Pictures taken two weeks apart. The first, immediately after waking up from surgery and the second, preparing for my first “girls day out” in 6 months!
A few years ago, I was involved in an accident. I thought I was okay, but the next day found myself waiting in A & E with unbearable sciatic pain radiating down my right leg. The hospital told me to take some pain relief and keep an eye on it. A couple of weeks later, the pain had subsided and my life was back to normal. Or so I thought…
Months later, I began to notice that something wasn’t quite right. I could not stand up for long without feeling a dull ache down my leg and I would be in pain after walking far or after a particularly busy day. Still, I was able to live my life with little disruption until December 2016 when my job as a teacher was becoming difficult due to the pain.
I decided to go to my GP, who referred me for physiotherapy… and it all went downhill from there. Upon our first meeting, my physiotherapist confidently assured me that I had “nothing to worry about” and that there would be no need to have a scan. During my second session, she performed a back massage that was supposed to relieve some of the pain. That did not go to plan. Almost immediately afterwards, I found that I could not stand up straight! I was in total agony. A mixture of pain and panic turned into tears. The physio assured me that often the pain has to get worse before it can get better… but it didn’t. The following seven days before my next appointment were absolute hell. I could not wait for her to take the pain away. To my dismay, she simply performed another massage and again assured me that the pain would ease with time.
A few weeks passed and I was unable to go to work, to go out with friends, to do simple daily tasks. Standing and walking were impossible due to the agony shooting down my right leg. I became a prisoner in my own home. The worst part of every day was getting out of bed, as I felt like my leg was on fire. It would take at least 30 minutes of mental preparation before I could find the strength to stand up.
I returned to physio, my GP, emergency doctors on days when the pain was so unbearable and was given a cocktail of medication to try. At one point I was taking Tramadol, Gabapentin, Amitryptiline and Ibuprofen just to get by. I felt like a living, breathing zombie. Even with my body pumped full of drugs, I was still in pain and yet I was still told by my physio that I did not need an MRI scan and that the problem would heal itself.
LUCKILY and thanks to GOD, when I went for my next appointment, my usual physiotherapist was on holiday so I saw a more senior practitioner. He took one look at me and said that he was not touching my back as it would only make it worse. He booked me in for an emergency MRI scan at the Spire Private Hospital and said that he could not believe I had been left in pain for this long. He also told me that he would be following up my case with his colleagues.
The MRI scan showed three disc herniations, two of which were severe. The doctor said these would have got worse as they had been left for so long. I was referred to a neurosurgeon a few weeks later who said the only solution was a double lumbar discectomy and although anxious, I agreed. There was no other option.
I spent 5 agonising months stuck at home. It felt like my whole life was on hold. The physical pain was made worse by the mental frustration and worry. Whilst I was excited for the surgery and to get my life back, I began to research the procedure to try and put my mind at ease. What. A. Bad. Idea! Google provided me with countless stories about how this surgery doesn’t work; how spinal surgery is never a good idea; how patitents wake up in worse pain than they were in before. I couldn’t find a positive story anywhere.
Let me tell you: my lumbar discectomy was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I’ve never been in hospital before and I suffer from anxiety, so the day before my operation I was in a bit of a tizz. I was admitted to hospital the night before and my surgery was carried out early the next day. I was put to sleep under general anaesthetic and the next thing I knew, I woke up high on morphine and thinking I was sunning it up in Spain!
A few hours after surgery, I needed the toilet and the nurse told me to get up and try and walk. I thought to myself “is she mad?” but when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, right? So I braced myself for the terrible pain I had become accustomed to and slowly stood up. I could not believe it. For the first time in 5 months I was able to stand up straight and had absolutely NO sciatic pain. I felt like I had a new leg! The nurses were joking that they didn’t know how tall I was because I’d been walking so hunched beforehand and must have looked like a little old lady, not a 23 year old young woman! Obviously my back was sore from the surgery but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
The recovery process after surgery was gradual, but nowhere near as bad as I’d expected. At first I felt tired and my back was a little sore, but this eased up within a week. I no longer needed any medication at all! I increased the amount I was walking each day and after a fortnight, I was able to walk far enough that I could go on a shopping trip with my mum; it felt like the best day of my life. Almost a year has passed now and I couldn’t be any happier with the outcome of my discectomy. I have my life back. Little things that I took for granted like walking to the shops or even standing up straight, I’ll never take for granted again. I know I need to be steady and there’s a risk of re-herniation but I’m doing everything I can to avoid that and my recovery has amazed me.
I have written this post because I know how absolutely lonely, horrible and depressing it can be to live with disc herniation and similar conditions. I wanted to share a success story because I read so few when I needed them most. I also wanted to say that YOU know your own body; if something isn’t right and you’re left to suffer in pain, get a second opinion and keep pushing. It is easy for those who are not suffering to say that surgery is not the answer, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Even on the bad days, remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.