Members of the Crazy Rubber Band who have known me for decades are aware that things have been a bit difficult of late. Sadly, the problem of being unable to walk without pain has taken a turn for the worse.To explain, let's go back ten years?
In '98 whilst retrieving a flyaway at Cocklebarrow Farm in the Cotswolds, I was overcome with severe walking cramps in the buttocks, legs and stomach muscles. With help from friends I managed to complete the days flying but unwisely decided to try and retrieve my fly-off flight. I had to be helped back to the car. At the same time I was experiencing some fatigue. On seeing the doctor he simply diagnosed obesity and sent me packing. I did lose some weight but things did not improve, so X-rays were arranged but they found nothing and prescribed "pain control".
Not liking his diagnosis, off my own bat I consulted an Osteopath who went to work on muscles and joints over a period of four months and worked wonders eliminating the walking problems but we both realised that the fatigue was getting worse over the same period so I asked my muscle cruncher if he would send a letter to my doctor about his treatment and observations.
The GP went loopy at this unsolicited quack intrusion into his professional domain but luckily, Mo came with me. She had nursing experience with thyroid deficiency causing extreme fatigue and challenged him to do some tests. Practically apoplectic, he ordered blood tests and one week later, literally threw the results across at Mo who was right all along. He immediately prescribed thyroxin, the appropriate treatment for hypothyroidism (an autoimmune disorder) and within days the fatigue began to fade away. Over a period of six months the dosage was stabilised, life was normal again as if both the fatigue and walking pains had never existed.
However, in '01 it all started up again. First, the same walking issues then more fatigue. It was a repeat of what has gone before and the doctor was non-plussed, organising more "pain control" but this time there was significant weight gain along with intolerable tiredness. After more doctor/patient difficulties I insisted on seeing an endocrinologist (privately) to investigate either the previous disorder, or discover if "something else is going on". A consultant listened to my story and immediately declared he knew exactly what was wrong but it was not his territory. Within days his colleague Dr. Harvey had diagnosed Coeliacs Disease, an autoimmune bowel disorder caused by gluten (wheat germ) intolerance with symptoms of extreme fatigue due to mal-absorbtion. Basically, no matter what or how much you eat, nutrients are not absorbed. Not the first time "autoimmune" had raised its ugly head. This time the solution was a Gluten Free diet for life. Great! FYI, most gluten free staple foods are marginally tastier than eating cardboard.
Never-the-less the effect, as before, was miraculous. Born again into my hobbies, I tackled everything at nineteen to the dozen until I pulled up short with heart pains. Lucky for me, it was only mild angina and after a routine angiogram the pumpologist prescribed a mixture of betablockers and blood pressure tablets, so within a few weeks I was back to normal. Fighting fit again!
Immediately following this rebirth came a very productive period on the flying field. I was all over Southern England like a rash and as time passed, performance levels improved due to gaining experience, refining techniques and good batches of Tan II rubber. I rarely build new models, preferring to refine my existing squadron of relatively unpopular designs, not the most competitive collection, but they all have great character along with their degree of rarity.
One hardly ever sees examples of "New Look", "Le Vibrant", "Northern Arrow" and "Eager Beaver" in the UK and "Zombie/Voodoos" are few and far between, so there is always a degree of frisson when one of them turns in a good performance. During this period, however, I did build "Toto" and "Fuit" to expand my field of activity into Classic Rubber and Vintage Coupe, and a new "Senator" to replace one that drowned. Since then none of the squadron went missing and they all paid me back in spades for years of dedicated trimming and perseverance.
Things could not have been better, I was like Zebedee with a new spring! Some old wife told a tale that things only happen in three's, but apparantly, not to me! three years later in '04 it all went pear shaped, big-time, with the exact same symptoms. It was deja vu all over again! This was getting boring! I had since changed doctors within our GP practice but they are all equally obsessed with "pain control". Even so, I insisted on more X-rays to spine and pelvis but they showed nothing and I resigned myself to a life of painful misery. Then a strange thing happened! I got this really weird, hurtful bent finger which prompted the GP to try me on a new, more powerful NSAID (non-steroidal pain control) and instructed me to come back in two months to "see how things were going".
Well I did go back, but by default saw this jolly chap, Dr Wali, who had just started at our surgery. He hummed and haa'd to himself for the thick end of thirty minutes whilst he read ALL my notes and delighted himself in informing me about the various diseases I already knew I'd got, even down to my weird bent finger. As I was only there for the finger and being as it was just one week prior to Christmas and was bucketing down outside, I miserably tried to apologise for taking up so much time from his other patients when I got a real surprise! He rose and came around from his desk, put his arm around my shoulder and declared, "don't you worry about them ol' boy, you've got far more wrong with you than that lot put together". He was really enjoying himself now, because in the same breath he says he knows what's wrong, he just needs to do some blood tests to confirm his suspicions, so please would I bear with him for a while, but don't worry!
Mystified I went off to hospital pathology clutching blood-suckers chitty's and this technician, whom I knew from a soccer field in an earlier life, took six bottles of blood. Little bottles, yes, but I couldn't resist the obvious "that's a whole armful" Tony Hancock joke, then asked him what all this was about. Pointing out the letters PA on the blood request, he declares they were looking for Pernicious Anaemia. "You dont want that" says he, but quickly added "it was totally treatable!" The word pernicious literally means "deadly". Great! Now Google tells me that PA is yet another autoimmune disease that, in my case, prevents red blood cells from growing properly, rendering them unable to efficiently carry oxygen to muscles and nervous system. No wonder I'm unable to mobilise and cared not a jot. Brain dead I reckon!
Bouyed by the probability of a cure, I settled into the Christmas festivities only to get a phone call from Doc Wali on Boxing Day morning. Exchanging pleasantaries he asks if I'm still taking the anti-cholesterol tablet, simvastatin. Yes! Oh! Pregnant pause! Well! Pause! Stop taking them immediately because they are causing muscle damage and have raised your Creatine Kinase to unhealthy levels. See me asap in the new year when the rest of the test results will be in. Oh! and dont' worry! Now I'm worried! Apparantly, CK is a serum by-product from damage to either muscle or brain or nervous system. Sounds pretty grim! Not only is the PA denying oxygen to the muscles and nervous system but what ever effort I am making to keep active is being degraded by the muscle damaging side effects from an anti-cholesterol heart drug. Ironic or what?
So the new year ('05) comes in with a diagnosis of Pernicious Anaemia and its cure, Vitamin B12 injections for life, starting immediately with seven injections in the first two weeks and then weekly for two months until they are stretched out to every thirteen weeks. As it happens, I only ever got to eight weeks without problems. So that became my regime, every eighth week, another little scratch on the arm! Again the effect was dramatic, but this time, aligned with a spectacularly effective diet (*) and exercise routine, I lost eighty-four lbs in just six months. Imagine losing six stone, the equivalent to forty-two bags of sugar or a small council paving slab in half a year? My life was transformed with boundless energy again. But this time the walking issues did not disappear as before. It was alway painful to mobilise and the medical opinion was that it would take two or more years for the damage to my nervous system to be resolved, so I kept taking pain tablets and enjoyed new found good health.
* Oh yes! I know you want to ask about the diet! For a two month period: Four Pints of Semi-skimmed Milk, a Sugar Free Jelly, a Stock Cube and a Sanatogen Tablet. Daily! Thats it! Seriously! That is it! By the time I got back onto salads I needed new clothes all around and so it continued.
A year later ('06) things got even better when I started to attend rehab fitness classes weekly and within a few weeks the tutor (Cory Beecher) had identified a group of muscles that were so locked-up they prevented any natural sideways flexibility from the waist and devised a series of exercises to liberate them. To be fair, it wasn't Cory who discovered the issue. That was down to a Vascular Surgeon who, looking for venous return problems, just happened to observe this sideways abnormality but it was Cory who cracked the problem and within just three weeks I was walking long distances without pain. Three to four miles compared to just a few hundred yards previously. At one particular model flying event at RAF North Luffenham in Feb '07, I walked seventeen thousand pedometer steps over a seven hour period chasing model airplanes across Rutland. With a single bound, I was free! No walking pains, six stone lighter, a metabolic miracle, no less. Any number of model airplane buddies commented on the startling improvement resulting from the efforts to regain my well-being after being diagnosed and cured of the deadly PA.
Life could not have been better and here I was, still only sixty-seven years old, with just thirty-three years to go before the big one-hundred. Then it happened! Like a hammer blow from Hell, in the summer of '06, despite being able to cycle forever, the self-same walking pains came back with avengence but this time I was limited to only fifty yards at a time before having to squat or sit for relief. At the same time one of my dicky knees (long term arthritis) started to complain bitterly and by mid-autumn '06 I was a physical and mental wreck. Forced to give up thrice weekly exercise classes I took up comfort-eating instead and the weight piled back on. My miracle-working GP suggested something called Claudication, but first he wanted the knees examined, tout suite.
The trouble with UK bonology consultants is they have a dire backlog and waiting list, so it was an interminable five months until March '07 when a surgeon declared I needed two total knee replacements. Right out of left field - two new knees? In my miserable state I could not get my head around this so I was referred back to my GP who immediately put me on anti-depressents to get my "brain chemicals sorted out". At the same time he decides to follow-up the returning painful muscle issues with more blood tests. "Eureka", says he! I now have another mysterious condition caused by high levels of Uric Acid. Gout! I ask you? Never eaten rich food in my life, never drank port wine and I get Gout, so he prescribes tablets to eliminate the acid crystals that are messing with my joints and muscles and extra pain control is prescribed. Now why was I not surprised?
At the same time I am referred to a consultant rheumatologist to investigate this claudication thing. Some months pass, my referral comes through and a lady consultant pronounces there is possible spinal stenosis (narrowing of nerve channels) and I need X-rays and an MRI scan. The bad news however, I am too big to fit in her MRI machine, so it will be difficult to diagnose. Eventually the X-ray results come through and she rules out stenosis but declares there is arthritic degeneration of the pelvic area around the left hip and refers me back to the orthobod.
Because of the missing MRI, I dispute her dismissal of possible stenosis and asked for further consideration of the unresolved issue and she since agreed to find an MRI scanner big enough. In addition, the knee surgeon dismissed any possible hip malfunction and referred my walking problems back to the rheumatologist. Its the new ping pong NHS! However did he confirm his agreement to proceed with knee surgery, despite complications brought about by various existing issues but declined my offer to let him do both knees at the same time. I should be so lucky?
The missing link for his decision to proceed with surgery came as a result of a consultation with his anethetist who did a deep background interview with me and declared that I would probably not be a suitable candidate for full anesthetic but he would manage the procedure using lumbar injections and nerve block. Isn't science wonderful. The plan, now, is to fit a new knee whilst keeping me quiet with an epidural. Asked if I could take photos he said I would probably be too sleepy. Never mind, I got the last word in. Gesturing towards my bountiful tummy I asked if while I was under the epidoodle, would he please terminate the pregancy! There was no answer to that !
Needless to say I am really peed of with this continual degeneration but looking on the bright side, my depression has been lifted by happy pills and I am in reasonable spirits mentally, despite the gloomy outlook, which just about brings things up to date.
Except for one days' visit to the UK Nats, as of Autumn 2007, I have not been able to go flying for over twelve months. I can hardly walk fifty yards without extreme pain, having to sit or squat for relief. My knees are shot through, I need a giant MRI scanner to investigate the spinal problem, I am being treated for five clinical conditions, hypothyroidism, coeliacs, angina, pernicious anaemia and gout, mostly due to being a "walking autoimmune disaster case". All the waiting lists seemed to get longer by the week and asking hospital consultants to collaborate on my various conditions is more painful than pulling teeth.
As the inevitable passing of time converts an uncertain future into a hopeful present and confines the painful past to the dustbin of history, so things are now moving in a favourable direction and my appointment with the first of two new knees is scheduled for January '09. When both are done they should go very nicely with my two new thumbs from '92 and the two new eyes from '04 and I will be well on my way to a bright new bionic future. In the meantime I can still use my push bike to exercise and because of my modified brain chemicals I am no longer suffering from paranoia!
I now know the buggers are out to get me!
There is however an upside to these downsides! My computer system is working overtime, rarely complains or crashes and despite a dyslexic keyboard which insists on spelling my chosen words incorrectly, I have been pouring my brain into a myriad of new essays. The result of this lexiconographic diarrhea is my ever growing website dedicated to Rubber Powered Vintage Model Airplanes and the Rover SD1 Twin Plenum Vitesse. So, when the medical problems are finally resolved I expect to be re-joining The Crazy Rubber Band on the flying field in youthful vigour once again and if some person or other asks you where they can find Ramon just tell them its the thin bloke on the downwind horizon. Update pending - in the meantime, see this complexity CHART.
Read the next chapter of this story regarding double knee surgery during the first half of 2009 here