Thursday, 30 August 2012

Death and toe joints

I'm not much enjoying getting older.  It's getting harder to get up out of a chair, or even sit down in one, without groaning or going 'oof' from the effort.  More often than not reading the news, or watching it on the box, leaves me feeling more and more world-weary.  I've always been of a fairly misanthropic mindset but 24-hour world news doesn't exactly convince me that humankind is a particularly nice species.  I dunno.  Don't mind me, I'm been feeling a bit 'blah' for the last few days, as if I've got nothing particularly exciting to look forward to.  A bit 'Sunday afternoon in the 1970s', if you know what I mean.

The weather hasn't helped one bit.  We've had, frankly, a fucking appalling summer here, and now the nights are drawing in and the leaves are starting to turn yellow.  I hope we get some good weather in the Autumn; those crisp September days where the sky is a blue million miles, the air is sharp around the edges and there's the faintest whiff of woodsmoke swirling around the dew-besparkled spider's webs.

That'd be nice.

I'm getting older but when I complain about it to my mother, she rightly replies, a little tartly, 'well, it's better than the alternative'.  And she's got a point.

A relative came to visit the other day and, for some reason, conversation turned briefly to acquaintances/friends who had died too young (why, yes, I have always been of a morbid frame of mind, since you ask...) and I could not believe that she didn't have any.  I mean, she's about 5 years older than me so unless she had friends that were wrapped in cotton wool or took no chances, then I can't see how that's possible.

It immediately made me think of and enumerate people I've known who are no longer here:  Felix, a school friend, who fell off the Matterhorn in 1987; Bulldog and Alex, Guildford punks, who died of drugs overdoses; Johnny, who died by deliberately overdosing on methadone; Robert, who died of a brain haemorrhage; Ray, who also had a brain haemorrhage; Colin who succumbed to oesophageal cancer; Dave, who committed suicide; and Simon who managed to kill himself through misadventure (aka, being a complete twat).  All of these, apart from one, were under 45 when they went to their eternal reward.  Also - and I hadn't noticed this until I started to list them - they're all male.  I'm not sure what that says - females are more healthy or less stupid or less likely to take risks perhaps.

Anyway, I've ended up thinking about all this because of my bastard foot.  Feet.  Bastard feet.

If you recall, over the last year or so I've taken up running.  And I was getting better at it, slowly but surely.  I can't honestly say that I was enjoying the actual running much, but I was feeling the benefits and liked being out in the fields and woodland, seeing the changes in the seasons, and getting lungfuls of fresh air.  At one point I was running 5km three times a week.

But then I started to get a small twinge in the joint at the base of my left little toe while running.  It would come and go.  Then it started hurting sometimes across the top of my foot, then sometimes down the side.  And sometimes it wouldn't hurt at all.  Occasionally it was so painful it felt like toothache in my foot.  But it wasn't all the time.  It hurt after I'd been walking for any distance and - weirdly - when driving.

The pain was/is hard to pinpoint exactly and fiddling around with the foot didn't help locate it, but the bone that bumps out to the side, under the little toe, is definitely tender.  Sometimes the pain is so bad it makes me limp, and it's been getting progressively worse.  I've not been out for a proper run since 1 August because I was finding that, after about a mile or so, the pain was so bad that I couldn't continue and would just have to hobble back home.  And this was after taking paracetamol and rubbing Voltarol gel into the joint before going out.

The ongoing, long-standing plantar fasciitis in my right foot wasn't helping much but at least that never really troubled me when actually running, it was always afterwards when that tightened up and made me hobble.  So, yeah, both feet, for different reasons, making me hobble.  Awesome.

To be honest, the pain in the joint started niggling in about September/October last year but wasn't bothersome until about July this year.  I finally pulled my finger out and arranged to see the doctor about 3 weeks ago.

Needless to say, he was bemused and didn't know what was wrong.  Really, I hadn't expected him to but visiting the doctor is always the starting point for investigation.  He thought it was possible that it might be a stress fracture and, as I'd been hoping, decided to send me for an x-ray.  If there's no fracture, then it's more likely to be tendon/ligament damage, or some other sort of soft tissue malady that won't show up on an x-ray.  I was really hoping for there to be a fracture, because then it would be fixable.  However, I kind of knew that it wasn't - this pain had been going on, literally, for months.  If it was a fracture, surely it would've healed by now?

I had the x-ray, after a week's procrastination.  You guessed it - 'normal'.  So nothing is showing up on the x-ray, therefore there's no fracture.  You know what it's going to be, don't you?  Arthritis.  Because I'm getting old.


Next step, then, is a trip back to the doctor to see where we go now.  My choice is to either get referred to a foot specialist, but one who treats more than just elderly patients and/or try and find a good sports therapist locally as I'm inclined to think that whatever's happened has been as a result of my running.  Which, incidentally, the doctor has told me to stop until we know what's going on.  So I stopped running altogether about 3 weeks ago and have turned to swimming instead.  At the moment I'm averaging about 1.5 times a week, swimming 1km each time, which isn't really enough but each visit costs me at least £5 which soon mounts up, especially when you consider running is free.  I do like swimming, though, and, in an ideal world, if I can get back into running, I'd like to eventually do something three times a week - swim/run/swim or run/swim/run.  But until we know more about what's going on, just swimming it is.  I've given myself the goal to clock up 20km swum by the end of the year and since the beginning of July, I've so far covered 6km.  And I'm trying to build up from 1km each time to 1500m/1 mile but that's quite a big step up.

The pool I like swimming at is a new-ish one at Surrey University Sports Park.  It's 50m in length (the only one in Surrey) that, most of the time, is divided into two 25m pools with a transversable boom and a moveable floor that can give a depth from 0 to 2 metres.  But for a few hours a day they open the pool up to its full length of 50m, and that's when I prefer to go swimming.  I'm now used to doing 50m lengths (25m seems so short now) but, more importantly, it's much easier to keep track of how far you've gone when you're doing 50m at a time.  Therefore, 1km is 20 lengths.  Another 500m on top of that (to give 1500m/1 mile) is an additional 10 lengths which doesn't sound much but by the time I've done 20 lengths in around 45 minutes (I'm not a terribly fast swimmer), I really have had enough.  But I know I can get to 1500m eventually.

I really need goals to get through this, don't I?!!

So, then, next thing is to revisit the doctor and see where we go from here.  I'll keep you updated with further whiny, self-pitying posts, have no fear!!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds…and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space…
…put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
(John Gillespie Magee Jr., "High Flight")

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Just a small dot...

...that's home to the hopes and dreams of 6 billion humans.  And all it amounts to is just a white speck in a far distant red sky...

(Photo courtesy of the Mars Curiosity Rover)

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Other Stuff, mostly cat-based

Actually, I have to admit that I have been doing a few other things other than watching the 'lympics - poor old Sylvester Bean had to go to the vets.  He's just turned 16 and I suspected that his thyroid had started to muck about.
Sylvester Bean (on rug) with interloper Bruno Williams (on sofa)

This is a very, very common ailment with elderly cats these days - their thyroid goes hyper, pumping out far too much of a thing called T4 which revs up their metabolism, causing their heart rate to increase which, in turn, puts pressure on their kidneys.  An increased metabolism also means they're hungry all.the.damn.time and will bloody well let you know about it.  Constantly.  At deafening volume.  Like a small kid going 'mum? mum? mummy? muuuum? MUM!  mum?' relentlessly until you're shrieking at them like a fishwife to shut up already, damn.

Plus increased metabolism + increased food = increased quantity of ploppage.  This I can do without, especially as Sylvester has been preferring to use his indoor facilities (i.e., litter tray) rather than his outdoor ones (i.e., the garden).  We have become adept at knowing what many esoteric kinds of incense smell like (we like Champa, by the way). 

Also, increased metabolism, despite increased food, also = weight loss.  The poor things just can't get enough food inside them to keep up with it all, it passes through them so quickly they don't get a chance to absorb the nutrients properly so, in fact, they end up starving and getting very thin as their body utilises muscle tissue as their body fat has gone.

The weird thing is that the veterinary world doesn't know why all old cats these days seem to have hyperthyroid issues.  I had a vet once who had an interesting theory - he said that the increase in dodgy thyroids in pets started at about the same time as the Chernobyl disaster, and he reckoned it was down to radioactive fallout dropping all over Europe, where it would land on the ground and, of course, small household pets are closer to the ground that we are so are more likely to be affected by it.  It's an interesting theory but I've no idea if it holds any water.

Anyway, this time last year Sylvester had a blood test and his T4 levels were a little elevated - the normal range is from 10-60.  His figure then was 44, so getting towards the top end, but just about ok for now.  About a month ago, I decided it was time to check the levels again as I was sure he'd lost weight and was starting to feel bony about the shoulders and hipbones.  Sure enough, his levels were now 88 and he'd lost some weight.  Time for medication.

About 12 years or so ago, I had an old girl cat called Suki and her thyroid had gone doolally.  She was put on medication then, a small pill, twice a day, crushed into her food.  I remember she was more or less ok about taking it, and she lived to be 19.  Times have moved on since then and you now give them a single pill, once a day.  It's time-released which means it has an enteric coating so it doesn't dissolve in the stomach all in one go, but lasts for 24 hours.  This, however, means you can't crush it, it has to be given whole.

Sylvester doesn't like having pills jammed down his throat and I can't say I blame him.  Interestingly, in the last six months, there has also come onto the market hyperthyroid cat food, in both wet and dry varieties.  The pros of this is no forcing a pill down a reluctant cat's throat with subsequent blood letting (on your part), the cons are that the cat cannot eat anything else at all apart from this special food (it's to do with cutting out iodine in food).  The Lovely Husband and I debated for a while - I was pro-special food, he was pro-pill, not least because Sylvester does so love his cream and it would be an awful shame if he had to give that up.  Plus we had no idea if he would even eat the special food.

We decided to go with the pill.  Took us about 3 days before discovering there was no way we could shove it down his throat, so it was hidden in his food bowl overnight, tucked under a bit of tuna.  He ate this quite happily for 2 nights, then started spitting the pill out.

I went online and did some research and found some things called Pill Pockets made by a company called Greenies, which are specifically designed for hiding pills in, so I ordered some.  When they arrived, I took one out and showed it to Sylvester, who tried to bite it but spat it out.  I actually think it might have just been too big for his mouth and, as he has no back teeth, he couldn't chew it properly.
However, the pockets are very malleable, like meat flavoured Play Doh, so I thought I'd have a go at cutting one in half, and wrapping it around the pill (which is very small).  I then took one of his favourite Go Cat crunchies and smashed it to dust in a pestle and mortar.  Then I rolled the pill pocket in the dust so it was coated on all sides, and popped it on top of the pile of Go Cat in his bowl.  He loves his crunchies but because he has no back teeth, he can't chew them, so he just swallows them whole.  The pill pocket has to be no bigger than a crunchie, otherwise he can't swallow it.

And it works!  I've now done this every night for about a month and he swallows it every time.  Yes, it's a bit of a faff for me but this way he gets his medication without any stress on either of our parts so it's most definitely worth it.

After being on the medication for three weeks, he had to go back for another blood test to check the T4 levels to see if they're heading in the right downwards direction.  We had to do this last Saturday and, unfortunately, it was a bit traumatic for him.  He has to be starved for 12 hours before having the sample taken, which does not impress him AT ALL.  Plus he really hates going to the vet and, this time, he put up a struggle when they came to take a blood sample.  It seems that, at my vet at least, they shave the cat's neck and draw blood from there.  Seemed he wasn't having any of it this time and the vet said 'he bounced around on the needle a bit' which, unfortunately, meant some scabby lumps, bruising and blood on his pristine white bib, poor lovey.

Still, he got some compensatory cream when we got home and settled down.  The vet rang a few hours later to say that his T4 levels had gone down from 88 to 14!!! And he'd put back on a bit of weight, and his heart rate was better, and slower, than before.  So he's to stay on the prescribed pill and we have to take him back for yet another blood test in 3 months, just to keep an eye on everything.

The difference, I have to say, was noticeable practically from the first pill, so I guessed it was working.  He stopped shouting at me, was definitely less hungry and eating much less and - wonderously - not pooping nearly as much!  So I'm hopeful we'll get at least a couple more years out of him.

*I've put this post up as a kind of public information thing for those out there with cats that are starting to get a bit old and creaky, and whose thyroids may need checking out.  It's a condition that's easily treated these days with very simple medication, as long as you can get them to take it.  If they object to you sticking a pill down their throat manually, you may want to try the method I use*.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Is everyone else still there....?

*emerges from in front of the TV, blinking into the light*

Goodness, has the world carried on turning?  Have other things been happening apart from the Olympics?  I have to assume so but, you see, I have cared not one jot.  Nary a single one.  For I have been completely and utterly immersed in the world of running, jumping, swimming, diving, rowing, paddling, shooting, throwing, balancing, riding (both horses and bikes) and hitting (both targets and other people).  But not sailing, because that's really quite dull and utterly confusing to watch.

I am a utter Olympics-nerd.  To be honest, I don't really give a monkey's about any kind of sport and don't tend to watch any of it on the box or follow any of it on a regular basis, but give me a really big once-every-few-years global sporting occasion, and I'm riveted.  I love the summer Olympics, the winter Olympics, even the World Cup.  There's something deeply pleasurable about watching people do something that have trained all their lives for, something which they are the best at in the entire world.

And I do have to say that the crowds of spectators at the events have been amazing.  We really do seem to like our sport in the UK, and I suspect that was one of the reasons that we were awarded the Games this time round.  There wouldn't be the fiasco of empty seats at the venues, as there was at the Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, where only 500 people attended events at the 4000 seater velodrome,  only 20 people attended the final Tennis match in a venue which seats 5000 and the 19,000 capacity hockey stadium saw all of 100 people on the second day of the Games.  Okay, okay, I know there were empty seats at the Olympics but these weren't in the public seating areas which were rammed with people.  And that was why there was such a hoohah in the media about those empty corporate/Olympic 'family' tickets, because so many other people - myself included - had failed to get tickets and were rightly pissed off that any empty seats were there at all!  Demand for tickets outstripped supply by orders of magnitude.

Did you see how many people were on the streets for the cycle road races?  It was estimated to be a million.  Hyde Park was heaving with people lining the streets to watch the Triathlons (including my brother who took his young family up so they could be a part of it), and I've never seen so many spectators at the final men's marathon - they were easily 10 deep in places.  Extraordinary.

And I watched as much of it as I could on the television.  At times there were two things on I wanted to watch at the same time, so I had the telly on one of the 24 channels dedicated to the Olympics (how much do I love the BBC for doing that?  And how grateful am I to The Lovely Husband for getting us Freesat when we jacked in Sky?) while having my laptop open and watching the live streaming of something else entirely.  Regard:

I was watching the men's gymnastics on the telly and, at the same time, watching the men's road race (the one Brad 'The Mod' Wiggins won) on the laptop because they were cycling through small villages that I know very well - Gomshall, Abinger Hammer - that are about 15 mins drive away from my house, and it was quite peculiar to see houses, shops and pubs that I frequent go whizzing by.

Oh, and we'd also been to see the Olympic Torch as it passed through Godalming a week or so earlier:

I absolutely loved the Games, every second of it.  It did my blood pressure no good whatsoever, and I entirely blame Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy and especially Mo Farah for that.

Like everyone else, I thought the Opening Ceremony was bloody marvellous (and the Closing Ceremony was amazingly cheesy although you'd have to have a heart of stone not to have squawked with delight at Fat Boy Slim and his enormous inflatable octopus) and, yes, I know it was expensive and blah blah blah, but damn it was good.

I'm going to check out the Paralympics too but I get confused with all the different classes of disability the athletes have.  Still, I find Oscar Pistorius' Borg-like legs utterly amazing and elegant and beautiful, so I'll turn the box on for them, if nothing else.

I have to admit, though, that 17-odd days of watching the telly for almost 12 hours a day did leave me feeling a bit square-eyed once the second week kicked off but I wouldn't have missed it for anything.  Let's hope Rio puts on a fantastic party, all samba bands and sequins!!