2017 in Review
TL;DR - this is a really long post! I've decided to not cut any sections out due to the length as it's all important to be here, and helps describe what 2017 was to me. However, I wouldn't say it is necessarily all worth reading for you, as I've got multiple audiences in mind:
- for myself, so I could think more critically over the last year and where there are places to improve
- for myself, just to get some of this stuff recorded somewhere for posterity
- for my friends and family to read a little more about my ruptured appendix, and the journey to recovery
- for my friends, colleagues or those who are interested in joining Capital One about what I've been getting up to
- for my future self, to be able to look back at the previous year(s), and (hopefully) see how far I've come
- just to see some interesting breakdown of statistics, such as the analytics on my personal site, or the usage of GitLab/GitHub issue tracking
Although I'd appreciate you reading it all, feel free to dip into the sections that most interest you.
2017 has on the whole been an amazing year, with a huge amount of personal and professional growth. And although I've written just over 14.5k words on the subject, this review is in no way exhaustive!
Before you read on, you may notice that this post isn't being written in December, but instead in February. If you're interested in the reason for the tardiness, you may be interested in reading into the Ruptured Appendix section.
I've come leaps and bounds on my personal site this year. Although originally it was more of a portfolio of projects I've worked on, it started growing into more of a space for blogs, and then it really evolved into a platform to start really building up my personal brand.
I've tweaked my site a lot over this last year, finding lots of low-brainpower tasks I can work on after a day of work. These have consisted of minor automation tweaks, playing around with Docker or simply reorganising the method in which I tackle issues/features on the project. The time I've had to spend on the project has also given me the ability to play around with a lot of GitLab-specific functionality, giving me a much stronger feel as to the usefulness of GitLab, as well as how it can benefit certain projects. This functionality also has helped me in my day job, where I've been able to see how different systems can approach the same problem in different ways as well as help me decide for myself which I prefer.
Here's an image of the site at the start of the year:
And the site at the end of the year:
I'd originally started to rebuild the site in late January with the Space Jekyll theme in mind. However as I'd almost reached readiness to launch the new theme, I found that actually the Daktilo theme spoke to me more due to its strong minimalism, and almost Markdown-ness.
I've found that I am a bit slower to update the projects section on the site, so feel I may either have to prioritise writeups after a project has been released/worked on, or see if there is some way to automagically pull that description in. It's also been an area of the site that has been neglected, and I should look at improving over the coming year.
I also integrated GitLab Review Apps so that I could see each branch built and deployed, which has meant that I've been able to share and review changes instead of needing to run them locally. Obviously, as this is my own site and I generally work on it alone, that's not a huge thing, but for when I'm working on articles I've found it a great help as I can share the WIP article and get feedback. I've also written about it to make others aware of how easy it is to work with Capistrano, which is the deploy tool I use for my site.
Using the code below (Git Usage - GitLab), I've had, over the last year:
- 168 total issues
- 83 issues opened
- 85 issues closed
- 83 total Merge Requests
- 2 MRs open
- 77 MRs merged
- 4 MRs closed
- 694 commits pushed (
git shortlog -sne --since="01 Jan 2017" --before="01 Jan 2018"via Stack Overflow)
- 22 articles written (
git ls-files _posts/2017* | wc -l), totalling 18395 words (
wc -w _posts/2017*)
- 275 deployments tracked using GitLab Environments since Sun Feb 26.
2017 was when I really came into my own with writing, which was encouraged with a few articles I started writing to document some of the main talks I attended at FOSDEM, both as a way to share back to my colleagues, and for me to be able to add my own thoughts on top. But as I started writing further posts, I found I wanted to write more, although I really find writing to be a difficult process I'm not used to, which is why I'm trying to improve it.
These posts varied from Blogumentation style findings, to how-tos on setting up Chef or GitLab specific configurations I'd found useful.
For some cold hard evidence of my site's engagement, I've also got some statistics that I can share from my tracking. Note that numbers will generally be higher, but due to adblock and other features, Matomo (previously Piwik) will not be able to glean all data. Also note that due to a backup malfunction, there is some data loss between July and late September.
The high bounce rate of 80% indicates that it's likely my content either isn't engaging enough, or (hopefully) has been all the reader needs to solve their issue, which is likely given the number of Blogumentation posts I've done that would roughly fit within the 1 min 14s of average visit duration.
There have been some visitors with some very high actions-per-visit with a maximum of 55, such as where I've seen them following links in an article, then returning to the site, as well as navigating the site to find more articles of interest to them.
Of the total 2130 visits, the following posts were my most popular:
- Continuous Delivery with Capistrano and GitLab Continuous Integration: 782
- Building Chef Cookbooks with GitLab (Part 1): 336
- Converting YAML to JSON and vice versa (Part 1 - Ruby): 108
In terms of my projects pages, the full list of projects received 155 visits. However, the maximum number of visits I received to an actual project's page was a mere 23, showing that actually, I hadn't been able to convince anyone to click through and find out some more information about the posts, so this is another place in which I need to help engage my visitors more.
Finally, the home page itself received 477 visits.
Additionally, digging into some of the other interesting points:
Chrome has been heavily dominating the market, with a very strong lead in terms of visits, followed by Firefox and then Safari. I wonder how the release of the new and awesome Firefox 57 (Quantum) is going to affect these stats over the next year.
For returning visitors, they seem to be spending a little more time on the site (1 min 56s compared to 1 min 14s), which is a positive sign showing greater interest on return (perhaps). Roughly a quarter of my traffic is returning visitors, which isn't too bad considering that (as I'll highlight below), most of my traffic seems to be organic search traffic as I only share my articles very rarely. I find it interesting that from September-ish, there have been more returning visitors to the site, whether that's returning to the same page(s), or to different page(s), I'm unsure.
Just over half of my overall traffic comes from search engines, and through other views, Matomo seems to show that there are certain articles of mine that are placed in the top ten results of search pages, which is pretty great to see as I've not really invested much into SEO aside from the Jekyll SEO Tag plugin.
Unfortunately Matomo locks keyword detection behind a paywall, so I don't get any information on how to make my keywords better optimised.
Search engine traffic accounts for ~60% of my traffic, at 1299 visits, followed by "Direct Entry" traffic with 591 visits, and other websites linking to mine at 240 visits.
I believe that the "Direct Entry" referrers are privacy-guarding search engines, browsers and extensions blocking referrer information, rather than it being down to someone having i.e. a bookmark or typing out a URL. What's also interesting is that although "Direct Entry" visitors are less than half the number of visitors than search engines, they spend double the time on the site (1m55s vs 58s), and perform almost double the actions (2.4 vs 1.3).
Twitter is my main place to share links to my content, as my main self-promotion platform so it would explain why the views are higher there. I've also shared on a couple of other platforms, and sometimes share on the TechNottingham Slack's
#blog channel but as mentioned before, my approach has not been to over-share my content, and instead let it be discovered (more out of laziness than choice).
Finally we can see that really I'm not getting too much traffic per day, not quite reaching 40 visits per day. It's interesting that around September-ish the number of visitors was higher, and more constant. Whether that was due to me having a lot of my Blogumentation style blogs that hit search results more effectively, or just that I was starting to get ranked a little better, I can't say.
For comparison, my data from 2016 is only in the interval 2016-05-12 to 2016-12-31, but shows I had a measly 249 visits in total, which would barely be a couple of months of 2017's traffic.
Looking at the graph of the year's visits, this also draws out a few interesting spikes through the year:
- February 21: 27 visits, I received 20 of the overall visits to my Preparing a Technical Workshop - A Checklist article on the day it was posted. This was written ahead of a workshop that Capital One would be giving at InspireWIT 2017 a few days later, and was shared internally.
- May 14: 37 visits. In a Facebook thread talking about personal websites, I shared a link to my own, of which 28 views came from that thread.
- October 3: 34 visits. On October 2nd, it was announced at Tech Nottingham October that I would be speaking the following month on Kickstarting your Automated Build and Continuous Delivery platform with GitLab CI.
- December 29: 31 visits, 22 of which were due to posting a link in a couple of reddit comments.
As part of the 'Document talks and workshops I can do' milestone on my blog's repo, I've documented the talks that I have done in the past, and can do, as a way to make it much more readily available for either preparing for a Call For Papers, or for potential meetup organisers to see what I'd be able to talk about.
Internally at Capital One, I've had the chance to speak a number of times during our Brown Bag sessions, primarily about Chef, due to how integral it is to the application we're developing, and how it can be making it much, much easier for other teams to be developing and deploying their applications.
I was also asked to speak at a Tech Nottingham student outreach event where I gave a talk (incredibly proudly titled) Came for the Campus, Stayed for the Community about how the Nottingham tech community was a huge consideration when I was deciding about jobs before graduating in 2016.
I was set to present the talk Kickstarting your Automated Build and Continuous Delivery platform with GitLab CI at Tech Nottingham in November, but due to a horrible case of flu I had to unfortunately postpone it until 2018.
In July I joined Monzo! It's been quite a treat so far, and I've found it both incredibly interesting and scary to see just how much I spend, and on what.
This has been especially true while I was on the PrePaid Beta as the only way for me to have money on the card was to manually top up. This made it a very conscious action, and I found that when you've topped up £50, and then a few days later you're needing another top up, you have to consider the rate you're spending money a little more carefully.
It's also great for being abroad such as when Anna and I went to Prague, where it was incredibly convenient to have Monzo's great exchange rate for ATM withdrawals and for those stores and restaurants that took card. Although Monzo have recently adjusted their abroad policies, they're still a really great choice.
The increased visibility, as well as Monzo's categorisation features such as Shopping, Travel, etc has also helped to make me much more aware of my spending habits.
I now wish I could track everything more easily, i.e. my spending on lunches at our canteen, so I can more easily determine my outgoings daily.
Anna used to work as a Vintage Photobooth attendant and in July was offered a photobooth at the River Cottage farmhouse down in Dorset, which would involve an overnight stay due to the distance. We decided that it'd be a good excuse to have a three day mini-break, as the weather was looking very promising and Anna would be getting paid for the work on the Saturday evening. I'd also get the opportunity to see what her time at a photobooth was like, and see some gorgeous views of and from the River Cottage.
Anna drove the van of equipment up on the Friday afternoon, and we stayed nearby in "the potting shed", having a quiet evening watching TV on my laptop with a takeaway. We spent Saturday and Sunday mornings in Lyme Regis, (nicknamed the "Pearl of Dorset") in the glorious sun, discovering some of the best ice cream we've ever had that we found hidden in a side-alley on the main highstreet. And given we were at the seaside, we'd be missing a trick if we hadn't had any fish and chips. But what we didn't realise was how good the area is for crab sandwiches, which we we enjoyed while people- and dog-watching (but really mostly dog-watching).
Note: Unfortunately not all of my pictures have uploaded correctly to Flickr, so I'll update this post to link back to it once resolved.
For our family vacation in September, we decided to go a little out of our comfort zone - although we're usually fans of warm weather and beaches, we would instead try for a cold holiday in Alaska.
Everyone who had been had told us how cold and wet Alaska is meant to be, and although we were chilled to the bone at times being on deck, we managed to have gorgeous sun all week, and no rain whatsoever - we couldn't have asked for better weather!
We flew out to San Francisco, where we had a night to fight off jetlag and start to settle in to holiday mode. The following morning we met up with a long time friend of my dad's for breakfast at the International House of Pancakes, one of my all time favourite places to visit when in the US. Not only was the stack of strawberry cheesecake pancakes amazing, but the egg and hash brown combination and surprisingly nice unlimited ice mochas really hit the spot.
Later that day we departed and had the rest of that day and the following full day at sea, being able to enjoy unlimited food, kicking back and watching TV and films, and generally just relaxing. It was also a great chance for my sister Catherine and I to spend some time together, as we hadn't been able to see each other very often in the last few months, given work pressures and our social calendars. It was also nice to spend some time as the four of us, as we also hadn't been together that often over the previous months.
Relaxation and socialisation aside, there was a little excitement when we received word from our Captain on the first afternoon that, although we had been at sea overnight and for the best part of a morning, we would be turning towards shore. Looking at the map on the TVs we could see that we had already been taking that course for some time. It turns out that one of the crew had been injured and needed to be airlifted to the nearest eye hospital at Victoria, Canada. We were all asked to return to our rooms while the crew prepared for the arrival, and as we started making our way down, we could see the crew doing everything from tying down sun loungers to emptying all the pools. We had to wait some time for the helicopter to arrive, but once it did, there was great excitement as it dropped off a medic, circled back to pick up the medic, and then circled back for a third time to winch up the crewperson. We were allowed to leave our rooms once the helicopter had departed and later that day we were told that the crewperson was recovering and their eye had been saved.
We arrived early into Ketchikan, Alaska's first city and the "salmon capital of the world", unfortunately arriving out of season and missing the chance to see any. However, we did get to spend time in the city, enjoying the weather, and our first taste of Alaska. Although it was a more urban experience compared to the other Alaskan destinations, it still had plenty of wildlife, and we had fun watching a seal gracefully darting around, trying to find fish in one of the rivers.
The next day, we arrived into Juneau, the rain capital of the world. This was the only stop that we'd booked excursions, partly due to almost every review of the excursions being incredibly glowing - we would go for an extended whale watching session, and then visit the Mendenhall glacier. The whale watching started off quite quiet but we soon found a pair of whales, and it was really interesting almost chasing them as they played with us, not wanting to be seen. We left them, a little disheartened, to find some more and travelled past a few small islands with beaches full of seals and sea lions. We soon managed to find a further pair of whales who were much more playful and we managed to spend a good 15-20 minutes watching them before moving off. It was also incredible to look to the horizon and see mountains, but then looking to the peak of the mountain, see another set of mountains, and then another set, seemingly growing ranges forever.
Once we had set foot on land again, we were shuttled to the glacier. Although we had limited time there and the surrounding area, we still had time to soak in the sheer size of it, "12 miles long, a half-mile wide and from 300 to 1,800 feet deep". One thing we all took away from it was how the last 70 or so years have caused it to recede by several miles, visually illustrated with a sign in the observation and museum area mentioned that "100 years ago you would have been standing inside the glacier". That being said, there was again some gorgeous wildlife, and I managed to spot a porcupine eating leaves in a nearby tree, as well as seeing a few more bald eagles, which we had been seeing surprisingly often in Alaska.
On the evening we were leaving Juneau, there was a talk from Libby Riddles about the sled dog racing she started when young. She then took us on the journey to her becoming the first woman to win the Iditarod Trail sled dog race, a harrowing 18 day journey with 16 dogs, across over 1000 miles of harsh Alaskan terrain, and even braving a blizzard. It was an amazing talk, and made the cold we had been feeling over the last few days feel insignificant.
The next day we arrived into Icy Strait Point a little disappointed - there was so much fog, we could barely see the ship once we'd departed. But after a slow walk up to the village's waterfront restaurants, the fog had started to clear and left us with some beautiful views. We decided to walk to a further settlement kept in the style of a traditional village, at which point the fog had completely unveiled more views over the sea.
One of the most exciting, and cold, events of the holiday was visiting the Tracy Arm fjord at an incredibly early and bitter 0500. It was, however, a truly beautiful and humbling experience, being surrounded by incredibly vast mountains, many covered with snow, as well floating chunks of glaicer in the water. When we reached the fjord itself, we weren't able to get too close due to it being a preserved area, but we could see the way that the glacier stretched for a considerable distance.
Our final stop on the cruise was Victoria, Canada and mine and Catherine's first visits to Canada. We spent the whole time we were there walking around, enjoying the great feel of the city, another gorgeous sunny day, and the quantity of free WiFi access points there were!
After another sea day, we returned to San Francisco fairly early for an overnight stop before our flight the next afternoon. We decided that we hadn't done nearly enough walking over the holiday (up until this point I'd personally taken over 144000 steps) we would go for a walk around the city. As the last time we'd visited was 2005, we wanted to spend some more time in the city we really loved, especially as Catherine and I were both able to drink for the first time in the US. The 23000 steps we took that day took us all across the city, enjoying waterfront Ben and Jerry's, to seeing the seals at Pier 39. After checkout at the hotel the next day, we visited the California Academy of Sciences, which we didn't realise had nearly as much amazing stuff in it as it did - there was a huge aquarium from tropical fish to amazing deep ocean organisms, as well as some interesting rare minerals and rocks, an exhibition on earthquakes and we had an immersive experience in the planetarium learning about dark matter with narration by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Over the holiday, I also got a chance to get a chance to play around with photography a little better, as I had been thinking about getting a DSLR. My dad had recently changed cameras, from a Canon EOS 400D DIGITAL to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000, and decided to let me play around with his old one, to decide if I actually would appreciate having one. Fortunately, on our first sea day, there was a "beginner's photography session", which meant that I was able to learn a little more about how to play with aperture and exposure. With this knowledge in play, I was then able to experiment over the holiday with switching between automatic and manual settings, so I could see how the camera would best determine to take a shot, and to see if manually tweaking those settings I would be able to "beat" the camera's photos. Once a little more familiar, I was trying to take more photos on manual where possible, and I have to admit, there are some great photos over the course of the holiday, no doubt due to the picturesque of Alaska, and the abundance of wildlife to photograph.
At the end of November, Anna and I managed to get away for a four day weekend in Prague. We chose Prague for two reasons - the first being that neither of us had been before, and it was somewhere we both wanted to go. But I would say the main reason we wanted to go at this time of the year was due to the amazing Christmas markets they have - and we weren't disappointed, enjoying Prague Ham, hot mead, mulled wine and spiced cider, as well as perusing the various Christmas stalls.
We spent a large amount of our time while there simply walking around and exploring the city. As we didn't take a guidebook we were having a great time being able to find shops and cafés ourselves instead of being driven by tourist destinations.
One day we walked up to the Prague Castle, which was a bit more steep than we'd expected! But to help us with our ascent, we stopped for some coffee and Trdelník, which we'd seen around a fair bit but hadn't yet had a chance to try. Once we arrived at the castle, we found some amazing views over the city, as well as the gorgeous St. Vitus Cathedral, and found another lovely Christmas market.
It was also nice just sitting in the main square, watching the world go by while sitting with a nice hot drink. After what had been some very busy months for both of us, it was so nice just being able to relax completely. While doing research into Prague, we found and pre-booked a visit to a beer spa, which I have to say is a must-try for anyone who has the chance. There's nothing better than relaxing in hot beer, while being able to pour (almost the same) beer to drink! It was definitely a unique experience, but was a lot of fun.
There were a few places we found through TripAdvisor, such as Callebaut where we got a fruit and chocolate waffle, with two hot chocolates of varying chocolate intensities, which was a great way to spend our last morning.
I thought it'd be interesting to see how I've used GitLab/GitHub over the last year, both for public and private projects.
As you'll notice, GitLab is my main platform for Git, for many reasons, including those outlined in Why You Should Use GitLab.com. Additionally, over the year, as I've been exposed to the Agile planning process and our use of JIRA at Capital One, I've been using GitLab's project management functionality as a way to explore this process more in the sandbox of my own personal projects.
As a TL;DR, in total, over 19 projects there have been:
- 326 total issues
- 193 issues open
- 133 issues closed
- 116 total Merge Requests
- 7 MRs open
- 104 MRs merged
- 4 MRs closed
- 1 MRs locked
My top projects, as gleaned from
env GITLAB_TOKEN=.... bundle exec ruby gitlab.rb 2017, in the folder
Project spectat / provisioning / cookbook-spectat has had:
- 52 total issues
- 41 issues open
- 11 issues closed
- 15 total Merge Requests
- 1 MR open
- 13 MRs merged
- 1 MR locked
Project spectat / provisioning / site-config has had:
- 27 total issues
- 21 issues open
- 6 issues closed
Project Jamie Tanna / api.jvt.me has had:
- 19 total issues
- 14 issues open
- 5 issues closed
- 1 total Merge Request
- 1 MR merged
Project spectat / business / admin has had:
- 19 total issues
- 14 issues open
- 5 issues closed
- 1 total Merge Request
- 1 MR open
Project Jamie Tanna / talks has had:
- 7 total issues
- 4 issues open
- 3 issues closed
- 10 total Merge Requests
- 10 MRs merged
Note: It seems like the automated gleaning of statistics is currently broken. I have manually compiled them to:
As a TL;DR, in total:
- 24 total issues
- 16 issues open
- 8 issues closed
- 11 total Merge Requests
- 5 MRs open
- 6 MRs merged
I've had an awesome year at Capital One this year. Having joined in September 2016 on the Graduate scheme into the Platform Services group to build Java APIs, I had started to settle into the company culture and the team's way of working in the first few months I joined. Then, with the start of the year came a new set of projects and planning - our new Web Servicing platform, allowing customers to self-serve their payments and transaction history, among other features, all built in-house for the AWS Cloud. This was a huge feat we were looking at working on, and it involved a huge number of teams across engineering, technical operations and cybersecurity. We launched the platform into production in November and have so far had great success with it!
As part of the project, I've been working on building the Identity and Access Management Service, which we've been setting up using an off-the-shelf identity solution. As it is an off-the-shelf solution, there is a large amount of the functionality already available, you often just need to run the right set of commands. As we were looking at starting the project, we were deciding how we'd manage it all - I suggested using Chef, which already had pre-existing infrastructure and use in the business (both in the UK and US), even though none of the team (myself included) had any experience with it, and some members only had limited experience with Ruby. Another big reason for Chef was the ability to be able to write unit and integration tests, and use some of the tooling around the ecosystem to help us to build quality into the configuration as well as our code. The team agreed with my suggestion, and over the year I've jumped headfirst into learning Chef, and have been a driving force in the business for educating on how to use it, even for those teams already using it, being know as "the Chef guy" around Software Engineering, which is a huge accolade and great place to be for my internal personal brand.
As mentioned, although I am technically a Java developer, I've spent more time working on Chef than Java this year, simply due to the nature of the project. That being said, there have been some custom additions and functionality we've needed to build into the service which are all in Java, so I have been exposed to writing a fair bit of TDD Java code this year, and had some real-world exposure to design patterns. However, the amount of Java code to write has not been as much as any of the team have hoped, but that looks like over 2018 that'll change as we look toward different projects. Fortunately for me, I enjoy automation, and therefore at times have been happy letting another member of the team scoop up some Java while I work on cookbooks. As per my Software Engineering resolution for 2018, I want to pursue a side project that will help me boost my Java skills and put into practice the concepts I've been learning, even if my day job doesn't always give me that chance.
A team norm that I've really enjoyed is the act of pair programming - through it I've been able to pair with our whole team at times, but I've found it's mostly with our Senior Engineer, Stephen Galbraith with whom I've built up a really great working relationship which combines having fun while still getting stuff done. I've been learning a huge amount about TDD and the "right way" to build software through building quality into it. As I mentioned in my year end review, Steve has broken me as a developer - writing code without any tests now feels wrong, which is great, as I now can build software with a lot more confidence it's actually going to work. Both the act of pairing and the code review process has made me much more critically about code reuse and readability, whereas in previous projects they've either been for myself or for coursework, where they're throwaway. Steve has coached my overeager architecting for code reuse by advising me to follow the "rule of three", where you should i.e. copy-paste code up until the third instance at which point it should be made reusable.
Becoming a core part of the team has also been a great feeling, and has really built up my confidence in the work I do, which has been rewarded with a speedy promotion in January 2018 to Software Development Engineer 2 (SDE2) after the 15 months I've been working here. I've thoroughly enjoyed my first year working at Capital One, and I honestly can't wait to see what I'm writing about in my Year in Review 2018!
We're currently looking at re-engaging with our existing clients to look at site refreshes, and migrating clients from WordPress to Jekyll + Netlify CMS (if CMS functionality is required), once the GitLab backend merges successfully. As part of this work, we'll be looking to build reusable project templates to minimise boilerplate in future, and get us up and running as quickly as possible.
I've been taking advantage of my Chef knowledge in order to automate the process of provisioning new client setups and making the amount of administration required for onboarding as little as possible. This process is also turning the previous "pet" server sites were hosted on, into more of a "cattle" server, meaning a new instance can be more easily spun up, bootstrapped and ready for client onboarding as soon as we're ready for it. There was a recent issue where the "pet" server had a hypervisor issue, which meant that I lost everything, both most recent configuration and some data. This was a tipping point, as my existing provisioning script was lacking, and only performed some basic functionality of the setup, still requiring a large amount of manual work to get a site up and running, and the most recent configurations were missing some fairly important updates I had recently made. If I had a "cattle" setup, my restoration time could have been in a matter of minutes.
We'll also be looking longer term towards automating tasks such as integrating tooling like UptimeRobot and DNS management into client onboarding, to help us hit the ground running as quickly as possible. These are often boring areas requiring manual steps for us to get configured, when instead we could be delivering value to clients.
Although we've not yet worked on any client acquisition, due to both of us going through an extremely busy time, but as we're looking to developing up our client base over the coming months, please remember the name if you find anyone who may be relevant!
At Hack24, Anna and I paired to play around with Cronofy's APIs as a method of building an application to make it easier to organise group events. The premise was to make it possible to link in each member of the group's calendar into the application, and specify a timeframe you'd be looking to organise for i.e. evening, 2 hours at a weekend, and the application would return back date(s) matching those parameters, as well as warning of any members who, if anyone, would not be available.
However, we didn't really get very far with it unfortunately due to other distractions, but we had fun with playing around with the APIs.
As documented in my recent article Hackference 2017, Anna and I built an application to automate the process of helping other freelancers to only allow website changes to be pushed live once a client has made their payments in full. The project, Be Paid to Get Deployed won two prizes, and more details about the app can be found on its project page.
This was one of the first hacks we've really found we had a killer idea that we'd want to use and (maybe more importantly) we also felt rested enough to be able to pull it off!
As we neared the release of the Web Servicing Platform at Capital One, I was spending a lot of time working very late, as mentioned in the Personal Well-being section. Poor eating and sleeping habits, as well as long hours and not looking after myself very well meant that I was much more susceptible to picking up a rather nasty cold that was going around, which took me off work for the best part of a week, and for a further few days I was working from home until I felt well enough to return without infecting anyone else. However, this was not before releasing the Identity and Access Management service into the production account on the Sunday, and being able to see my manager be the first person to test the platform end-to-end in production, as it was the official internal "go-live" day for associates.
As mentioned in the Events section, this meant I had to cancel my workshop at Tech Nottingham, which I was really looking forward to giving.
Content Warning: I have attempted to make this section fairly safe, but this is a content warning for some mild discussion of bodily fluids, needles, and medical procedures.
TL;DR - a week before Christmas my appendix ruptured, we didn't catch it for some time due to it presenting non-traditionally, and the area was quite infected. I am recovering well, with no complications and am looking to return to work in early March once I have physically healed.
The below sections describe in a bit more depth the full timeline of my diagnosis down to where I am now, far through the healing phase and into recovery. Below I've been trying to explain the levels of pain I've been in. However, that isn't really helpful as pain is very subjective, and if there's one thing I've definitely learned, it's that I have a very different pain threshold to others. Hopefully the below examples will help share the levels of pain I experience:
- a 2-3 pain level is quite a dull ache, enough to ignore fairly easily, but remains
- a 7 pain level is blinding, very intense, and is to the point where I am unable to very easily take my mind off it for long, if at all. It seems to causes nausea due to intensity, and requires strong pain refief such as morphine to reduce the pain
- a 8-9 pain level would be expected to reduce my mental and motor functions to the point I'm unable to do anything
- a 10 pain level would be expected to instantly knock me out from the pain, for instance
I haven't experienced above a 7 pain level, and I really do hope that I do not have to.
Another point to note is the use of the term "the wound" below. Because my surgery did not happen under keyhole, the area that had been operated on was left open. This is a common occurrence that leads to the final scarring being more minimised than would be if I were sewn up, as well as reducing the chance of needing to operate again in the case that post-operative infection was discovered. Another reason it's referred to as "the wound" is because it draws attention to the gravity of it - even after a week of healing, it was the size of a fist, from above my belly button to my waistline. The fact that this is actually a pretty big area to heal has meant that the recovery has had to be a lot longer than it would have been for an otherwise routine appendectomy.
I want to say a massive thank you to both my family and to Anna for all the incredible moral, physical, and mental support I've had over the last couple of months. I honestly would not have been able to get this far without any of you, and it means so much for you to have put so much of your own lives on hold to help me recover.
I'd also like to say a massive thank you to everyone who took care of me at Queen's Medical Centre E15 ward in Nottingham, the care there was really good, and helped me recover more positively with so many friendly and helpful faces around.
One of the most problematic issues with this happening was timing. As I was in hospital over the Christmas period, it's resulted in us having to postpone Christmas until I've been well enough to be able to (over)eat a hearty Christmas meal. We've recently given our presents to each other, but the actual "Christmas day" will be coming a bit later in the year. Fortunately I didn't quite ruin New Year's for everyone, although I was asleep relatively early and missed midnight, but got to see everyone around two minutes past midnight, so I felt like I'd been able to celebrate it a little with them.
I've also found that over this period, maybe one reason I've been reacting so positively to everything is because I haven't really been thinking about how bad it could get. I guess if you don't confront the issues, they can't get you, right? (sarcasm) That being said, there have been a few places where my ignorance and unwillingness to consider the effects has not been the most ideal way of coping, especially when looking at how I didn't think about complications of the surgery, and how my life would be affected afterward.
In the past I've not really found I've had to think about my independence as a person, but this period of time has really made me think, especially about old age and the loss of independence due to frailty. For the best part of a month, getting in and out of bed required help from my parents, which meant that at any point during the night if I needed to go to the loo, I would need my parents' help. Additionally, for the first five or so weeks, I required a hand from my dad drying off after a shower, as I wasn't physically able to dry my back or bend to dry my legs. Feeling like an imposition on my parents has been a really awful feeling, knowing that you're ruining both your parents' sleep just because you can't get out of bed, but also knowing there's nothing that can be done about it. Loss of control over yourself and being able to perform even basic tasks is a really humbling experience. But knowing I would get better and would be able to look after myself soon helped me stay positive, whereas I know there are many who have no such luxury and unfortunately have to rely on others for many things. I am honestly thankful that generally I am physically healthy and am able to be self-sufficient.
On Saturday 16th December, I felt some discomfort in my stomach, towards the lefthand side of my abdomen. Anna and I had just had a Chinese takeaway, so I had just put it down to maybe being overeating. However, the following day, the pain was getting a little stronger, and I ended up vomiting at one point. We would have put it down to food poisoning, but Anna was completely fine, and given we had eaten the same food, there was a slim chance of it being that.
That evening, I was still feeling incredibly unwell and on the Monday morning I called in sick, suffering from really bad pain in my stomach (pain level: 3-4). I was barely eating, as I was unable to keep much down, and my appetite was very little. I spent most of the day just watching TV to try and keep my mind off it while paracetamol took hold, and sleeping when the pain would let me. However, by the time Anna was on her way back from work, the pain had reached an intensity to the level of pain I'd never felt before (pain level: 7), and she helped me travel as quickly as we could make it to a nearby walk-in clinic.
Arriving to the clinic as a couple of police were responding to some disorderly patients, we were told that the wait could be up to 4 hours as the commotion had caused further backlog. The longest 45 minutes of my life passed, the intense pain barely relenting for a second, no matter the positioning on the already uncomfortable seating, at which we were seen by the triage nurse. She took my details down, and referred me to one of the nurses available. Unfortunately, there was a queue, and it took more than an hour more until I was able to see her. While we had been there, Anna did her best to distract me, which did some help to take my mind off it and reduce it to a more manageable pain, but every so often I would get a flash of very intense pain, and be back at square one. When we saw the nurse, she did a quick check of the location of the pain. After doing a urine test, it was noted there was blood in my urine which indicated a urine infection, for which I was prescribed some antibiotics. I'd also mentioned that I'd had ibuprofen fairly soon before we left, and she attributed a large amount of the pain I was feeling to having that on an empty stomach. Retrospectively, I should have mentioned that the pain was there even before that, as well as asking more about the urine infection, as I had assumed that was something you would notice a bit more if you had it.
We found the nearest pharmacy still open around 2100, which happened to be at a Sainsbury's, allowing us to stock up on large bottles of water to help flush out the infection, as well as lots of snack-y food that I'd be able to more easily reach and eat in my room, where I was pretty much bound during the day, as walking up the stairs in my flat to the kitchen and bathroom was a chore I'd rather have avoided.
Anna checked on me every night on the way home from work to make sure I was okay, bringing me some soups and other goodness through the week to help me feel better. She was an absolute star, always making sure I had everything I needed, but it was a shame my stomach wasn't really wanting to eat any of the nice stuff she had brought me.
The next two days of taking antibiotics were making me feel better, until Thursday afternoon when the pain (level 7) really came back in force. And given I hadn't had any ibuprofen, I was sure that wasn't an indicator of the issue (however, retrospectively I realise I did not tell the nurse that). There was a slightly reduced wait time of half an hour to the triage nurse, and a further hour to the nurse, but once we were in we at least had the same nurse from Monday, meaning we could more quickly start looking at the problem, instead of needing to explain all the details again. Due to the antibiotics not helping, the nurse took some blood, and referred me to a Gastrointestinal surgeon at Queen's Medical Centre, allowing us to avoid the wait in QMC's A&E department, as he would be able to better diagnose this.
When we arrived at QMC, we spoke to the surgeon and discussed the last few days of pain and how my had been reacting, such as with the vomiting. He had mentioned that the nurse had thought that it may be my appendix, but as it was presenting from the wrong side of the abdomen, be didn't think it was my appendix (Narrator's voice: But as we know, it was). He took some blood and after some time of sitting in some comfortable chairs in the waiting area, we got the results back. The surgeon mentioned that my blood was "deranged", which immediately scared me until he explained that this was a common medical term. However, he mentioned that due to the way my blood was reading, especially with a high inflammatory marker count, I would have to go down for a CT scan. Before I went down there was some more vomiting which didn't help me feel any better, but meant at least I wouldn't be doing it while having the CT. I was told that I would go to the ward after my CT, so I would have to say goodbye to Anna until the morning. I wasn't quite ready to be left alone, but she left her charger with me to make sure I was able to stay in touch with her and my family and keep them updated on the situation as it unfolded.
Once the CT had been completed, I was wheeled to the ward, where I awaited the results. After some time, the surgeon came to inform me that I had a ruptured appendix, and that given the amount of infection I had accumulated I would be needing to have surgery as soon as possible. However, given the fact it was 0200 at this point and it would be possible to hold out until an early surgery in the morning, they decided not to rush me into the operating theatre.
However, there were a number of pre-operation preparations to get underway, so I needed to sign my consent form, taking some time to consider the real worst case of potentially having a stoma bag when I woke up. Although this was a real worst case due to the fact that the infection had been underway for a number of days at this point, there was only so much the CT scan could tell them about how bad it would be until I was on the operating table. This meant that they had to prepare for every eventuality, and obviously they wouldn't be able to ask me for consent when I was knocked out with anaesthetic. He also explained that due to the amount of infection, there was a very high chance of the operation not happening under keyhole, which would result in a bigger scar. I wanted to chat to my parents because this was the first major, potentially life-changing surgery that I'd had had, and as well as keeping them updated, I just wanted to talk it through with someone. We later spoke about logistics as they wanted to make sure they were with me on the ward before I went off to theatre, so would have to drive up from London. Given it was getting close to 0300, this didn't give them much time to prepare and jump in the car, to then make the journey and see me as soon as visiting hours were available at 0700, with hopefully an hour or so before I needed to go down to theatre. They also organised with my sister Catherine in Southampton, who'd be leaving for the first train around 0500, but would have an almost four hour journey to get to Nottingham, and who unfortunately missed me by about half an hour.
Once I'd had my initial chat with my parents and signed my consent form there were preparations that they needed to perform, like checking blood pressure and vitals, as well as inserting an IV drip and catheter. With the preparations complete, I was given an hour to try to sleep before I'd need my blood pressure taken again. I managed to drift off for a little bit of very poor, and pain-filled, sleep, though, which meant that it was around 0600 by the time I woke up. Not long after, my parents and Anna arrived and tried to help distract me from the pain and thinking about the surgery, which fortunately was very soon.
Operation + Recovery at QMC
I got wheeled down the morning of the 22nd, and had to wait for what felt like at least half an hour to an hour before having the final pre-operation preparation. It was at this point that I was given the choice about pain relief post-surgery - I would either be given an epidural, which could continuously be administering pain relief, as well as giving me an option every half an hour to provide an extra dosage if required, or to just keep with IV administered pain relief. I opted to go for the epidural for the extra control, and maybe also because "constant pain relief" sounded good in my state, although maybe not quite realising it was a going to be a long needle literally poked into my spine. That being said, it wasn't an uncomfortable experience being administered, it just felt a little weird. Once complete, I was ready to go under.
Waking up in the recovery room, I was drifting in and out of sleep while they worked to get my pain management under control. At one point I asked to call my parents just to let them know I was fine, worrying they hadn't been told I was out of surgery. Fortunately they had been kept fairly updated, and therefore weren't frantically worrying about what was going on. They took the time I was in recovery to book accommodation for the next week, as they'd rushed to Nottingham but not really planned anything around what they'd do after I was out of surgery. Fortunately, they found an amazing flat that was close by, very spacious, and, from what I've heard, had a really comfy sofa for napping on!
Once I made it back to the ward, I was incredibly drowsy as I still had the effects of the anaesthetic and pain medication I was on. My family and Anna stayed for about ten minutes or so, and left me as I couldn't really stay awake, but am told I was much better in spirit than before the surgery. My family also will have needed a bit of time to rest and recuperate and pick up the keys for the flat, but more importantly, think about what they would be doing for dinner!
My IV was hooked up to a bag of fluids to ensure I was as hydrated as possible. As I would be immobile for the first few days, the catheter would made the fluid intake much easier. However, being so used to drinking water while at work, I was finding my mouth would be getting very dry, and so the nurses allowed me to drink a little water myself, although they made sure I knew that I would get all my required fluids via IV. I wasn't physically able eat until Christmas morning, my first meal being vanilla ice cream, as the doctors felt I was getting to a good stage. We've also decided that having ice cream for breakfast definitely has to join the Christmas traditions in the future.
It was at this point I was really gaining massive admiration for the human body and the fact that it could survive for another two days without any food, after a week of eating at most two slices of toast a day and a huge surgery. It's also helped me realise that major surgery is a great way to lose weight! As of mid February, I've lost 14kg (2st 2lb) of my previous weight, although this loss is slightly unfair as I wasn't exactly in the best shape of my life. Over the next few days, I started being able to have a soft diet, such as rice pudding and mashed potatoes (no, not as a pairing), and one of the most impactful, being able to drink tea!
Speaking of Christmas, this year it was a little different than I'm used to. Although I was able to spend some time with my family, it wasn't quite the joyous occasion that we're used to, but there was definitely excitement for me eating ice cream. I did also get to see Anna, which I wasn't expecting this year, so that definitely helped keep my spirits up. But given the night before had been quite interrupted sleep for monitoring blood pressure and oxygen levels, as well as running other tests, I was rather tired during the day, and pretty much slept through the afternoon. I saw my family again in the evening, but again it was a short visit because I needed to sleep.
The first few days were spent in a state of sleeping and sleepily chatting when the family and Anna. As I was having very interrupted sleep, for instance to checking my blood pressure throughout the night, combined with flushing the anaesthetic out of the system, and the body's reaction to the trauma it had been through, I would be trying to get sleep where possible. Given I was in a shared ward, too, there was the inevitable noises of the hospital as well, although I am very glad I wasn't in a private room because having nurses constantly around to be able to look in on me or call for if needed was invaluable.
As I was starting to gain a bit more brainpower, my days were being spent pretty much glued to my phone. Fortunately I have a self-hosted app called Wallabag which I have been meaning to blog about which is a great way to save links to read later. Over time I've accumulated quite a few, so I was able to make decent headway through them, as well as trawling Twitter and reddit for new content and just to do something. I'd also spend time trawling through Twitter, reddit and Hacker News for further links or interesting conversations my still recovering mind could try to digest.
Every day I had visits from my family and Anna, making sure that I had time to see them and chat about how they were and catch up on how I was, too. My family would arrive earlier to make it in time for the doctors' rounds, and Anna would join a little after so we'd get some time just to ourselves. It definitely helped, because there's only so much you can spend reading and sleeping! Having some human interaction, even if it was just knowing they were near while I was asleep, was nice.
Unfortunately over the first day or two post-surgery, I was suffering fairly often from vomiting, even with anti-nausea tablets. Not only was this not fun (because hey, who likes to vomit when you've got literally nothing in your stomach?) but it was also also incredibly painful, not helping due to the act of throwing up occurs in the area that had recently just been re-oriented when undergoing surgery, the muscles themselves had either been cut through or weakened, but also due to the fact that I would be doubling over on myself, which given my stomach was still open from surgery, would hurt further. There was an attempt to place a tube through my nose that would help pump the fluids from my stomach, but the attempts to place it were painful (level 3 with epidural) and unsuccessful. After another day or two of lots of vomiting, we tried again with the tube, which after a fair bit of pain (level 3 with epidural) did place correctly, which helped to ensure the stomach remained at a level that was comfortable, only vomiting once while it was in.
On the 26th, we were able to start disconnecting the various tubes and needles from me, starting with the tube down my nose to help with nausea, and my IV drip.
Very early on the 27th, they removed my epidural so they could then very carefully monitor my pain levels over the course of the day and night. It was a little shock as I was used to there being a constant baseline of pain relief, whereas I now had to specifically ask for oral medication and then wait for it to take action. However, there weren't too many times this happened, as I seemed to be coping a little better with the pain. We'd also removed the catheter to give my body time to ensure everything was still working. After seeing the doctors, they felt that as long as the pain team were happy with my body's reaction to the epidural's removal, I would be able to go home the next day!
With that in mind, my parents decided to take me out for a celebration (and more importantly, a test of my strength) to the large Costa a seemingly endless walk and a lift ride away. The previous few days I had been doing a little walking, but not quite enough to prepare me for the journey. When we arrived at Costa I was very tired, but a nice cup of Earl Grey and a little cake sorted me out, and I was able to make it back to the ward okay, too.
On the morning of the 28th I was OK'd to be discharged, and prescribed, among other things, morphine sulphate syrup for the pain and anti-nausea tablets. We drove home, giving me extra blankets to ensure I would be warm and that I wouldn't have as much of an issue if the seatbelt needed to tighten around me, as well as one behind my head to make sure I'd be able to sleep more comfortably. And fortunately, sleep I did - for all but the last 20 minutes of the non-stop journey.
Recovery in Harrow at my Parents'
Being very tired after the journey, the rest of the afternoon was quite quiet, and mostly involved napping. In fact, the majority of the first week of my recovery was spent reading and sleeping, with a little time downstairs watching TV with the family. However, my Dad had also set up an old TV in my room, meaning I'd be able to at least watch Freeview in my own room which helped a lot with having a sense of normalcy. It also helped, because we found the old Wii and I've been able to have some very nostalgic times re-playing Super Mario Galaxy, one of my favourite Mario games.
Over the New Year's weekend, we had to travel to Mount Vernon Hospital to get the dressing on my wound redressed, as our local GP surgery was not open. Often, the wait was no longer than twenty minutes, and we would then have the wound redressed in another half an hour. One thing we found through the shift patterns over the weekend was that we wouldn't have any consistency, resulting in us seeing three nurses over the three days, where each nurse had their own techniques for cleaning the wound, which were sometimes a little more painful than others. The wound then needed to be repacked with gauze, meaning that dependent on their technique and appreciation of my pain, it'd not be the best experience for me. And because we saw different one the next day, they would now not have the knowledge of the wound and my pain thresholds.
This inconsistency persisted to the 3rd January where we found at our GPs' we were also having issues where there wasn't necessarily the same appreciation of what the wound was. Fortunately, we had decided to start taking photos of the wound on our second visit to Mt Vernon, so we could start to at least compare ourselves, even if the nurses wouldn't remain consistent. This helped with nurses who weren't quite aware of what was under the dressing so would perhaps be a little more heavy handed than they knew, giving them appreciation of the fact that right now, Content Warning: hover to view you were able to see my bowels. This was also something that I didn't realise until I saw the first photo, as my perspective didn't quite Content Warning: hover to view let me see the depth of the wound itself.
As we were getting the dressing redressed that day our GP popped in to look at the wound, and after seeing it, put some time aside for us after our redressing so we could discuss further. He recommended that we speak to one of the local tissue viability nurses about negative pressure therapy, and left a message for them to call us back, and to get us on the much better treatment path.
Unfortunately, that call never came, but by this time we had managed to get all my details for Aviva, and therefore were able to start visiting the BMI Clementine Churchill Hospital. On the 3rd January we saw Mr G, a Gastrointestinal specialist for our first visit, who agreed with the recommendation for negative pressure therapy, as it has the best healing capabilities of all the options, as well as often causing a 2-3 times speedup in the healing process, and that we should be able to secure the unit a little more easily than on the NHS, as they usually have a pool of them to use, whereas we would be procuring our own. After seeing a photo of the wound from a few days earlier, Mr G was shocked the very fact I'd managed to walk into the hospital, let alone all the way around to his office. It was at this point, he managed to catch the Clementine Churchill's tissue viability nurse, M, before she left for the day, who was able to remove the dressing so they could see for themselves what they'd be dealing with.
M explained that as well as the fact that the traditional dressings required being redressed daily, the leakage of some of the fluids that was happening almost every morning should not be exposed to the skin due to it being internal enzymes and fluids (also called exudate) which could cause damage to the surface of the skin. Although not a problem with the dressings themselves, it was more a matter of there being quite a lot of exudate therefore needing it to be extracted, which the pump would be able to do.
That Friday (5th January) M was able to fit a slightly newer version of the negative pressure therapy unit than was currently available, with the assistance of a representative at Smith and Nephew, the company who manufacture it. Although I'd found going to have my dressing changed potentially a little painful due to the cleaning of the area, it was nothing to prepare me for the first time with the pump. For the pump to work, M had to cut pieces of sponge (effectively the same as is used to protect hard drives in transit) and then place into the wound so once the suction dressing is applied, the sponge will be flush to the skin. The sponge has two main uses, the first being aiding granulation of the tissue to promote the healing process and secondly to allow the passage of any fluids from the wound into the pump. However, in order to make sure that the healing process is maximised, the sponge must be packed fairly tightly, which was an very painful process (pain index reference: 4 the first time, when dosed on Oramorph). It was only the first few dressings that this was uncomfortable, and as the body healed there was a lot less sponge that could even be used, so packing it tightly wasn't required.
However, the real pain was dealt each time the dressing came off due to the way the sponge promoted granulation of the skin, and how sometimes the sponge would stick to the skin of and around the wound, resulting in an extremely painful process (pain index reference: 5.5 the first time, when dosed on Oramorph) which required my dad's hand/arm to become my stress relief. Unfortunately this pain was similar every time the dressing was taken out, until only the last week and a half of the pump's time with me, meaning it was never a fun affair, although M and my parents did their best to distract me while it was happening. For the first few weeks, I needed a nap very soon after the visit as my body was really quite exhausted from both leaving the house and the walk around the hospital, and the trauma of the dressing changes.
That being said, I wouldn't have wanted to not be using the pump - the incredible healing it helped promote, even after the first few days with it, made the pain worth it. Although we'd been told just how good the pump was, I don't think we really appreciated just how fast the healing would occur, and how noticeable it would be in the pictures we had taken over time.
One of the most life-changing things about the pump was that on the days I would be seeing M to get the dressing changed I was able to disconnect the pump and go for a shower. Although this may not seem like such a big event, I had spent my time since the 21st December only having a washbowl, which wasn't even always daily, given how I was feeling. And not only was washing weeks of hospital and general grime out of my hair liberating, but being able to wash myself a little more normally was a big step and helped me mentally feel like I was already on the path to healing.
The other, less fun, change was that I'd have to carry around this pump wherever I went, meaning a little bag (of non-negligible weight) wherever I went. I'd have to sit it down such that I'd be able to reach the carry handle, otherwise I'd not be able to get up in a hurry if I needed to pop to the loo, but also to just generally being a little more independent. The pump also was constantly humming which added background noise to anything going on, so although I'd personally been getting to the point of it not even registering to my hearing, the family and Anna would be aware of it when we would be sitting watching TV, or when we were eating.
A couple of weeks later, there were evenings where I started to have some really intense back pain (pain index reference: up to a 7 before taking any pain relief), where I was getting pain directly under my shoulder blades, either just on the right side, or in a clear straight line running across both sides. I managed to find that sitting in one specific type of chair helped a little more, but it wasn't without the strength of morphine and applying wheat heat packs that I was able to get the pain under wraps. Another fun side effect of the pain I was suffering in evenings was also that it would often cause me to vomit, which although not as painful as when the wound was still very fresh, it wasn't much fun adding on top of the back pain, as well as making me hungry. Over time, the pain was holding out against the morphine where it would instead be reduced to a pain index of 2-3 rather than it completely dissipating. We found that it may potentially be caused, if not being exacerbated, by the carrying of the pump on my right hand side. As a method of looking to reduce the effect of this, I switched the pump to being on my left hand side where possible, so I'd rest my muscles. I'd also found that posture when sitting (especially when there was no back support) would greatly impact the chance of having the pain that day. Unfortunately for me, my posture has always been awful, but this has at least been forcing me to better it.
But as these were getting more common, we decided to get it checked out, and scheduled an appointment with Dr L, who wasn't quite sure about the pain, but took some blood to be safe. Returning the next day, we found that my liver was working a little harder than usual, and there were some inflammatory markers. He recommended we get an ultrasound, and we managed to get that booked for the evening. Unfortunately, due to me being unable to move onto my side, the ultrasound wasn't conclusive so we were booked into a CT scan, which happened about half an hour later. After waiting for results for the around an hour, we were told that we'd get a call tomorrow with results, as there was some communication that had to go between the radiologist, Mr G, and the Urologist. On our way home, however, Mr G called us up, and told us that there seemed to be a collection of fluids, following the surgery, that seemed to be pressing on the left ureta, which travels from bladder to left kidney, and that it was causing a bit of inflammation in the kidney. Oddly, this is usually something that would present itself in the first 1-2 weeks after the surgery, rather than 4 weeks later, but it could have been there for a while and it just wasn't causing any impact. In order to resolve this, the Urologist would place a JJ stent placed into the ureta, which would help move any fluids from the kidney to the bladder, unaffected by the collection pressing on the ureta.
Mr G also diagnosed the back pain as the paravertebral muscles going into spasm, which is something he has experienced in the past too. We were prescribed Diazepam, a muscle relaxant, which he recommended we take an hour before the pain would usually start, allowing for the Diazepam to kick in before the pain would have taken full effect. This mostly helped curb the pain I was experiencing in the days leading up to the stent operation, but there was still sometimes discomfort, even when the Diazepam was in full effect, leading us to our working theory being that that was just the muscles being sore after use for the first time in a while.
Whether by coincidence or by cause, as soon as I had had the stent put in, my appetite has come back in force, to the point I had assumed I would have been, given the body requires three times the amount of energy when healing these large wounds. Additionally, since it's been in, I've really been feeling better, my strength has been coming back a lot better, and when we last saw Mr G on 7th February, he mentioned I am most likely entering the "anabolic phase", where I had turned a corner in the healing process, and although mental and physical tiredness would persist for some time, my major functions would be returning and I would be getting much stronger and closer to being all healed up.
I would say that it also wasn't until around the time that I had the surgery that both mentally and physically I started to really feel better. It was more obvious to see on weekends when Catherine and Anna were visiting, I would find I needed some quiet time to myself, sometimes part way through a conversation, as I was mentally tired and needed a bit of a break. Up until this point, too, I was still requiring a nap every afternoon, otherwise I wouldn't be able to make it until the evening. This was mentioned to be normal, partly due to the amount of energy I'd be expending on the healing process, and also because there would be the extra overhead of me being awake and mobile. By making me go to sleep, the body could save some energy that it would then be able to dedicate the saved energy to the healing process. Mr G mentioned that this would also be true for my mental state - as the body needs to focus itself on healing, the brain would be working at lower capacity to conserve some more energy.
In preparation for the stent insertion and overnight hospital stay, we decided to move me to the Pico dressing, a much smaller and more convenient dressing, especially as the previous pump was having diminishing returns. I feel this has definitely contributed to my overall well-being, due to the fact that it is silent, fits in my pocket, and is generally out of my way all of the time. It's also been helping promote healing at a great rate, although from the 19th February we may be looking at moving to conventional dressings as the Pico's effectiveness may be reduced as there is very little for it to work with now.
One surprising factor that has helped with my recovery has been having one of my Philips Hue bulbs in my bedroom lamp. Given my reduced mobility early on in the recovery phase, being able to get up to turn on/off the light hasn't exactly easy, especially if it were in the middle of the night, or if feeling unwell. Before Anna brought a Hue down from Nottingham, we had positioned the lamp closer to my bed to make it easier to reach, but it still wasn't ideal. Additionally, I found that the light could be quite harsh during the middle of the night, so being able to move it to a softer tone (or even colour) helped when I needed to wake up in the night.
- if you're in pain, and traditional pain relief doesn't help, immediately go and see someone! You're not helping anyone by postponing, and are potentially harming yourself by not getting checked
- just because you have certain symptoms does not mean they point to a certain diagnosis - ensure that the examining medical professional does explore some non-traditional causes
- since having a non-traditionally presenting ruptured appendix, the number of people I've found out about who have had similar is very high
- if you're in a lot of pain, tell them!
- also explain your pain intensity levels, such as how I have outlined in the beginning of my Ruptured Appendix section, because your "a lot of pain" is someone else's stubbed toe
- ask questions, such as "if I had (diagnosis), what other symptoms should/would I have?"
- know your family medical history roughly well, or at least have handy access to it
- even if it's i.e. that somewhere in the immediate family has had heart disease, it's better than nothing
- needing to go to hospital is scary, let alone going under for major surgery - but having a strong support network helps better than anything else
Meetups and Community
Over the year, I've spent a huge number of evenings having both my mind and stomach fed by 8 different meetups, the first 4 of which were new to me in 2017!
- DevOps Nottingham
- Ministry of Testing
- Nott Tuesday
- Nottingham AWS (no longer living)
- Tech Nottingham
- Women in Tech
Not only have I loved finding new people with similar interests to me, who I'm getting to know through the events, Twitter, and Tech Nottingham's Slack group, but I'm also enjoying building stronger relationships with those I already knew. As Emma and Andrew say at Tech Nottingham "if we've got you talking to one new person tonight, we've succeeded". But this is true for the community as a whole - it's full of both bubbly and quiet and everywhere-in-the-middle people who have so much to share with each other, and it's really awesome to say I'm a part of it. As I highlighted in a talk titled Came for the Campus, Stayed for the Community (which I gave as part of Tech Nottingham's student outreach programme) this amazing, lovely community has been one of the primary reasons that Nottingham has been so great to be in - I can surround myself with so many awesome people, and meet incredibly regularly to learn new tech and better myself in every way.
New Years' Resolutions
Looking back over some of the details from 2017, there have been some stand out changes that I'd like to make as I start looking towards making a mark on 2018.
Slack / Conversation Addiction
Over this year, I've spent a large amount of time attempting to keep "Inbox Zero" on the two main Slack communities I follow - our internal Capital One Slack, and the Tech Nottingham Slack. It's been great, because I've found myself being able to help unblock others with questions they have - however, it's often at the cost of my own personal focus, and as the comic This Is Why You Shouldn't Interrupt a Programmer details, the effect interruption is very costly to concentration. It makes it even worse when it's actually my own fault seeing a notification coming in and wanting to see what people are talking about, rather than being able to blame someone directly messaging me or coming to my desk to ask me something.
This coming year I need to learn to allow conversations to happen a little more asynchronously. I need to be able to switch off my emails and Slack and just get my head into whatever I'm working on at that moment.
I'm also more aware of conversations going on around me than I should be, which doesn't help in an open office, but I've been contributing to other peoples' conversations without being invited in, and that's more just rude than anything, let alone distracting myself. Towards the end of 2017, I'd been combatting that with ensuring my headphones are on and helping me disconnect from what's going on around me, which has had good success so far.
Over this last year, I've really thrown myself into my work and in terms of career building, at the expense of my free time and personal and at times, my health. I need to ensure that over the coming year I feel comfortable with taking a night off and not having anything to show for it.
Towards the last few months before the launch of the Web Servicing platform, we were given the option of overtime, which led to me working late (starting to lead to burnout) and also not eating healthily due to returning home late. To make matters worse, my walk home takes me past about every single fast food restaurant possible, meaning that I'd give in to my laziness and therefore start myself feeling worse. What made it even worse was that fact that if I knew I'd be staying late, I could have popped over to the nearest Tesco Local and gotten a sandwich to at least keep me going, but I'd always just think "it'll only be a few minutes more" until I'd realised it was now late and I was too hungry (and lazy) to cook something when I got home.
Note: In no way was I pressured to work overtime, it was a case of wanting to help get the work over the line, and was always a choice I personally made.
Additionally, after spending a week over Christmas in hospital with a ruptured appendix, I had a bit of a shock over quality of life and the fact that I really did not want to have to come back to hospital any time soon. Although my appendix wasn't anything related, there's nothing to say that if I had continued with that trajectory of unhealthiness, I wouldn't have ended up there with something worse.
As part of this, over this year I'm going to follow in the footsteps of my friend and housemate Houman and start prepping my meals ahead of time. This will hopefully help me get to the position of either being late in the office but having the option of pre-prepared healthy food I can warm up, or be able to come home and not have to worry about what I need to make for dinner, as it'll already be prepared and just need to be warmed up.
Another personal well-being target I want to hit is being able to get into a better sleeping pattern. Over the year I've often found myself struggling to get up for work, which isn't de-incentivised by the flexible working policy at Capital One, meaning I wing it a little more than often and get to work a bit later than 0900. So I want to try and make sure I'm maintaining a more regular sleep pattern, especially to make sure that at weekends I don't lose precious relaxing time catching up on missed sleep from the week.
I've definitely shied away from software development this last year, focussing more on improving my current Chef skills, writing blog posts to help build up my personal brand, playing around with CI/CD and automation or finding new and interesting best practices that are being applied to software in the industry. That being said, I've not taken those practices anywhere. I've not had a project to realy sink my teeth into, and build something that is actual proper software engineering and will be a thing that can be interacted with.
I have a few projects I'll be looking at focussing my time into over the next month or two, and will post about the choice I've made for some accountability.
Although I've been wanting to learn Ruby a lot better, so I can get a lot stronger with working with Chef, I'm a Java developer by trade, and I really need to get my Java up to scratch a lot more, both for the work I do in and outside of work. Although there are design patterns and techniques for programming that apply to both languages, I need to be more invested in the Java ecosystem and help build up my knowledge.
If you've made it this far I want to say thanks for reading! And even if you hadn't made it this far, just the fact that you have been reading has been really appreciated. 2017 has been such a great year all round, I'm really hoping that what's left of 2018 is going to be even better.