How Accessible is Aiguille du Midi?

Aiguille du Midi (“aiguille” means needle) is one of several peaks on the Mont Blanc Massif. The elevation of the needle on the summit is 3842m (or 3843m, depending on your source), compared to the peak of Mont Blanc at approximately 4808m. The cable car base station is in Chamonix with a halfway station at Plane du Aiguille (2300m). The total altitude gain from Chamonix to the top station at Aiguille du Midi is 2800m and the total journey time is around 20 minutes in each direction.

I’d set my heart on going to Aiguille du Midi during our holiday only to discover that my husband has a severe phobia of cable cars, but not heights. For example, if I’d suggested a mountaineering expedition to the summit of Mont Blanc he would have been delighted. Seeing as that wasn’t on the cards for me, he kindly offered to take me to Chamonix and wait for me while I took the trip alone. The problem was that even though my wheelchair skills are improving and I’m getting better at self-propelling myself and tipping my chair to pop the castors off the ground to get up small lips and kerbs, I’m not yet competent and confident enough to get about on my own except for inside, for example, a supermarket, so I knew I’d need some help.

The alternative was to use my crutches, and even though I had fortified myself with a large dose of Oramorph and a bottle of beer for breakfast, I knew that standing on my crutches for 20 minutes each way plus the time at the summit, would absolutely floor me with pain, plus there was the possibility of a fall as my strength and proprioception deteriorated in my right leg during the course of my excursion. There would be no point trying to sit down when I got to the summit because my RGK Maxima wheelchair (“MX5”) is the only seat I can tolerate sitting in.

When we arrived at the cable car base station, I went to the visitor information window to ask for some advice and found myself face to face with a harbinger of doom who reinforced all my concerns about trying to complete the trip on my own in my wheelchair. She told me I really would be better off taking a carer with me because of the uneven surfaces and the lip getting in and out of the cable car, while adopting the facial expression and tone of voice more commonly used by plumbers when delivering a catastrophic diagnosis of a drain problem accompanied by a really big quote for the remedial work.

To Think What I Could Have Missed. The Beauty of the Mont Blanc Massif.

But I thought: “to hell with it, I’ll go up on my crutches and deal with the fall out later”. So I rolled round to the ticket office with my husband carrying my crutches (we always carry them in the car as a back-up) for me to transfer to when it came time for me to enter the cable car. There was no need. The woman we spoke to at the ticket office was wonderful and couldn’t have been more helpful. She guided us up the ramp to the departure area and asked us to wait next to the gate for boarding. I explained that I’d brought my crutches because I wasn’t yet very good at negotiating kerbs in my chair, but she assured me that wouldn’t be a problem, the staff would help me. She also explained which parts of Aiguille du Midi I would be able to access, which unfortunately didn’t include the upper terraces and restaurant that are only accessible by steps.

I was the first person allowed onto the next cable car, a thoughtful gesture that allowed me to park near the Plexiglas window and enjoy a fantastic view as we climbed. The cabin rocked and pitched as we passed the support pylons, prompting gasps from passengers and butterflies in the stomach. After about 10 minutes we arrived at Plan de l’Aiguille, a popular starting point for walking trails, and transfered to the second cable car for the top station. This car climbed for a further 10 minutes on a single span of cable over blasted rock, snow, and glacier and before rising almost vertically up the awe inspiring North Face.

Upon arrival at the top station getting out of the cable car building onto the first viewing platform is simple enough, down the ramp, through the automatic doors and out into intense sunshine and almost freezing air, a dramatic contrast to Chamonix which was enjoying around 28ºC of warmth. Immediately to the right, just after exiting through the automatic doors, is an enclosed stairway traversing the cliff face. I believe this was the inaccessible route to the higher terrace and restaurant.

View From the First Platform

The Exit Onto the Mountainside For Climbers

The Stairway to the Restaurant

The first open air platform is a wood and steel bridge across a chasm between two pinnacles of rock. The aerial walkways that link the various rocky outcrops of the top station complex appear to be little more than wooden decking, some sections are double layered, lending them an appearance of solidity, but other spans are constructed from a single layer of planks spaced just widely enough to reveal the gaping void below. I went across the bridge and through a doorway into a roughly hewn rock tunnel that leads to the elevator that rises through the rock to the needle and highest viewing deck. Sadly the elevator was not operational on the day I visited. The tunnel also leads to the icy exit point for mountaineers, the Helbronner Point cable car traverse, a further open air terrace and the wheelchair accessible toilet.

Glacier As Seen Through a Plexiglas Window

I Made Sure My Brakes Were On

The next terrace cantilevered out from the raw rock and overlooked the cable car lines leading to Italy, a 5km traverse over the Mont Blanc Massif to Helbronner Point. The round trip apparently takes about 2 hours and is not wheelchair accessible. According to chamonix.net … the Panoramic Mont Blanc … is the highest cable car traverse in the world …” There is also a further cable car from Helbronner Point down to La Palud in Italy.

The Needle

Cable Cars to Helbronner Point

Over the Barrier

Through the Window

Building Work

Sadly, the time came to leave this wonderful place and I reluctantly headed back to the cable car. Visitors usually take a flight of steps to the departure point but I had been advised, while at the base station, that I would need to ask a member of staff at the top station information point to open the doors for the ramp so I could wheel myself back up to the departing cable car. This proved to be extremely easy, I wasn’t kept waiting and even with my beginner’s French the guy I spoke to immediately understood what I needed. Using a wheelchair is still a new experience for me and I’m still adjusting to other people’s reactions to me being in the chair. I found visiting Aiguille du Midi in my wheelchair to be a positive experience even though I couldn’t gain access to the restaurant. It was one of the most amazing, spectacular and memorable places I’ve ever visited I’m so glad I wasn’t deterred by the woman in the information office. As with so many situations in life, it’s best to get a second opinion.

The Author at Aiguille du Midi

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Posted in Chronic Pain, Disability, Neuropathic Pain, Pain Management, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

My Three Col Challenge

Up to this point I’d only ever successfully ridden one col in a day, an especially sore point after my Avoriaz failure. My husband and I had discussed a wonderful three col route that was viable from the gite and included the fearsome Col de Romme, the familiar Col de la Colombière, which I first rode from the traditional Sconzier approach in 2010, and the Col des Aravis, followed by a fabulously twisty descent to the quirky town of Flumet.

Col de Romme, Col de la Colombiere & Col des Aravis - Profile

After suffering so badly in the afternoon heat on the Col de Joux Plane and Morzine-Avoriaz, I was determined to start my three col challenge as early as possible and set off from our rented farmhouse in the chill air of early morning wearing arm warmers and a gilet. I followed the St Gervais to Megeve road that wound its way gently uphill through low lying cloud, then turned right for Sallanches, which turned out to be a fantastic fast road down through tourist trap pretty Combloux, and was as serpentine, occasionally steep and forested as any famous col descent.

Day 258

Combloux by Mr L.C.

Picking my way through the road furniture and traffic of rush hour Sallanche, I turned onto the main valley road to Cluses, a few kilometres further on. With a “no cycling” sign (in France!) denying me access to the main road, I took an impromptu detour through Cluses. I couldn’t get out of Cluses quick enough after being aggressively cut up by a guy in a big white Peugot on a roundabout. Roundabouts really did seem to be an issue for me on this holiday. I was relieved to cross the bridge over the autoroute and take an immediate left by a Nissan dealership onto an unpromising road that seemed to exist purely to service a trading estate. The presence of my support car confirmed this was the right way so on I went. My husband had decided to stick to the classic route up the Col de la Colombière from Sconzier and meet me above Le Reposoir, about halfway up. Once I’d passed the last of the industrial units, the tame road suddenly reared up into a tarmac wall.

The Arve Valley from the Col de Romme

Col de Romme 

Phil Liggett, 2009 Tour De France Coverage: “This is a cruel strong man’s climb….”

Distance: 9.3km
Height Gain: 815m
Average Gradient: 8.8%

It was a good thing I’d done a relatively gentle warm up and the 30km ride to the base of the climb had nicely loosened up my legs and got me comfortable on the bike. I’d done my home work and studied coverage of stage 17 of the 2009 Tour de France, so far the Romme’s one and only appearance in the great race, but I hope it’s not the last. I was already acquainted with the Col de la Colombière from last year, but was looking forward to tackling it from the Romme approach rather than directly up from Scionzier.

I really was climbing the walls of the Col de Romme whose cliff hugging lower section gains height from the valley floor in the most brutal fashion. A couple of ramps, I turned another bend and found myself looking down a cliff face onto the autoroute and Cluses as if I was hovering in a helicopter. It’s truly breathtaking, in more ways than one. I couldn’t take photographs from the most dramatic vantage point because it was just too steep, I’d never have got going again, so I continued past the electricity sub station and outcrop of rock I’d seen used as a perch by spectators in the Tour footage, and stopped as soon as the gradient slackened on a bend. Annoyingly there were tall trees blocking the view and I still struggled to get the bike going, even when I tried that old trick of riding diagonally across the width of the road to get some momentum.

 

Eventually the road gains enough height to reach a hanging valley and the dense vertiginous woods give way to farmland and the villages of Nancy-sur-Cluses and La Frasse, but the road is still punishingly steep. I’m convinced I left my kneecaps on the tarmac up there from the sheer effort of forcing the pedals round.

The Village of Romme

Through the village of  Romme, the road continues to climb for a while before pitching down into dense forest on roads scarred by the action of ice and snow, fissured longitudinally as  gravity pulls the road down the mountain side, and scattered with gravel, especially on the tight bends, making for a technical descent to the village of Le Reposoir.

Col de la Colombière

On the Col de la Colombière, above the village of Le Reposoir, by Mr L.C.

I rejoined the climb of the Col de la Colombière at Le Reposoir and met up with my support team of one on a dirt lay-by about a kilometre above the village. As I restocked with food and fresh bottles we were passed by a convoy of Porsche 911s. A vinyl on the door of one of the cars announced we were watching a classic Porsche rally called Le Trophée des Grands Chefs.

Day 255

Le Trophée des Grands Chefs on the Col de la Colombière, by Mr L.C.

I remembered from 2010 that the climb of the Col de la Colombière is an ascent of two halves: relatively gentle and mostly shaded by trees from Scionzier (except for one short stretch at nearly 10%) up to Le Reposoir; steeper (holding at around 8%) and exposed to the sun above the village. The last few kilometres are by far the harshest of all, with the gradient around 10% and the last ramp to the summit hitting 12%. I knew I’d reached the worst part when I turned a corner around a shoulder of rock and saw the gift shop on the summit around 3 km away. I gritted my teeth and dug in.

Digging In on the Col de la Colombière, by Mr L.C.

It’s the summit that never seems to get closer but up ahead I could see a cyclist, his red jersey bobbing in front of me before turning a bend and disappearing behind a rock wall. I decided to concentrate on him rather than the summit and drew some satisfaction from being a little closer each time he re-emerged. A muted sprint to the finish, a quick breather and I began the lengthy descent to St Jean de Sixt, passing through La Mulaterie, Le Chinaillon and Le Grand-Bornand on the way. 

The Author on the Col de la Colombière, by Mr L.C.

Summit of the Col de la Colombière, by Mr L.C.

Col des Aravis

Summit of the Col des Aravis, by Mr L.C.

The website Climbbybike lists the climb on this side as starting from Thônes, but that would have involved turning right in St Jean, going to Thônes then retracing my steps, so I settled on starting in St Jean de Sixt. Even so, the real climbing didn’t start until I left La Clusaz, a few kilometres further on. With fresh legs it would have been a relatively easy climb through mountain meadows filled with musical cows, albeit with a lot of traffic including very many motorcycle tourists, gravel trucks that pushed me too close to the electric fencing and a constant flow of holidaymakers heading for the restaurant and cow hide gift shops at the top. I met up with my husband at the summit just in time to enjoy Le Trophée des Grands Chefs Porsche rally for the second time.

 

I wanted to ride over the Col des Aravis, not just up it, so we agreed to meet up again in Flumet at the conclusion of yet another awe inspiring alpine descent. I followed a nervous Citroen driver down the steep initial part of the descent, making sure not to get too close to her bumper as she tip toed around the hairpins. A queue of traffic was building up behind us and eventually she pulled onto a lay-by allowing my support car to lead the convoy of overtaking vehicles. I followed them into a tunnel and back out into blinding sunlight then left the meadows behind and descended into the tree line, the road now following a sheer sided river gorge with only a low crumbling stone wall for protection. I’d loved to have stopped in La Guittez, a village with a bike based civic decorative theme, but sped onto Flumet, appropriately completing my three col challenge beneath the giant ornamental bike bedecked with flowers.

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The Col de Joux Plane and a Roundabout

Words: The Limping Cyclist
Photography: Mr L.C. and the Limping Cyclist

Col de Joux Plane from Samoëns 

Distance: 11.6km
Height Gain: 988m
Average Gradient: 8.5%
Maximum Gradient: 13.5%
11 appearances in the Tour de France since 1978
My ascent time: A hot and bothered 1 hour and 11 minutes

Summit of the Col de Joux Plane

The last time I tackled the Col de Joux Plane it was a cool overcast day and I got cramp during the ascent leaving me with the nagging feeling of unfinished business. I’d reached the summit but didn’t feel I’d given this climb my unfettered undivided attention. For my second go at this famous climb, Mr L.C. kindly acted as my support car driver, dropping me off in Samoëns before taking the Les Gets route to our rendevous point in Morzine before an attempt on the ascent to Avoriaz.

It was an extremely hot day. I’d almost forgotten what truly hot days feel like (having spent 2011 in the UK) and immediately regretted not finishing a whole bottle of water during the car journey. After only 1km on the open lower slopes through farms, my cotton cap, worn to keep the sweat out of my eyes, was already soaked and gently poaching my fevered brain within my skull. I waited for a skinny young guy on a Cannondale SuperSix to power past me before discretely pausing to remove my sodden headwear, then struggled to gain balance and momentum as I pushed off on the cruel gradient. At least now the meagre breeze could get through my helmet. I’d hoped the forested section halfway up would offer shady relief, but the sun was directly overhead and my two bottles were soon empty.

 

There was something strangely comforting about the familiarity of the climb, and this time the clear weather revealed spectacular tree framed views beneath the cloudless deep azure sky from alternative hairpins. This was also to be the first time I had ridden over a col rather than just up to the summit and back down the same way. That may sound like a minor thing, but descending down a different side of the mountain added an extra element of adventure into the unknown. After the obligatory photo of the bike next to the summit sign, I rode past pastures crowded with grazing bell clanging cows ringing out random music like a giant wind chime, around the side of the small turquoise lake fringed by motor homes and cars whose owners were enjoying an al fresco lunch at the restaurant and began my brief descent to the foot of the Col du Ranfolly. A brief climb past downhill riders using the ski chair lift to reach the best trails and I started my descent to Morzine, and it was a thrilling descent.

Down Hill Riders Using Ski Lifts on the Descent to Morzine

Somehow I managed to bypass Morzine and was on my way to Les Gets when I pulled to the side of the road and called Mr L.C. to discover his whereabouts. I eventually met up with my support car driver in downtown Morzine after going all the way through town yet again, then following the misleading road signs back the other way and finally ignoring the road signs altogether and just randomly heading down a side street that was sloping down the hill.

Morzine Bridge by Mr L.C.

Morzine to Avoriaz Ski Station

Distance: 14km
Height Gain: 840m
Average Gradient: 6%
Maximum Gradient: 11%
7 appearances in the Tour de France since 1975
My ascent time: Enormous over heated fail!

Every Town in Haute Savoie Seemed to Have an Intersport by Mr L.C.

Three blissfully ice cold cokes gratefully consumed at a bar internationally staffed entirely with youthful English speakers, set me up for the second big climb of the day. Departing from the gap year bar in the still intense and breeze free afternoon heat, I got back on the bike rehydrated and brimming with sugar and caffeine, then headed out of town up the Avoriaz road until I encountered a roundabout which had as much business being there as the one on the top of the Col des Saisies. My heat and caffeine addled brain tried to process the information on the sign posts, unsuccessfully as it turned out. It looked to me like the first exit headed to Avoriaz, while the second exit headed away from it, so I took the first exit.

Morzine by Mr L.C.

This headed up the valley on double chevron gradients until the tarmac ran out giving way to dirt hiking paths, if only I’d been on my cyclocross bike. O merde! Back down the hill and the other roundabout exit that I now realized said “Avoriaz access station”, or something like that. Damn roundabouts, as if I wasn’t hot and dizzy enough already. My 7km detour had pushed my body temperature up to danger levels but I was determined to make it to Avoriaz, one of the Tour de France’s legendary climbs that’s been included seven times since 1975.

Day 252

Avoriaz Seen From Morzine. So Near Yet So Far by Mr L.C.

The initial part of the climb snakes steeply up the mountain side with a ladder of hairpins. I settled on the tops of my bars, spinning in my lowest gear and regularly sipping from my bottles, but as much as I tried to pace myself, the crippling heat was boiling my brain again and I recognized the onset of heat exhaustion. My legs felt great, my lungs were functioning well and my energy levels were high. I wanted to continue all the way to the ski station but I was overheating. A past experience of heat exhaustion through cycling made me rationalize what I was doing. I could sacrifice Avoriaz and recover to ride up another mountain on another day, or I could stubbornly carry on and find myself in need of medical attention.

Cable Car Lines to Morzine from the Road to Avoriaz

I stopped on the penultimate hairpin and contemplated my decision while another broiling cyclist inched past me. “Il fait trop chaud ”  he rasped, then squirted water into his mouth and over his head. I nodded sadly and arced across the tarmac heading back down to  Morzine and my waiting husband, my failure weighing heavily on my shoulders. Yet more unfinished business.

Climbbybike profile.

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Col des Saisies

Words: The Limping Cyclist
Photography: Mr L.C. and the Limping Cyclist

This morning we woke up to the sun climbing up behind Mont Blanc. A gorgeous day that started gently, as we consumed breakfast while watching Le Matin (French morning TV) discussing bad taste adverts. For example, a wife is shown accidentally knocking over the urn containing her husband’s ashes. It falls on the floor and smashes. You would expect her to be distraught, but instead she reaches down, picks something up from amongst the ashes and puts it in her mouth then starts chewing. Yes, that’s right, it’s an advert for Stride, the ridiculously long lasting chewing gum. Bizarre advert number two. The Dirt Devil Exorcistrip off that had me laughing out loud.

Giant bike in Flumet by Mr L.C.

We headed out on the Megève road from St Gervais, a gentle warm up climb before dropping down into Megève itself, an Alpine town which is best characterized by mentioning the Lotus Exige, Range Rover Vogue, two Ferraris and  the black Lamborghini that slipped past me like an assassin in the night as we negotiated the busy main street. An equally busy main road to Flumet reminded me that white van man is in fact international, and not an exclusively British species. Even more perturbing was the realization that all French cars over twelve months old are covered in substantial dents and scrapes that no one ever seems to bother to repair. Presumably the car’s owners take the pragmatic view that their car is only going to get damaged again, so what’s the point?

Day 249

Flumet from the stone bridge by Mr L.C.

We followed the road into Flumet then took the left turn over the stone bridge that spans the deep river gorge overshadowed by multi storey buildings clinging to the edge of the cliff for no particular reason except perhaps to be picturesque.

Col des Saisies summit - the other sign

After a few hairpins and an “allez, allez, allez” from a road side picnicer, we deviated from the standard ascent of the Col des Saisies in a hamlet that I think was called Notre Dame de Bellecombe and took the road to Crest Voland. This quiet back road has a couple of double chevron sections on the Michelin map compared to the two single chevron sections on the D218 main route. In the village of Crest Voland, we took the left turn up the hill (naturally) past the local Tourist Information office then slogged away past the new wooden chalet holiday homes, then past the permanently occupied old wooden chalets into the pine forest of Lachat before rejoining the D218 to the summit.

My excitement at reaching the summit was somewhat tempered by the surprising existence of a roundabout on top of the mountain, which I did a lap of before realising there was definitely no summit sign on it. We eventually left the roundabout for the enormous adjacent car park provided for those visitors wishing to use the large horse ranch themed restaurant or have a go on the quad bike track (when it was open).

Col des Saisies summit - the sign that counts - by Mr L.C.

The “Col des Saisies” sign, when we found it, was conveniently close to a block of terrifyingly high tech self cleaning toilets which I suddenly felt the need to use. Inside the metal box, the completely detergent soaked walls and floor made me aware of the full potential horror of an automatic self clean system every 15 minutes. I hadn’t locked the door behind me, preferring to rely upon the husband security system, so imagine my alarm when I pushed the door from the inside and discovered it had automatically locked me in. My mind awash with the imminent prospect of a disinfectant shower, I started to panic and inadvertently hit the door release button sending me stumbling back into bright sunlight and vowing to stick to more natural tree shielded ways of taking a natural break.

Cycling cols is hungry work

We descended to Flumet by means of the direct D218 route then returned to St Gervais with a quick stop at the local boulangerie where we discovered another great use for arm warmers and handlebars.

The Col des Saisies our way

Climbbybike profile for this route.

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A Sort of Homecoming

Words: The Limping Cyclist
Photography: Mr L.C. and the Limping Cyclist

I’ve been looking forward to it for months. The return trip was booked not long after we returned from France last September and I was determined to go even if it was going to be an Oramorph fuelled horizontal fortnight. Mercifully, I was able to do rather more than that.

Aire du Poulet de Bresse on the A39

So Friday morning Mr L.C. crammed the car with all our luggage, two bikes, my wheelchair and my crutches. Luggage space was  compromised by my car “bed” arrangement. I sit on the back seat with my legs stretched out in front of me. The “bed” is formed by the backrest of the front passenger seat being folded flat.

Faded Grandeur in Downtown St Gervais

“Queue Ahead” summed up the first part of our journey but we made the Channel Tunnel just in time and as we rolled off the train and onto the right hand lane of the Autoroute, Mr L.C. settled himself down for the long haul to the Alps.

St Gervais Bikes

Three hours sleep at Aire du Poulet de Bresse on the A39 topped up with an expresso you could stand a spoon up in and Mr L.C. was ready for the final leg of the journey. We left the rolling hills and wide valleys of Burgundy behind and commenced the ear popping ascent into the Jura mountains, the gateway to the Alps, before skimming Geneva and entering Haute Savoie.

The first sight of Mont Blanc felt like a homecoming. The hair pinned climb to the hanging valley where St Gervais clings so precariously felt satisfyingly familiar. Same old town, same old gite, same stunning view.

Coming soon:

  • Col des Saisies via Megève and Flumet
  • A Col Trilogy – Romme, Col de la Colombière (again) and Col des Aravis
  • Col de Joux Plane (the sequel) to Morzine, but which way to Avoriaz?
  • Aiguille du Midi by wheelchair (with the help of a cable car)
  • Col de la Madeleine, my first hors catégorie climb.

    Les Rochers des Fiz from Saint Gervais les Bains

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My Dæmon

My pain, ever present, has become like an entity in its own right, rather like one of Philip Pullman’s dæmons from the His Dark Materials trilogy. A physical manifestation of aspects of the individual’s being that is connected by an invisible virtual umbilicus. It has personality and assumes the role of a(n unwelcome) companion. One assumes that pain is something one has a right to be free of, that the doctors can and will take it away. This is incorrect.

It is part of me now, this pain, so much so that I cannot imagine a day without it. Sometimes I fantasize about an equine sized syringe brimming with soothing anaesthetic sinking deep into my spine, my thigh, my calf, my foot, bringing welcome relief. But my pain now defines me, shapes me and goads me like the proverbial demon on my shoulder, whispering to me, stabbing and burning me. In blacker moods I wonder how much more I can take.

My pain dæmon needs to be cared for. Never be too hard on it, let it rest, entertain and distract it. Sometimes my anger and frustration gets the better of my judgment and I can’t resist the urge to poke the monster with a stick. I shall name my pain Vyvyan, in honour of the Young Ones.

Meet My Dæmon

You may have picked up on the fact that I’ve not been having a particularly good time since my last blog, and indeed my cycling has had a severe set-back from my worsening symptoms. The racing and training have been put on hold for a while and my “easier” riding has also been affected. Normally, as I’ve previously described, cycling helps my symptoms, but over the last  few months there have been episodes when even just gently pushing down a pedal has been agony from the sole of my foot to the base of my spine to the point of distracting. “Dead leg” has also been an issue.

I’ve speculated that this severe series of  flare ups was stimulated by generally trying too hard to be “normal”. The desire to be independent, to try and do more stuff around the house and garden, the determination to attend as many coaching sessions as possible, the hanging around at the beginning of races and, worse still, when races are paused to clear up crash debris, may all have ganged up on me. Or it could be just coincidence. Who knows?

I visited my G.P. yesterday to find out the results of my latest M.R.I. scan. The outcome left me feeling half relieved and half disappointed. I felt relieved because my spine is apparently not unstable to the point of necessitating spinal fusion but disappointed because I would have loved to hear “we’ve pinpointed the problem and now we can fix you”. Instead I learned that my spine was relatively stable with little change from two years ago. Suggesting, once again, that my worsening symptoms are due to a neurological condition that was originally triggered by changes in my spine, but is now deteriorating independently of my spinal degeneration. The only new thing to turn up on the radiologist’s report was “florid fibrovascular endplate changes”. My G.P. couldn’t tell me much about this and my Google searches have so far only turned up references to bone marrow and degeneration, so if any medical professionals out there can explain more to me, I’d like to hear from you.

So what are my options now?:

  • Increase my Oramorph. This is helping a bit but I still refuse to take it every day because of the side effects.
  • Try Amitryptiline in a low, nerve pain relieving, dose of 10 – 60mg a day. Higher dosages were used to treat depression before SSRIs. Well I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for me.
  • Find a research programme testing new pain relief methods. I’ve been searching but location has been a problem so far.
  • Opt for spinal fusion in the hope that it might help, but there’s no guarantees, the outcome is too uncertain, the risks are too high, the recovery too long and the restriction on movement is too great a sacrifice.
  • Enter a residential pain management programme. Erm… the jury is still out on that one.
  • Continue to get on with life…..

Unless there is a dramatic change in my circumstances (e.g. massive improvement or deterioration, further surgery or participation in a research project or residential pain management course) I will not post another blog about chronic pain and spinal degeneration. I believe I’ve covered the topic of living with this condition quite thoroughly so far and more medically detailed information should be sought from a medical professional. I’m not qualified to discuss the science of pain in detail, I just describe it from the pointy end. Basically, I’ve already moaned and whined far too much.

On the bright side, I’ve been able to get out on my bike more in the last week or so. More about that soon.

Posted in Cycling, Degenerative Disc Disease, Disability, Herniated Disc, Neuropathic Pain, Pain Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pain

Do you remember:

  • the last time you banged your shin, the initial sensation was so sharp then it started to throb?
  • when you burned your hand on the oven and your skin seared?
  • how it felt when you accidentally walked through some nettles while wearing shorts causing stinging red bumps to erupt on your skin?
  • the stiff, sore, aching muscles following your first (and possibly) last workout session at the gym?
  • the white hot sensation in your toes and fingers from a long walk in the snow when you got so cold?
  • what it felt like when you cut your finger?
  • the last time you had toothache and had to visit the dentist?

Most of all, can you remember the pain you experienced?

The freezing, knawing, burning, stinging, cutting, jabbing, throbbing pain?

You probably don’t because once the pain of injury or illness has passed, the human mind is so good at muffling our memory of agony. Acute pain, the short lived pain we experience when we hurt ourselves, is an important part of our survival mechanism that teaches us to be careful but, let’s face it, if the memory of pain was too vivid, we would probably be too scared to live our lives.

But I now ask you to remember, to try and re-experience the pain you felt at a particular moment in the past. Now, imagine if that pain had never gone away. Imagine that there is no opportunity to heal but rather a constant base note of pain accompanied by frequent and unpredictable pain flare ups. You are beginning to understand the meaning of chronic pain.

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