The first sign of a problem was when I first stepped out of bed in the morning and momentarily a severe pain would travel down my leg. Over the weeks the pain worsened, lasted longer and settled in my lower back. Alarm bells sounded loud and clear when I blacked out from the pain one night, landing on the hard board floor of the hallway
X-rays and scans showed very little amiss—some deterioration in my spine consistant with my age, but no bulging discs or anything serious. It's possibly sciatica I was told, so I saw a physiotherapist and faithfully did exercises for some weeks with no results. The pain had increased to something like an electric shock whenever I moved my leg, and the pain remained for a long time after. I’d had back problems before but a few days rest usually solved the problem. I spent long hours on the bed, gazing out the window at the Liquid Amber changing from green to gold to dark red, and the leaves drifting down to the lawn and driveway.
At that stage I was quite accepting of the problem, thinking one day I’d wake up and things would be improving. Grocery shopping was becoming more difficult. I’d get Ray to take me later at night. I would hobble around using a walking stick and we’d fill our trolley. Cooking was another trial. I would sit at the bench on my walking frame and prepare, then wheel across to the stove to sit and cook. One day I was angry. I phoned the doctor and said I wanted to see an orthopaedic surgeon. His response was “You don’t really want an operation at your age”. I wanted to be pain-free though!
Help came from out of the blue! Ray had an appointment with his rheumatologist, who asked why he was alone that day. When told of my problems he sent up a referral for an MRI , and said he would see if he could help. By this stage I was in a lot of pain. A walk into the hospital really drained me, and I was happy to collapse into a wheelchair. I was very nervous about having a MRI. It was a daunting experience for someone who is claustrophobic. Being short, the huge machine seemed to swallow me, my nose almost touching its ceiling. The noise was incredible, as if I was in a box and the lid was being nailed down. I fought panic for 20 minutes!
In a few days I knew the worst - only an operation would fix the problem. The vertebrae in my lower spine had collapsed on a nerve, hence the leg pain. I was sent to an orthopaedic surgeon at Epworth hospital for the complicated operation of chipping away bone to release the nerve, and having metal inserted between the vertebrae and either side of the spine. Because a bone graft had been used I wasn’t to twist, turn or lift anything for 3-4 months, and was to wear a brace whenever I was out of bed.
I woke from the operation in a warm, fuzzy morphine haze, pain free. I don’t recall very much about the next few days except nurses frequently rolling me over! The only rehabilitation was to walk and, after my brace was fitted, I walked as far as I could each day. By the end of the week I could do four rounds of the floor every day, the requirement to allow me to go home..
Recovery was frustrating at times, but it taught me patience, and the necessity to ask for help. After all, three months out of my life wasn’t that long! The housework and garden could wait, and a little dust wouldn't hurt anyone.
If this problem had happened 50 years ago, what would the outcome have been?
Perhaps it takes a “curved ball" to wake us up to how lucky we really are.