It’s probably time for a bit of an update. Pipe Down Piper has been piped down to rock bottom over the past few weeks, and it’s been difficult to muster up the energy to write anything at all. Even in my day job as a writer, it’s been a real struggle, grappling with the blank page every day. But I feel like I’m slowly on the mend, and able to chuck down a few thoughts.
As you may already have read, I got struck down with appendicitis just over two weeks ago. I was rushed into hospital. It hurt to the max. When I started feeling sick in the afternoon, I initially thought it was gastro, or maybe food poisoning. By about 10pm that night I thought I had been struck down by some ridiculous kind of deadly virus. It was agony and I couldn’t move. We called the emergency doctor who arrived at 1am. He thought it was appendicitis and gave me an injection of some pharmaceutical wizardry to relieve the pain, and told my husband to pack me a bag and take me to the nearest hospital. Immediately.
Once in hospital, they took a look at me, and initially decided it was appendicitis. Then a surgeon came and had a look, and decided that given the fact that I suffer from Crohn’s Disease and PSC, he didn’t want to operate on my appendix. He thought it was more likely a problem with my bowel or my liver. I tried to assure him that both conditions are managed well and not problematic right now, and that I was very confident that the pain I was experiencing was something else altogether. So he did some more blood tests, which came back with a super high white blood cell count (a primitive signal of inflammation) and decided I should have a CT scan.
I went into hospital at 1am on Tuesday morning. I didn’t get the CT scan until 4pm Tuesday afternoon. I hadn’t eaten since Monday lunchtime (I couldn’t have eaten anything if I tried). But by the time they decided to operate I was getting a little peckish… The CT came back and they still weren’t 100% sure, but decided a laparoscopic investigation would be best, and then they could pull out the appendix if it was in fact the inflamed culprit. So I went into surgery at 10pm on Tuesday, and came out minus my appendix. I spent the next day or so (I can’t really remember how long as I was OFF MY FACE on the good stuff they give you) in bed, trying to scare the nurse every time he did my observations by trying to get my heart rate to drop to 45bpm. Every time it went below 50 he would double check (“were you making it up about that whole ironman thing? Do I need to get a doctor?”). It was all I had left to feel like an athlete…
That was just over two weeks ago. Since then, I have been struggling. Really struggling. Physically, I’ve been a wreck. Despite the surgery only being ‘keyhole’, I feel as though I’ve been beaten up. It’s like they make tiny incisions, but then send in an army of teeny tiny boxers to smash you up on the inside. I was struggling to eat for a while, and my appetite is still diminished. I have had no energy. Nothing. It’s such a foreign feeling. And of course, I can’t do any kind of physical training, or exertion. It’s only this week that it has stopped hurting when I walk, so fortunately for my sanity I have started walking to and from work (well, I did the past two days), but even that has left me feeling similarly as drained as if I had done a six hour bike ride.
I feel totally lost without my usual training. Even though I just did ironman, and am meant to be in a recovery phase anyway, I had just started riding my bike to get the blood pumping again. Without regular exercise, I’ve been struggling with the constant mental and physical symptoms of the inevitable anxiety that arises from a change to your routine exercise. My mind is playing some very nasty tricks on me, since there is no physical discipline to bring it back in line. I have no doubt that your mind is what gets you through physical pain (in a marathon or an ironman etc), but your body is what gets you through mental pain. And without a physical outlet, I’m finding that my head is totally driving me nuts. I need to get back on my bike. ASAP.
But I’m walking. That’s a big progression from where I was at last week. I had originally planned to race Cairns 70.3 in June, but that’s off the cards now. My body has totally diminished in strength – a friend at work even commented on how much my quads had shrunk over the past couple of weeks (not many ladies would be unhappy to hear that their thighs have got SMALLER, but to me it’s just another reminder of all that hard work on the bike just disappearing).
I’m a big advocate for visualisation for athletes, especially when injured. One of my ultimate favourite books that I find myself going back to time and time again is In Pursuit of Excellence (Terry Orlick, PhD). Amongst a plethora of incredible sports psychology, it’s helped me to understand the importance of visualisation to your recovery. Here’s a brief quote:
One of the reasons that mental imagery can be so valuable in performance contexts is that the human brain cannot distinguish between an imagined experience and a real experience. Both are equally real for your brain… ‘when something is practiced over and over again, those nerve cells develop a stronger and stronger connection, and it gets easier and easier to fire that network'(Arnze, Chasse, & Vicente, 2005, 147) ~ Orlick, 2008, 100
And I know all this, and I’ve preached it to many friends when they are struggling with injury-related anxieties. But I am finding it so difficult to go inside my head and visualise when I am feeling so scattered! I know I’ll get there, it’s just a matter of time. Let the body heal. Take time to recover. Nourish yourself.
Relax goddamit, this is all just meant to be a bit of fun, right?