The Amazon

Having had the go ahead from the surgeon to undertake the trip to the Amazon, I now needed to plan it.

I decided to go with Randall Adventure Training for my trip to the the Amazon. They’re an American company and are globally recognised as being one of the best jungle survival training companies in the world.

I called my friend Guy, who I met on the Arctic survival course and asked if he fancied a trip to the Amazon, “Yes!” he replied, so we booked our places and went for it.

Here’s a link to their latest course:

2017 Jungle Course

Mike and Jeff who run the company are hugely experienced and have travelled and explored much of South America.

This really was a survival course, we took no food, no water, no spare clothes or shelter. We had a fantastic time; it was a real challenge and I couldn’t believe I was there! In the Amazon! Only 2 years ago I could hardly walk and now I was chopping my way through the jungle.

At the end of the 10 day course, I had literally hundreds of bites, in fact, the instructors had never seen anyone bitten so much and my back appeared in an American survival magazine! What fame! I put it down to having British blood, so much more appealing than American.

Making a jungle bed

There were many highlights, seeing and holding a boa and a sloth, building jungle beds, firelighting in the torrential rain, learning to use a machete, drinking from a water vine, seeing a myriad of insects, “simply” experiencing the jungle and while floating down the Amazon, on our personal homemade rafts, having fresh water dolphins come up and swim along side us.

But, what I truly learnt from this course, is to say “yes” to things that come your way, and…not to simply wait for those things to happen, but to make them happen! I could have put so many barriers and reasons for not going; my mental health, my abuse, my spinal injury, money, time away from work and family. I took a huge leap of faith and had a wonderful and life changing experience.

I am blessed with having a really supportive wife, family and colleagues, who rather than put obstacles in the way, encouraged me to go (but, maybe they really just needed a break from me! 🙂 ).

People ask me what is the thing I find most scary and frightening on expeditions; the answer is simple; the flying. I simply hate flying.

I am delighted that through my work, I have been able to go on to use these experiences and talk to community groups and schools and show that you do not need to be super human to undertake these types of challenges and hopefully inspire other people to follow their dreams.

 

 

 

Post Op Challenge? How about the Amazon Jungle?

The surgery on my back was more complex than first planned and the operation took over 8 hours.

It was a bit of a roller coaster for the next few days; pain control medication was chopped and changed and I was fitted for a corset which I wore daily for the next 3 months. The OT’s had me walking the day after the operation and going up and down stairs the day after.

The operation was a success. I needed to do daily exercises and keep to a sensible amount of exercise, but in less than 6 months I was virtually pain free and was sledging in the snow with my 2 boys.

There has been irreparable nerve damage; I have a degree of numbness in my left leg and occasional pain in my hip, but I cannot thank Mr Blackman enough for such a phenomenal success; it was far beyond what I could have ever imagined or hoped for.

It seems strange now, that just after having such a positive result with the operation that I went into a deep depression about what I had not achieved during my life. This lasted several months, but I was not going to let this new opportunity go; I needed to do something that I had always wanted to do and started thinking about all the places I wanted to visit or the things I wanted to achieve.

I was very aware that I needed to let my back heal properly and that the convalescent period was 2 years. On my last appointment with my surgeon, I asked him if he felt it was okay for me to go to the Amazon jungle to undertake a survival course.

“Yes”, was his answer.

(Sorry for the lateness in updating the blog, had an illness in the family).

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”

Greenpath Ventures was doing tremendously well, referrals were coming in, we had built up a really good solid relationship with our funders, I remember one in particular, who said we were “inspirational and one of the best projects they had ever funded”. We had even found a permanent home for our bushcraft courses!

We had been so lucky to find Ivy Farm on Mersea Island, 50 beautiful acres at the mouth of the Colne Estuary and Ralph the owner couldn’t have been more supportive and encouraging. After a couple of months of seeing what we did he even decided to join us as a trustee!

I had a history of back trouble and noticed it was becoming increasingly difficult to walk any distance. Following the trip to the Arctic, I knew I was in serious trouble.

I was now always in pain and finding it more and more problematic to walk even short distances, just 30 meters would seem to take forever. Any bending was agony, I couldn’t carry or lift anything, I had pins and needles and constant sciatica down my left leg.

The first doctor dismissed it as a pulled muscle and examined the wrong side. I changed my doctor. There was a dramatic difference. My new GP, took me seriously and immediately started to investigate the cause of the pain.

I had X-rays, MRI scans (the first of which was lost), several lots of physio. The physio didn’t help so I was referred to the pain clinic. I was now given spinal injections, more physio, a T.E.N.s machine and my pain medication was increased; I was now on morphine patches, Subutex as well as codeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and heat packs, all with no avail. I was totally exhausted from the medication and being in pain.

Finally, I was referred to a spinal surgeon, Mr Blackman at Colchester General Hospital.

“Did you know you’ve broken your back?”, my consultant asked and then continued. “You really have 2 options; stay on the medication to manage your pain, but which will have to increase in time or to have surgery to fuse your lower spine”.

“If I don’t have the surgery what will be the prognosis?”, I asked.

“To be honest, you’ll most probably end up in a wheelchair and be on pain medication for the rest of your life”.

That came as a thunderbolt, “Okay, if I have surgery, I expect that will be a fairly small operation and most likely be key hole won’t it?” I asked hopefully.

“No, it’s a major operation, we’ll open you right up. First we’ll go through  your stomach and pin your spine from the inside, then flip you over, open your back up and do the same again. You’ll also be given a bone graft. It will take about 5 hours and it will take about 2 years to recuperate fully.”

spinal-fusion
Spinal cage
Image result
Bit like mine, but I’ve got screws front and back.

“Right”, I squeaked in reply.

“I have to tell you about the possible side effects” the consultant continued, “although they are rare, they could include; death, incontinence, impotence, paraplegia, a permanent limp, drop foot and nerve damage”.

I didn’t really have a choice I thought, I could hardly walk now, running GV was becoming impossible. I decided to go for the surgery.