How Did I Come to be Living with Chronic Pain?
Aged 18, to everyone’s surprise, I made a decision to completely change course and thus applied for Nursing college. My top 3 choices were all London teaching hospitals and I’m proud to say that after a rigorous interview process I was offered places at all. One odd thing did happen at St Thomas’s when we had our medical
examination – occupational health by today’s terminology. After showing the rather scary matron both sides of my hands, on turning around to be viewed from behind I was tapped on my shoulder. “You have a weak back, my girl” she barked. For an 18 year old that was enough to make the decision between Tommy’s and Bloomsbury School of Nursing (University College and the Middlesex) and I duly moved into the nurses’ home on Foley Street at the Middlesex hospital. How many times do you think I’ve heard the words of the battleaxe matron in my head over the years? Would I change my career choice with hindsight, particularly now I know that disc problems are common with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome? No, I loved it and I miss nursing every day. I might have made some slightly different choices though!
So, my first encounter with the surgeon’s knife came in April 1991 following nearly 6 months off work with back and leg pain. I had taken my nursing finals lying on a mattress, had waited the obligatory 12 weeks on the NHS before a physio referral and had undergone traction at the hands of a private physio. By the time I had a private CT scan, I was in Cauda Equina Syndrome. A local physio had told me that “we nurses were all the same complaining about our backs” when no improvement was seen under her care, and that “it was all in my head”! I was incontinent of urine, had non functioning bowels, footdrop and extreme pain!! The surgeon who ordered the scan and the radiography consultant were so horrified by the ruptured disc that they saw, that they rushed me in on a private list for the following evening at the Royal Masonic hospital. A “slipped disc” describes when the tough exterior of a disc cushion separating 2 spinal vertebrae splits and the soft jelly interior bulges out. In my case the whole jelly interior had ruptured out of the disc and the radiographer actually showed me my scan as he couldn’t believe I was walking. The theatre staff all gave their time for free and I was the youngest patient on the orthopaedic unit. I made a really good recovery and went back to work several months later. At the time a young Australian senior registrar warned Duncan that this back problem would come back to haunt me.
Life continued – carving out a career in Head & Neck cancer nursing and then palliative care, getting married, having 3 children. My back problem lurked beneath the surface alongside my “double jointed” issues, circulation and gut problems and migraines….but the majority of friends and acquaintances never knew the real extent of it – because I never let them. I underwent 3 caesarian sections as it was uncertain how my back would hold up during labour, and I was told off by the midwife when that upset stomach turned out to be baby number 3 when she told me to stop at 2!! But still things were good…….
Then during a night shift, the night that Obama was elected in for the first time, the searing pain returned. This time the pain didn’t settle, acute became acute on chronic……and so began my life with chronic pain.