Costochondritis, or “How I wound up grounded!”

About a month ago I had a slight twinge in my shoulder one Saturday evening. I’d been doing my usual crewing of hot air balloons during the week and while some of it was a little more strenuous than normal, there hadn’t been any moments of pain or recognisable “oh shit” moments. Not until I was sitting at the computer, chatting on Skype with Steve, my co-host in the Plane Crazy Down Under podcast. I reached back to get my beer off a table beside & behind me but, becau&se I was chatting into the microphone in front of me, I didn’t turn my upper body.

That, I think, was when I felt the slight strain, almost like stretching a muscle after exercise. Gentle, no twinge, just a bit of resistance.

By a few hours later, it was rather sore and by Sunday morning it was all locked up & painful. On Sunday arvo I was applying heat creams and a friend of ours who does sports massage came over and worked up my shoulder. I could barely get on the massage table let alone turn myself over.

We figured I’d over-exerted myself and my muscles & tendons were registering their protest. I was only getting a few hours of sleep at a time on Sunday night and the pain was as bad (if not worse) on Monday morning, so I started taking some Ibuprofen & pain killers to see if that would make things bearable while my arm sorted itself out.

On Tuesday, I made an appointment with the doc as things just weren’t getting better. The lady I saw thought it was my tendons, put me on Voltaren and sent me for ultrasounds. She wanted to check that there weren’t any tears. The ultrasound revealed bursistis in the shoulder area (inflammation) and fluid in the sheathes around the tendons. Yup, nasty, but not a surgical situation. Whew!

A few days later I called the doc as the images & report should have been in. Reception told me she’d read them and marked my case as closed ‘cos it’d be fine within a few days. Erm, no, pain persisting and in some areas getting worse. I came back and wound up seeing a different doctor who examined me and asked “What’s this lump here?” pointing at the spot where my clavicle meets my sternum.

It takes me a few days to get scheduled (maybe I was kidding myself it would settle down of its own accord? :) but then I’m back for more ultrasounds & x-rays of that spot. This time the radiologist said “Don’t wait a few days for the results to go by courier, take them now and go see your doc again ASAP.” She said she thought I might have popped my clavicle out of its joint with the sternum. Yup, that makes you feel a LOT better, doesn’t it? :)

The next day the doc took a look at the results and immediately sent me off for a CT Scan. Later that afternoon I was having my first ever CT Scan and got to see seven sheets of little images that all said I had a real issue, apparently :)

Back with my doc and the assessment is that while I’ve not dislocated or fractured anything in there, the left sterno-clavicular joint has expanded and the surrounding tissues are swollen. She finds a good orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in shoulders and writes me a referral. I call the clinic and am told they’re booked out until September but can take urgent cases by the end of August (I was calling in early August). The lady gets me to work through what happened, where I’m at and what movement/pain I’m experiencing. On hearing the news, she double books me for the next week and tells me to come with lots of reading material as I may be waiting a while.

The day comes and I’m in reasonably quickly. The surgeon checks it all out, runs me through the what/how/etc and sends me for blood tests. We meet again two days later and he confirms the likely diagnosis:

Costochondritis / Tietze Syndrome

Costo-what???? :)

Costchondritis is where the rib/sternum joints get inflamed and swell, causing localised sore spots and some pain. The Tietze Syndrome is associated with it and leads to referred pain through the nerves, typically around the chest wall and into the arm. This can often lead to reports of pain similar to angina/heart attack. Charming.

In my case the costochondritis is in the clavicle joint and top one or two ribs. It was probably brought on through a series of micro-traumas built up over time (eg: from crewing/flying hot air balloons (packing away especially), lifting stuff and generally over doing it a few times). As a result of this I’m getting pain under my shoulder blade, in the front of my chest, up into my neck, across the top of my shoulder and down my arm – all on the left side.

Coughing, sneezing and yawning can lead to rather intense pain in those areas while moving the arm feels similar to when your muscles are protesting after a hard workout. If I try to do anything against resistance (eg: lift the shopping, pull/push a door, change gears in the car, etc) then pain can be experienced too, often associated with a “nerve tingle” and/or numbness immediately afterwards.

Not pleasant at all :(

The only real solution is rest and not aggravating things by doing any lifting. As such, I’m grounded from any form of ballooning for three months or so. Not happy about that at all! :(

We’re trialling some new anti-inflammatories and I’m off the pain killers as we see where things are at. So far, not good. The pills are helping a bit but not doing a lot for removing the pain when I move my arm, etc. Will have to check with the surgeon re: taking other pills as well (would prefer not to), using a sling, etc.

This sort of thing is all very new for me as I’m normally a pretty active person and enjoy running around being involved in lots of things, doing IT work and being outside working with aviation. I’m now coming to grips with the fact that even just sitting at the computer all day is painful, let alone travelling into the city to an office. As to flying, the surgeon’s asked me to wait a while before I try going off flying fixed wing with friends (let alone aerobatics) and I shouldn’t contemplate setting up or packing up a balloon until this has all cleared up.

Bugger :(

Watch this space for more news as things develop.

Flat out working

Wow, I’ve been slack with blog posts, that’s for sure. We’re nine months into the year and I’ve posted almost nothing this year. Hmmmm…

Since July things have rather exploded. In addition to my work with, working as part-time hot air balloon crew and managing the Experience This! blog, I also picked up some other work:

  • I spent a month working as a digital producer/project manager for an online advertising agency. I was filling in for one of their team who was on leave and it was great to work in the creative world once again, coordinating work with designers, helping out the account managers and keeping some developers in line. Of course, not having to wear a suit helped too :)
  • I started a whole new aviation podcast with Steve and it’s really taking off (to push the inevitable pun :) We’re calling it Plane Crazy Down Under and it’s getting a bit of a following both here in Australia and around the world. Definitely worth checking out – apparently even non flying junkies are enjoying it.
  • Just over a month ago I started a new contract as an IT Infrastructure Project Manager with Aussie Home Saver, a start up company that’s growing rapidly in the home insulation business. As you might expect with a start up, there’s a LOT to do and we’re flat out providing a stable technology platform to support the growth. Fortunately our efforts have been successful and well received so we’ve hit a few home runs and are working hard to keep up the momentum.

It’s certainly kept me busy and at least I’m earning some real money once again. Juggling all my responsibilities and commitments is proving to be rather tricky, but I’m getting there.

Been a long time…

Well, it’s been about six months since my last post. A lot can happen in that time and it certainly has:

  • We moved house in February to be in the selection zone for McKinnon Secondary College, a school that should be great for Nykolai when he starts grade 7 next year. It gets great reviews and is supposed to be one of the better public schools in Melbourne. The selection zone is rather small and demand to attend the school is high, so renting costs more in the zone than outside. He’s still going to St Kilda Primary for the rest of this year so there’s been a bit of commuting, juggling and so on but we’re managing.
  • Things didn’t work out at Evolve and I finished up there at the end of February, finding myself without work right in one of the worst job markets anyone’s seen for ages (it’s worse than the recession of the 90’s, that’s for sure). I’ve spent the last few months applying for jobs and it’s only been in the past few weeks that agents have been calling me back – usually it was silence or rejection slips. Very much a buyers’ market as companies can specify exactly what they want and there are so many people looking for work that they can pick & choose. The market appears to be turning as we enter the new financial year, so that’s a plus.
  • I’ve set up and am managing the World Aviation Experience blog. The main aspect of WAE is their Flight Experience Melbourne 737 simulator and the merchandise they have for sale at their online store. We’ve set up the instructors at the simulator on Twitter where they’re tweeting the cool flights that they do and there’s quite a bit of content in the blog already. We have some big plans for expanding the content and linking up with other ventures, so be sure to link in with the blog’s RSS Feed to keep up with the news.
  • I’m back crewing the hot air balloons in both Melbourne and the Yarra Valley. I really enjoy it and have been getting some great photos. Of course, we’re in winter now and the flying drops right off over July/August as the weather gets worse.
  • I’ve been working on a couple of proposals at, one an international development project and the other for a refugee based project here in Australia. The Australian project’s under way during July but the international one got put on hold. We’ll see how things go over the next month or so.
  • I’m still naffed off that the Australian Government is still pushing ahead with their idiotic Internet Filter plans and have started expanding its intended coverage (gee, there’s a shock). As much as I thought Howard was a complete bastard of a Prime Minister, this insanity is showing that Senator Conroy is the worst Communications Minister we’ve EVER had (and that’s saying something as we’ve had some shockers).
  • We’ve been to see Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion production and thought it was good but Varekai was better.
  • Kitt and I went to see Dylan Moran live at the Arts Centre on Easter Sunday and, more recently, Avenue Q at the Comedy Theatre. Dylan was hillarious and our sides were aching from laughing so much through the whole show while Avenue Q was brilliant (imagine a deranged adults only version of Sesame St merged with a dash of Tray Parker & Matt Stone). Very happy we went to see them.
  • We’ve been watching season 1 shows from Heroes and Dexter (yes, we’re WAY behind – whatever) and have watched all of True Blood (including the latest few episodes on season2). I’d say that these shows plus Battle Star Galactica and the ROME series show that there’s a chance for TV yet, but then I think about the rest of the crap that’s on and have to admit that it’s doomed.

Otherwise, that’s about it and life goes on. I’m keeping busy with applying for jobs and these projects but there’s no real income, so we’re surviving on my savings (now finished) and Kitt’s income. A plus is that I’m getting time to exercise, so I’ve lost a few kilos – still a long way to go, of course…

I’m BACK! :)

First light launch As of today I’m back crewing the balloons again – yay – it’s good to be back although my “day job” doesn’t let me do the crewing more than once or twice a month. At least it gets me out of an office and onto the field once again, working with aviation, meeting people and getting some exercise (sorely needed, I can assure you! :) Of course, the extra $$$ help too…

This morning’s session certainly proved for me that 6 months off crewing has left me a little rusty, even after the training session the other week. A few things have changed in the way we rig the balloons and between that plus generally getting back into the swing of it, I wound up forgetting to get the fan off the trailer. Nick (my pilot today) got everything ready to start the cold inflation, including the guys holding the mouth of the balloon open, and went to start the fan – ooops. Of course, I’m up the other end getting the velcros in when I hear the ramp drop on the trailer and realise “oh shit!” :)

Not the worst thing but still embarassing.

Oh well – a fun session and it’s great to be back doing it again.

About to land

I’ve Been Safely Trained

As of today I now hold a First Aid level 1 certificate – woo hoo – I know how to do CPR and such. Go me :)

Training was held for Balloon Sunrise pilots & crew out at the Balgownie Estate winery in Yarra Valley. Karen & Robyn were our trainers and it was a lot of fun. Things are certainly easier than when I first got basic training back at school. Apparently they found people were taking too long to sort things out and not getting into the important bit (CPR) soon enough. Then there were also the legal aspects where people were paranoid about getting their asses sued if they tried to help, etc.

So, now it’s easier – yay :)

It all comes down to a handy mnemonic:


Some things haven’t changed, including the recovery position and using the Little Annie practice doll thingos – although now you get to use a funky face thingo that fits on and there’s one per person – gotta watch out for those body fluids, ya know :)

All up, a lot of fun and educational – ya can’t beat that!

CPR training

Aviation Weekend

This weekend has been a busy aviation weekend, that’s for sure. On Saturday, I spent the afternoon and evening attending the VATSIM Oceania 2007 Convention out at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne airport. The conference is all about operating flight simulators, ATC simulators and the whole “online experience” that people get these days. Amazing stuff.

I went out there with Carlo as a representative of his Flight Experience operation here in Melbourne. He was presenting there so we caught a few others in the agenda and then stayed for the dinner. Between the end of the conference and the dinner, we shot over to the airport for a couple of drinks while watching the aircraft come & go. While there we caught Virgin’s new Embraer E-170 jet come in and park – it’s doing flights around the country to train pilots, cabin crew and ground staff on the specifics of its operation.

On the Sunday I went out the Yarra Valley for a day’s crew training with Balloon Sunrise. We spent some time reviewing the crew procedures manual, then had some pizza for lunch and ended up taking a balloon out to a field so we could rig it, inflate it and deflate it, all without the pressure of commercial operations. The idea was that we could take the time to discuss what was being done at each step and review important issues, etc. Much easier to do in the daylight without passengers and with heaps of time to review, etc. It’s an idea that Rob’s been trying to get happening for a while now and it really did work well.

Of course, we wound up attracting a few people who thought we were going to launch. Not likely – it was getting rather unpredictable with winds puffing all around the place. The joys of a mid-afternoon inflate :)

Training inside the balloon
In the R44 After lunch and while the others were taking the balloon out to set it up, Peter took Marlon & I out for a flight in the company’s new helicopter. We’ve set up Sunrise Helicopters and are running a Robinson R44 (Clipper II) model based off the lawn in front of Balgownie Estate. NEAT!!! A quick 10 minute ride (sadly with me in the back – DOH! :) was a lot of fun then it was back to the training session.

So, quite the aviation weekend. Now, if only I could have added in some flying time where I was at the controls, well, then it would have been almost a perfect weekend :)

Balloonatic Go Karting

Today saw the inaugural Balloon Sunrise vs Global Ballooning go kart challenge held at Ace Karts in Sunshine. The day began with rain, leading us to think we’d be down graded from Super Karts (9HP) to Modified Karts (6.5HP) as the track is open air. Fortunately, the skies were clearing, the rain had stopped and the track was dry when it came to our race.

Global had 9 racers and Balloon Sunrise managed to get 6 to the track (we had a couple of cancellations due to family issues). After completing our briefing, we donned helmets and jumped in our karts, heading out for a 10 minute qualifying period, then got arranged onto the starting grid based on our best laps. We were supposed to do a 15 minute race but there was a glitch in the computer so we got stopped, re-aligned on the grid in our present race order and then given a final 10 lap race, giving us about 18 minutes racing all up.

I spun out during qualification as I hit the brakes at the wrong time in a corner. I also spun out during the second 10 lap race as a bunch of us tried to get around one of the corners (that one got VERY messy :) Over all, I came 7th out of 15 which wasn’t bad, but was one place off gaining team points :(

We had agreed at the start that the first 6 drivers would win team points where first driver gets 10 points, second 8 and through to 5th getting 2 and 6th getting 1 point.

The end results after all the racing were:

Position       Driver       Team Score       Team Points
1st Barry Global Ballooning       30 10
2nd Nick Balloon Sunrise 28 8
3rd Rob Balloon Sunrise 24 6
4th Luke Global Ballooning 24 4
5th Ron Balloon Sunrise 20 2
6th Brian Global Ballooning 19 1
7th Grant Balloon Sunrise 17
8th Darren Balloon Sunrise 13
9th Les Global Ballooning 12
10th Peter Global Ballooning 11
11th Chris Global Ballooning 11
12th Sanjay Global Ballooning 9
13th Marlon Balloon Sunrise 9
14th Kiff Global Ballooning 7
15th David Global Ballooning 1
Position       Team Points
1st Balloon Sunrise 16
2nd Global Ballooning       15

So, a close race with lots of spins and hard racing. Lots of fun was had by all and we’ll be getting a trophy that the winning team can keep in their office for a year :)

No shape for Day 4 either :(

Well, the AGP have not been able to come up with a space where we can set up the F1 Racer balloon so they’ve pulled the plug on Day 4 for us. A few of us are going down there anyhow but we’ll only have a few chairs and a small eskie of food & drink. Not quite the same without all the vehicles and the BBQ, oh well…

Maybe tomorrow I can go for a walk and get some shots of the grid girls and some of the other helicopters that are there :)

No shape for Day 3 of the AGP :(

Sadly, we’re not going to have the shape at the Grand Prix on day 3 :(

While we were inflated on Day 2, Jamie from the on-site air traffic control tower came over with one of the guys from the helipad. Seems that they hadn’t been told we’d be at the race this year, let alone inflated in a field right under the approach path to the pad. Turns out that their AGP contact hadn’t been told either (no comment needed here re: planning, organisation & communication within the AGP :(

ATC and the helipad team were OK with us there provided we didn’t get the basket more than 10′ to 20′ off the ground. They would have preferred knowing about us a long time before so they could plan the approaches differently, but on the whole, they could survive our presence.

Sadly, the AGP didn’t want to take any chances and have pulled the pin on the shape for day 3. They’re going to try to find another place for us to inflate on race day (day 4) but it’s possible we’ll be cancelled all together :(

2007 Australian Grand Prix – Day 2

Once again we’re trackside at the Grand Prix with the F1 Racer balloon. When we arrived, there wasn’t much wind but there were showers of rain coming through so we put the van and trailer next to each other, rigged a tarp and set up the BBQ to cook up some breakfast.

Shortly before the start of the first F1 qualifying session, we spoke with the met bureau and they confirmed that we had a few hours without rain and with relatively light winds, so we dismantled the “camp ground” and started setting up the balloon.

The winds were a little high but less than they’d been on the day of the race last year, so with two heavy 4WD’s upwind and the van downwind, we managed to keep it tethered. Rob was taking it up and down so the bottom of the basket was around 20′ to 30′ off the ground and giving the crew rides so we could see more of the track – I got some photos on my ride but the fence was still in the way :(

We were getting lots of attention from the public with people taking photos of the balloon or shots with themselves in front of the balloon, etc. A couple of people came over to say that they were renting a corner apartment in one of the buildings over the road and we were blocking their view of the last few corners – ooops :)

After a couple of hours, the winds got too high so we pulled it down, leaving it out in case winds eased and a couple of us went to refill the tanks. On our way back, we could see the rain coming so we packed it up quickly, getting it mostly away before the rains came. We then took the trailer and van over to the fence and set up the BBQ for lunch.

Standing on the roof of the trailer we had a good view of the track but again, that damned safety fence was in the way :(

After a short time it became clear that the wind wasn’t going away and the odd rain shower was still coming through so we called it quits for the day, some of the guys heading home right away. I took advantage of some clearing weather to take a ride in one of Professional Helicopter Service’s JetRangers. I called shotgun and was up front with Andy (the pilot) and shot some video (I’ll link it once I sort it out – it’s in MOV format and at 90 degrees ‘cos I was holding the camera on its side – DOH! :)

After all that, I left and took the last of the crew back to the shed before heading home for the day.