Laying in a hospital bed, I waited for the consultant to come around so I could tell him “take me back into theatre. Give me a bag as I can’t take this anymore”. It is day 10 of what should have been a four day stay, and then something amazing happened…I let out a little trump! With that, I knew everything was going to be ok again.
Part 1 - The journey
I have been suffering from Crohn’s Disease since early 2016. I have been on many different drugs trying to combat the flare ups. Budesonide, mercaptopurine, adalimumab, prednisolone and also something that makes your poo stickier. Nothing seemed to get a proper hold.
Opting for surgery
My story starts with the day I opted for a laparoscopic right hemicolectomy to remove the diseased tissue along with part of my large bowel and appendix, and create a brand new junction further up the bowel.
I am an avid sportsman and a lover of dogs, and this led me to throw myself completely into the sport of bikejoring. It’s a sport derived from mushing events and sled dogs, but is an individual sport. Basically, I hook up a crazy dog to the front of my mountain bike and race round trails at high speeds against other athletes.
Participating in sports with Crohn's or Colitis requires a little bit more than normal folk. To compete, I have to have medical exemption forms signed by my doctor. Energy levels take a huge amount of punishment which means I need substantial rest before a weekend of racing and also during. Short energy boosts from caffeine is a must especially when the illness is having any form of say.
The previous season I shocked myself by managing to qualify to represent Great Britain in the European and World championships in Belgium and Sweden. All I needed to do was have a major operation, recover, and be ready to race inside seven weeks. Easy peasy. Yeah, right!
So it’s the big day, slice and dice, bags packed and off we go. Breeze through pre-op routines with only one issue. The hospital underwear. It’s like a very attractive netted nappy which does nothing for my figure!!
A rocky recovery
Recovery started well; the doctors would come round and see me every day and once I had opened my bowels, I was good to go home. Now, for a Crohn’s suffer this should have been easy.
I started to deteriorate on about day three. I was struggling to eat and drink and was feeling quite weak after so long with no food. I was starting to feel full up and was suffering with nausea regularly. Day four hit and I knew something was wrong! I still had not had a single squeak from my bottom and not an ounce of food or water could pass my lips. I was becoming dehydrated and very sleepy.
Things finally erupted that evening - quite literally. Everything that goes down must come up - I was sick everywhere. The new junction in my bowels was blocked due to swelling and nothing could pass. The next thing I know, doctors were talking about taking me back to open me up to undo the surgery. Instead, they opted to give me antibiotics and some time. The worst part was having a drainage tube up my nose and down into my stomach to drain everything into a bile bag.
For the next six days, I became increasingly ill, developing pneumonia due to my lack of moving and lying on my back all day. I became weaker as days passed with still no nutrition passing my lips.
I spent my days grumpy, frustrated, in pain and mostly asleep. Then suddenly on day 10 it happened. My world changed with small bit of gas - the swelling was easing and suddenly things were looking up.
I had missed my dogs as it had been 15 days and, quite frankly, they love their daddy a lot. The reunion was nuts, I had to have a pillow over my stomach at all times as they are quite energetic. A spaniel, a beagle and German Shorthaired Pointer will do that to you.
As someone who has always been busy and active, the next few weeks would be a big struggle for me. Trying not to do much other than rest, sleep, eat mushy food and stay positive. To take the boredom away and work on my strength, I started walking every day. The fresh air did me good and it got me using muscles which had been dormant. I had lost about 10kg in hospital so that was a lot of muscle to lose. Each day I would slowly build it up - day one may have been 10 minutes but by day seven, I was up to about 30 and walking round the blocks.
After maybe two weeks I was up to walking for an hour, eating big portions of food and feeling like my old self. It was at this point I thought "screw it - I'm going to have a slow plod/jog around the block." My lung capacity had seriously diminished but I felt good. I thought that the championships may be possible after all. All I had to do was be fit enough to travel, take my place on the start line and get around the course safely. We were never going to blow the world away and walk away with the gold but we could still do ourselves proud.
This was now my mission. I worked on my running fitness, and eating plenty while making sure I didn’t do anything that would set me back. I had set a date of one week before the championships to get on my bike and have a go. Six weeks after surgery, we flew around a local course, not lightning quick but we did it safely and with no pain.
With that, we booked our place on the channel tunnel a few days later...
Part 2 - The Championships
We were going on the road for 11 days, 2,500 miles we would have to endure. France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. But I have to say Germany had by far the best toilets!!! Self-cleaning!!!
So my new best friend goes by the name of Imodium. With all this travel and van life I was not getting caught out. After hospital my tummy had gone downhill again and I was suffering from really bad cramps and chronic Diarrhoea. My stools were very loose and very sudden. Hence why I now know so much about European toilets. Germany wins in case you were interested. My new best mate Imodium, along with his friend caffeine, my partner Vikki and our 3 dogs made it to Belgium with no horrors.
The course was very undulating, mixed in with sticky mud and a distance over 5.5km. Day 1: we line up on the start line very nervous, what a way to spend your 33rd Birthday.
We start strong but I fall off in the first 1km. I jump back on and power on as best I can. We get overtaken a few times but this was always going to happen due to the calibre of some of my opponents. But hey at least we finished.
Day 2 comes and the rain has fallen; mud is now slop. This day is seeded and I have just a mere couple of seconds to make up on the next place. We are far better equipped on day 2, we go even quicker now I have a day’s fitness under my belt and more experience. We catch a couple more and move up the rankings 3 places. Proud is an understatement considering a couple of weeks earlier we were talking about me not being able to travel abroad let alone compete.
onto Sweden, my first full day’s drive and overnight stop in the van. This had to be planned quite well due to my toilet troubles and severe lack of energy at times. 3 hours on and 30 minute breaks religiously. Imodium and caffeine were still with me and our partnership was going strong.
“He’s too small to be a racing dog” Just what we wanted to hear from the vets in Sweden. My poor little pocket rocket beagle certainly doesn’t think that way. Yes we knew we were completely out dogged and out gunned as he was the only non-purpose bred racing dog in the field and at just half the size of the others he would have to drag my unfit, weak backside up the woodland hills of Nybro.
Don’t finish last, that was my motto for the competition going into day 1. It certainly got off to a bad start as finally the dreaded diarrhoea caught up with me. Topped off with turning up to a flat tyre. Shame I don’t have a little fix it elf in my pocket. One positive was it gave me something to focus on and take away any anxiety. Since I became ill anxiety has been something that has got me on many occasions, nausea, bloating and dizziness would just overpower me.
We are in the start chute lining up and people keep looking at us, pointing and laughing at the cute little doggy who is barooing his head off and telling all those that will listen that he’s here. Cameras even came out then to document this mystical beast. Not sure they had seen a beagle in Sweden before.
We ran and biked our little hearts out. I don’t believe we could have gone any faster that we did, and guess what. We finished last on day 1. But only by a little over a second. Also some didn’t even finish so I guess technically we were not last. We were really happy with this just to be in the mix with other competitors.
On the second day in Sweden, tummy troubles are still with me, but no flat tyre. Today could be a good day. I caffeine and pain killer up and it’s time to go. We are met on the start line by a bunch of people. Toby has gone down a storm; He’s developed a worldwide fan club here.
We shoot off the start line and Toby tells the world we are coming. We nail the trail but our legs don’t quite have enough, overall we finished last. As we crossed the line there was Toby’s fan club cheering him on.
I won’t lie, this was all a huge struggle at times, my head and attitude were all over the place during the previous 8 weeks. My partner Vikki was fantastic and stood by and helped me through it all. At times I was a grump and could become very snappy which I am not proud of. I loved our trip away and am so proud of what we achieved.
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