Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

A Tail Of Woe

In July last year while driving around the Scottish countryside ferrying my family hither and thither to see my sister and her daughters, one of whom was performing at a Highland show, I realised that a pain had developed in my, how can I put this delicately, left butt cheek.

It wasn't a sharp pain - there hadn't been a snap or noticeable tear - just an insistent, growing twinge that I thought was mildly interesting, took note of and dismissed as something that would probably heal itself.

But it seemed to get worse the more I drove, so much so that I had to pull over even though we were late and take a break at a family restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

I couldn't figure it out. Was it my back? My leg? Had I been sitting down too much? Was it because I was driving an automatic now and barely used my lower left limb anymore to depress the clutch and such?

I didn't know. Or care. I figured it would heal itself. 

It didn't.

I slowly realised that I hadn't had a holiday in years. The last one was to Japan in Spring 2018 and had actually been quite hard work, traveling and sightseeing as well as - yes - literally working. I mean a proper holiday. Lying in a hammock on the beach drinking Malibu out of coconuts kind of holiday. For two weeks.

Also, all the chairs in our house were hard. My office chair, the dining room chairs, even the sofa was one of those dreaded straight up and downy types with no reclining option available. Gone were the days of my youth when I could lie on my old leather recliner 'neath a Velux window twixt the rafters, lost in a good book, gazing up at the clouds. No no. It was straight up and downy sofa or go to bed or nothing.

So I spent a few hundred quid on a decent office chair and hoped that would solve the problem. Alas not. I started taking the bus places instead of the car. That didn't really help either. I mean there was less actual pain which would spark up when sitting down, but the issue never went away. It was just dormant. Hiding. Waiting for its chance to pounce like a lion stalking a gazelle preparing to sink its sharp fangs into it.

I figured I'd spent too much of my life sitting down and now my body was rebelling. 40 years of pressure and trauma on the butt area and you can't expect it to be all sunshine and roses. Such the toll of being a (failed) writer.

Sometimes the pain would be less. Like when I relaxed or took a nap. I began lying down on my front for twenty minutes per day, stretching out and taking a load off. Did going to bed early help? Seemed to. Also once I noticed when I had to face something I really didn't want to, the pain flared up. Was it exacerbated by stress? Was it psychological? Another time I tried to work standing up for the whole day, and this actually lead to the worst next-morning pain ever. Was it all in my mind?

Another thing that seemed to make matters worse was the embarrassment factor. "Why ya not sitting down, Chris?" "I have a pain in my butt." "Oh, you mean you've been sitting down too much you lazy bastard?" "Could be, but I actually think I'm quite an active person." "Why ya still not sitting down, Chris?" "My butt still hurts." "Oh, you mean you still haven't figured it out yet and you're dumb as well as lazy?" "Why ya not driving over to see your mum, Chris?" "Butt hurts." "You lazy, dumb, uncaring, lying bastard."

In November I went to the doctor and told him my tale of woe. He thought it must be my back where a nerve was being trapped by two unhelpful vertebrae. I figured that could be right. My father had back problems and I've had them in the past too. So the doc gave me a bunch of back exercises and said come back in 8 weeks. I did the exercises and after a while my backbone felt absolutely wonderful - better than ever - but my butt still hurt.
Location of the Piriformis muscle
I researched online and found a word - Piriformis. It's a muscle in the glute area in very close proximity to the sciatic nerve. Sometimes pinches it. I also found a stretching exercise - the Pigeon Pose. Tried the stretch a few times and it seemed to be hitting the spot, but I didn't know if it was doing harm or good. Introduced it into my morning back stretching regime. Nonetheless, the pain persisted.

Around Christmas time I decided, right, proper holiday for me, and what the hell, a nice black faux leather recliner armchair for less dreaded up and downy sitting. It's all in the angle. Force. Trauma. When people asked me to drive somewhere I just said no. Medical condition. Sorry. 

But even that didn't solve it.

Went back to the doc and said, "Doc, my back has never felt better but my rear still hurts. Could it be the Piri something?"

"The Piriformis?"

"Yeah, that." And I showed him the Pigeon Pose and he said, 

"That looks like yoga," as if yoga had been debunked years ago as mythological, occult hogwash. He practically held up two fingers at 90 degrees, backed off and hissed.

"Begone!" he shouted. "I shall refer you to a physiotherapist! And a priest!"

So I waited for the letter instructing me to come and see a physiotherapist. I knew the waiting list would be long, so I tried to keep active to improve circulation and sprinkled it with holy water as I figured that was what a physio and priest would probably recommend.

A few weeks later I met a chap at my local community council who wanted to have a sit down chat with me about something. I said no thanks, but how about we go for a walking chat instead? While strolling through the wooded area along a river I told him I had a pain my my lower back / upper leg area, and he immediately said, "The Piriformis?" We had a jolly good discussion about life, peace, and meditation, and touched upon how stress can affect the central nervous system. I figured, damn, I need a retreat and vow of silence for two weeks to beat this thing.

Then the Coronavirus hit, and with it, lockdown. In a way this had a positive effect on my chronic pain because it meant no driving and less work. But more stress of the suspenseful Hitchcock, Rear Window kind. Pun not intended. My wife suggested I film a river for 3 hours and upload it to youtube as people want to relax but can't go out. I didn't really buy it but thought what the hell, anything to get out the house for a while.

So I packed up my camera, tripod, microphone, laptop, camping chair, some lunch and flask of coffee, and set out on the most boring yet relaxing film shoot of my life. Found a spot near a fallen tree, pointed my camera and mics more or less at the river, went and sat on my camping chair and wrote the next chapter of Jake Jones & The Coffee Cup Killer, expecting my rear to complain bitterly for an interminable while thereafter. You can watch the abridged 90 minute version here:

Everything was so green and peaceful. The trickle of meandering water. The fluttering to and fro of birds. The silent contemplation of trees. The distant hum of humanity. And Jake Jones was flowing as well as the water. The only worrisome moments were when I had to relieve myself in the bushes, but even that did not result in my getting arrested. Happy days.

About five hours later I packed up and went home in a happy, meditative stupor. To my surprise my backside was fine. My rear end was in fact feeling great. My gluteus maximus was practically singing psalms all the way home and reciting Wordsworth for the rest of the day.

It was then I realised sitting on the camping chair hadn't hurt which made sense. Rather than a hard, foam-covered unyielding surface, the camping chair kind of cupped my body, like a bra, or having my butt in a sling. And the calm, soothing effect of sitting writing near a river probably helped my central nervous system as well.

Things continued pretty much in the same vein, until, on May 25th I stumbled upon a wikipedia page about Piriformis Syndrome, and thought, Oh, this is actually a thing. 

The page recommended not just stretching once a day but every 2-3 waking hours. So this I've been doing. Today is Day 8 and it seems to be helping. Now when I Pigeon stretch I barely feel any tension. I'm still a little reticent to sit down on a hard chair or go for a drive, though, as I can feel something there lurking on the sidelines - a peckish, salivating lion stalking in the long grass. Watching me. Watching my ass. But hopefully some day the beast will get bored and wander off to leave my hindquarters alone.

So that's my Tail of Woe. May you never experience chronic pain, or if you do, you're able to solve it fast and effectively.

Piriformis Sydrome image from:

Monday, 5 November 2018


It has been three weeks and three days since I first discovered I had 'Swimmer's Ear'. This is not to be confused with 'Schwimmer's Ear' and does not mean that your ear becomes like those of Ross from Friends and lead you to go around holding up restaurants.

Schwimmer's Ear is clearly visible in the left hand picture

Usually a bit of water in the ear after swimming dribbles out on its own, but not this time. After advice from friends (not 'Friends') about how to deal with it - everything from dripping warm olive oil, apple cider vinegar, or Otex into my ear twice a day - and nothing working, I went to the doctors on day eleven, who confirmed that although my left ear was not infected it was full of wax, both hard and soft, and that whatever I was putting in my ear was working and I should continue doing it. He advised me to book an appointment with a nurse on 5th Nov in case it didn't clear on its own, and then I'd get it syringed.

Being deaf in one ear, after the amusing novelty wore off, sucked big time. It felt that half my head was continuously under water. That half my awareness was gone. My universe had shrunk by 50%. I felt like an old man. I regretted every time I'd ever made a joke about deafness, or that I'd thought less of my father for his hearing problems. I wished I'd been more patient with him. More forgiving of his distance, which was not his fault.

Once in Japan I heard a story about a poor guy who, while sleeping, had the hugely unfortunate experience of having a cockroach climb in his ear. He woke up and stuck his finger in, injuring the insect, which then got stuck in there, still alive, scratching at his ear drum.

I made a joke about that at the time - not to the unfortunate himself, but still - which I also deeply regret.

The past few days have become psychologically trying. I tried my best not to let the continuing problem get me down and began hesitantly accustoming myself to the idea that I may be deaf in my left ear for the rest of my days. It wouldn't be that bad. People have it much worse off. Pain was beginning to creep in when I yawned or burped. Tinitus had arrived. I thought if it wasn't infected then it must be now. Today couldn't come fast enough.

I'll confess that never having my ear syringed before left me in some trepidation. I wasn't even sure of the process. I assumed, wrongly, that a nurse would insert a large, empty syringe in my ear and pull out the plunger, slowly sucking out the offending wax, bits of broken ear drum and any other segments of important tissue - like brains for instance - in the area. Fortunately this was not the case.

What really happens is this. The nurse has a look in your ear and confirms that yes, your ear has lots of wax in it. Then she gets you to sit near the sink and hold a kind of cup under your lobe next to your jaw. Next she switches on some kind of electric pump mechanism (which is not foot operated) with a hose attached, warns you that this shouldn't hurt but if it does let her know, and begins the hugely satisfying act of gurgling warm water into your ear allowing the waxy mixture to drip out of its own accord.

It wasn't sore at first, but it slowly began to get painful after the second time. It was like rolling, undulating hills of gentle pain. The good sort of pain. The pain that meant you were getting some hard, dry, foreign gunk pressing precariously against your ear drums warmed up, dissolved and removed. But I didn't care. I just wanted it out of there.

Finally she showed me a big dod of brown waxy clay the same size, colour and consistency of a test tube stopper, and I just thought, 'How earth has that been building up over the past decade without my knowledge?'

The second thought was, 'Holy Moses I can hear again.'

Relief and gratitude flooded through me. I didn't hug the nurse, but I should have. I promised there and then that I would never make outdated and unoriginal 'Carry On' references about nurses ever again. Not to the nurse, but inwardly, to myself. 

I walked out amazed at the newly discovered and hyper sensitive hearing I was now receiving through my left side. Every rustle, every scraping hair, every echo off a wall. Immense appreciation of the nurse herself, to the NHS, to the inventor of that wonderful little 'Earcuzzi' gizmo, of all musicians and singer songwriters, of all guitarists and makers of guitars, of all my friends, to the writers of 'Friends', of everyone and everything that makes sound.

On exiting the health centre I got a bit of a fright. 'What the hell is that,' I thought.

It was birdsong and traffic.

When I got home, after a nice dinner where we all had a bit of a family high, I said, "Why is our new fridge suddenly so noisy today?" 

My wife and son looked at me. "What are you talking about? It's always been that bad."

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

More Cycle Paths in Scotland

On 28th June 2018, Scotland recorded its hottest ever temperature of 33.2 degrees celsius in Motherwell, Lanarkshire. 

One of the good things about the climate changing is that if we can expect warmer sunnier mediterranean weather in Scotland this means better days for cycling.

But according to this article, Scotland only has 1036 km of traffic-free cycle track, compared with 32,187 km in Holland. So Scotland only had 3.2% the amount of cycle paths Holland has.

Cycling, which has been hailed as one of the most efficient forms of transport, seems to be the way forward for this country and the world, if we want to continue living on this planet. These velomobile things look pretty cool too, but who's going to fork out for one of these?

By Bluevelo, CC BY-SA 3.0,
So, it might seem to make sense that to encourage more people to cycle to destinations under 10 miles away for example, we would need a better traffic-free cycle network, the benefits of which would be many, and not just for cyclists:

  • Less traffic on the roads
  • Less cyclists on the roads for cars to overtake
  • Healthier citizens -> less strain on NHS. According to this article a link has been found between cycling to work and cancer and heart disease. "During the course of the study, regular cycling cut the risk of death from any cause by 41%, the incidence of cancer by 45% and heart disease by 46%."
  • Less risk of car accidents for cyclists -> less strain on NHS. According to this 2017 article, which has a lot of information about cycling death and injury in the UK, about 100 cyclists die each year in the UK and more than 3000 are seriously injured. There are even a few shocking stories of motorists purposefully injuring cyclists.
  • Less hazardous exhaust fumes for cyclists to inhale
  • Better cycling tourism -> Better for the economy.
  • Better local air quality -> Better for childrens' health -> reduction in asthma.
  • Less national CO2 production. According to this report, in 2016 transport became the largest contributor to national CO2 at 26%.
Two American solar cars in Canada

How much could we save?

Let's take a look at the effects of 45% less cancer and heart disease on the NHS.

According to this article, "Last year the costs of cancer diagnosis and treatment across the UK NHS, private and voluntary sector were estimated by the report at £9.4 billion. This is equivalent to an average of £30,000 per person with cancer. "

45% of £9.4 billion is £4.23 billion.  

How much will it cost? 

This blog has some useful information about costs. Sustrans and TFL estimate it to cost anywhere between £100k and £900k per km of proper cycle track. Let's say an average of £500k per km of cycle track.

Scotland has 55,000 km of roads, but not all of these would, could or should be cycle-pathed. According to this report 1% is motorway, leaving 54,450 km. Let's calculate the costs to cycle path the roads up to Holland standards.

This would result in costs on average of £500,000 x 32,000km = £16 billion.

But we could estimate that we save £4.23 billions worth of health care in cancer prevention.

This alone could pay for 4,230,000,000/500,000 = 8,460 km of cycle track.

Imagine what another 8,460km of cycle track in the central belt could achieve in terms of health, cleaner air, less congested traffic, and reduction in CO2 production.

According to this article, "The average distance commuters ride in a single trip within Scotland is 9.4 km." which would take about 6 miles. This would take about 36 minutes by bike.

Source :
So that's it. In this blog post I've hopefully outlined why more cycle paths in Scotland would be beneficial to our health, our country's finances and our planet's climate change crisis.

What's the next step? Email our MPs, contact our local councils, sign this petition :

Thanks for reading.