- I was on oxygen 24/7, permanently connected to either my concentrator in the home, or carrying my 'jet packs' when out and about. Getting out and about was a huge military maneuver that involved loads of planning and nothing could ever be spontaneous.
- We couldn't rely on my feeling good lasting more than a day at a time, so we could rarely make plans to do anything more than a couple of days in advance as infections seemed to either be just on their way out, or just setting in.
- I had next to no energy, just the process of getting up and dressed, nebbed and breakfasted would generally leave me drained for a while. I was managing about 3 days a week at work (maximum of 5 hours a day, but often less) when getting home from work, I would need to rest for a while before taking Judy out for a very short (distance wise, but took a while in time) walk, then I would snuggle up on the sofa doing very little. Once Glen got home from work, I would barely move until it was time for bed. Having been dozing on/off all evening I would then struggle to sleep in bed due to laying down causing so much issue with my breathing.
- Glen would get home from work and start the fun game of 'what have you eaten today, and what do you fancy for dinner?'... normally the answer wouldn't be particularly helpful and he would have to create and cook something in the hope that it would inspire me to eat!
- At least 3 times a week, (normally more) I would have to do a tube feed just to maintain my measly weight of between 6 1/2 to 7 stone.
- I was always cold and pretty much everything in my body ached through constant coughing.
- My IV anti-biotic courses were getting longer and with fewer weeks in between. This not only brought me down due to the restrictions the grueling regime entailed, I was even more tired (partly because of the drugs, partly due to the timings of the doses) and I was generally only ever back to work for a few days before needing more time off for hospital visits or admissions.
- I was pretty depressed in general- despite trying to put on the happy outer shell. It felt like everything that a 'normal' person my age was able to do was just so beyond me, I felt like a mentally young person trapped in a 90 year old's body. This I mentally took on in the form of guilt for holding Glen back and also for mum always having to be ready at the drop of a hat for when I needed something. At times I couldn't make my own lunch, or wash my hair... or even get in/out of the bath by myself. I felt useless and a complete drain on those closest to me.
- On the positive side- I had just got engaged and was looking forward to planning my big day - albeit with lots of restrictions due to health.
May was quite a hectic month... we moved house, I had my Hen Day activities and lots of wedding planning and prep work etc. It was very busy and tiring, and had I not had my transplant, I really think it would have been far too much and I would probably have ended up spending most of this time either/and on IVs or in hospital. I'm still quite amazed that we moved house on the Friday, then I was out doing my hen activities the following day and it didn't completely wipe me out. There is NO WAY that would have been possible pre-transplant.
June was obviously a big month with our wedding and subsequent mini-moon to Euro Disney. When we planned (and booked) this in January, we had factored in how to make it as easy and simple with oxygen/nebulisers/decreased stamina etc as we could... but when it came down to it, there was no stopping me (or us!) The wedding day was fantastic as it was purely about Glen and I, there wasn't any moment where my health had an impact on something... other than during the speeches which did make me quite tearful. The day was nigh on perfect, and I know for certain that it would not have been anywhere near had I still been on oxygen and in the state I was pre-transplant. It was a big worry of mine how I would manage to get down the aisle/through the ceremony, first dance and photos etc without having the tubing and jetpack getting in the way. I know it was a part of what made me, me... but I didn't want evidence of my failing health shown in anything wedding-y so that when we looked back on the day, there wasn't any reminders of how poorly I was etc. I'm beyond relieved that this issue was null and void due to my lovely shineys.... and forever thankful to my donor for allowing me to have my perfect day just how a girl dreams of when she's little!
Things suddenly got a lot quieter from July, the weather was more or less reliable and decent to boot, so I was able to get out and do more exercise, both at the gym/classes as well as with Judy (and subsequently Bella too) I got the ok to start swimming around the end of the month so Glen and I started going again and it was amazing (and a little scary) to be able to just launch off into the water without anything holding me back. It was like being a little kid again- I was splashing Glen, and diving underwater, seeing how far I could in one breath and just generally enjoyed myself in the water- I had freedom! Mum, myself and Lyn signed up to do the Fright Hike, so at this point the training started. My exercising became a bit more about overall stamina rather than pushing to achieve more. I was exploring the new area where I lived, exercising the dogs and gradually increasing how far, and how long in one go I walked for. We found some lovely places locally to walk and I got more confidence in just what my body could now stand. I did have difficulties with my calf muscles as they kept cramping (as a side effect of medication) so sometimes my activities were curtailed, not because of my breathing, but because of a physical pain/problem elsewhere in my body. Quite a novel experience that!
I also started going to an open circle this month. Having been to our local spiritualist church for a platform evening, we got talking to a couple of people and we came away considering the possiblility of going along to a circle to try to develop our own spiritual skills. The first circle was very relaxing and worked a lot on how to go into a state of meditation, but we went to the next one to judge how different people ran their circles and found that the second one was more what we were looking for.
August was much of the same, just increasing what I could do, getting more confidence and trust that my body wouldn't let me down. I met up with people who continually were shocked and surprised with how well I looked and how far I'd come etc Initially this bothered me as I felt that I must have looked like crap before but no-one was ever honest and told me I looked poorly... but over time I just took it for what it was- praise and admiration!
September I took Glen away for his 30th- up to Alton Towers for a couple of days. It was lovely to have this planned for a couple of months and not be concerned with whether I would be up to it. We did a lot of walking and swimming etc and although I was ready for my bed each night, I was able to keep going and going. I also made roads into returning to work, and by the end of the month I had done my first couple of days back (ok, only part days but I was still in work!) I had a use again and a reason to function other than for dog walks and cooking! It was quite a shock to the system to have to get my brain back into thinking and work mode again. The first couple of days I think I was purely keeping my seat warm rather than being useful!
October my return to work continued to increase, until I was doing nearly all my contracted hours. It was quite tiring both mentally and physically to start with and I realised the effect of 4 proper morning starts, being active at work, home to dog walk etc. My body was handling it, and although I got a bit of a niggly cough for a week, I managed to continue with my hike training as well as going to work and having a form of social life. Towards the end of the month I started to get quite panicky about the prospect of the 30km hike. I knew that my chest was up to the challenge, but was unsure how the rest of my body would take the strain. Mum and I completed a 9 mile (approx half the hike distance) walk/hike over one pleasant Sunday. I completed it relatively easily, but I was still concerned that the full hike would be in the dark and probably colder and harder given mud, tree roots, bushes etc. By the time it got to the few days before I was really regretting my decision to do this, especially to go so public by raising money for charity too. The pressure I was feeling at this point was compounded by a couple of members of the circle (who belong to another church too) donating £100 as they were inspired by my little speech at the halloween party. Now I HAD to go ahead with it!!
November started with the hike... I'd like to say with a bang, but it was more of a long, drawn out effort which ended with my very colourful and painful foot, and having to be off work for a few extra days! I felt a little disappointed with myself in the fact that I'd needed help due to my mysterious injury, but once the emotion had dissipated, I realised just what an achievement I'd made- both mentally (I wanted to quit so many times as the pain was getting worse, and it was getting darker and harder) and physically- 8 months on from my double lung transplant here I was completing something which a lot of healthy people would struggle to do.... not only that, but I'd raised a lot more money than I had expected for 2 very deserving charities. The grand total for everything collected is £735 (£787.50 inc. gift aid!) Simply mind-blowing that people were so generous to our cause!
The rest of the month kind of blurred into a pre-christmas prep. Glen and I had a nice day at Lakeside getting most of our presents sorted and yummy foods while out. We planned to host Christmas day at our house with both my parents complete with full dinner and dessert. We did a trial run of the mains in our new oven to check we could get everything right and where things would go (its a range cooker with 2 ovens) and luckily it turned out well :) So were were now ready to start planning what we needed to buy in... which I may have gone a little over board with things like snacks and fizzy drinks, but hey, it's stuff that keeps!
December saw in a bunch of festivities. Mum & I met up for mummy/daughter Christmas meal with Zoe & Lee which was lovely to catch up properly and have yummy foods. This was the day after my work night out. We had a nice time in a pub just outside of Colchester. Had quite a laugh and also yummy food... I had to help George out with her dessert as she was beaten. She was rather surprised by my appetite.... but I didn't actually feel too stuffed after a starter, main and one and a half desserts. The ever growing Karen tummy knows no limits!!
I also had a couple of different interviews, the most succesful being for the intense AAT course. I was offered a place on the course prior to Christmas ready for a January start. This was the new start for my job prospects that I needed.
Christmas came and went pretty quickly as it always does. Dad joined us on Christmas day and stopped the night then went home on Boxing Day evening. It was lovely to spend a proper amount of time with him, and even nicer that I got to see both parents on Christmas day, something which hasn't happened for a great many years.
All in all a pretty manic, busy but wonderful year. At times it has been stressful, brought myself and my family to tears but also brought us much joy and many many laughs! I look back to how I was this time last year (I wasn't even on the transplant list at this point!) how scared I was at the prospect that my body was failing me so much I needed to be listed... I felt so drained both mentally and physically and had just reached the point that I'd had enough fighting constantly. Fortunately for me, my donor angel signed up to be a donor and with all cards on the table, it was obvious that someone up above played a big part in making sure I was on the list just weeks before my perfect lungs were ready for me.
I don't know my donor, and I probably won't ever know her family, but I really hope that she can look down on me (and her wonderful shineys) and know that a) she did the right thing by being a donor & making her family aware of her choices, but b) I'm not letting her very special gift go to waste, and I'm certainly not taking it for granted!!