On March 14th, 2011, a CPTA scan showed that I had suffered a dual pulmonary embolism, in other words I had a couple of blood clots in my lungs. This was the latest domino to fall in a small catalogue of health issues that have peppered the last 16 years of my 43 year old life. I’ll cover those at some point in the blog, but this isn’t a public whinge. I don’t want to be the tedious drunk in the Old Arcade with a pint of dark who lists his ailments to a bored audience.
That reference to a pint of dark is relevant. The treatment for my condition is a lifetime consumption of warfarin, a blood-thinning agent which serves a dual purpose as rat poison. And when you take warfarin, you need to be careful with alcohol. What that means in effect is that I may never be able to have more than one or two drinks in a day. Basically, I will never be drunk again.
That hasn’t really sunk in. I don’t think I’m a heavy drinker these days, but booze has always been a big part of my life. I started going to pubs in Cardiff when I was 14, and throughout my twenties I was a regular in the City’s bars and clubs. I spent months on the road with my job at Welsh National Opera where drinking was a way of life for the whole touring caravan. I lived a rock’n’roll lifestyle for eleven years. And socialising for me has always meant watching football and rugby and the male drinking culture that entails. To be honest all that stopped to a great extent with the birth of my three young sons, and I regularly go weeks without a drink now. But to never be drunk again? Think about it – weddings, holidays, camping, celebrations, barbeques, funerals…without a drink they’re almost inconceivable. And if I can’t drink, that certainly means the end of any appearances on a dancefloor, which will be a great loss to the general public.
This latest development is going to leave a big gap. My lifestyle will be devastated. And to be truthful, that’s just mindblowing – but it’s also an opportunity. Because let’s be honest about this – my lifestyle was selfish, destructive and greedy. I was almost twenty stone a couple of years ago, and my weigh-in at the hospital on Friday showed that I was 18 stone 8lbs. In 2008, I was too fat to go under general anaesthetic for an operation I needed, and a doctor told me that my liver was like “fois-gras”.
So there we have it. I’m still here, and I’ve been lucky. I’ve got no choice but to get better and be positive. When I went into hospital, I mentioned it on facebook and was overwhelmed by messages from old and new friends. I wasn’t really taking things seriously until I saw how concerned people seemed. One of them, from a keen cyclist in Cardiff struck a chord: “Get well big man”, he said. “You’ve still got an êtape in you!”
The étape is a cycling event which allows amateurs to take part in a race across one of the stages of the Tour de France each year. It has always been an ambition of mine to take part. I had a place in the event about ten years ago, and trained heavily, 20 hours a week, for months before breaking down physically after a 100-mile training ride just a few weeks before the race. My legs just couldn’t take it. Even at my fittest, I was pushing a thick 15 stone frame across the hills and mountains, and my body just packed in. I haven’t ridden more than 10 miles in a day since that setback.
That’s going to be my aim. I’m currently seven stone overweight and I struggle to walk upstairs, but this is a recoverable condition. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t make that étape. My first target is to climb the hairpin bends of the famous Alpe d’Huez. There are no logistical barriers to that – no easy excuse for pulling out. And then will come an ascent of the other hors category climbs – Tourmalet, Ventoux, and the Galibier, where I watched Marco Pantani come out of the mist to win the Tour de France on my stag do in 1998. And then finally, I will enter the étape du tour, and this time I will finish it.
Why am I writing this blog? That’s a good question and one that I’m not sure I can answer yet. It’s therapy primarily. And if I play out my recovery and progress in the public eye, then hopefully I will be more likely to maintain my progress.
I’m somebody who is a heavy user of social media to communicate – from email lists to forums, facebook and twitter. I work alone, at home, and it’s just got that way. Some people..no, a lot of people find it uncouth to broadcast your problems, but I don’t see it like that. I’m not ashamed of being ill. If you can use Facebook to brag about your successes, then why not share the lows too? When my dog died, I had over fifty messages of condolences on facebook, each one as valid and appreciated as a flowery card. Honestly, you should try it..kindness, generosity and inspiration come from the most unexpected places. It also bypasses the village jungle drums and chinese whispers.
This is just a diary of a bloke who is ill and a journal of his attempts to turn misfortune into something positive. The fact that anyone can read it is almost irrelevant, except that putting these things in the public domain can sometimes inspire profound connections, interesting feedback, it can develop relationships, provide support and share knowledge. That’s a pretty big claim for such a humble act of writing down your experiences, but you’d be surprised at the results of blogging.
This is all set up like a Holywood movie isn’t it? The reformed blogger turns a medical crisis into a positive force and rides across the Alpe d’Huez finishing line to bouquets of redemption. Well that’s bollocks sadly. There is no script to this one, and there are all sorts of barriers to be knocked down before that happens. But at least I’ve got a target and at the moment, that’s all that counts.