I’m currently coming to the end of three weeks of training in the french ski resort Tignes. The first two weeks have been spent cruising around the mountain with friends; building up confidence, speed and a bit of technique, and then some of the time on my own working on specific skills. The final week was meant to be spent having coaching. The plan was to combine snowboarding with triathlon training by spending the morning on the mountain and the afternoon in the gym/pool/on my bike. Ideal.
But it hasn’t worked out quite like that…
Two weeks before coming away I had an allergic reaction to the silicone in my prosthetic liner, which is the interface between my skin and the socket. I had a full body reaction and was quite ill for a couple of weeks. It started as a rash, then the back of my leg got kind of burnt, now the front of it is in a similar way. I missed a triathlon training camp, which I was gutted about, but I thought it would be gone in a week or so.
What’s difficult is that I have to wear the liner to wear my leg. To use a different liner, I need a different socket and that takes time and appointments etc. I had been wearing the liner for three weeks prior to the reaction, so it is a bit of a mystery as to why it reacted when it did and why it was such a big reaction. I’ve tried various things between the silicone and my skin but nothing stops it coming up angrily again when I wear the liner. Steroids are keeping it manageable but it isn’t great. Whilst I am still able to wear my leg so can do things and get around, it gets very sore after a few hours so most afternoons are being spent with my leg off letting the cream heal it up enough so I can wear my leg again the next day.
I have a whole selection of nasty photos of the different stages of it, but feedback from friends appears to suggest that most people actually don’t want to see the gross pics, so I will spare you from them…
Running causes it to sweat, creating movement in the liner which irritates the skin further. Swimming stings like hell and inflames the skin all over again, and cycling is okay as long as I don’t pull the sleeve up, allowing it to keep cool and not be so restricted, the downside of this being that I don’t have suction holding it on so my leg is moving around a bit and there is pressure where there shouldn’t be.
The fatigue is another issue, the first two weeks were bad – I spent a lot of time sleeping and everything was exhausting. I felt like my fitness had vanished right in front of me. My glands were (and still are) all massively swollen, and ever since reacting to a drug a few years ago I’ve had these big immune responses and always felt grim when something in my body goes bad. I’m slightly better now and can do stuff again, but I’m a way from back to normal. When I had that drug reaction previously, it was months before I was able to do anything much, and getting back to full fitness took a good 4/5 months, so this time it’s really positive that I’m quite a long way towards recovery already.
Alongside that, the two sockets that I have are damaging my leg in different ways and that has affected the time I’ve been able to spend on the mountain. They were both fine for the first two weeks here but I’ve suddenly lost volume and my stump has changed shape so they aren’t fitting. One has bruised the end of my stump badly and the other has been built up high and has been putting a lot of pressure on my knee, both leaving me in a lot of pain, meaning the coaching that I was meant to have this week hasn’t really been able to happen because every turn onto my heel edge hurts. I haven’t been in this much pain since I had my leg and it has been horrible, but a big wake up call about how incredibly lucky I have been to not be in pain like this over the last 16 months since having it amputated.
I ask myself “What can I do today that will improve my performance tomorrow/next week/next month?” a lot. At the moment the answer to that isn’t what I’d like it to be and isn’t going to lead to the progress that I want it to, but it is what it is and I have to make the best of what’s happening at the moment. I’m a new amputee compared to most of the others involved in sport with me and am still having all the teething problems – liner not working for me, needing new sockets regularly etc. and I know it will settle down in time and I won’t need new sockets every 6 weeks, but it’s incredibly frustrating when I have such wonderful opportunities in front of me and I just want to grab them and do everything that I can.
2016 has not started how I’d have liked it to, but already it has been huge learning curve and hopefully over the next few weeks life will settle down and I will be able to start making things happen.