Monday, 4 November 2013

Brighty's Thames Path Challenge 100K Walk... of doom!

On 14th September 2013 I attempted to walk 100K for The Brain Tumour Charity.  This is my story…

PART 1 – How it all started

On the 18th of July 2012, I walked into Dr Flossman's office hoping he'd tell me why I'd been feeling dizzy lately. His opening line was a good 'un... "well Scott the scans show something the size of a tennis ball in the back of your skull and the radiographers notes say that it looks like a baddy"...! Well that certainly got my attention.

The doc sent me off with an impressive set of MRI scans in hand and the next job was breaking the news to family and friends. To be fair I was pretty laid back about the whole thing, I’d been feeling pretty rubbish for over 6 months by that point and had been misdiagnosed a few times, so think I was just happy they’d figured out the problem. Those around me on the other hand were not quite so chilled. They did a good job hiding it but I knew they had at least some fear I was a gonna! I admit I did have a small period of doubt myself just before meeting my (fantastic) neurosurgeon Mr Richard Stacey. I started to wonder why I had been given the scans to take to with me… surely the doc would need to study them well in advance… maybe he doesn’t to because it’s inoperable??? Natural I guess but thought it best not to share these thoughts with Mum and Dad on route to the hospital!

Anyway, doc put my mind at rest – good news being that it was operable and he was keen to get stuck in asap. Fine by me. As tumours go this one was quite easy to get to being located at the back of the brain just beneath the surface of the skull. Caveat being that it was a very unusual tumour and they didn’t know what it was. Also they could not tell whether it was malignant or benign. Doc was more inclined to think it was benign though due to my surprisingly good reflexes, general health etc. I believe his words were that due to the size of the thing I should be, “bedridden by now” and if it was malignant I probably wouldn’t, “be here at all”! All positive stuff then…

After a slight delay scheduling the surgery a date was set for the 9th August. This was all rather handy as it was smack bang in the middle of Olympics! Therefore during the build up and recovery (hopefully!) I would watch every minute of it… sweet! Particularly good news given that I was rough as hell by this point so laying on the sofa was as good as it got. Mental state was still all good though – still laid back about it and keen to get in there.

8th August arrived and I was off to the Neurology Department, John Radliffe Hospital, Oxford. Not feeling nervous and a nice private room waiting for me. Was pleased to hear I didn’t need my head shaved (just a couple of spots to stick a few weird diode things to my head) and in for an MRI and CAT scan. Then off to bed for a good night’s sleep. Now believe it or not the only nerves I felt at that point was the needle they were about to be stuck in me! I'd only ever had blood taken once before so wasn’t a fan!! I soon got used to that happening anyway.

All was well wheeling down to the operating theatre chatting away to the anesthetists... they were quite right when they said I’d fall asleep on the count of 10 (quite nice drifting off!) and the next thing I knew I woke up in Neuro ICU. Doc was by my bed and proceeded to explain the surgery didn’t quite go as planned and I’d have to go under again. After 9 hours on the operating table he decided it was too risky to continue. Trips to pathology proved inconclusive as the whether it was benign or malignant so better to be safe than sorry and they sewed me back up. I was fine with the news and keen to go back in to finish the job. Not quite sure why I was so laid back about the whole thing as stuff like that would normally freak me out - guess you accept it pretty easily when you’re feeling rough and it’s the only option.

In the week leading up to my 2nd op I was doing well. Neck hurt a bit as they had to cut some muscle at the top of the neck (apparently the muscle responsible for holding my head up!) and I had a seriously impressive looking scar with very neat but slightly Frankenstein looking stiches. The following week flew by and the nearer it got my old symptoms came back with vengeance so I was keen to get back under.

When the 16th of August arrived I was definitely ready to go in again. My only fear this time was the knowledge I would once again need a catheter! You would think this would be the least of my worries but it was actually my only concern. When waking up from the 1st op I immediately insisted it be removed (in my drugged up daze)... big mistake! No sleep for me with the resulting inability to pee. Anyway, doc assured me with a bit of local anesthetic I’d be all good.

2nd op down and just a short 6 hour job this time… doc assured me it’s all out and benign. Result.

Second stint in ICU wasn’t much fun as I knew what was coming i.e. injections, stints and generally being prodded etc. Really not that bad at all though to be honest. Good news was things were looking good and family and friends could put their mind at rest, after all they were the ones that had to worry.

So recovery was impressively rapid. I poured myself a drink within a couple of hours of coming round and up and in the shower the following morning. Got bored in the hospital quite quickly after that though and had a few weeks of impatience at home before I started getting back to normal. By the way if you’re wondering the catheter was a god send! Only negative part being that the local anesthetic acted like deep heat giving me 3rd degree burns in the pants department (much to the amusement to the Reading boys!)! Haha...

So a year on and things are all good. Get a bit of ringing in the ears and slight dizziness now and again but really minor. Routine MRI in a few weeks so fingers crossed on that.

I need to say a HUGE thanks first of all to family and friends that supported me and came to visit in hospital. Bit of a big deal I guess so I’m sure it took a lot out of you. In particular my parents for nursing me back to health at home.

Second HUGE thanks to all the staff at the Neurology department, John Radcliffe that looked after me. Special thanks have to go to Mr Richard Stacey – absolute legend that provided great support and put my parents mind at rest! I had a few issues with private healthcare and he took away that concern completely going above and beyond to sort me out!

So 100km walk is just a (VERY) small gesture to try and raise as much cash as possible for a well-deserved charity! I hope all of you will put your hand in your pockets if only to see me suffer...!!!

PART 2 – The Aftermath!

Well that was a hell of a weekend! However, I’m pleased to report I survived it and completed the 100km walk in just over 21 hours!!

I’m not going to lie though, most of it was pretty horrific! Who would’ve thought putting one foot in front of the other could be quite so painful…??

Set off at 9.45am and it was pouring down – typical after an amazing British summer. Well prepared though but carrying a heavier backpack than planned. Rain subsided a bit but wets on and off throughout the day. Slight concern early on was a few aches and pains plus the extra 3.9km to the first major pit stop… it was meant to be 25km but came in at 28.9km (a touch worrying that an extra 3.9km could cause an issue given that I had another 70.1km to go there after!).

Plenty of people hobbling along by this point including my girlfriend Natalie who was walking with me. She picked up a knee injury shortly before and was doing seriously well to get this far. She made it all the way to the 50km finishing point so that was a right result! I reached the halfway point at 9pm and after 30mins rest felt ok.

However, as I go storming off on my own into the dark, I hadn’t bargained for the wall of doom I was about to hit! A change of footware felt great at first but was clearly not a good plan. At 54km I’m in pain, thighs are burning and feet feel like I’m walking on sand paper. That continues for 2.5 hours until I reach the 63km pit stop and at this point I’m ready to give up. What stopped me was the fact everyone seemed to have hit the same wall (blister tent was like a war zone!) and once I’d repaired the feet and changed shoes back, I had to push on. A couple of stretches confirmed my legs were still just as painful but so be it.

30 mins in and thighs were sweet again! Sand paper feet continued but compared to how I was feeling that’s not a problem. The surprising bit now was just how dark, cold, foggy and isolated the walk became. Most of the Thames path out of London is in the middle of nowhere– very few buildings just fields, cows, rats, overgrown hedges, turnstiles, gates and bridges. Signage was a problem too, although pretty good by day the night glow sticks were quite far apart and tricky to follow. Getting injured in the middle of nowhere would not be fun.

Reached the three quarter mark (actually 77km) in Cookham at 2.30am. Definitely knackered now but feeling grateful to my Dad and Natalie for dragging themselves out of bed to meet me! Taking the shoes and socks off was a relief but I can now see some pretty beastly looking toes, blisters and bruising. Trying to ease the pain by patching them up as much as possible – I’m on my way again.

I know that if I storm it I can be finished by 7.30am. However, the thought of another nearly 5 hours walking is not a nice one. From there on in it was basically pretty horrible and proper cold/damp due to the fog. I went for it as quickly as I could – my legs were great so I just tried to ignore the pain from my feet. I passed plenty of people in a much worse condition so felt I was making good progress. Pretty spooky along the river in the early hours though and I wouldn’t recommend it on your own. Walking through a field of (massive) cows with a small torch in the pitch black and only a slim pathway between their heads was interesting!

More foot repairs at 88km and now 12km to go. Every km takes FOR EVER by this point. 90km point appears which you’d think would be a relief but it’s not really as it means I’ve still got a couple of hours to walk! Feet are in agony. To help the situation the route deviates from the river and there’s now plenty of hills!

95km and now we’re getting somewhere. Pace is still quick and I’m going to be in before 7.30am.

Although I know Henley I have no idea where we are until I appear out of the woods in a field near Leander Club. That means I now know the route into Remenham Farm – not good as it’s a pretty long down the towpath! To add insult to injury the 98km is directly level with the finish line separated only by a fence… you have to walk 1km past and 1km back!!! By this point I’m charging to the finish as I want it done. Most others around me are hobbling and one guys got his shoes off trudging through the grass!

AT LAST I cross the line THANK GOD. Very happy to be done and I just want to get home to bed.

The rest of Sunday continues as a day of rest. Feet blistered pretty bad and can’t walk. The body has amazing powers of recovery though and I’m happy to report I was ok to drive to work this morning and I’m sat at my desk as we speak!

BIG THANKS to everyone that sponsored me – I’m glad it’s done because it means I never have to do it again!

Scott ‘blisters’ Brighty.


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