When you set off on a challenge to walk 177 miles, over 13 days, carrying a 15kg backpack, with a dog, there are a number of things you expect: blisters, sore feet, aching shoulders, bruised hips, and exhaustion, to name but a few.
What I didn’t expect was to end up in hospital……
In April 2006, I started going numb in my lower half, which was progressively getting worse. After a chat with my dad, who is a doctor, I went to see my GP who quickly sent me to A&E. After an MRI scan I was diagnosed as having an inwards slipped disc (which probably has a much better medical name), which was putting pressure on my nerves and ultimately my spinal cord. A week later I had a semi-emergency micro discectomy to prevent “neurological disaster” (according to my consent form).
If you really want to, you can view a video of what they do during a microdiscetomy L5-S1 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8fBh-WKdl4
The operation was a success and whilst leaving me with slightly numbness /pins and needles in my toes, and mild back pain (if I don’t sit correctly), left me fit to resume normal life – in fact the surgeon said I would be able to play rugby within 6 weeks (I don’t play rugby, but I got his point).
4 Years On
In the last four years – my back has been fine. It is sometimes a little stiff in the mornings if I have been particularly active, and is a bit painful if I don’t sit properly – but ultimately there was nothing worthy of concern.
During the build up for Offa’s Dyke I was actually quite surprised how well my back coped with walking for long distances – I purposely chose a slightly heavier backpack which offered maximum lumber support (the staff at White and Bishop were very understanding as I tried every single backpack they had in stock several times before settling on the Berghaus C7 65l+10l Bioflex Backpack), and I had no problems on any of the training trips.
During Offa’s Dyke, I experienced a little bit of uncomfort going up hill towards the end – but that disappeared at the top, and each morning my back felt absolutely fine.
After Offa’s Dyke
Four days after returning from Wales however, I started going progressively numb again. My GP, who felt that I had probably slipped a disc again, decided to arrange a MRI scan, but in the meantime I was told to go straight to A&E if symptoms progressed.
Two days later, as symptoms progressed, I was admitted to hospital, after quite a few hours spent in A&E. The MRI scan the following morning revealed that my discs were fine, and that there was “no surgical cause” for my symptoms, and a few days later I was discharged with a view to having an outpatients appointment with a neurologist.
As there is no surgical cause, it is quite likely (although I am still waiting for my outpatients appointment with the neurologist) that my symptoms are due to inflammation around the nerves, and should ultimately fade. Until then I can’t walk on uneven ground (there is a high risk of breaking my ankle due to my numb feet) and walking is uncomfortable and tiring.
It is too much of a coincidence that it came just a few days after we finished Offa’s Dyke. Who knows whether it was sleeping on a roll matt for 13 days, walking such long distances with a pulling dog, carrying the heavy weight or a combination of factors, but what I have to accept is that my body couldn’t cope with it.
And that is hard to accept – I really enjoyed walking Offa’s Dyke, and had hoped to do more long distance walks… but at the moment that seems very unlikely.