As you may have seen from earlier posts, I had a back accident 15 months ago and after 4 visits to hospital, the most recent being of 7 days duration, I am still no nearer to getting the surgery my orthopedic spine specialist / surgeon recommended for me and requested ACC to fund.
What went wrong?
I’m going to tell you about 2 critical things. The first is about how I injured myself, by which I mean the primary cause and the second is about who I got referred to.
The Primary Cause
My latest accident didn’t seem like much. I was at my 6th Relay For Life in March last year and ready to walk a marathon distance (my goal, which I achieved) over 18 hours.
Setting up prior to the event and prior to heading for the survivors’ tent (I am in remission from prostate cancer), we had a 4 room tent to set up, and the poles and pegs were in a big bag in the trailer that was provided by the organisers to get our gear from the car park to our team site.
It was super heavy. No one seemed to want to get it out, including the guy driving the tractor. So I tried. Unfortunately, my back couldn’t take it and I ended up with a back strain injury that still has me off work today, 15 months later.
I managed to do the distance through the use of medications like Panadeine and I had booked a couple of days annual leave after the event to recover, based on previous years experience. I also had a float and massage the following day, so I didn’t feel too bad after that. A bit sore, but otherwise OK.
A few weeks later, on ANZAC Day, in fact; I remember because it occured on the weekend before the public holiday (a Wednesday) and my wife and I had taken the Thursday and Friday off to go away in the Corvette for a few days holiday.
It had been raining, and on the Sunday before our planned holiday, I mowed the lawn and using the catcher to collect the heavy wet grass. I had to twist on an awkward angle to detach the catcher from the mower, twisted my back again, and the rest as they say was history.
You can read previous blogs but the key point was that whilst an MRI showed damage, ACC weren’t satisfied with the injury having been caused by the incident, they said it was age based degenerative disc disease. They said they would try to see if a previous injury could be relevant that they could tie it to which would convince them to cover the cost of the surgery and herein lies the problem.
A Skydiving Accident
Many years ago I had a skydiving accident. It was a tandem jump and if you have ever experienced one, you know that the customer is at the bottom and the Jumpmaster is on top. When she tried to flare at about 30 feet we got into an air pocket and instead of opening up, the parachute closed down. Instead of gliding to a running stop, we dropped and I took her weight on top of my own, on my tailbone.
It hurt like mad, but I was also flying high on adrenaline from the jump, so I didn’t really feel the pain that much. That night it was very sore, but we went to a big neighbourhood party and I found that bourbon acted as a great pain killer, so I managed pretty well and enjoyed the festivities as long as I didn’t make any sudden moves.
That night there was a bit of a storm and one of our trees was blown over.
The following morning, I was trying to clear branches in our yard, bent down and found I couldn’t straighten up again.
I went to physio who asked what happened and I told my story, the ACC record said “bent down and hurt back while picking up branches in garden”. I had 26 physio visits, was referred to Pilates and was assigned a personal trainer.
I did talk to them all about the sky diving, but it never made it to the ACC records. It therefore registered as a strain.
I was racing my land yacht in a 180 km enduro on 90 mile beach. I crashed at the northern end of the beach, picked myself up and raced back again and had to endure racing through snapper holes around Ahipara Beach, which is like racing on sheets of corrugated iron. Lots of pain, but again lots of adrenaline. For much of the race, I was going at speeds of up to 100 kph on a thin cushion as you can see on the video above, and with my feet sitting on a steering rod so all of my weight was on the lumbar area of my back.
At the end of the weekend it was a 5 hour drive back home to Auckland and a couple of days later, guess what? I was in the garden again, bending over and suffered intense back pain.
Guess what went on my ACC record?
Lots of physio for an injury sustained doing gardening.
So, when the specialist looking for reasons to not approve surgery (me having had every other treatment they could think of, for over seven months), they looked at what I had been referred for (back strain), looked at old injuries sustained in the garden, so probably not significant, all because I didn’t understand the importance of mentioning the crash or the sky diving on the initial ACC form. After all I was getting treatment. That was all I was concerned with at the time.
I might have got a very different response to my request for surgery if the primary causes of injuries had been clearly recorded, instead of lost to obscurity. Now I am chasing a Review of ACC’s decision not to fund the surgery which is going to be time consuming and expensive.
So if you are injured and covered by ACC, make sure that, irrespective of which straw broke the patient’s back, that the primary cause of injury is documented, even if you are happy that the treatment will fix the problem.
I’m now in a situation after many back injuries, that ACC are claiming age based disc degeneration disease and I am going to have to prove that I did in fact sustain some major injuries and that it was the cumulative impact of those injuries that has me now needing expensive surgery.
If I had made sure they had all the information correctly recorded, it would probably have been plain sailing for me now, instead of 15 months off work, the possibility of losing my job, and a long, expensive and stressful battle to get my back repaired so I can get back to work.
2. If Referred to a Specialist, Make Sure it is one who Operates in Your Local Public Hospital.
I was referred to a very good surgeon by my GP, largely because he is one of the category of trying everything else before getting the scalpel out and doing major surgery, which in my case will involve 2 surgeons for 4-5 hours and a 5-day stay in hospital.
Because of all the drama with ACC (New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Commission), in April I asked my GP (at the recommendation of my surgeon) to refer me to the public hospital. Whilst I have other medical insurance, it only pays (up to) 80% of the costs, which means I would personally be up for around $18,000 that I have to find myself. It could even be more because they won’t know exactly what they have to do until they cut me open.
So I was referred as ‘URGENT’ to North Shore Hospital on the 4th of April this year. I told them I was not working and that I could come at short notice and asked if they would put me on the cancellation list and they said “Yes, we have a cancellation list, is there anything else?”
I rang a few times, mostly talked to voicemail and the first time I spoke to someone they said “It’s only been a month!” To which I responded, “yes but I was referred as urgent.”
This month I had a flare up and spent 7 days in the Orthopedic Ward at North Shore Hospital. They did an MRI, hooked me up with a pain team and eventually once the pain was under control with drugs, they let me go home.
They told me that the stay would not be seen as my First Specialist Assessment (FSA) for which there is an expectation that you will be seen within 4 months of referral. They said that the Orthopedics Team knew about me and I would probably now be seen within 2 weeks. So they scripted 2 weeks of pain medication for me. They said I would get a confirmation letter from the hospital.
So I got out of hospital on the Sunday, waited until Wednesday and rang to find out when my appointment would be. I had to leave a message on their voicemail. I rang again on Friday and again left voicemail.
On Monday this week I got a phone call telling me that they did in fact have a date for me in late August. Today is the 17th of July.
So much for my 2 weeks of pain medication. I should have got the message when the doctor who checked me out of hospital laughed when I said I was expecting to be seen in 2 weeks.
If my GP had originally referred me to a specialist who also worked on the public health at North Shore Hospital, there is every likelihood that I would have been referred for surgery at the hospital in November last year, and could well have been back at work by the beginning of this year.
Now instead, I am still waiting for a First Assessment, and they will want to decide for themselves what treatment I should have. So while the logic behind my original referral was sound, the end result is that it set me back anything up to a year.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the point I am making is that you, dear reader, may have a back injury like me, or perhaps a knee or shoulder injury from playing sport.
By learning from my experience, you might be able to have a better experience, receiving treatment within the same year of your injury and not jeopardising your employment and having double the stress.
Being in severe chronic pain for over a year is horrific. The potential consequences can be many including
- losing your job,
- becoming addicted to pain medications,
- sleep deprivation with all that comes with that,
- becoming stressed to the point of depression,
- having no social life or family life,
- which also results in relationship stress.
Here are two ways you can reduce the risk of experiencing what I’m going through.
- If you injure yourself doing something major and then aggravate it with a lesser injury. Insist that the cause on the ACC form is the major impact and the secondary injury is clearly shown as secondary. It might not matter now, but in 10 or 20 years it could save you from the horrible 15 months I’ve endured so far.
- If you need to be referred to a surgeon, even if you have medical insurance, get referred to one who operates from your local public hospital. You may not end up needing to go public, but at least you have viable options and it could save you many months in getting treated.
I arrived in an addled state this morning at 11AM for my 10AM appointment for a float and massage at Float Culture. It was in my diary for 10AM, but somehow that’s when I had booked my taxi to pick me up. I only got a few hours sleep last night, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
When I got there, they told me they had cancelled my appointment because I hadn’t turned up, even though I had confirmed this morning. I just tapped the button, not even reading it, or I would have realised and called for an earlier cab. How often do you do that with EFTPOS or paywave, just hit accept without looking at the price?
Anyway, after my heart dropped, it turned out I was in luck and despite messing everyone around, they were able to fit me in. They asked if a Pod was OK rather than one of the newer ‘rooms’. When I’m floating on Epsom Salts laden water in the quiet and dark it could be a farm water trough for all I care.
I keep a pain diary so that I can discuss my physio treatment, exercises etc for my back injury with the team of people assigned to restoring my health and getting me back to work. (3 bulging disks pushing against nerves which has kept me off work for 6 months) The injury has me at a pain level of 6-7/10 most of the time and that’s with some hard hitting pain medications. This morning I was up at 2AM (6/10) 3-4AM (7/10) and up again at 6AM with 6/10.
Once I was in the pod, for some reason I struggled to keep my mind quiet and even using breathing techniques, my brain would be off on some tangent before I could count 5 breathes in and out and the hour was over all too soon, BUT I could barely feel my back when I got out of the tank for a shower and I still had a massage to come.
Now I’m no biochemist and my understanding was that endorphins are what used to give me the bright colours and the grin that wouldn’t stop, back before I had radiation therapy, and enkephalins are the body’s natural painkillers, but it seems they both come from the same part part of your brain. I didn’t have the buzz, but I also didn’t have the pain!
Anyway I went straight from the tank to the massage room for an hour of total relaxation.
At the end Kim said to take as long as I needed. I could have quite happily gone to sleep at that point. Well when I did get up from there, I was pain free, I was able to stand up and with a bright red rosy face, I felt the way you probably take for granted. I was able to put my track pants and shoes on without grunting and groaning. I was even able to stand up, leaning on a counter to look out the window watching for the cab to arrive without any pain.
Now to be fair, after the taxi ride home I was up to 3/10 and now I’m now at 4/10 but that’s still a lot less than 6-7. It will go back to 6-7, but I can’t describe how good it felt to be pain free without the use of drugs. No other treatment other than morphine has been able to do that for me in the last 6 months.
If you have any sort of chronic pain injury, I strongly recommend not just having the float, but combining the two. If you think how relaxed you feel after a massage, imagine having the massage when you are already totally relaxed. I pay a membership subscription and occasionally I get given a voucher for someone to get a free float (does not include a massage).
If you live in Auckland, leave a comment and I’ll use some random method to let someone try it for FREE. Find out more about floating on their website. I’ll pick one person on 1 December. Think of it as an early Christmas present. That’s worth $100, but I’m sure you’ll agree the outcome is worth much more. Do remember it is sensory deprivation so if you get claustrophobic, this is not for you.
Meanwhile if you’re still here, I’m going to get into the Delorean and zip back to 4 October 1987 for my 3rd float. You can go back to my previous blog for the 2nd one.
Now just to set the scene, I was working for a company that was bleeding money for no obvious reason (yet). I was making sales for 6 figure sums of money, delivering cheques in some instances, but somehow even though they had been cashed, they never seemed to reach the company bank account. It got worse from there when not long later I arrived at work on my way to a sailing weekend on the family yacht, to find out why my pay hadn’t been deposited. I met the receivers who were in the processing of padlocking the office door. To make matters worse, a certain person (not me) had taken a first class family world trip on my company credit card (note, if you get one of those, you are jointly and severally liable for any debt) and the bank took me for the money. I ended up losing just under $40,000 and I was just an employee and had to refinance our home. Take it that I was a little stressed.
So, off to the Belleview Clinic in Mt Eden on 4 October. This is what I wrote:
“My third float. Nothing spectacular. I didn’t feel any more relaxed, or different. The float itself was unremarkable, anticlimactic. Yet as I sat down to relax afterward, I felt a vibration throughout my body and a general sense of well-being. Not euphoric, but content.
I concentrated some energy on relaxing my jaw, probably the last place where I still felt stress from clenching my teeth.
Driving home I felt rag-doll relaxed, although I still felt fragile in the face of pressure, real or imagined. (Note at this stage I wasn’t aware the company I worked for was being embezzled, I just knew something was seriously amiss), It is difficult going from a cocoon to a demanding environment. I felt like I didn’t want to let go of the comfort of zero responsibility that I enjoyed in the tank.
My general bearing and outlook was positive and I could see many parallels to other relaxation methods like meditation. I felt as though I was taking a short cut. It was interesting that subsequently I read similar comments in ‘The Book of Floating‘. It has been compared to many ‘laboristic’ relaxation methods including Yoga and acupuncture.
There is a notebook of floater’s comments, a visitors book in the lounge at the clinic. Every comment is positive. Most people are there to solve personal problems and seem to want to apply mystical meaning to the amazing results. That’s not surprising off course when their bloodstreams are getting a rush of natural brain produced opiates.
I found myself holding back from conclusions, but was keenly looking forward to moving beyond release of tension and balancing myself, to getting creative with the tank and finding new ways to benefit from sensory deprivation.
I subsequently did that and had all sorts of experiences and experiments that you can read about in future blogs about these awesome tanks. Bookmark or subscribe to this blog to find out more. If it’s boring you to tears, sorry, this is my personal soapbox and like the woman who was offended by the 2 minute song, based on the doppler effect, that I performed in one of my sets at the Parnell Rose Festival many years ago, called What I Like About Reefton. She stood up and said ‘That’s not very nice” and left her seat in the audience. If you want other types of blogs feel free to visit one of my other blogs like The Future Diaries , Location Is Everywhere , First Home Buyers Training or SoLoMo Consulting.
This was my second ever float and I want to warn you that unless you really want to know more about the floating experience, my personal one, click on one of the word cloud buttons in my blog and find something that is more relevant to your interests.
When I first started floating back in 1987 it was something quite new. I was sales and marketing manager for a company that was very successful, but being embezzled by its CEO which was apparently a recidist pattern for him, but one I didn’t find out about until after it had cost me and some of my colleagues a lot of money and stress. I won’t mention the company, some of you will know the story. It’s really just to say that I was working really hard, bringing in some amazing 6 figure sales, and stressed, partly because at the time I knew something wasn’t koshur but I didn’t know what. I do wish some of the people who knew the past history of this criminal had warned me, because I would never have accepted the job and would probably have followed the career path opportunity to Santa Clara that stood before me.
So I go from there to the following experience, which is pretty long and unexpurgated. It’s basically my journal and pretty geeky. So here goes:
“I don’t know at this stage if there is any relevance or not, but shortly after my first float I felt a sensation in the region of the right-front part of my brain. I have felt it several times since, almost as if another sense is trying to find its way out. It has no other manifestation other than a slightly happy feeling accompanying it, which may be psychosomatic. It feels related to and yet isolated from the optical nerves.
Today, (Sunday) I had my second float, one and a half weeks after my first. I did not feel as stressed, although I did feel a need for an aid to relax. I was also keen to follow through on the principles of floating which I had started reading about. There was a force driving me to write down my experiences. A sense that something good was going to eventuate from this, far more than just relaxation.
The last week has been very tiring. Thursday was marred by arguments with the CEO and other stress-inducing problems. In the afternoon I left Auckland and drove to Palmerston North (About 350 miles). The Sales Engineer and I finished setting up a demo at the hotel we were staying in at 11:30PM.
The demonstration did not finish until after 4PM the following day, which was followed by further arguments with the CEO. It basically came down to, I was bringing in cheques from clients for 6 figure sums of money. They were being deposited somewhere and I was being told the clients hadn’t paid and to chase them for the money I had already handed in. I had never experienced a con artist like this and this being one of my greatest values, I really didn’t know how to handle it.
By 8:30PM, I was exhausted, driving back home I was starting to drift to the wrong side of the road. I decided to stay overnight in Taupo. I can’t remember the last time I felt so exhausted and overemotional. I write this because it relates to my mental state when I had my second float.
So back to the float. I was much more relaxed physically and settled in very quickly.
I did not experience the same heaviness in my neck and shoulder muscles, which suggests that much of the physical effect from the first float was a release of long term muscular tension”
Note, I am pretty much copying what I wrote verbatim at the time. It’s raw and was only really written as a personal journal. It’s quite interesting reading this 32 years later. I also want to note that I was not under the influence of any drugs of any kind.
“The muscles that felt tired and were unravelling this time were those I had just used for 1,200km of driving; arm and leg muscles.
-Mental / physical disorientation. The first example was a feeling as if I had my legs crossed at the ankles. Although they weren’t crossed (I checked), my senses were convinced that they were.
An ex-client once lost a hand in a chainsaw accident. For months afterward he felt pain in the fingers of a hand that no longer existed. (AKA Phantom Limbs)
I had a similar manifestation on several occasions that I was clenching my fists. Again I knew that my hands were open and relaxed (in the yoga nidra position, palms up). It was not just a feeling that my fists were clenched, my sense of touch had no doubt at all. However, I raised my hands, they were as I knew, open and relaxed.
I passed into and through the REM state much more quickly than in the first occasion. I find the REM state enjoyable and relaxing even if my eyes seem to be going to town.
I finally reached a point where my mind and senses were totally blank. This must be very similar to the point people seek with meditation. It was a sense of being nothing, or an infinitesimal body in a black void and being totally relaxed and comfortable with it.
I believe that this period lasted for only a fraction of a second, although it appeared to be a long time. As soon as I realised I was in this state, I snapped back to reality.
I have noticed a tendency, which makes me feel a little cautious, possibly stopping me from achieving total relaxation, in that my respiration rate is reduced to a mere fraction of normal, and there are in fact periods where I do not breathe at all, at least in comparison to my normal conscious state. The breaths are so far apart that when they come, they distract me.
I also noticed that after the first float, for 1 or 2 days, my time sense seemed altered. For example the time period between light changes at traffic signals seemed much longer, although intellectually I knew this was not so. (Weed smokers will probably relate to this, but I promise, I was totally straight).
Other than that there is little to remark upon. The second float was understandably a little anticlimactic and the endorphin level much lower than it was previously. I was advised by the manager to expect changes over the next few days.
Meanwhile, my driving muscles are feeling sore and I do not feel the same sense of euphoric confidence as I did the first time.”
I think like most experiences, the first is often the most moving. Reading back through this, it is probably very boring, but being a geek, I was trying to analyse the experience, as well as enjoy it. There were in fact physiological and psychological ongoing benefits from this which I will write about in my next blog.
As I have said previously, these blogs are personal and I share them in case they are of interest to someone and to remind me of previous times. If you haven’t floated before, or you want to get more out of your experience, I also recommend keeping a journal.
If it sparks your interest, go and visit Float Culture and tell them that my blog vaught your interest and Luigi sent you. If you are not in Auckland, just Google float tank and I’m sure you will find one reasonably close by. Anton, the owner of Float Culture told me that there are now 19 places in New Zealand where you can ‘float’. I’m sure that is a record and shows that there is real benefit from this experience.
So yesterday I had another float and massage at Float Culture. My back pain from my injury back in April is still hovering around 6-7/10 most of the time and I was so looking forward to the zero gravity and a great massage from Kim.
I had booked the Cosmic Room, which is a newer float tank, which instead of being a pod like the one I showed a photo of in my last blog, which was also cool, this one is more like an Alice in Wonderland meets Dr Who.
What is really cool about it is that while it is still a floating tank, you enter through a door and it is high enough to stand in, which is great when your time is up and you want to stretch out. I can’t say one is better than the other, when you are in the dark in total silence, floating on a silky nothing, it is really irrelevant. It’s also easier if you have a physical injury in regards to getting in and out.
When you come out after your float, the atmosphere is pretty cool. Bright colours and a picture of a galaxy awaits your heightened senses, especially if your body produces endorphins, which mine isn’t good at since my cancer treatment, along with low cortisol and virtually no adrenaline, I don’t experience the mental natural high that you will, but there are so many benefits from floating that it’s no longer an issue for me. A lot of cancer patients float. Relaxing when life is tough isn’t easy, but here you have no choice.
I think I’ll turn this into two blogs because the next one is going to be quite long and possibly boring unless you really want to know more about the floating experience in detail. Being a geek, I did.
When you have been in chronic pain for 6 months and any time you are awake, gravity wants to push your vertebrae together and you are constantly dopy from pain medications, being in an environment like this is bliss. I was pain free for most of the day yesterday and what you might take for granted (just feeling physically normal) was wonderful for me.
I met, Anton the owner of Float Culture and we had a great chat with him and one of his team about how there is a resurgence of interest in floating and sensory deprivation, some of the history of the origin of sensory deprivation tanks. More of that perhaps in another blog, but for now I just want to say:
- Whether you are physically or emotionally stressed, injured, tired or just want to try something new, I strongly recommend going for a float at Float Culture in Grafton.
- If you are totally relaxed, life is great, and you just want to try something new, refer to 1. You don’t have to be suffering in any way to get a benefit from it. The experience will still be amazing.
- Go with a friend, they have several floating rooms. But you might need to book a few days ahead. They have an app and you can also pay a subscription and get better pricing if you go regularly and even free passes for friends. One or two lucky people who talk to me nicely, might be able to get one of those.
- Have a float followed by a massage. Imagine having a great massage when you are already totally relaxed. If you’re thinking about a day spa and want to try something new. Do this.
- Tell them Luigi sent you. I want them to know that I am recommending them because I want them to do well. There have been some years where there hasn’t been a float centre in Auckland, which was frustrating.
- 6. Just do it. Make a booking today. If you’re not totally convinced, read some of these testimonials from other floaters.
Warning – Longish Blog, but if you want to know what the first time floating experience is like, you will find it interesting IMHO.
As promised in my previous blog, I am going to post a series of blogs about some of my experiences in float tanks.
I was badly in need of relaxation and decided that the time was right. I had heard about floating previously and found a brochure at the Tourist Information Centre in Auckland’s Aotea Square.
I was very tense, there were some suspect things going on at my work (it looked like the company was being embezzled) and I was suffering from heartburn and chronic indigestion and had been constipated for three days. I feared I was becoming a candidate for an ulcer.
For some reason I felt very positive about the concept and that it could be good for me. My confidence was boosted by the fact that major sporting organizations including the Dallas Cowboys and AFL Teams owned their own tanks, for rehab of their elite athletes, recognizing the benefits of sensory deprivation. The Cowboys apparently had TV screens in some of their tanks where players could relax on watch strategic videos.
On entering the Belleview Clinic in Eden Terrace, I was welcomed by a quietly spoken man who took one look at me and said “You haven’t floated before have you?” My disposition was obvious.
He gave me a leaflet containing initial instructions. These were essentially:
- Empty your bladder and bowels
- Take a hot shower paying particular attention to your face so that you have no itches while you are in the tank. You don’t want to get salt water in your eyes, while scratching your face.
- Put Vaseline (provided) on your private or sensitive parts to protect against the salt
- Fit the supplied earplugs
- Open the hatch in the tank, get in and close the rolling door.
Five minutes before the float ends, the underwater stereo system will pipe in quiet relaxing music. When the music ends, sit up whilst leaning your head back to avoid getting salt in your eyes, then exit and shower again to rinse of the residue Epsom Salts.
Next I got a guided tour. The tank itself (a bit less modern than this one at Float Culture today) is an 8 foot by 6 foot by 4 foot fibreglass enclosure resembling a ship’s liferaft container before it is dropped in the water and opened up. It featured a rolling door through which you enter the inner spaceship which had 10-12 inches of water almost saturated with a solution of Epsom Salts.
So I had my shower, inserted the earplugs, applied the vaseline and climbed in.
The water felt warm, thick and sort of silky, almost sensuous. I closed the hatch and was suddenly in almost total darkness. I slid the hatch open again so that I wouldn’t forget where the knob was if I needed it…..
I tried to partially close the hatch but that didn’t work, so I closed it again and lay down. Then I sat up again, opened the hatch a little and closed it again just to reassure and orient myself.
Finally I lay down and tried to relax. I had been warned that my shoulder and neck muscles might start to hurt a little as they start to unknot and release their tension. The man told me to either breathe with the pain or rest my hands behind my head, flexing the muscles a little.
I tried both, but decided that a hands down version of the yoga nidra corpse position offered the most relaxing attitude for my body.
So I relaxed. As my eyes adjusted there was a little light in the tank through the little indent patterns in the fibreglass.
My mind found it hard to cope with the fact that I was totally safe from external influences which might disturb the water or distract me. I kept slipping to one side as though I was balancing on a beam and for 3-4 minutes I found it hard to maintain my balance.
Eventually I achieved a level of equilibrium. I tried to keep my eyes open but found that I was easily distracted by light, sound and even nonexistent stimuli. I closed my eyes again achieving better results, however for the next 5-10 minutes I opened and closed my eyes a number of times, just to reassure myself.
Then I started to relax physically, but my mind was racing, very much the same as when I would go to sleep at night. When you are not experienced in relaxing, you can try too hard.
I felt a spinning sensation. I was hardly moving more than a cm per second and only for a tiny distance and then I’d stop by gently touching the wall with a foot or hand, but it felt like I had turned 90 degrees. This continued on and off for about 20 minutes. My sense of time was distorted.
Yes indeed, my shoulders were getting heavy and tired. Good, it seemed I was doing something right.
Now I moved into a conscious REM State. It was exactly like the first stages of sleep in which dreams that actually take microseconds appear to take much longer. Yet I was conscious and could feel my eyeballs darting all over the place under my eyelids. It was an interesting feeling but the more I tried to analyse it, the more my consciousness started to return.
I knew that I was reaping rewards physically but mentally, because I was constantly analysing the experience, I wondered if I was wasting the opportunity.
Next thing I knew, time had passed and I was being gently roused by music from the underwater speakers which reminded me of the whale sounds on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album. It was soft and repetitious but relaxing. It only seemed to last about 20 seconds but it was actually 5 minutes.
I leaned my head back, protecting my eyes from the salt and opened the sliding door, then eased my way out and onto a wooden platform.
My shoulders and neck felt heavy and I was a little light headed but otherwise I felt normal enough.
I busied myself in the shower, washed and shampooed my hair (yes I still had hair then), making sure that all the Epsom Salts were rinsed off. Having dried myself off, I dressed and went into the pastel colored lounge, which had comfy chairs, a booktable and a selection of drinks including many herbal teas.
Although I only felt slightly light headed, things seemed to take an awfully long time. My time sense was distorted. I sat down, which felt better and picked up a book entitled “The Book of Floating” by Michael Hutchison.
I then decided that I should have a drink to replace lost fluid and selected a Peruvian Lemon Tea which sounded refreshing.
I tried to fill the jug, which was not only full, it had a ‘cup number indicator’ on the side which said it was full. I emptied a bit out again and looked down at the floor. The opiate-like action of my natural endorphins induced an unusual effect. I was getting two independant impressions.
The left hemisphere was telling me that it was about five feet from my eyes to the ground. The right hemisphere said “I know it is only about 5 feet to the ground, but my perception tells me it is nearer to 10 feet.” Talk about a well balanced split personality!
I enjoyed a mild dose of euphoria, enhanced by the monochrome pastel room. I finished my tea and had a chat with the owner who said he could see by my eyes that the float had been beneficial.
I went to pay and found that they did not accept credit cards. I got the impression that this was a bit of a tacit protest against new technology. I found it hard to accept that they took me on trust for the cost of the float and the book which I had decided to buy.
Driving away I felt very relaxed and couldn’t stop my face from smiling. I felt a time distortion at traffic lights, it seemed they had stayed on red for too long.
That night I felt I had to waste some of the beneficial effects as I had to attend a business dinner. This was Wednesday night.
Yet, when I wrote these notes on a plane from Wellington to Auckland 2 nights later, I still felt better than I should after a very tiring day. I looked forward to greater effects from passive floating more often in the short term, and experimenting with Super Learning (now used by Navy SEALS) which I read about in the book, and other possibilities in the future.
In short, I was sold!
The floating experience is different for each person, but this should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect first time. Please remember I wrote this 31 years ago and the technology has improved dramatically although the principal’s are the same.
Two more sleeps and I’ll be getting up on Saturday morning to, pack and head off to the Millenium Centre in Mairangi Bay, with my old runners and my new Thorlo padded socks, hoping the weather man is right and it won’t rain.
I don’t do this for myself (well maybe a little). I do it for the 1 in 3 people in New Zealand, who, like I did, will get cancer. I do it for HOPE.
First of all I want to thank you all for your kind donations, for your words of encouragement, for sharing your stories of cancer, both personal and members of your family or friends, some who lost the fight to cancer and others who are still fighting the battle.
This has been the hardest year for me to fundraise for the Cancer Society, I’ve felt like most people are over donating and wonder if it is because I have been doing this every year for 6 out of 7 years. I’ve stuck with it because cancer is so insidious, so horrible, and to raise awareness that we don’t all have to die from it.
I do it because of the 20 people who were motivated to get themselves tested because of my story. That’s what Team Early Birds is about.
At the height of my cancer journey I didn’t have the strength to do this event. I visited the team two years ago and went home to sleep at about 3 in the afternoon and felt so frustrated that I wasn’t able to participate! Last year, I still didn’t have the energy to stay right through the night. I left at 10PM and started again at 4AM.
This year I’m back in boots and all, no matter what it takes. I’ve taken 2 days of annual leave to let my body recover. I’m looking forward to the survivor’s lap of honour where those of us who are surviving cancer do the first lap, wearing a purple sash.
It is such an honor to do this and very humbling when kids you’ve never met before come up to you and tell you they are proud of you, that you inspire them. Some wear shirts with words like I MISS YOU MUM on their backs.
I’ll tweet a few updates from the event if you want to stay in touch and might do a Facebook Live post, but I will be conserving the battery on my mobile so it lasts through the night.
So again, a huge thanks to those of you who have supported me on this Relay For Life journey. I am very grateful and feel very fortunate that there are people who have my back. That’s what kept me going through my darkest days.
Now if you have any influence over the weather, I really don’t want to do this event in the rain again. Can we hold off until after the weekend?
Yesterday I had a day off between two holidays. I was going to go for a Fly Your Own Scenic Flight in a Cessna 162 at Ardmore, but the weather looked a bit dodgy and my car got trailered to an auto electrician in Pt Chevalier at lunchtime on Friday who said he was going to check the diagnostics and let me know why the engine lights kept coming up. Ardmore is an hour from here so a long drive with a high risk of rain.
I rang them 3 times after that and they said he was really busy and would call me back. I’ve been ringing ever since and I think he’s taken the long weekend off. It’s now Tuesday. We’ll come back to trustworthiness again later. This guy has been trustworthy before and was recommended by the man I bought my car off as an expert in Corvette’s. He didn’t let me down the other time I went to him. I suspect he is the sort of person that takes on more than he can handle and that frustrates his manager who in the end wouldn’t let me speak to him. So I’m not sure how I’m getting to work tomorrow or when I will see my car next. I think the thing about trustworthiness is it must be pervasive and consistent. It wasn’t.
Anyway, the weather improved a bit and I borrowed a car off my daughter and went into town to visit my friend and your Giapo for a chat.
I parked at Sky City, because it was free courtesy of a couple of poker matches and walked down Queen Street, where in almost every doorway sat someone with a hat out, not making eye contact, mostly no note and a vacant drug stare in their eyes, not the “I can feel it coming in the night” rush I saw on Louis Theroux’s Dark State – Heroin Town on TV recently, this was more like everyone was isolated in the same bad trip.
I had about $18 in coins in my pocket, planning to give some to buskers if they were making an effort, given that I had done some busking in my teens and I respect people who are prepared to make some sort of a trade for value.
Then I walked past this white guy, (his term) in a tidy shirt, clear drugless blue eyes and a hat in front of him with a lonely silver coin looking up at me from it. I turned around and walked back. I asked him if we could chat and if I could ask him a few questions. He looked me straight in the eye, blue eyes to blue eyes and said “Sure, I’m not going anywhere. What do you want to ask me?”
I said “I don’t want to offend you, but how did it come to this?”
He told me that a couple of years earlier he had been working as a labourer, had an accident which left him unconscious in hospital with severe injuries, to the point that he could no longer work when he got out after a couple of months. He couldn’t earn money (still can’t because of tremors and the scars looked pretty real where his hand appeared to have been pulverised). He and his wife lost their State House and then he lost his wife and kids.
With nowhere to go he now lives in a street doorway in downtown Auckland, except when he can find the $10 to get into an Internet Cafe where they don’t mind if you sleep in the night.
I asked what he could do and he said he didn’t know. His body didn’t give him much of a chance to get work and therefore a room and the only work he had been offered was with the gangs and he said “You know where that would end up. Back in jail and I aint ever going back there.” I didn’t ask what he had been inside for but he said it was about 24 years ago. He told me how he had survived by studying on behalf of inmates who were trying to get qualifications and explained how they would arrange it so that at exam time, the guards would let him go in and sit the tests on behalf of inmates that would have failed. He was very bright. He helped them and got to use his mind and they left him alone and safe.
It was clear that he couldn’t do physical labour, but he is 51 by his reckoning and the only way off the street is to work. Without a street address, he couldn’t get a benefit or his first hand on the rung to get out. He told me a lot of stories and he did have a good head on him so I asked if he had done any public speaking. He said he had been a member of Toastmasters while he was in jail. He found public speaking pretty easy and I thought of people I know who tread the circuit and thought he could probably hold an audience with his experiences. I said to him that the chances I could help him were pretty close to zero and not to get his hopes up, but I would ask some questions and I shall.
I dropped the change I was planning on giving to buskers into his hat and with a big grin he said “I’ll be staying in the Internet Cafe tonight.” He went on to say that he had to stash the money because if street kids saw any money in the hat they would run past and snatch it. He said he had been through 7 hats already that they had stolen.
I shook his hand and went on to visit my friend Giapo in his awesome new gelato shop.
This was my first visit to the new store (I know it has been there a while) and there was one thing that never changes. There is always a queue of people waiting for their Giapo gelato experience.
If you haven’t been to his new store in Gore Street, Auckland City, you owe yourself a treat.
This is no ordinary store where they wet an aluminium scoop in a container of water and drag some ice cream into a cone from the cardboard tub of your preference.
You are purchasing a culinary experience the equal of what you would get from the kitchen of a master chef. You will be taken on a journey of testing and trying flavours, even while you are standing in the queue Eventually a unique visual and sensual experience will be delighting you and your friends, while you are looking at and consuming it, followed by the sensation that you are sated and satisfied and looking forward to recommending it, the experience, to your friends. This is no drive to Pokeno for an ice cream, this is theatre for the eyes and taste buds.
Giapo and I have wonderful conversations and it was also great to finally meet his amazing and beautiful wife in person. I loved that she gave me a firm handshake and looked me in the eye, I don’t like limp handshakes from anyone. I know these last years have been a big journey for her also. Behind every consummate dreamer is their best friend and partner and without her the stumbling blocks are that much higher. We deep thinkers need a leveler and someone to sometimes ask how and why and finally, “how can I help?”
Giapo is an economist, a mad scientist, a gastronome, a master chef, a 3D printer, a social media maven from way back, a purveyor of experience, an artist and a man who speaks with absolute passion and Italian gestures, from a big heart, who wants to leave a legacy of experiences bound by trustworthiness for himself and his business; and a secure income for staff who want to use his business as a stepping stone for his own career.
We have many experiences in common, including both being deep thinkers and the visit left me with lots of thoughts and questions about what a trustworthy business looks like. The simple answer is that he was going to take many years to build it and would find out as it developed. But I can say that trustworthiness for Giapo includes:
- Consistently delivering a quality experience that is like going to theatre for the eyes and taste buds. I have never seen anyone leave disappointed;
- Passion for delivering something of quality including his relationships with staff and the products.
- Passion for his staff and helping them make what they will from the work experience and wishing he could do more with and for them.
- Helping his staff develop ideas, for example he runs Chef’s Table gelato degustation evenings and VIP evenings (they were set up for one when I was there) which includes matching music to the course, something one of his students is studying.
- Having a genuine passion and compassion for his customers (and friends) that never wavers, Giapo is who and what he is, not someone living a persona.
- Making sure that he looks after himself, his health and fitness so that he can be well in order to run his business to deliver the trustworthiness he aspires to.
- Recognising the importance of family, that includes those of his customers (friends like me and my family) and of course his own, those here and those back home in Italy.
There is something I deeply admire in people like Giapo. There is a sincerity and depth of purpose that he strives for every day, rain or shine, winter (not the best time for gelato) or summer, year on year.
It is a desire to be the best and continue to push the boundaries of what that means, each and every day and he has now done that for years past the use by date at which 80% of businesses go broke. He has proven that it is sustainable.
I’m not saying it has been easy. It’s tough when you are creating a unique business with a unique set of values and direction. Where ultimately you want your business to conform to a set of ideals. Where, if you consistently over-deliver on your promise of a wonderful experience and people trust you that if they tell their friends how great it was, they will confidently wish that same experience for their friends.
Like fractals, (something Giapo used to tell me about years ago, that branch out like pretty ice crystal flowers) customers all over the world would say “If you go to Auckland, New Zealand, you really have to go to Giapo in Gore Street. It will be a highlight of your trip.”
Anyway, enough of that, it’s a beautiful day, go and visit Giapo and let him know I sent you.
On the way back to Sky City to pick up the car I borrowed, I walked past a noisy bar with an American flag outside. It sounded like there was a show on, so I walked a bit closer to see what was happening. Yep, you got it, Super Bowl 2018. I’m not sure whether the audience was that worried about whether the Eagles one. Heck, I’ve only ever changed planes at the airport there on my way to or from Ithaca NY, but we love our sport in Auckland and despite the showers, it was a great day for sitting in a bar watching sport on TV.
Off I went home to do my thing, working on recording my second track for The Cancer Diaries, my charity music EP and Music Videos for cancer patients and their supporters, a bit of writing on the two books I am working on and pondering with my wife on the nature of trustworthiness as a pillar foundation for a business.
I have 2 questions for you:
What does trustworthiness mean to you in business? ; and
Have you been to Giapo yet. Looks like a great day for it today.
So when my GP told me that my PSA levels had increased every test over the last couple of years when they should fluctuate, he said there was a risk that I might have cancer. He told me to lie up on the bed in his surgery, pull my pants down and my legs up and before I had a chance to ask, “is this necessary?”, his gloved finger went where the sun don’t shine. To say that it was unpleasant was an understatement, but I barely had time to feel embarrassed.
We wasted no time in making an appointment with a urologist and off I reluctantly went. I’m not sure what I was dreading most, being told I had cancer (If I did) or having yet more insult and injury to my dignity.
He was a very nice, gentleman who explained to me what was going to next and asked if I had any questions. I was feeling pretty much in shock and bewildered and was barely taking in what he said.
He asked me what my flow pressure was like when I peed. I thought it was OK most of the time. They told me on the phone that I had to arrive with a full bladder for a urine pressure test, so I was ready to relieve the pressure.
I had to pee in a basin that had a sensor in it and I thought I did pretty well, as he stood in the next room, watching the gauge. He then burst my bubble and said that my flow was well below average and asked, would I like a script for something that would make it flow faster.
I declined. Up on the bed and he started prodding my stomach and then asked me to pull my pants off, lie on my side with my knees hard up against my chest.
Now dear reader, you may be feeling squeamish, you might be feeling embarrassed, you might be thinking, I’m pulling out of this story.
You might be thinking, why is he telling me this? Is it necessary?
No it isn’t, but I want your help and if I get some donations for our next Relay for Life, I won’t share the next step with you and I won’t tell you graphically how I felt.
People ask why I share my story. I’ll tell you why. All around me people are either battling or losing the fight to cancer. One in 3 people in New Zealand will get cancer and we have to do something about it. We can do something about it. The numbers are pretty similar in the western world.
Relay For Life isn’t just for raising money for cancer research, it is about remembering the people we love, work with, our friends and family who are affected by cancer. It is as much a celebration of life as a sharing of loss.
We walk for 18 hours in relay, and the number 18 on our singlets if you zoom in, you will see it is made up of the names the 13 of us are walking for. Some have passed away in the last few months, some are battling, some have been gone for some time and some are in remission like me.
When you walk around the track and you see an 11 year old in front of you and on the back of his shirt it says ‘I miss you Mummy’, you know why you are there.
So to stop me sharing the rest of this visit to the urologist, how about going to the Relay For Life website here and making a small donation. $5 is tax deductible if you are in New Zealand and it would mean a lot to me to have your support. If you’re overseas, maybe you won’t get a tax rebate for it, but I’d still be very grateful if you could share the cost of a coffee.
I hate asking for money, but it isn’t for me. It may will help you or someone you care about. Remember that number. 1 person in 3 in New Zealand will get cancer at some stage in their lives. Draw up a little list of people in your family and then separate one third of the names on that list. Imagine if those people got cancer. This is personal folks.
This year Relay is on the 10th and 11th of March. We got through the night to symbolise the cancer journey. You don’t have to walk the whole time, it’s a relay, but many of us like to do as much as we feel able. Our team is quite small this year. So far only 13 people. If you feel you would like to join us please head to the Team Early Birds page and let me or one of the team know.
Will you join us in person or in your thoughts?
What a week I had last week, back to work blues, PSA blood tests for my prostate cancer and the usual agonising wait for yesterday’s meeting with my oncologist after my blood tests on Wednesday and more.
So the visit was short and sweet, my PSA levels have gone down a little, without the help of any more drugs and after prodding my stomach (not quite sure why and I didn’t ask) I don’t have to go back for another 3 months.
That’s a weight off my mind and I can refocus on getting on with life and I have so much I want to do.
First, there’s Relay For Life on 10-11 March. Team Early Birds is back for another year and I need your help. Our team is a little smaller than in previous years and if you would like to join us, we would love your company. You can get all the detail here.
If you can’t join us, it would be great if you could leave a little donation. Even $5 is tax deductible and it is an awesome cause. With one in three Kiwis getting cancer, anything we can do to aid research and the awesome work of the Auckland Cancer Society who have been a huge help to me, is welcome. Last year I raised $1,500. So far this year I haven’t got to $50. So either way, can you lend a hand?
My Big Project A Cancer Video EP, the Last Song
As you may recall, dear reader, I am working on a HAG project which is huge, creating an EP and video series for people with cancer and those who are supporting friends and family with cancer in some way to help them on their journey. If you missed that story, details are here and again I need help.
The last song is called Dare to Dream and after the good news again on Saturday, it seems the right time to share the story and lyrics with you. This song is intimidating to me because it has tracks that I can’t play including a sax and a gospel choir. I have no idea where to find either of these, but I am confident that with some help from my friends, I will.
The song is about being told I’m in remission and trying to process what that means. I used to think that being in remission means that you are cancer free, but when I asked Benji, my oncologist about that he said “You will never be cancer free. Once you have cancer, you have cancer. Remission means it is in control and you don’t need any treatment, for now.”
So for the foreseeable future I will be stressed out on the last week of each 3 month period and hopefully like yesterday, will be told the good news that I continue to be doing fine. Benji thought I was looking very well and looking back at photos of my pasty pale face of a couple of years ago when I was undergoing radiation treatment and dealing with chronic fatigue, I look great!
So if you’re still with me, here are the song lyrics. Super Better is an awesome book by Jane McGonigal which now has a game and a Facebook page. There is also a great TED Talk by her for those who don’t want to wade through the book.
I’m in remission, it’s a reprieve from my condition
In 3 months I’ll know more, for sure
Pinch me am I dreaming? Please explain the meaning
Before I close the door, does this mean I’m cancer free?
The winter sun is crisp and clear,
I’ll write a list for 10 more years
Of things I want to do and see,
Things that mean the world and
Dare to dream, dare to dream
So much more for you and me
So much more that we can be
I’m in remission and I give myself permission
To embrace each new day as if the cancer has gone away
I’m going to grab a power up a SuperBetter lift up
Cause there are many on our team
Who need to dear to dream.
Chorus 2 (gospel choir for alternate lines)
Dear to dream
Watch me lift my hands up high
Dear to dream
Reaching out to touch the sky
Dare to dream
Take off like a bird and fly
Can’t believe this feeling
Repeats after break with lead guitar and horn section
So there you have it. I’m currently working on the demo for my second song called Who Stole My Words, which is about an incident where the chronic fatigue brain fog meant I couldn’t come up with simple words like current and channel to explain how I found myself upside down in an ocean kayak, without any fight or flight instinct because I wasn’t producing cortisol or adrenaline. I was upside down, underwater harnessed in thinking ‘this is interesting’. Anyway, I’m having a bit of a struggle going from fingerpicking to strumming and staying in perfect time with the clicktrack so I can add a walking bassline. But that’s another story.
So, can you help with Relay For Life, either with a small donation, or joining the team for 10-11 March in Mairangi Bay at the Millenium Institute? I’ll be there all night relaying with family and friends to raise money for the Cancer Society and in honor of the friends, family and colleagues who are fighting or who have lost their battle with cancer.
Do you know an Auckland based Gospel choir or a small horn section, or at least a sax player who could help with this song? The album will be Not For Profit by the way. I know I will have to pay for some of the work, which I will crowd source, but the end product will be free.
Want more info on my cancer journey? You’ll find it here. If you know anyone else who might find this interesting, please share it with them with my thanks.