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.

Roulettes over Albert Park

I just watched the RAAF Roulettes display from the roof of our apartment building. We’re pretty close to Albert Park where the Melbourne Grand Prix is running and, while not a perfect viewing place (damned trees) it wasn’t bad.

Now, I’ll probably never be good enough to fly that kind of formation (although I do aspire to getting a formation endorsement one day), I do have to make some comments on the show. These guys are good and their show is well flown, but having seen the USAF Thunderbirds and the US Navy Blue Angels a few times, I did feel that something could have been done to pick up the act a tad.

It’s not a jet vs turbo-prop thing!

Yes, jets pack more punch BUT it’s also the choreography of the whole show.

With the last few Roulettes shows I’ve seen, you’re often looking around, either following them behind you as they re-group or wondering where they’ve gone. With the other teams (and many earlier Roulettes shows) there’s always something happening. The other groups use their “soloists” extensively so as the main group are reforming one or two other aircraft are doing something back in show center.

Today’s Roulette show did make use of the soloists, but not to the same degree of continuity as some of their past shows (let alone the level of the other teams). I guess I’m being over-picky, but it’s just something I’m left with after the amazement has worn off.

Meanwhile, I’m watching these guys do things I can only dream of and I’d love to get a ride with them (yes Carlo, I’m still damned jealous! :) ). Until then, all I can do is use the show as yet one more piece of fuel to power my drive towards the sky…

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

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 :)

Fly me to the moon

I’ve just returned home from about 5 hours spent flying a 737-800 around Australia and NZ. It was, of course, a flight simulator – this time a fixed-base simulator that’s built around a collection of computers running MS Flight Simulator but with the “real thing” 737-800 cockpit with seats, controls, panels, the works. Three projectors drive the screens you watch from the inside and, aside from the lack of movement, it’s amazingly realistic.

Having been in a number of full motion sims, including the latest A330 sim that’s worth over $30 million, this one was extremely good and costs considerably less than that :)

The simulator belongs to Flight Experience here in Melbourne which is run by my friend Carlo. They’ve got the sim out at the QANTAS sim center near Essendon airport where it’s being tested and verified by the techs. Very soon now it will be relocating to its operational quarters somewhere in the CBD.

As a fixed base simulator it’s sufficient for procedures training and some level of official 737 training, thus it can be used by commercial pilots seeking their 737 endorsements to at least get a large part of the way there. This type of work represents about 5% of the market for Flight Experience as they’re targeting the general public, who can come in and see what it’s like to fly a jet airliner in and out of airports here in Australia. People can finally see what goes on behind that closed door up front, where they might get the odd tantalising glimpse of the “pointy end” :)

For tonight, Carlo and I were checking the unit out and having a lot of fun in the process, flying around Coolangatta & Brisbane, Christchurch, Melbourne and including some insane landings & take-off’s at Moorabbin. Fortunately, crashes were turned off, so we didn’t wind up splattered all over the virtual landscape as we probably should have (Moorabbin’s longest runways are somewhat smaller than those at Melbourne :)

All up it was great fun and I’d totally recommend having a session with Flight Experience when they’re up and running. I know I’ll be spending a few more hours in the unit when funds permit.

Weather or not I can fly…

I missed my flying lesson last Saturday because I was sick – and it was a beautiful morning to fly. So, I booked three, yes, that’s THREE (3), lessons for this Saturday. I had 8am, noon and 3pm.

So, sure enough, a big fat high pressure system settles over southern Victoria with variable 5-10kt winds and, as I feared, we’re fog bound. 8am comes and goes with almost zero vis at the airfield. Noon comes and goes with 5k vis and 500′ cloud ceiling. Comes 3pm and I’m out there with haze around but it’s good enough to fly. We do the run up, taxi all the way down the other end of the field and I make the “ready” call at the holding point for 35R, just in time to be told “Winds shifted, go to 17L”


Long taxi all the way back down the length of the field to the 17L holding point. I’m first in the queue with 3 behind me and we’re waiting for all the other aircraft in the circuit that have sorted themselves out and come back onto the new runway heading.

So, now we’re waiting for another aircraft or two for our clearance when the report comes over “Southerly winds bringing fog in off the bay – airport may close to VFR in 15 minutes.”


We’re cleared for circuits and we’re out, off and climbing. Sure enough, there’s the fog over there making its way to the airport. A few more aircraft join the circuit and we make our first touch & go (not a great one, but I’m getting there) then make our 500′ turn to cross wind early so we avoid flying into the fog – hmmmm.

It’s very hazy and the aircraft ahead of us is doing a wide circuit. ATC has a few goes to figure who’s who and gets the aircraft ahead of us to start their base leg ASAP ‘cos they’re so far out there. Yeah, we’re fine with this and we drop on his tail to come in on a full stop landing.

A few other aircraft waiting to take off are calling it a day and turning around so there’s a bit of a traffic jam down there near 17L – glad I’m not in ATC now :)

We’re on finals and get cleared to land – so much for an hour of circuits. Down, pull off the runway, clean up, ground clearance call and then head for the tie down spot. Suddenly it’s freezing on the ground and we can see our breath when we open the doors. Wow.

So far to go and so much to learn. I need to really get more study and rehearsal time in if I’m going to get this landing shit sorted out…

Flying over the GP

“Well, we may not be at the GP with the F1 Racer balloon but at least I got to fly over the track. The fine folks at Professional Helicopter Services are running the helipad and offering joy flights – 5 minutes for $80. I went up yesterday with Andy as our pilot – I asked for (and received) the front seat – not cheap but it was a fun little flight :)

Definitely time to think about saving for my rotary license :)

Flying over the valley

There were a couple of spare spaces on Rob’s flight in the Yarra Valley this morning so, seeing as we weren’t flying in Melbourne (nasty weather), I took Nykolai with me for a flight

It was great except that Nykolai spent the last 20 minutes trying to hold back an urgent need to go to the toilet. Bit hard when you’re in a basket at 4,000 feet. When we landed, we tossed him out of the basket, at which point he let me know that he really needed to do slightly more than just a quick pee….


I took him over to some bushes and he had a pee, but decided that here was not the place to do a quick squat. Fortunately he managed to hold on until we made it back to the winery for breakfast – there he broke a few speed records as he sprinted from the truck to the toilets :)

All good in the end – he’s saying he enjoyed the flight and is happy to go up again. Guess next time he’ll be careful to really try to go to the toilet before we fly…