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Health, fitness and COVID19

I’ve been waiting to get time to write this post since we got back from skiing in Austria on 8th March but events have overtaken it a little so I’m going to start with the new bit, our friendly little pandemic. I’m generally fit so not a great risk of needing hospital treatment for CORVID19, but my immune system is suppressed by the chemo so if I do catch it is likely to be a little more severe and take me a little longer to get it out of my system. That is all there is to say really, I will be particularly careful but ultimately whatever I do it’s likely to be coming my way sometime.

One of the things people tend to miss about the current control strategy is that it’s based on slowing transmission, particularly to vulnerable groups, to allow the NHS to cope with the numbers. However, this is just a delaying action, ultimately the pandemic will not end until we have reached herd immunity, where so many people are immune it can no longer circulate effectively. This can happen in two ways, a vaccine being developed or enough people having had the virus that they are naturally immune. Either way, like anyone who is at higher risk from being hit harder my best hope is to stay clear of it until that happens. I do have another way out, come the end of May I’ll stop the current treatment regimen and review the next steps with my consultant. That may mean coming off chemo, in which case my immune system should recover and again I’ll be better able to cope with CORVID19.

With all of the above bear in mind that as far as anyone can tell my risk of being seriously ill with it is raised but not at the level of the very elderly and/or very sick people who have died so far.

So back to the original reason for the post, my general health and fitness. Having spent three days driving to Austria via an exploration of Harwich, a day’s ferry crossing to Hoek van Holland and a stop with friends in Germany I was sick in the night and only managed two runs before coming home to bed. It was probably some kind of infection and cleared up quickly, but not a great start to my holiday. What did affect the whole week was weakness when working myself harder, something I’d been aware of for a while when walking uphill. I was still able to enjoy my skiing but not get in the km I would normally do, my best days were probably ⅔ of normal and my worse ones more like ⅓.

On getting back and meeting my consultant I discovered the reason, I’m anemic. My blood hemoglobin should be up at 130 but is actually down at 100. If it drops much further I’ll need a blood transfusion to get it back up, but as I’ve donated sixty units I feel I’m well in credit on that score. The chemo is to blame, it damages the bone marrow which impairs its ability to produce hemoglobin, as well as the platelets need to power my immune system. The classic “eat more high iron food and drink stout” method doesn’t help here, no matter how much iron I digest my bone marrow can still only produce a limited amount of hemoglobin.

I spent last weekend in southern Snowdonia with the outdoor group and was able to test out my fitness on a mountain, the first one I’ve been up since the Pyrenees in September. It was only a tidler, 850m high from a base of 350m meaning a climb of just 500m, but that was enough to give me a benchmark of what I can hope to do. It was really hard to get up the steep bits and I had to slow right down but I got there and I didn’t hold my friends up too badly so I’m very pleased with the outcome. I have bought myself some walking poles as allowing my arm muscles to help could make things easier. The logic is that my muscles are being starved of oxygen so the more of them I can use the better. Building them up, even if I could, would probably make things worse as they’d need more oxygen so my skinny low muscle build is helping.

My plan for the next few months is a simple one, avoid crowded places but get out and get some moderate exercise whenever I can. My next target was going to be Easter in Scotland but that looks unlikely to happen now as a shared dorm in a hostel may not be the best place for me, even if they haven’t shut them by then. That leaves early June when Mark, Ian and I are planning to cycle over Arran, the Kintyre peninsula, Islay and Jura. Virus worries aside I’ll clearly be concerned about my ability to do it, not that it’s that hard with a longest day of 70km and no big climbs. I can always drive with the bike on the car and cycle when I can, but that would be disappointing, although time exploring the area our favourite whiskey’s come from with the boys is bound to be fun anyway. So the next step is to get on my bike and see how I get on, wish me luck.

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