Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Growing old painfully

Heaven only knows what I'll be like when I'm genuinely old.

I've never been entirely the fittest and healthiest person. Whether it's a simple thing like Hay Fever (which must be some British pollen, as I wasn't bothered much when we lived in Toronto), or migraine attacks, which peaked in my late teens and are now just occasional interruptions,

As you get older, it seems that more problems crop up, and your ability to recover diminishes.

I suspect the current rot started back in 2002, when I had a bad fall and broke my arm. We were in France on holiday, and hired a tennis court on the first morning. Walking around picking up tennis balls, my knee gave way and dumped me on the concrete.

The arm is mostly healed, but it was on the elbow joint, so movement is slightly restricted and repetitive movements can become very painful pretty quickly. A bigger problem is the knees - the bones aren't straight, the kneecap is at a slight angle and occasionally slips to one side. This has happened every few years, for as long as I can remember, it's just that it had never caused any serious damage before this event (although I had at least one fall while carrying the kds when they were small). The fix is to tighten up the leg muscles to pull the kneecap on tighter; the bad part of that is that it's pretty sore and I don't really enjoy walking far.

A few years later I was starting to have a little trouble reading. And I couldn't really focus properly on fine things. The optician seemed to take great pleasure in explaining that this was purely age-related. "As you get past 40 these things happen." It took a year or so to get fully comfortable wearing glasses.

The real trouble hit one day in August 2013. I stood up after breakfast, and immediately fell over as the room span around me. This turned out to be BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo), and it's really quite disruptive. The spontaneous attacks went on for about a month, there was quite a bit longer when I could trigger it by moving in a certain way. With the minor symptoms it looks like I'm drunk as I walk, weaving along because your balance is telling you the world is swaying, and your body automatically tries to compensate. I've avoided cycling since, although driving is fine because everything there is a conscious movement.

Then at the start of 2014 I was actually very ill. The primary symptom was bleeding gums. Normally that means gum disease, often coupled with something else (if the body has spare capacity then it can deal with gum disease, but if you're otherwise ill - or pregnant, apparently  - then your body decides it has more important things to deal with). But a couple of dental referrals came back pretty clear - this wasn't a dental problem.

At about the same time, I was having episodes of extreme short-term tiredness. And I mean extreme. As in being unable to stand, even. This would normally kick in early afternoon. I would be fine going for my morning swim, but then I would get lethargic and worse.

My first thought was that it was coeliac disease. It runs in the family, it explained the symptoms (vitamin deficiency by malabsorption). Changing diet appropriately helped quite a bit at first.

I had a whole load of tests. The results from the blood tests were absolutely definitive. Not coeliac. And, in fact, pretty much everything came back negative. So I knew that I wasn't affected by a whole range of problems and conditions. Good news, in one way, but didn't really get to the root of the problem. Going back to my normal diet didn't make things any worse.

If you look closely enough, you're going to find something wrong. There was a minor anomaly on one of the clotting tests that they dug into. More blood tests and genetic tests followed, and eventually they confirmed Von Willebrand Disease.

The odd thing about VWD is that it's supposed to be inherited, so I've had this for over 50 years without noticing any issues (normally it gets picked up in childhood, where you're far more likely to get scrapes and bruises). And the bleeding gums were the only symptom - there's a 20-questions test, and I was well below the threshold for even thinking about a diagnosis on that basis.

This all took about 6 months, and we never found any explanation for the tiredness. VWD wasn't the cause, it just got picked up by accident during the investigation. Things generally seemed to improve over time, although my energy levels still aren't always where I would like them to be. I do take vitamin supplements now, though, and I'm sure that's helped.

I'm just hoping that nothing else on this creaking body is going to fall apart, for a while at least.


Unknown said...

Hi Peter!
I was wondering what you do to stay active?
I'm a Pilates Instructor, and it can be a great way to improve the overall health of the body. Yoga (mind you, certain kinds) can also be very helpful. It is not to late to stop the "rot"

Peter Tribble said...


I swim most days (little and often rather than a few big sessions), and a bit of stretching and physio. I find swimming has been very helpful overall - low impact and no need for knees to support the weight. My general fitness levels are much better than they were 5 years ago. Which is probably just as well.