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.