In May 2017, I was on holidays in France, swimming in the sea, when I felt a strong cramp in my calf. I did not pay attention to it at first, but after a few days, my leg had swollen and putting the foot on the ground was painful. When I came back to Dublin, I went to my GP, who sent me to the hospital straight away.
I was given the diagnosis of VTE (Venous thromboembolism, a blood clot in a deep vein in a body). At that stage, I had a very strong pain in my leg and it was excruciatingly difficult to walk, with the leg swelling and throbbing.
I was told in the Emergency Department that there was a danger of the clot moving up to my lungs and heart, and that I should take strong medication (blood thinners). The medication means that you do not clot very much, and that you have to be careful not to cut yourself in case the bleeding does not stop.
For months after the diagnosis, the pain in my leg prevented me from walking very far, and I was scared of leaving the house in case I fell (and bled). The potentiality of the clot moving made me really paranoid, as I was not sure whether it was safe to do anything outside the apartment. There is a thing with sickness also - it isolates you very quickly. Not only was I not comfortable to leave the house, I was also being away from friends and colleagues. I had to be careful everywhere I went, people would ask me questions about how I felt - I did not want to get compassionate looks or explain to people what was going on with me. Finally, there is no antidote to the drug I was taking, and I was taking heavy doses, meaning that in the event of an accident or bleeding I would have to wait for it to leave my body. That scared me. So I stayed alone at home for months.
On a summer day, quite depressed, I thought about cycling again. I had tried an 'analog' bike before, as cycling is my main mode of transport, but it was just too much for my legs. I tried an electric bike after my husband suggested it - it was a revelation. By putting this bike on a high assist mode (they call it boost, but I was slow enough!), I could push on the pedals and move, with little pain. Going to the supermarket, 250 metres away, was painful, but going to the beach, 10km away, was not a problem. That summer I was able to go outdoors again, exercising, go to the park and while getting off the bike could be painful, as soon as I was back on the saddle, the sensation of being outside and mobile again was sensational.
The heaviness and throbbing sensation of my leg meant I was still limited to short distance walks and electric bikes, but being able to be out really helped my mental health. My newfound mobility motivated me to do more things, like going and seeing friends at their house, or taking a lunch to the park. Very slowly, my physical symptoms were easier to deal with - I was able to distract myself and exercising meant I had a more positive outlook about things.
When I went back to the hospital for my monthly check-up, I explained to the consultant that cycling an electric bike was possible and that it had made a huge difference. She was surprised and told me there was very little talk within doctors about cycling as a recovery exercise for VTE, as doctors in Ireland would consider cycling dangerous - in the case of fall, you could bleed heavily because of the medication. And this is where it hit me - I was privileged and confident enough as a cyclist to use a bike as a mobility aid in Dublin, but this is a luxury for a lot of people, as our streets can be so hostile for everyone who is not in a car. Accessing an electric bike is also not that easy for a lot of people, despite the fact that is has tremendous potential to make people active, especially elderly people or people with hip or knee issues.
I am much better now. I can cycle, walk, swim, run, but I am still going through episodes of pain regularly as I suffer from Post Thrombotic Syndrome. My leg swells again, the pain comes back, I go back to the hospital. It is part of my life now, and every time it happens, I am back on the electric bike.
Because I am convinced the bike helped my recovery. It certainly helped with my feeling of helplessness. I wish wish it was accessible to all, and not only to the people who can afford a good bike, or the ones who are brave enough to face the motorised traffic on our streets. If we had calmer streets and a fairer bike to work scheme, cycling should be prescribed as a recovery sport, leading to healthier and happier people.