Backing into a corner. Chapter 5 book of the Lion.

Tour buses are always well equipped and super comfortable, air conditioning as standard with reclining seats and arm rests, the ultimate in luxury, In normal circumstances this would be fine, but actually with a sore back of this proportion nothing short of morphine will do. Instead he made do with a coffee and was tipped out onto the bus from the wheelchair. Our other travelling companions,as yet unknown had already boarded and so we four took our seats somewhere near the back. We were the youngest on the trip but not obviously, the fittest. The Lion wanted to sit in the aisle seat, I have learned during these testing times to forgo all territorial power grabs and points winning. I sat at the window and watched him wince in pain as he swung his behind in from the aisle onto the seat and gasped in pain as it seared across his lumber region.

Our travelling companions, once very good friends, had some sympathy but it was not sincere and I was only too conscious they had to have a holiday too. I was mostly focused on our situation to be honest, I could see the Lion grit his teeth and he was perspiring, a sure sign he was in considerable pain. The coach chugged into life, we made our way out of the hotel and toward the Peachtree Road, remember Elton… As we settled into the journey I noticed the Lion retained hold of the seat in front and had not really relaxed into the tourist role. I watched closely as he struggled to find a comfortable position, only slightly aware of the white noise of the tour guide retailing us of our wonderful trip ahead. I have very little recollection of that journey other than the drama I am about to describe as I was working our what possible options I might have to get us out of this tour. It was clear that continuing on the bus was absolutely the most unhelpful thing for the Lion. My mind went in to overdrive as every bump in the road resulted in a wince or gasp of intense pain.

The bus stopped near a shopping centre and under any other circumstances I would have been first off. It was clear we were going nowhere. So we let everyone off and remained on the bus. The driver eyed us suspiciously in his rear view mirror. The Lion used this time to try to rectify an un-rectifiable problem. He wanted to just lie on the floor for a minute and things would surely settle down. I knew he was not thinking at all straight, he would never have considered any small change in his posture as a potential remedy for this level of spasms. But nevertheless he wanted to try and so I did my best to help him out of the chair and onto the floor. In actual fact I took no part in this manoeuvre since every time I touched him he winced in pain. It was clear we were truly off this trip.

The driver. who watched closely from the comfort of his suspension floating driving seat, recognised trouble when he saw it. He lurched toward us, all 6 feet 7 of him his bulk only managing to transverse the coach side on. He asked if we needed help. The Lion stretched out on the floor was now writhing with pain, he almost lost consciousness. I said I think we might need a doctor and the driver agreed. With a single grip he lifted the Lion to his feet. This giant was gentle and caring waiting until the Lion could get his breath, while all the time I knew he was cringing with embarrassment, feeling that this level of attention was not what he planned. I was just grateful the driver could lift him up from the floor.

Balancing him on his feet the driver frogwalked the Lion slowly to the door. I exited ahead of them and noticed a taxi flying past, I waved my hands in desperation and although he failed to stop, he seemed to have noticed us and within a few minutes another taxi arrived. The Lion was dwarfed by the giant driver and dangled like a puppet under his massive biceps. The taxi drew up and the Lion was laid along the backseat, now with tears silently falling, he had finally accepted this was not going to be an easy fix.

We were transported to the Atlanta University Hospital where a team met us at the door. It felt like Grey’s Anatomy. Alone in a strange country with no idea what was ahead of us we were wheeled in to the emergency room. The Lion was prepared for a doctor and someone asked me for a credit card. Long before we had paid them a nurse practitioner entered the room, the Lion was still in some pain. I have become accustomed to medical practitioners not really believing people have such a thing as a bad back. I learned later that bad backs are the main source of people looking to source major drugs. So we have to jump through hoops to get help, thanks for that!

The nurse practitioner asked the Lion if she might check the extent of the problem, she took his foot, and I braced myself, as she thrust his leg in the air. It soon turned blue with expletives as the Lion tried to restrain the pain he was experiencing. The Nurse left the room rather hurriedly and soon we were alone, awaiting decisions that would inform our fate. Time passed and before long a Doctor, no more than a youngster, entered the room and the credit card pinged like a crescendo toward expensive.

It was clear the Lion needed treatment and was instantly sedated to alleviate the pain and for an instant I was relieved he had some respite from the pain. The tour guide joined me and took our insurance details to make the necessary arrangements since my credit card could not manage the incessant pinging we were facing, Then we were advised he had to stay. I knew that the tour guide needed to leave with his tourists. I just didn’t want to be left behind, I never felt so alone. The Lion was now in an induced coma unaware but no longer in pain. I went to the door desolate and saw our friends had thoughtfully brought out our cases to me as they waved goodbye and sailed on to Chattanooga. Me. I sat out at the back door to this hospital with two cases and no one and I cried……………….

Back to basics. Chapter 2 Book of the lion

A sore back accommodates a multitude of conditions, pain and discomfort. It can explain a variety of ailments ranging from muscular pain, nerve damage, disc displacement to broken bones. It may be life threatening or life limiting but rarely is it without some kind of impact on the physical or psychological wellbeing of the individual affected. Inevitably there will also be collateral damage to others affected by the level of disability experienced, the quality and intensity of the pain, alleviated only by good pain relief, effective back pain management and your partner knowing when to keep her mouth shut.

The Lion, when he was just a boy, fell from a significant height landing on his feet and jarring his back. And over the years deduced that this was the most likely event to which he has attributed over 40 years of pain and immobility. The sore back is as much a constant feature of our marriage as our bank account, and fluctuates just as frequently. It has, more than any other event, including having children, defined and proscribed much of what he can and cannot do in his adult life. We have lived with it cheek by jowl our entire married life, it’s a harlot, an unwelcome addition to our natural marital equilibrium.

We both agree this fall was the most credible explanation for what many years later was diagnosed as spondilolysis during one of our many forays into the health service to get to an explanation and hopefully a remedy. Spondilolysis is a condition more commonly associated with sports professionals, and as an avid footballer I suppose it befits him, or at least entitles him to align this debilitating condition with the career threatening injuries of his sporting colleagues . Sir Ian Botham is one of the most famous with this condition. He accquired it as a result of flexing his spine during the technique that brought him fame in his fast bowl. This flexion caused the bottom vertebrae to compress and crack. In a similar way ot ended the Lion’s football ‘career’ when he was 35 years old.

The Lion’s MRI scans revealed three of the bottom vertebrae were compressed; each disc that acts as a cushion between these bones has long since lost its functionality and instead serves only to irritate and exacerbate the nerve ends that surround the spinal column. Occasionally, but increasingly frequently, sitting, standing, stooping or squatting causes a massive unseen reaction beneath his skin. The muscles start to spasm resulting in extraordinary searing pain that jerks spasmodically and rips through his lower back muscle like an electric shock resulting in total immobility. And these episodes can be extreme resulting in hospitalisation at worst and major drug intervention at the very least.

The body naturally attempts to protect the exposed nerves most likely to ignite his pain so his spine will adopt an s-shape that pushes his hips out of alignment and makes him look remarkably like Quasimodo. It also results in unusual pressure on the cracked vertebrae that in turn perpetuates the cycle of pain and discomfort, that thereafter inflames the muscles and leaves him immobilised; unable to stand or walk. An acute episode can last anywhere between 2 days to 2 months and can be triggered by the most innocuous activity from leaning over to pick up paper, to trying to activate the brake whilst driving his truck in a more recent and concerning incident. That one cost him his job.

There have been many significant dramas associated with the ‘sore back’, and we shall visit these as and when the desire takes me over the coming days. Today’s account is about setting the scene and letting the enormity of this crippling situation settle into the consciousness. It will provide a little insight into the challenges that are presented and how we have dealt with these. It will be.a different journey to my imjury for I cannot see into his inner soul, his physical experiences can only be viewed as an onlooker a bystander to his pain and the psychological damage that it has left him with I cannot fathom and only begin to imagine.

These observations on this sore back will be mine, the impact and affect they have made on my Lion and how he has managed that and, of course as many of these experiences were joint, I therefore appoint myself qualified to report and share them with you.

For the first tale, I’m going to take you one what was our first ever holiday without our kids………………..join me next time to find out more.

Happier Birthdays are promised. Chapter 1 Book of the family

two woman hugging each other
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Today is my daughter-in-law’s big 30 birthday, she is currently in hospital in Glasgow so not quite the nightclub, cocktail, dancing til dawn fest she was hoping for. In fact this year alone she and my son have had to cancel two awesome holidays, (seems that my lucky white heather has a phenomenal reach) and numerous concerts (thanks for the Ed Sheerhan tickets).

Nonetheless she remains, on the whole, eternally positive despite the many challenges that she has faced over the past year or so. And she has, from her sick bed, raised over £1300 for a charity aligned to her current condition; Cauda Equina Syndrome. It’s incredible that one so young could have been at risk from a potentially life limiting condition but sadly she is one of two young women we know, of the same age, that have it.

My son introduced us to his future wife 7 years ago;  he brought her to the house while we were celebrating a birthday for the mermaid. Now, although we considered we had dragged him up to the highest of social standards, nerves got the better of him  and he left her lingering in the hallway, rather than proudly announcing to the assembled family that this was his girl. Actually, he’s to be congratulated for his efforts at keeping our prying eyes and our attempts to have a premature introduction at bay. In the early days their relationship was so covert we resorted to territorial subterfuge and espionage so we did not miss an opportunity to meet, assess and vet her as a suitable partner.

Once when they were heading out on a date date she arrived in her car, we were warned not to watch, and they had cleverly arranged their rendezvous sufficiently  beyond our visual reach. Me and He were strategically positioned at different windows to maximise the opportunity to catch a glimpse, squeezing our faces flat  against the closed window, stretching as far as we could to allow our eyes to catch a  simple glimpse of  her. To no avail. In the end we had to settle for the mermaid’s birthday.

I cannot stress how really important it is when your child takes a partner; both of mine did this at the same time so stress levels associated with the choice of their prospective partners, were magnified ( I needed a lot of wine). It is the single most important decision they will take while you still have some influence (albeit diminished) in their lives. In addition that old rhyme “A son’s a son ’til he takes a wife, a daughter’s a daughter for the rest of your life” suggested that it had to be right or I’d lose him for ever. (Hmmmmm)

And breathe, from the instant we were officially introduced I instantly took to her and hoped we could establish a friendship that in mythical terms is dammed from the outset. I thought her a live wire, an effervescent, gregarious and convivial individual – just right for my son. She lit up the room with her chatter, she always had stories to tell, was intelligent, funny and broad minded. But I am aware of the myths about this kind of relationship  so I regularly check out the website http//www.scarymommy.com  where  15  mother -in- law behaviours that warrant a punch in the face are outlined,  a weekly  scan reveals so far I’m owed at least two.

When he finally announced that I needed a hat, I was delighted;  a lovely girl, nice family, his ying to her yang and that was the start of their love story and marital bliss. Then the sore back hit her like a wrecking ball.   Now we know a thing or two about sore backs in this family, it’s plagued my husband’s life since he was 15, and more recently my daughter was also diagnosed with bulging discs.

But my daughter-in-law had this very serious condition which could cause paralysis if untreated. There were many dramas associated with her diagnosis (not all mine to tell).   Her own parents were the arbiters of that revelation. However it is this condition and subsequent surgery that landed her back in hospital for treatment of a serious infection and the potential for further surgery that,  alongside my father-in-law’s illness, brought us home.

She has had the most horrendous time, but she remains strong, positive and determined, she has raised all of this money to support and highlight the condition to others. And I continue to be in awe of her ability to cope with the daily pain and discomfort her condition has caused her. Yep, it is not the birthday she would have wanted, but some good news today  suggests further surgery might not be on the cards and finally she might have  some respite from this dreadful condition…………………………

Lazarus-more than one miracle. Chapter 29

In my humble opinion, the Lazarus story in the Gospel of St John is one of the most uplifting, inspiring miracles that Jesus performed. You may have read about it or seen it in my favourite visual representation of it played by Robert Powell in the lead role of Franco Zaffarelli’s 1977 film “Jesus of Nazareth”. (Although the water into wine does threaten its status ever so slightly). The facts of this miracle are simply a statement of faith.

Remarkably, and on more than one occasion, we too have experienced our very own thaumaturgy right here in our own back yard. This is not intended to be a blasphemous or offensive statement; these ‘miracles’ may for many people be difficult to explain, understand, discern or even accept. But we have been here before with our hearts in our mouths, making mercy dashes or fearing the worst. It’s these inexplicable events that I truly believe it’s something more or bigger than just coincidence.

The first time I was sitting in a restaurant with my friend, just about to order lunch, when I’d a frantic call from my sister. My mother was more than a little concerned about my father’s health. Before I could order my drink and peruse the menu, I was making a merciful dash for home.

Was it good fortune I was nearby or was it fortuitous I was able to get there quickly? Was it a blessing my mother had postponed her usual hair appointment that day, went home early and found him? Was it a miracle that the ambulance team that was free to attend was able to be with us within half an hour? Was it just fate that they’d had the training and experience to recognise that my father was suffering an Abdominal Aeortic Aneurysm and needed to be taken straight to Edinburgh rather than our local hospital? Was it more than destiny that the staff in A&E put me straight into a relatives room knowing the most likely prognosis for his condition was fatal? It is a fact that only 2/10 people survive this type of abruption, and that day he was one of the 2.

All of the things that needed to happen that day, at the right time did. You might suggest that it was the stars that were aligned, or that fate or destiny had a hand in it. If you have no faith you might consider this was all a bit of a coincidence. But it was my un-shakable belief that he pulled through that day because there was a greater power and a plan, one that might not always be visible but who has a plan all the same. All of the conditions that were needed enabled my dad to survive that day; someone, somewhere, somehow made sure they were in place.

And it was to be more of the same on our dash home from the Caribbean; there were prayers, many, many prayers. Would we be able to get home on time? Would we be able to pay one last visit? Would there be time for the religious beliefs of our loved one to be administered?

Was it just tardiness that the heating was still on when he fell keeping his temperature steady? Was it just fate that a Nurse arrived when the first caller gained access to the house? Once again the people we needed were right where they needed to be when the drama unfolded. The Nurse was able to give life saving treatment, until the ambulance arrived. Was it just ignorance that the ambulance staff, unfamiliar with the area, asked for advice and were directed, more appropriately to the hospital more capable of the kind of response that was needed? Was it a coincidence that the hospital where he was taken had surgeons at the top of their game, where their experience was second to none and were able to deliver him back to his family?

That’s why I believe it was faith that ensured that when we arrived, absolutely gratified, our ‘Lazarus’ was raised; seated, smiling and welcoming us back from our holiday…………

Performing Seal. Chapter 23

This was a big week; depending on my performance, the home physio and GP had my holiday in the palm of their hands. Although I had made many mistakes when it came to holiday planning, this time it was in someone else’s hands. I was keeping everything crossed as the departure date was imminent.

First up-the physio, they had called ahead to ask if I was happy with a student attending. This was quite an interesting prospect after all there were more than a few learning opportunities for medical staff on my journey so having the chance to influence someone fresh out of the wrapper was mouthwatering.

It’s crazy how much I was looking forward to this appointment, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. They arrived on time and the student asked permission to lead the session. We identified the priorities; “I cannot sit, I’m hoping to go on holiday and struggling to walk”. This young man, was confident, listened attentively to my explanation and reassured me with several nods of understanding that felt so genuine, which was something I had seen so infrequently from some medical professionals. So far so good.

He advised that the pool on holiday would be ideal for exercising my leg, walking but no swimming that was too vigorous. My heart skipped a beat – did he just say that! my eyes popped as a result of the heart skipping. I digested this statement and quickly flicked my gaze to the senior physio who had accompanied him. She didn’t appear fazed nor was she forcing these words back in to his mouth, instead she was looking at him intently assessing his guidance and advice without a flinch. It must be ok to go, could that be right?

“Let’s get you sitting” and within minutes he had me standing on my good leg, curling the bad leg behind me. I had to do 30 a day, no more no less. I felt like a performing seal, my tongue protruding from my mouth and gasping loudly with each repetition. (Did I just make that noise?) Such was the level of concentration I’d lost touch with reality. Fair play to him, his good manners ensured that he contained his laughter at this performance. “Next let’s introduce some weight bearing on the bad leg”. He encouraged me to stand on one leg, both hands steadying me on the settee against another fall. A performing seal now a flaming flamingo, nevertheless I was so elated at being able to achieve this.

After a few travails up and down the red carpet he had me ready for the catwalk with an improved technique for using the crutches. I was really working it now. “Take a hot water bottle on the plane they can fill it for you, get some mobility assistance and you’ll be fine”. I asked about DVT’s and they gave me some simple exercises to repeat on the flight. That pretty much concluded their visit with a follow-up appointment after the holiday. I actually want to jump for joy ( don’t worry I won’t yet).

The blood test results revealed a slight improvement in my blood levels, certainly enough to allow me to get away. Again some advice from the GP about DVT’s and I was good to go. Finally I could pack the case. However I had one last test to pass, and it was significant.

The final test was an indulgence I had been denied since before the accident. It was a social occasion; a dinner invitation to sample some Tuscan fare with our friends. I could hardly contain my joy but I how would I cope? I had not enjoyed any wine for over 12 weeks. I put on some make-up, looked out a figure hugging outfit ( you have to make the most of this weight loss it wasn’t likely to last) and off we set. Conversation, music, wine, Prosecco, debate, music, company, fabulous food, oh how I had missed that.

I can confirm I passed that test with flying colours, yes normal service has been resumed and it’s true!! At last I am OFF to the Caribbean……………….

Salvation, but not on this occasion. Chapter 16

The physio department at my local hospital has an intricate signage system provided to navigate you to exactly where you need to be.  Coloured lines lead to X-ray, Physio and various  Out Patients departments and while it’s all a bit WIzard of Oz it’s nontheless effective. I needed the green line to get to my physio appointment.  As I had been so eager to get there and start the rehabilitation programme I’d left plenty time to arrive ready for action. Well that was the intention.

I’d opted for  an appointment 6 weeks after my accident, as I’d been advised an extended period of inactivity  would maximise my chances of recovery.  So having been laid on my back for the past 6 weeks (Harrogate aside)  the day of reckoning had arrived. Parking at our local hospital is a fine art, it shares the car park with the local health centre so spaces are always at a premium unless its midnight. Our first task, when we arrived,  was to secure a space as close to the entrance as possible. Since I had already agreed to walk to the appointment, that proximity was an essential determining factor in our selection of a space, but selection was simply a delusion; its a dog fight in that car park. We were 500yds away.

Bearing in mind this was my first sortie,  walking any unnecessary distance was not my wisest decision. But then stagnation does impact your  brain function.  That also accounted for the poor choice of clothing; it was freezing and the lose fitting pyjama bottoms that were the closest thing I had to joggers were ill equipped to fight the elements.  Jack Frost swirled up my legs unfettered, licked my wounds with his acid tongue and nipped me with his nails. I was shivering and exhausted by the time I got to the  hospital entrance.

Now frantic with pain and frozen I quickly identified the green line that would guide me to my saviour. Like an apostle I was transformed  by a singleminded mission; I refused to allow others to transverse or hinder me in on the route to my salvation. I had a 10am appointment but had arrived a good 20 minutes ( not including the walk in) early  to allow for delays. I didn’t factor in the 10 minute delay their side. So by the time I was summoned  I had succumbed to the  emergent pain from the walk, the cold and having to sit down.  This impacted substantially on my ability to walk another 200 yds to the consulting room, so by the time I saw the bed I lunged at it seeking  immediate comfort. I really did need a miracle now.

The physio observed with interest and could see I was struggling. She  had the patience of Job, working through my wincing she used the time  to assess me, monitor my reaction to pain ( shambolic) and determine how we might proceed.  She asked me to stand to measure my legs, which by now resembled cocktail sticks wrapped in rice paper.  Overcome by the pain, the occasion or something else I became  dizzy, unsteady and, unable to retain my composure, I collapsed in a heap on the bed. It was increasingly apparent that this particular  saviour was going to have to work miracles to bring change and improvement. We agreed to abandon this appointment in favour of another the following week. With her assistance I  used the remainder of the time to re-locate the green line and hirple back toward the car park.

Feeling fragile and a failure, the reality of the matter stung at my eyes and once again I was left inert, unable and incompetent. I was beginning to get the measure of the damage a stage 3 hamstring injury can do.

bird s eye view of parked cars
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Hamstring Injuries- the facts. Chapter 9

Once diagnosed and home I was keen to explore 🤓  more about this injury. I went straight to  Google only to discover it was limited in this regard. Particularly the NHS website  which states “grade 3 – a complete muscle tear. Severe hamstring tears  will usually be very painful, tender, swollen and bruised. There may have been a “popping” sensation at the time of the injury and you’ll be unable to use the affected leg.”

According to  the much more detailed Wikipedia “A grade 3 hamstring strain is a severe injury. There is an immediate burning 🔥or stabbing pain ⚡️and the individual is unable to walk without pain. The muscle is completely torn and after a few days  a large bruise 🌑 may appear below the injury site caused by the bleeding within the tissues.”

The Wikipedia description is more akin to my own experience.  My report on my initial visit to A&E was that the muscle was burning, on fire 🔥,  it felt like a dead leg and I was unable to walk or sit. Although not evident at this presentation, the bruising 🌑 appeared when we were in Harrogate 3 days after the event and was certainly visible on the second visit. I felt I had made the correct representation of my symptoms but it had not resulted in a diagnosis at either of these  visits to A&E and I’m still not sure why that was the case.

There were also a couple of blogs 📄 from doctors or physio’s who had also sustained  a hamstring strain but most of the information related to lesser injuries sustained as a result of training or sports  🏋️‍♂️ and threw no light on my situation.

However I did find some academic studies that  reported sufficiently on  Grade 3 injuries to suggest a diagnosis was possible. Grade 3s were more commonly  associated with slips 🤸‍♂️ and falls (caused by block heel boots). Individuals aged between 40-60  👵🏼 (I just made that) were more at risk  and women 👧  (definitely made that)  were approximately 3 times more likely to suffer hamstring strain than males with the majority of these being  from non-sporting scenarios.  (again those block heel boots)  Yep, it was all out there,  but I’m guessing Wikipedia is not on the trainee doctor reading list.😨

And, with the absence of diagnosis, of course comes the guaranteed lack of treatment. 🔬The recommended treatment for this injury is  the RICE protocol — rest, ice, compression and elevation.  This treatment is the same regardless of the severity of the injury, and should be commenced within the first five days.  RICE  is primarily used to reduce bleeding and damage within the muscle tissue. Of course this would have been useful if that was what I had been advised but the first and second visit to A&E failed to even identify the problem.  😳

In the immediate aftermath I needed to know this. Instead of going to Harrogate I should have been home with my hamstring  rested in an elevated position with an ice pack applied for twenty minutes every two hours.  Lower grade strains can easily become worse if the hamstring is not rested properly. Bleeding needs to be reduced but in my case this had not been addressed and my blood loss was significant. 🤭 Complete ruptures require surgical repair and rehabilitation but as I had not had my diagnosis for over a week the window for repair had apparently weakened and surgery was less likely.

On this evidence an apology from the consultant  does seem appropriate, but I have also raised this as a concern with the NHS so that others with the same problem get  the right help when its needed…….

close up of eyeglasses on book
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