We knew that the sweet Williams would be over by the time I could get out to enjoy them, so we cut them all down and filled the house with them.  It looked pretty, but it smelled even better.  Putting the flowers on high places meant they weren’t in the way of my crutches.

We carried the theme on with alliums in the dining room…and hydrangeas in the kitchen.  And I discovered a weird thing about hydrangeas – they can look a bit seventies suburbia in the garden, but look stunning indoors.

Allium Christophii

Blousy hydrangeas in the kitchen

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’m back up to no good in the garden again.  Until then, my house full of flowers is reminding me to keep up my rehabilitation and physiotherapy – the garden needs me and I can’t wait to get back to my favourite hobby!

Cake Fail. Meh.

Oh bugger it.  This one hasn’t worked out like I planned – at all!  This (see exhibit A) was my attempt at adapting a red velvet cake from the Hummingbird Bakery.  In fact, in this photo the worst bits have already been cut away (for which at least the chickens were very grateful)

Exhibit A. Red Velvet? Where?

It all started because I saw these delicious raspberries peeking out from under the leaves in our garden:

Raspberry Delight? Sadly, not.

Poor things, I should have left them alone.

We planted 70 canes in March, and I was delighted that they have fruited so quickly.  And they keep coming!  So I thought this recipe would be the perfect one to adapt.  If you haven’t seen a red velvet cake before, it’s supposed to look like this (from Alpine Berry – of course she gets it right, grrr):

Red Velvet Cake – Alpine Berry does it right

The bright red colour comes from a generous splash of red food colouring, mixed with cocoa powder.  And the texture comes from the buttermilk in the mix that gives it a slightly tacky, muffiny feel.  BUT.  No sign of red velvet in my cake.  Irish pointed out that ‘brown with reddish smears’ is not the most appetising cake colour.  However once I’d cut the burned bits off, and tidied it up with some cream cheese icing, it actually looked passable:

Phew! Raspberries make everything better..a bit..

I think the reason it went wrong was because I tried to make it with two deep layers instead of three shallow ones.  I used the leftover cake mix to make some cupcakes, which actually turned out quite well, although they too looked pretty appalling when they first came out of the oven.

Cupcakes to the rescue..

Luckily, both cake and cupcakes tasted a lot better than they looked.  The moistness of the cake works really well with the raspberries added on top, and given Irish’s alarm at its rather , erm, stained appearance, he did manage to eat half of that giant cake in just under 24 hours.

So I offer you the recipe and challenge you to tell me where I went wrong!

For the cake mixture will need:

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 600g caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red food colouring
  • 3 tablespoons best quality cocoa powder
  • 375g plain flour
  • 250ml buttermilk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, put a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into a measuring jug and top up with milk until the mixture reaches 250ml. Leave to stand, and after about 5 minutes you will magically have buttermilk!  I don’t know how it works (not really strong on science) but it does.  Trust me (despite the burnt cake).
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
For the Icing you will need
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 600g icing powder
  • 100g butter, softened
  • a handful of fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 170° and line three cake tins (I used two, and made cupcakes with the rest of the mixture).

Use a hand held mixer to cream the butter and sugar together.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, continuing to beat well.  Mix the cocoa and food colouring together and beat into the mix.  After that, you can add some flour, beat it into the mixture, and then add some buttermilk.  Repeat this until all the flour and buttermilk has been combined into the cake mix.

Mix the vinegar and bicarb together, and then add this gently to the cake mix – be careful not to beat it too much.

Put the mix into your cake tins, put them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  NB: Mine were still absolutely uncooked in this stage according to the skewer test – this could have been because I used only 2, deeper, cake tins.  It took about 40 minutes until mine were burned – ahem, I mean cooked.  When they’re ready, take the cakesout of the oven and leave them to cool in their tins before you tip them onto a wire rack.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar with the butter until combined, and then add in the cream cheese and mix together.  Don’t over mix or the icing will go runny!  Use the icing to sandwich the cake together (and if you’re me, to hide the scars where I had to hack off the burned bits), and to decorate the top of the cake.  Then decorate with raspberries.

So – I burned a cake, and I liked it!  I think there’s a moral in this story, but I can’t quite work out what it is..

Yummy – but best eaten with eyes closed.

About this blog…

“It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconstancy is my very essence,’ says the wheel. ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you’re cast back down…. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, just like the best of times, are always passing away”.’   

– Boethius, The Consolations of Philosophy

This is a blog about the things that make me happy.  Most of the things I write about will probably be very small things.  Some of them will probably seem rather materialistic and shallow.  Some of them – I hope – will be a little bit more profound.   The point is, happiness and contentment are a bit too ephemeral for my liking.  It took me until my 30s to realise that you have to work at them both.  Happiness is a mutable state (Boethius above, puts it better than me) – just as pain and sadness are.

Which is just as well, because this summer (2012), I’m scheduled to have major orthopaedic surgery.  No Olympic marathons for me!  I have a condition called hip dysplasia, which means my hip sockets are not formed properly and it is painful and difficult for me to walk.  When I found out, I thought nobody could help me.  I thought I would be in a wheelchair for life.  It is the only time in my life that I was so frustrated and angry I wanted to throw things.  But it got better – with the help of a lot of physiotherapy (up to 3 hours a day), the pain became manageable for a while.  I got a great six pack too!  Now, when I go out with a walking stick or crutches, people stare because I don’t look like someone with a disability.

Buns of Steel – Can’t Get Up Stairs

Despite appearances to the contrary though, things are getting worse.  It’s painful to walk, painful to sit, painful to lie down.  I’m tired all the time, and then I feel guilty for being tired and sore and not doing enough with my family or at work.

I do not know anyone else with my condition, but I have found some blogs telling the stories of other young women who have undergone a PAO (peri-acetabular osteotomy) – or even two, just like I need.  I decided to write another blog which tells the story of the PAO alongside all the other things that make up life.  So I will tell my hip story, but I hope that most of my posts will be about other stuff.  The things that actually get me through.  The things that remind me that the worst of times are passing away.

Here’s a bit about me.  I am in my 30s and in 2009, I married my delicious husband (let’s call him Irish, which was the nickname he gave himself on the Internet Dating site where we met).  He is retired (!) due to a severe injury he sustained on military operations in 2003.  We look after each other.  I have two equally delicious (though not in the same way) stepdaughters, aged 12 and 8.   We live with a Bengal cat and five unruly chickens in The House, in an ancient village in the middle of darkest Devon, in England.  I have a full-time job, I love my job, but I don’t want to write about that.  I like to eat, and bake, and garden, and knit, and read, and wear lovely clothes and handbags.  And most of all, I like to laugh with my family, every day, as much as I can.

This blog is named after a song that makes me happy.  It’s by Anafey, it’s got a cool oldskool ‘boots-cats’ vibe to it, and like all the best things, gets better towards the end.  You can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypl59XewnDk

One more thing.  I would like this blog to be uplifting, but not smug, self-aggrandising, or self-congratulatory – ugh.   Please comment and tell me if I’m doing it right (or wrong).

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