What Your GP or Physio Should Tell you if you Have an Accident in New Zealand.


Ward 9As 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.

  1. The Primary Cause

Blackroom Relay for Life 2016 Print-47My 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.

FC9I 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

IMG_0974Many 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.

Another Accident

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.

So What?

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.

So what?

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. 

SUMMARY

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Affiliate Marketing That Works While I Wait For my Back Surgery


If you know me, you will know that for the last year, I have been off work with a back injury and I am waiting for back surgery after having tried everything else. ACC isn’t keen to pay for it and I am now waiting for a Review with them and also for an appointment with an Orthopedic Specialist at North Shore Hospital.

I was referred there on 9 April as Urgent and when I rang last week, they said I would be seen within another month or two and confirmed that they do of course have cancellations. I pointed out that I am close by and ready to come at a moments notice, having been off work for over a year now. You can check out the Back Story on my Back here.

seat

I have to sit on a cushion with a wheat bag behind my back

So what have I been doing this last year? Stretching,

IMG_5496

Hanging upside down is great and then gravity comes back

exercising, doing aqua aerobics, hanging upside down, going to specialists, having scans, steroid injections, floats, walking, sitting, stretching, working 6 hours a week and waiting for someone to approve the surgery that was recommended by my specialist.

Now if you know me, you know I am not one to sit down. I look for opportunities to keep busy.

All this time off made me think about retirement. No I don’t want to retire for many years yet. I’m anxious to get back to work full time which I should be able to do, 6-8 weeks post surgery. But when I do retire, I sure don’t want to rely on the pension to give me lifestyle.

I decided that Affiliate Marketing was the way to go. I tried several options as I will outline below, and I have come to the conclusion after some expensive trials with other vehicles, that Wealthy Affiliate is the way to go. It is simple, the education is awesome, and I am well on the way to building something that will provide me with an income in the future when I need it. More on that below. But if you want a shortcut to check out why I chose this without reading on. Click here.

Amway stageI’ve often thought about being able to have a passive income that would provide for my future and I’ve tried various things. Long ago my wife and I were Amway members and we developed a large downline. We even got to the famed 21% but it was incredibly hard work and we could see it really wasn’t for us, especially in New Zealand where there were not that many products and whilst the training and atmosphere was awesome, the income wasn’t.

978-0-473-46328-1

I wrote another book which I published in December after a great many reviews, because I have been taking fairly large doses of painkillers every day. but I got there.

I planned to write and sell a course for first home buyers via an organization called Clickbank. I spent a fair amount of time and money after signing up to Clickbank University and learned quite a bit about Affiliate Marketing, but I felt their system, based around selling courses was a bit limited on its own.

Then I found that the target market for my book, young first home buyers, don’t really like to read. So I set off to create a YouTube video version of the book. You can find it here. It’s great free information.

Through the course I also set up an email list on aWeber. But this also required cost and a lot of work and I decide that people looking to buy their first home, are not looking for training even though in my opinion they really need it.

So after many months, I still wasn’t getting anywhere, until… I discovered Wealthy Affiliate. What was great about it was that it was a no nonsense, paint by numbers course that had you finding a niche, researching it, buying a URL, searching keywords, doing SEO, setting up a website in no time flat and before you know it, you are almost ready to start generating an income.

I just wish I had found this a long time ago. Now this is not a get rich quick scheme. I don’t think anything like that even exists, but without any knowledge of current web set up, I created Guitar Love. This is a website that is going to entertain and educate established and learner guitarists about everything from how to pick a guitar, accessories that make playing fun, writing and composing songs and music and much more. I will share affiliate links to products that I love, help them get good deals and get a clip of the revenue for my trouble.

I just can’t tell you how easy it was. I’m not saying it isn’t a lot of work, but any business is. I’m not looking to make money right now, but I could if I wanted to. I’m looking to build something that will give me a better lifestyle in future years.

I have always wanted to find a way to do what I love, writing, blogging, making music and just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Wealthy Affiliate has an awesome community and we all help each other out. It has gamification, it has paint by numbers, it has what I wish I had found years ago.

So, do you want a little or a lot more income now or in the future? All it takes is a little desire and a little work. I’m into it and I just wish I had found it sooner. If you are looking for a way to set up your future like I am. Just click on the banner below and check it out.

If you know anyone else that is struggling to make ends meet, a solo parent, perhaps someone semi retired, a student, or like me, wanting to do something for yourself while recovering from an injury or illness, please share this blog or a link with them. The link has a really low cost introductory offer which I and most people used to determine if the system is as good as it sounds.

Any questions, just leave a comment, or if you know me personally, give me a yell.

The Backstory on My Back


acc HELPHi, I’m ACC 18 Number 201905123684, I’ve swapped the numbers a little, although it probably doesn’t make any difference. I’m fairly well known.

My back story consists largely of digital files and probably a few manila folders and other storage media in several Accident Compensation Commission, medical, physio, specialist, hospital, surgeon, Occupational Therapist, Pain Specialist offices around New Zealand. They get shuffled from time to time.

Having said that, everyone on my journey has been friendly, thoughtful and most have tried to help me. A few, who I haven’t met, somewhere in the system have the job of helping ACC to not have to pay for my surgery, with considered justification. I’ll talk about that too.

Blackroom Relay for Life 2016 Print-47In March 2018, I hurt my back getting ready to set up for the Auckland Cancer Society’s North Shore Relay for Life event. The annual 18-hour relay, raising funds for cancer services which I have completed 6 times. I started with my family in honor of family members who have died from cancer, including my late father-in-law.

Then I got cancer myself, and during the fund-raising process I’m proud to say that over 30 men got tested for Prostate cancer because of my story, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I was given the honour of speaking at the opening, having refreshments in the survivors’ tent and carrying one of the flags in the first survivors’ lap. A humbling and emotional experience.

20170325_155154Trying, unsuccessfully, to awkwardly pick up a bag of tent poles out of a trailer provided at the venue by the organizers, for a 4 room tent, would set off a chain of events that has opened my eyes to the plight of many New Zealanders, who desperately want to work, but can’t, because the health system is underfunded, under resourced and inefficient.I became one of them.

I have a job. I hold a management role at the NZTA, a job I love with an awesome team of people who provide mostly Real Time Travel Information to motorists and travelers around the country.

It’s been 14 months since my injury.

My Occupational Therapist, GP, Pain Specialist and my Manager have agreed that I can work 2 three-hour days a week. ACC funds taxis to get me there as I could be a danger to myself and others, under the daily pain medication regime I’m on. That allows me to do something productive as well as socialize with my colleagues and not feel totally divorced from my work.

It was part of my back to work program, which has stalled since the Orthopedic Surgeon advised me that we had ‘painted our backs into a corner, having tried every alternative to fusion and discectomy surgery.’

I am incredibly grateful that the NZTA hasn’t dropped me under the bus and that I still have a job, although I am not currently able to perform my normal duties.

Over the next while, along with other activities, I’m going to talk about my life, one shared with my family and friends, colleagues and the health system.

I’m going to talk about what happened, about why I still can’t go back to work, why I am still waiting for surgery after 14 months. How ACC don’t want to pay for the surgery, how I can’t afford to pay for the excess if I went private, and my current experience with the Auckland District Health Board and North Shore Hospital, where I was referred as an Urgent Patient on the 9th of April.

I have not yet been able to connect with the person who makes appointments. When I rang them at the end of April, the hospital representative at the Patient Service Centre said they must see me within 4 months, and it was too early to ring. I was told it wasn’t worth ringing before the end of May and even then, not to get my hopes up. I rang today and left a message on their voicemail.

I have Prostate Cancer.

Mercy ScannerDuring the dark days of 8 weeks of radiation treatment, followed by chemicals, I think I had less than a week off work, on the odd day when I was so fatigued that I couldn’t function.

I arranged my radiation sessions to be around 7AM every morning so that I could go straight on to work afterwards, and still be on time. That’s how I roll.

I am now fortunately in remission, and my latest blood test last week showed a good result. The irony is that Cancer is fatal and there is every possibility that one day, hopefully decades away, it will kill me.

On the other hand, chances are very good that after back surgery, I will be a little sore from time to time, manageable with over the counter pain relief. Yet, for cancer I had less than a week off work and with a back injury it has now been over a year!

Mine is a common story, but one with which for the first 40 years of my working life I had no personal experience. I’d heard stories, mostly about people who allegedly don’t want to work, and enjoy living off the taxpayer’s dollar, but there are so many more people like me, who desperately want to work and contribute to society. If you have a look at my profile on LinkedIn you will read that my goal in life has always been to help people.

I consider my work important, a contribution to reducing the pain of traveling on our ever more congested road network by offering information about planned and unplanned events, about expected delays, alternative routes, alternate modes of transport, helping people plan for holiday road trips and much more.

I lead a team of awesome people who really care about you, their customers. It matters to me, but I’m being kept from it.

It’s funny, we talk about the cost to society of people who are needlessly killed on our roads. The cost takes into consideration the contribution they will make to the country’s GDP over their lives. Yet, the cost to taxpayers to get me back to work by providing me with back surgery, is far less than the cost of keeping me away from work.

As I said, mine is a common story, but it’s not one that people like you and I can easily relate to, unless we are directly affected.

Of course, in each instance, it’s not just the patient, it’s our partners, our family, our friends, our colleagues and of course the workload that must be done by someone else, or perhaps not at all.

seatI’ll try to make the story interesting, maybe even have the odd laugh. But let me tell you, this is no joke. I have gone from being super positive and highly motivated, with a bucket list of things I want to do which I prepared when I found out I have cancer, to being virtually trapped in my home, on the border of depression, not being able to stand, sit or lie down for any length of time without significant pain.

I’ll share an email I sent to ACC after having read a report prepared for them by a specialist, who said that “The patient appears to be doing reasonably well”.

Interestingly, this person who was paid by ACC to investigate my case did not once speak to myself, my GP, my Orthopedic Specialist, my Case Manager, my Pain Manager or my Physio.

I guess ‘reasonably well’ is a relative expression. I’m not dying.

The email is quite personal, but that’s really the point. I am a person.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m hoping to hear back from the hospital today and am getting on with other things in the meantime.

You may find my story interesting; you may be in a similar situation yourself. I know I’m not alone. I understand it was stated in Parliament Question Time last week that the number of elective surgeries completed last year was 10,000 ‘elective’ surgeries less than the year before. Reasons included strikes and funding. It’s little wonder it could take months for me to just be able to speak to someone.

Feel free to comment or ask questions. I know I’m not alone here and you may be in a similar situation to mine. I grew up as a fan of New Zealand’s welfare state. I learned that we are the system and that if we don’t stand up for something, no one else will either. I just didn’t know how bad it was.

So, you there. Have you had any experiences like mine? How do you get some action without ruffling people’s feathers and having your manila folder dropped down the list a little? Of course, that wouldn’t happen would it?

I welcome your comments.

 

 

 

 

A Few Hours of Bliss at Float Culture


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?

FC9Anyway, 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.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

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.

 

Sensory Deprivation Float Experience in 1987


FC9This 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.

 

 

 

Floating to Relieve Back Pain and Stress



Float TankI didn’t want to have Mental Health Week pass without posting something and this is going to become a short series on the benefits of floating in a sensory deprivation tank and my experiences with it. So ignore the next few blogs if you don’t have aches and pains or don’t suffer from stress.

I have been ‘floating’ for years and it amazes me that most people still don’t know it exists or what it does. I started a bit of a journal back in the 90’s about some of my float experiences and have always thought I would share it one day.

I’ve been off work for about 6 months due to a serious back injury and I have been taking a cornucopia of painkillers which means that I can’t drive and I’m often dopy and unable to concentrate for long. I’m doing physio and seeing a back specialist and trying my best to avoid surgery. Anyway, enough of that.

I’ve been going to a place called Float Culture where I lie in a tank like the one in this picture, which contains a solution of Epsom Salts (I think) and water at body temperature. You have a shower, climb in, float, turn off the light and relax for an hour. Typically there is music for the first few minutes while you relax and again at the end so you know your time is up. Sometimes I go into a meditative state and sometimes I fall asleep, and no you can’t roll over and drown.

Lately I have been combining it with massage and for a few hours I have been able to go from pain of around 7 out of 10 to almost nothing. Unfortunately it comes back after a while when gravity takes hold, but during that time it at the very least helps reduce inflammation and you feel like there is no gravity. Gravity is my enemy right now. Imagine having a great massage when your body is already relaxed.

The masseuse, Kim, probably doesn’t realise how much pain I am normally in, but combining her work (careful around the injury) and the float leaves me feeling so free of pain that is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t been in chronic pain for a long time. Chronic pain and not knowing when it is going to end is extremely stressful, as is not being at work. If you have ever felt work was drudgery or you didn’t want to go, the feeling I have might be a bit foreign to you. I love my job and can’t wait to get back, but I don’t know exactly when I’ll be capable.

Another element of floating is that without any sensory input, not being able to feel where the water starts and ends, is that it is very easy to get into a trance-like state, effectively meditation. The difference is that you don’t need to know how to meditate. I often see people after they come out of their float room and they are radiating endorphins, your bodies natural opiates and often talk about having almost mystical experiences.

I have floated for lots of different reasons over the years, for relaxation, for creativity, to catch up on sleep, to alleviate jet lag (before or after a long haul trip) and, like now, when I have an injury. Whilst the pain came back, I slept all night (about half of the time I’m up for an hour around 2-3AM because of the pain) and my digestive system felt better. I also lost almost a kilo of weight over the 24 hours which is effectively a litre, even though I drank a lot. I didn’t realise I was carrying so much fluid! That helps too because a side effect of the drugs I am on is that you put on weight and more weight and a bad back is not a good mix.

On their site, Float Culture, one of the more recent additions to the floating experience in Auckland has a blog page where people share some of their experiences. I’m going to share a few experiences of my own. So if that interests you, you will find them by following this blog.

If you know anyone who is not claustrophobic and can do with a bit of inner or outer healing, or just an amazing relaxation opportunity, tell them to try it out and let them know you learned about it from me, or if you have had an experience, feel free to leave a comment. If you are not in Auckland, float tanks can be found in most cities around the world, just Google it.

They are popular with elite athletes, creatives, people with cancer and yet most people, including the health industry don’t even know they exist.

So if you’re interested in learning more of my experiences, follow this blog. If not, remember it for a friend.

 

 

How I Chose My Prostate Cancer Treatment AND Got to Remission


I have had feedback from many people that they are reading my blogs about my cancer journey and appreciation for my speaking out, when for many men this is a taboo subject. I really appreciate the feedback. It’s not exactly a comfortable thing to share. There are a couple of things I would appreciate even more. If you think these blogs are useful, please leave a comment or share it with others and if you can find it in your heart to do so, please visit my Relay For Life page. It’s a month away and I am desperately hoping the weather isn’t like it is today!

IMG_3494The biggest win for me has been that I am now up to 20 people who have been motivated by me to get tested for cancer, which is awesome. Prostate cancer does kill people. On Wednesday night I was standing by the window in a stinking hot room at the West Plaza Hotel in Wellington with no air conditioning, looking out at the night sky and hoping it would cool down and watching the Halberg Awards live on TV. From West Plaza

In the memorial section, there was the face of Steve Sumner how died only a year ago from Prostate Cancer, I thought of a radio personality (I haven’t asked her permission so won’t use her name) who told me her father died from Prostate Cancer because he didn’t get checked until it was too late; and I thought of Paul Holmes who on one TV interview said that he wished he had never known he had cancer, but reading this story, I suspect he changed his mind as he realised how important life and his family were to him.

Anyway, I met with my urologist and my oncologist to discuss my cancer treatment options. They gave me an information pack from the Auckland Cancer Society and whilst being very diligent in trying not to let their biases show, explained a little about the options available to me. I have had a little experience with specialists who are very focused on the particular treatments or therapies they offer, and they should, because they shouldn’t be performing them if they don’t believe in them. But one size doesn’t fit all.

I was given four medical options. I did also try alternatives like Pomi-T for a long time and sea cucumber which tasted horrendous and cost a fortune. They didn’t hurt me, but the tumors kept growing.

  1. External Beam Radiation. 8 weeks of radiation, which according to my oncologist has a 95% success rate for people at my level of cancer.
  2. Brachytherapy. This is where they insert radioactive isotopes into the prostate and treat it from the inside out.
  3. Hormone therapy. This is similar to the treatment they use on sex offenders to reduce their sexual urges, reducing testosterone and increasing female hormones. Testosterone feeds tumors, so less testosterone means less for the cancer to thrive on.
  4. Radical Prostatectomy or surgical removal of the prostate gland. As it sounds.

I listened to their arguments for and against. I read the pamphlets. I joined a prostate cancer forum and asked other people who had prostate cancer about their treatments and found that they had all done a lot of research; and uniformly recommended the book Winning the Battle Against Prostate Cancer by Dr Gerald Chodak, which I mentioned and linked to in this blog.

I also went to a prostate cancer support group which was the most depressing thing I’ve ever been to. I appreciate the intent, but what an experience. One man had been told that day that he had less than 6 months to live and he was telling me how he was bewildered and horrified, struggling to comprehend a life of daily exercise, good diet and basically doing everything right and instead of looking forward to retirement in 5 or so years, he wasn’t going to be around for it; and a guy so depleted of testosterone that he had suffered massive weight gain, hot flushes, emotional swings, inability to reach an erection (and the lack of desire to do so with the depression of not having it) and more. I understand the purpose of the group and applaud the Society for providing this service, but it wasn’t for me. It could have just been that I picked the wrong day to attend.

With regard to treatment and side effects I want to reiterate that everyone is different. If you look at the side effects for any drug you take on the packaging or leaflet, most people don’t experience many of the potential effects, but the odd person could have severe reactions. I’m not trying to influence your decision. You need to make it for yourself and decide even how informed you want to be.

External Beam Radiation

As a poker player, 95% odds of success appealed to me. Imagine going into an 8-week poker tournament knowing you had a 95% likelihood of being in the money at the end if you followed instructions!

The center offering the treatment said they were prepared to provide my treatment at 7AM each morning, so I could go to work afterwards and have minimal disruption to my life.

The side effects to consider were:

  • Hair loss in the area (not a worry)
  • Mild fatigue (about that…)
  • Frequent urination, weak stream and burning pain while urinating.
  • Possible diarrhea, incontinence, impotence and proctitis.
  • Reduced or no seminal fluid with ejaculation

Many of these side effects disappear a year or so after the treatment. Everyone is different.

Brachytherapy

Many of the symptoms are similar to external beam radiation, but instead of 2 months of radiation, it’s a brief surgery where radioactive seeds are implanted and that’s it. A key difference is that the side effects occur fairly soon after the implants have been placed and improve, where the symptoms of external beam occur later. Side effects include:

  • Burning pain during urination
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Sexual Dysfucntion
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Bowel Incontinence
  • Diarrhea
  • Having to stay away from pregnant women (what if they don’t know they are pregnant?) and adolescent children.

Hormone Therapy

In the book I mentioned above, Dr Chodak explained that the treatment is more or less the same as what is known as chemical castration, the treatment that is used to stop sex offenders, because one of the primary side effects is that it reduces your libido or sex drive. Great if that means reducing the risk of a criminal reoffending, but not for a normal male, or in fact a normal couple.

  • Loss of interest in sex (libido)
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Hot flashes
  • Loss of bone density and risk of fractures
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weight gain

Radical Prostatectomy

This is surgical removal of the prostate gland. The things that worried me the most were the risk of nerve damage and the potential to never be able to have an erection again as well as a reduction in penis size. Sorry of this is something that you find creepy to read, but it’s amongst the things I had to consider. If I was 70, these things might not be such a big deal, but I’m not and they are. In the USA this surgery is frequently done by a robot, but here it is humans and I don’t care how good the surgeon is, stuff happens, there is a high risk of at least partial nerve damage.

Ignoring infections and other things that can go wrong and potential risk of tumors crossing the enclosure holding the prostate gland in place (also a risk with biopsies and the Brachytherapy), side effects include:

  • Urinary incontinence and/or urine leakage which can mean having to wear pads for 1-3 years or longer
  • Trouble getting or maintaining an erection, potentially permanent
  • Dry orgasms and loss of sensation and pleasure (and the impact of that on your partner)
  • Infertility
  • Penile shortening
  • Bowel Injury

But Wait There’s More

So this is just scratching the surface. I read the book and it literally gave me nightmares. It wasn’t a short book and went into way more detail than what I have shared above. It was very thorough in explaining all of the details of the different surgeries and what factors you should consider based on the severity of the cancer, your age, your lifestyle. It helped me make my decision from a personal and clinical perspective, but I’m not sure I would recommend it. I was pretty upset and stressed out for a long time after reading the book. I can’t even bring myself to go back to it to quote parts of it to you.

My decision

I want to reiterate again that my decision was based on my feelings about the treatments, the people offering the treatments and my personal circumstances, my relationship (of course my wife was also part of the decision making process because it affected both of us), my age (I plan to be working for at least another 10 years), my family and obviously wanting to survive and live a productive and happy life.

I chose external beam radiation for various reasons.

  • A 95% success rate is not to be sneezed at (unless you become semi-incontinent!). It’s no laughing matter either as people who have semi-incontinence can attest to.
  • My granddaughter was 7 and I didn’t want to lost that special relationship of being able to sit next to her, have her on my knee or miss out on hugs. I was worried that if for her safety, I had to keep my distance that this  might have a long term impact on our relationship. You can’t get that back and she was too young to have been able to understand if I noticeably kept my distance.
  • While it would impact on my ability to travel by plane for work, which I was doing 2-3 times a month, I could do some of the treatment over Christmas.
  • Doing the treatment at 7 each morning meant that I wouldn’t have to take time off work.
  • IMG_4479I wouldn’t have to risk sitting next to someone on a plane with radioactive seeds between my legs. Imagine saying to the airline, I’m flying on Friday. Please don’t seat me next to a child or a pregnant woman. What if the woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant? Okay please don’t seat me next to ANY woman. I wonder how many people do and if any women struggle with fertility as a consequence of having randomly sat next to someone on a plane or at a concert. I wasn’t going to have that risk on my conscience.
  • The side effects seemed to be the least severe of the 4 options.

“I’m sorry, but you’re not in the 95%”

IMG_2105Unfortunately after 2 months of radiation treatment, when I had a series of scans to see how it went, the treatment was unsuccessful. I was in the 5% of people for whom it didn’t work.

I got many of the side effects, some very severe, but the cancer was still there. I may write about the year during and after the treatment for anyone that wants more insight into what it was like. From drinking a bottle of water every morning on the way to Mercy Hospital so that my full bladder would push my internal organs out of the way during the radiation treatment, being afraid that I couldn’t hold it, the painful urination, the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction, a feeling of loss of dignity, chronic fatigue, depression, needing to stay close to a toilet and on the other side, meeting some wonderful people, both fellow patients and those who helped me with treatment of my body and mind.

Another Choice

So then I had 3 more options. Brachytherapy wasn’t much of a choice given the radiation had already failed, so I had to go to hormone treatment, given I do not want the surgery.

This treatment was just pills, nothing more. I had side effects and continue to have some lingering effects. I had to make use of the counselling from a psychologist at the Cancer Society.

IMG_2290The end result was about 7 months ago my Oncologist said “You are in remission”. I had to ask what that means, because sometimes people talk about being cancer free. There is no such thing, but you can be in remission for years or decades.

This is important because I frequently read or hear stories about people being cured of cancer. As I understand it, there is no such thing. We all have cancer cells, they may be dormant or managed, either with treatment, diet or our immune system, but you do not get cured.

I am now on 3 monthly visits and in January had my 3rd one where my oncologist said my testosterone levels are good, my cortisol levels are lower than we would like, but I am producing some, I am still barely producing adrenaline, but my PSA levels are low and stable. I don’t have to go back for another 2 months.

Early Birds 2018

Our 2018 singlets have just arrived. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of people living and sadly past who we are walking or running for on 10-11 March. The day after my birthday.

I’m in remission. I am focused on Relay For Life. Check out our Team Early Birds singlet. The 18 for 2018 is made up of the names of the people we are walking for over 18 hours. We are raising funds for the Cancer Society who do amazing work. They don’t take any money out of it for admin or running the society. It goes to research and supporting services like the psychologist who helped me and accomodation for people who have to travel a long way from home for their treatment. I’m on a mission to get people like you to donate $5 to this wonderful cause. Think of it as a koha for the time I spent writing this blog.

For those who are facing decisions like mine. I’m happy to answer questions and I will probably share more details of what it was like physically and emotionally to go on this journey.

CLGR7749In the meantime, I’m working on recording my EP of 4 songs called The Cancer Diaries. I am struggling with the rhythm guitar for the second demo, called Who Stole My Words and may need to call on one of the guitarists who offered to help me with this album to lay down a track for me. I hate asking for help but I need some with this.

I hope this has been informative and not an uncomfortable read. It is an uncomfortable condition as is any cancer and I hope that this blog is helpful. I hope that I can increase the number of people who get tested early beyond 20. I hope you will leave a comment, question, share, or make a little donation to Relay For Life.