Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aches and pains

Remember the Killers/ Springsteen concert I went to back in July when my back was killing me? Well it has not really improved since then - some days are good, some quite dreadful but the majority are just so-so. In fact the last few days have been so rough that I was tempted to cancel next Tuesday's London trip. I think a lot of it stems from not being able to sleep very well - when you have pain somewhere in your body and it wakes you up, well it is always going to wear you down in the end.

My spine has never been that good. About 22 years ago I had a disc removed in my neck (Cervical 5). At the time I was lucky enough to be working for a company that offered BUPA, yet it was still six months before my prolapsed disc was correctly diagnosed. After a few visits to Harley Street specialists, lots of pain killers, x-rays, tests, physiotherapy (including daily traction for two weeks) I was very low and depressed. By that time I had non-stop stabbing pain down my left arm, was very weak, was barely coping at work due to the fact that I could not sit down very easily and conducted most of my interviews standing up. In the end I spent the whole of one Saturday at the library (no internet back then folks) going through the medical Who's Who trying to find doctors whose papers or books had dealt mainly with arm pain. I found the magical name of Dr James Cyriax*, got very excited and rushed home (having photocopied his page from the medical directory.

I phoned his surgery on the Monday only to get the very disappointing news from his colleague (Dr Michael Wright*, a lovely lovely man) that Dr C was no longer alive but he, Dr Wright, would be very happy to meet with me. My dad drove me to the Harley Street surgery Christmas Eve 1987 and I got the first in a series of three cortisone jabs into the shoulder muscle. To cut a long medical story short - those jabs were shortlived so the next lot of injections were facet injections (bloody painful); again, no long term relief.

What was left to try? The newly opened MRI centre in Marylebone - in a basement behind a church - the first of its kind in the UK - scary stuff. We are so used to them now but it was very new and exciting back then. I wasn't excited - I was in a right old state and my mother had even taken my pain killers and sleeping pills away from me because she was so anxious about what I would do. Chronic pain can get you like that though - you just don't care, you only want the throbbing to stop. Anyway, Dr Wright referred me for an MRI, my lovely departed (dead sounds so cold) mum came into the room with me and held my toes - the only bit of me sticking out of the machine. The Harley Street Runners (bike boys) rushed the results round to Dr W - oh- oh, emergency situation. The disc in my neck was so badly prolapsed on to the spinal cord that 24 hours later I was in the London Independent Hospital having the disc removed by a brain surgeon.

Why a brain surgeon instead of an orthapedic person? That neck disc is so close to the base of the brain that you need a neuro-surgeon and his expertise. The disc is removed from the front of the body, the throat needs to be clamped aside to enable the instruments to enter the body and 22 years ago this was not as straightforward as it is today. All the risks were explained to me but I didn't care. At last they knew what was wrong with me and the pain from the op was nothing compared to the pain I had been in prior to my admission. I was in hospital for 20 days and I needed a few months to recover. The weirdest thing was that because my throat had been damaged by the clamp my vocal chords were very swollen and for weeks I sounded like someone on helium. In fact the throat injury drove me mad in a very bureaucratic way. The health insurance people were trying to treat it as a new claim and simply could not understand how it tied in with a back complaint. In the end my surgeon kindly sent a letter explaining in simple language the procedure he had carried out. Full credit to my surgeon Mr Tom King* (the nurses had told me that they often used to say if they were knocked down outside and had a head injury they would always hope that Mr King would be the one on duty).

So an MRI sorted me out 22 years ago and we now come full circle to today and my visit to the French doctor about my back pain. Can I have an MRI please doc, I said. Oh no - we'll just send you for x-rays. Grrrr.

I do feel a bit better though today and I will be going to London on Tuesday. I have new painkillers and some anti-inflammatory pills (that I will be very sparing with - the side effects are dreadful from what I've read on the good old intanut). I sometimes wonder if my life in France makes me seem like a very lucky person. I have a wonderful younger man, no real worries, I'm a mature student jogging along quite nicely. But it don't mean a thing if you ain't got health. That is the most important thing of all.

*You will have noticed I've named the three medical people who helped me, albeit one of them not even alive at the time. I haven't named the several who were patronising, cold, would not be questioned and who fixated on a mis-diagnosis even when it was abundantly clear that their treatment was not helping. This included two of the biggest names in arguably the world's most famous street relating to medicine.


Frankofile said...

Sometimes the patient really is the expert. The doc should listen. I hope you get your MRI scan before too long.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Ah, my ligging and back twin...

I am hoping that you get the treatment you need very soon - there is nothing worse than just getting painkillers, which have their own side effect issues, non?!

Wishing ou well and hope you can enjoy your foray in London, FF xox

Steve said...

Living with pain is no life at all - hope it gets sorted out quicker and easier than your first encounter with back pain!

Kathy said...

Hello FF. I am just packing my bags for London too. You can take the girl out of London, but could never take London out of the girl. never a true word eh.

I am glad I saw your comment it's been mad here these last few months and now we have a long awaited wedding (my lovely niece) to attend back home.

I am so sorry to hear about your back pain and wow poor you going through all that in the past. I have suffered from disc probs and I know it really is no fun at all.

It's a shame you won't be shopping in London we could have "hit the West end big time" lol, but you have fun at the theatre (my friend saw wicked in SF and said it was fantastic)and I hope your auntie has a lovely birthday.

Wishing you a safe and enjoyable trip, enjoy your posh hotel and hopefully I can get back to blogland soon and catch up with you, bbfn, Kathy.

Mark said...

Bad backs;not good at all. I have a high pain threshold but once it reaches a certain level I'm a terrible pill popper - sod the side effects.

That experience with your neck might make a good story for your writing course. You see, there's a good side to everything.

Anonymous said...

Poor you!
This is so depressing and grim.
I'm sure you will be bombarded with useful/useless suggestions inapplicable to your specific case.
However coming from a medical family who went the standard route for pain management, I found relief from a magic osteopath in Oxford (years ago)
No x-rays just touch. Found cracked vertebra etc etc.
Anyway, I'm just sending healing thoughts your way...

Larry M. Brow said...

Not to turn this into a sobfest, but I've been losing sleep with a bad (not naughty) right shoulder. I know I seek help. I expect there's a surgery. Where do I fit in either surgery, or rehab? It may have to be the weirdest Christmas present I ever get myself.

p.s. Strenuous is going fine this week, though I'm still paying the sleep debt for Tuesday night. My new standard for success will be, "how much sleep am I getting?"

Carol said...

When I worked in the health field I did a lot of advocacy work. One of the things that used to make my bloody boil was doctor's refusal to acknowledge that someone who lived in pain 24 hours a day would know more about their health condition than a doctor who saw them every so often!! Listening is a wonderful skill and it should be taught as part of every medical degree!!

I hope that the pain eases and you get to the bottom of what's causing the problems. Back pain just affects everything!!


C x

Anonymous said...

Your first surgery sounds pretty scary to me. However, the techniques have certainly improved since then. I really hope that it won't come to surgery.
Sorry about your back and chronic pain. I sympathize as I've had a similar problem for over 15 years. Taking pills gets old!
Have a great trip.

Jennysmith said...

My poor FF, what you've been through - and what you're going through! Will think of you. Back pain is no joke!

My friend had a similar thing like this and they put him in Whittington Hospital. Thats quite near your old ground, isn't it?


French Fancy said...

Frankie - I'm viewing it thus - that the French x-ray system is more thorough and the radiographers are more skilled at the interpretation. Having said that our GP is so lovely and I can talk to him so freely that I am sure that - if in the end the x-rays do not do the job - he will refer me for an MRI. I mean he and I share the same birthday after all.

AWONI - this age thing is no lark - I bet by the time I'm 60 the freshest things about me will be new hips or something

Steve -aw, thanks matey. At least if specialists are patronising here they do it in French and a lot of it just goes over my head

Kathy - one day our trips to London will coincide and we can meet up. Else I'll venture again to my favourite place - the USA west coast and we can meet up at French Laundry.

Mark - I ended up all that time ago with a very high pain threshold but I think it has dissipated somewhat. I do try not to make a fuss though and become a Sick Person - sicky bores are just too last year

ewix - you reminded me of someone I used to work with who recommended an osteopath at the other end of the Northern Line - and this was at a time that travelling was very difficult because of the vibrations of the vehicle concerned - it would set off the pain tremors throughout my body. Nevertheless my mum and I set off for the Oval, I had an awful time there - he got me hanging from the door to try and create a vacuum effect to suck the disc back. Needless to say it did not work and it was the following week that I eventually got my MRI.

Larry - ouch. My very early symptoms were a bad shoulder (I mean they started treating me for a frozen shoulder - which it wasn't) and I was unable to easily lift my head off the pillow. I really hope you get it sorted asap.

If you go into hosp please let me know where you are, I know first hand that little things like letters and cards go a long way when one is sick.

Carol - I really could have done with someone like you all those years ago. I don't even know if such a thing existed in some of the private clinics I passed through. Maybe now but not back then - there were however lots of pompous specialists - some by Royal Appointment.

Dedene - oh I'd love to hear about your back pain. Twin souls and all that. let's hope we both get it sorted, done and dusted toute suite.

Hello Jen. Yep - Whittington Hosp at Archway is known to me well. My mum died there in fact - sad but true - on Christmas Day about 13 years ago. Santa and his little helpers were going around the ward giving out pressies - it was all very surreal.

the fly in the web said...

Do take care with the anti inflammatories....I think you need to take them with meals to avoid stomach problems.
I'm glad you named the doctors who were actually effective...a pity to tar all the brood with the same brush, but there are so many who seem to be congenitally deaf when it comes to listening to the patient.
Just keep nagging for what you pay the insurance, after all, and you're hardly a hypochondriac.

Best of luck.

French Fancy said...

Thank you fitw - I'm only taking one of the anti-inflamms a day despite being prescribed three daily - plus he's given me some stomach-calming stuff to take alongside them. They make a disgusting drink - it looks like milk but it is quite gag-inducing

LadyFi said...

Oh goodness! How terrible. And the pain is back... I suggest finding another doctor who WILL help you!

In the meantime, please do enjoy London!

bindu said...

Back pain is not easy to deal with. You take care.

A Super Dilettante said...

Sorry to hear about your back pain dear. Hope you feel better soon. My thoughts are with you. Hope that your strong pain killers will improve but make sure you don't take it too much (not on empty stomach). I'll write soon xxx

Anonymous said...

Back agonies are the worst. I sympathize and empathize. I have lower disc problems but fortunately they don't crop up often unless I am really stressed. Happy you can still make your trip.

Ann said...

Hope this pain gets sorted soon FF, and the meds help, though surely it was worth it when you saw the beautiful Brandon.

French Fancy said...

Ladyfi - this isn't the same pain I had all those years ago. This is now around the back of my waist, my left hip and my right leg. It must be a lumber disc this time or the beginnings of some rheumatic disorder.

bindu - thank you so much

ASD - well, I took the pills on a full stomach and felt better on the first day, bad on the second and terrible on the third. I've now stopped any pain relief and consequently feel a bit rough. Looks like the trip will be cancelled - more in next blog post

Mrwo - A fellow sufferer - I'm hoping mine too will pass ' All things will pass'.

Ann - I've promised myself that when Brandon and the boys do their next London trip to promote the next album I will go to at least two of their concerts - but not outdoors this time. An arena with a seat.

Phil Lowe said...

sorry to hear about all your back pain FF. Makes my sciatic pain of the past (long past) pale in insignificance. Hope that is clears up for you soon my friend.

Anonymous said...

You could just go shopping and post it back to yourself ....

I have just been catching up - I hope you enjoy the next OU course. No exam, sounds magic. I am doing my head in over the last TMA (I hate having to think of my own title) and the exam is just over 4 weeks away ...

I hope the french doctors can sort your back out - i thought their health service was supposed to be better than ours. It is really the luck of the draw whether or not you get a decent doctor who actually listens to what you have to say. My GP is lovely - but then, I used to work with his brother so he knows what I do for a living and doesn't patronise me like so many do.

Lulu LaBonne said...

my earlier comment appeared to have got swallowed up by the turkish interweb monsters...

In brief this time - that earlier episode sounds scary and painful you have my sympathies, I hope this episode is very short-lived

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Long term pain - a nightmare. You have my sympathy as it is so very wearing. I hope you had a great time in London and that your pain was manageable. Sounds like it was one hell of an operation.

French Fancy said...

Phil - I'm at the stage where I like to hear stories of other people's back pain, especially when they are currently pain-free. Do tell.

CA - Do you know - I never thought of sending myself parcels from London and it is something I am seriously going to be doing on future trips - better than lugging it back.

Good luck with your exam revision - I'll be thinking of you

As for our doc - he is lovely and we spend a long time together - sometimes up to an hour, with his waiting room getting more and more crowded. I think he just feels whatever is wrong can be diagnosed through conventional radiography - hmm, we'll see.

Lulu - isn't it weird how one knows one has left a comment only never to see it again on further searches. Anyway, Lu, thanks a lot and let's hope I am sorted soon - sooner than we think cos my plans have changed (blog post to follow soon)

MOB - thank you very much you old bag. Yes, my earlier operation was such a success that my surgeon asked if in future he could put prospective worried patients on to me in order that I allay their fears. I gladly did so and met up with about four people over a two year period - all of whom ended up having this surgery with successful results.

Laura [What I Like] said...

My mother has gone through a somewhat similar medical odyssey, also with back pain (lower in her case though), so based on my second hand experience with her problems, I can relate a bit to your frustrations. It really never ceased to amaze me how many times she was dismissed for extremely legitimate problems. Her advice? Seek out a young, aggressive doctor. And at the risk of sounding sexist, she had much better luck with female primary care physicians than she did with male. And at the risk of sounding like a hippie, until her base problem was diagnosed, acupuncture gave her quite a bit of pain relief. Here's to hoping your condition improves!

Contemporary Troubadour said...

Oh dear, so sorry that your back is causing you such pain. Isn't it frustrating how the medication that's supposed to help causes OTHER problems that are nearly as undesirable? I hope they don't cause too severe a reaction for you ...

Owen said...

Good luck FF finding a solution for this more recent problem, and what an amazing story about the first round, I read with open mouth...

Rob-bear said...

Sorry for all your back problems, FF.

I'm in a similar boat, having had recurring back pain since an accident about 25 years ago. And while the pain is real, surgery is not the answer for me. A combination of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory and analgesic meds work well. My doctor pays attention to what I say. My chiropractor and massage therapist give me good help.

That said, chronic pain can really wear a person down. Been there; done that; understand the problem.

But there are lots of doctors, especially older doctors, who are not nearly as sharp as they could be. Plus, my research as a medical ethicist shows that many doctors are not very adept in treating patients' pain.

I hope your bad back doesn't ruin your trip to England.

Courage in a challenging time!

Ann said...

FF, if your books are coming from the UK, I can understand the delay, there is a postal strike, well there was last week, I have been waiting for stuff for well over a week.

Sandi McBride said...

Oh my, you poor poor darling! When I say Been there and Done that...well, yes, I shit you not! Had to have disc 4,5 and 6 replaced because one day after weeks and months of awful neck pain for which my (former) Doc could find no reason, I was paralyzed from the neck down...I thank my surgeon, Dr Rodriguez of Florence SC every day I get out of bed. And God of course! I hope your pain is eased and you find the cause very very soon!

French Fancy said...

Laura - my current pain is indeed lower back - nothing at all to do with the previous ailment. As for female physicians - France is still very chauvinist in that respect - years behind the UK.

ContemTroub - I've abandoned all the medicaments that the doc prescribed now. I'm mildly dulling the pain with regular paracetomol.

Owen - That is almost the most painful thing that has happened to me. I've blogged about another one - it's in my medical section - at least we are in the best country for medical matters - or so they say!

Rob - those anti inflammatories really upset my stomach after just two days - there is no way I could stay on them - and then I read all sort of horror stories on the net. What a shame you have had so much pain for so many years - but you do seem to be able to cope very well - long may it last (the coping mechanism, not the pain :)

Ann - they came at lunchtime - hurrah!

Sandi - we must have had very similar pain. Fancy having a triple laminectomy though - I thought my one disc was bad enough. Did you have a full fusion using a thigh bone or did they use steel?

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

Oh dear poor you. I hope the trip goes well anyway - I take anti inflams and I'm fine with them as long as I take them after food - I'd say take them if you need to and have a bit of fun.