On February 9th 2011 I collected my little boy from school. Alistair is funny, cute, affectionate, a chatterbox, and also happens to be autistic, with multidisciplinary challenges.
On the way home we stopped at the little Tesco near home to pick up some groceries. We only used two supermarkets, the big Sainsbury’s and this Tesco as the staff all know Alistair and are very understanding when he gets confused and frustrated.
Three years ago Alistair would frequently tantrum like a toddler and it was my habit to leave the shopping, pick him up, and take him home. The staff understood and that way we did not disturb other shoppers.
This was fine when Alistair was little, but he was growing fast and I had not
realised quite how big he was getting. So on February the 9th I picked up a squirming, writhing eight year old who was almost as tall as me, and unfortunately got it wrong.
I felt a pain in my back but my mind was set on getting home so innocently thought it would simply go away.
~ If it hurts like hell then shout! ~
My back hurt when I went to sleep, and I was unaware that I had slipped a disc. During the night it must have herniated. I woke up to the worlds worst cramp down my left hand side. I got out of bed and went to the bathroom to stand on a cold surface. As that did not appease the pain I hobbled down to the kitchen to stand on the cold tiles, my leg held straight, as a burning blade of pain seared up from my toes when I bent it. Still in agony, I phoned my darling Mummy, the oracle of all healing, and she told me that it did not sound like cramp to her and to get to the Doctor as soon as I could.
I made an appointment and saw a Doctor at 10am. He examined me but seemed more interested in my daughters school and chatted about that. He decided I just had a bit of sciatica and “not to worry my dear”. He prescribed pain killers, and said to get some private physiotherapy as it was faster than waiting for the NHS. Don’t ask me how I got to the Doctors’ surgery , it is a blur, but I know that every time I tried to sit it felt like a firey taught elastic band was pulling from my toes to my back, and the pain in my leg was excruciating.
I rang the first physio that the Doctor had suggested and got an appointment at 12. He was very kind, and going on the Doctor’s decision gave me a gentle exercise, thinking we could get the bulging disc back in place after 6 weeks. He also used a tens machine to ease the pain in my back.
When I got home I went straight to bed, lying on my side helped, although i hardly slept that night. The next day I was reading the back pain leaflet the Doctor had given me and it mentioned Cauda Equina Syndrome. I had my laptop handy and Googled it. There was a little sensation in my saddle area but not much, surely I couldn’t have that? When my husband came home from work I discussed it with him, and we that thought that perhaps I should go back to the Doctor. The pain killers hardly touched the pain and I had my 2nd sleepless night.
In the morning I rang again. I had a call back from the Doctor on call at 12 and he said I should talk to the Doctor I had seen on Tuesday. I waited, and at 4pm he rang, saying I should go to A & E. I had to wait for my husband to come home to take me, and my daughter to get home from school. Then the whole family trotted off to A & E. We waited, with the drunks with glass cuts and teens with twisted ankles. I used a stick to lean on, an beautiful ornate one with a silver tip that had belonged to my Aunt, and given to me by Mummy. I could not sit, the pain was agonising. My dear children took it in turns pleading with the reception staff to let me lie down somewhere. Eventually they let me lie across some chairs in a side room.
~ Just one little prick ~
About 11pm I was seen by a Doctor. The first thing he did was a simple prick test with a disposable syringe needle.I was admitted at once due to the lack of feeling in my saddle area. I was frightened but kept calm for the children. It would be alright, just a slipped disc, happens to lots of people, right? My husband and the children went home.
I was waiting for an MRI. It was a long long wait. Hours dragged past. Eventually I was top of the list and at noon I was scanned. They took me back to the emergency ward and a rather good looking young Doctor, with a very concerned face, told me not to be frightened, but I would have to go to Sheffield in an emergency ambulance and be operated on immediately. I felt so alone.
The ambulance staff were wonderful, trying to avoid speed bump as we sped to the hospital with the blues and twos flashing.I wish that I had someone there to hold my hand, and distracted myself by thinking how much my son would have enjoyed it, still fighting off my fear.
When we arrived I was greeted by the surgeon and a nurse. He had wild hair and a very thick Asian accent. In my drug induced state I could not understand him and the nurse had to interpret for me. Basically he was saying I was too late, I should have come on Tuesday, he might not be able to save the use of my leg now. Fear overtook me,and rage at the local doctor who had thought it was sciatica, why hadn’t he performed the prick test, why? I gave in to tremulous floods of tears.
I was operated on that night. The surgery took 4 hours. When I came round in the recovery ward the surgeon came to see me, and he excitedly said that he had shaved a lot of the bone as well as the disc. that I should always be careful. He wanted to show me what he had removed but wasn’t allowed to. I smiled and thanked him, but felt sick at the thought of what he had removed, and of seeing it. I fell asleep again.
I must have slept along time but awoke in a noisy bustling ward. I wanted rest, warm arms to comfort me, but I was essentially alone in this busy place. The nurses were brusque and eager to get me up .They levered me into a standing position, two of them either side of me. With the help of a zimmer frame and the two nurses I shuffled to the bathroom. My back was sore, but I felt nothing from the waist down on my left hand side and the right was just pins and needles.
They helped me back and lowered me into an arm chair,propped up with pillows. Another surgeon came to see me, he said, he had been told that I could walk so they would send me home, it was a success. I was left for 3 hours, dozing in that chair. When they wanted me to get up again and into bed something was wrong, my back was fixed, I could not move without the most intense pain. So they used a winch to lift me into bed. A nurse came to see me asking about my children, I don’t know what the morphine pumped delirious me said, but whatever it did made her think my daughter was home alone and ring the authorities, childrens’ services, another unnecessary worry, my husband was coping.
~ Change of Scenery ~
The next morning I was transferred, on a slide, to a trolley and ambulanced back to Chesterfield. Another ward, this one filled with the long term sick elderly, and now me. Doctors came to see me. They were not sure what was wrong but thought it was unlikely that I would be able to walk again. More tears. Tears for my children, tears as a failed wife and daughter who would never fulfill my parents dreams, and yes self indulgent tears for me. No more skiing or tennis, no more swimming, badminton, playing frisbee in the park. All gone. I had a canulla in my arm and morphine on demand. Believe me, I used it.
Eventually my husband came to see me. It is hard to leave an autistic child with anyone, I think he came after he had taken my son to school, I don’t remember all the details. He was quiet, keeping his worries to himself. He squeezed my hand. He would take time off work to take my son to school and fro. My daughter was not a problem as she had the school bus. He didn’t want help, he would cope. My lovely in-laws came, concerned, caring. Two of my kind colleagues came to see me bearing flowers; jolly yellow and cream chrysanthemums and a card with good wishes from work. Their faces were so concerned but also incredulous that this could happen to me. It just couldn’t happen to me. I was invincible.
The children were brought in, my son unconcerned after his own familiar hospital visits, playing with the little TV. My darling daughter, so much like my mother, gave me the smiles and hugs that I had longed for.
~ The reluctant Inmate ~
So the weeks went on, more physio, lovely pain killers, the indignity of bed pans. One night the extremely large old lady in the next bed took a dislike to my silent desolate self and tried to attack me with her drip stand. Buzzer pressed hurriedly, I could not escape the jabbing. Nurses came and restrained her. I felt useless at my lowest ebb.
My bed was wheeled to another ward which was to be my home for the next 5 weeks.There was only one incumbent, whose name, ironically was Nora. This was to be my home for the next 5 weeks.The ward was deserted as they had the nora virus, and no one else was allowed to be admitted. In a way that was lucky for me. Nora was a sweet old dear. She told me all her stories about Dunston, she had lived there all her life and generations before her. Everyday her nephew came to see her. It became a ritual. She was sweet until she had a water infection ,when she became quite crazy and wanted to shoot me. I was moved again. The nephew apologised and looked embarrassed. No ones fault, poor lady.
Digging into my resources I worked hard at the exercises I had been given and I was gradually gaining mobility. The feeling was slowly coming back into my right hand side, so I could drag myself along on a zimmer frame to a shower,what luxuriant bliss. I had a few visitors. My dear mother-in-law brought chocolate coated cereal bars. A kind friend from work sent me some decent instant coffee. It felt like delicious but illicit contraband, snuck away in my locker.
With the help of the patient physios I gradually started getting around. I was tested at making a cup of tea in a mock kitchen. I had to learn how to use the stairs with my crutches, as we only have one upstairs loo at home. As the youngest “guest” I had become very friendly with the nursing staff, one Doctor in particular, and the last two nights they kindly put me into a private room to get some decent sleep. It was wonderful, I could have been at the Ritz.
~ Home ~
The physios went to my home and checked out the facilities. They had my husband nail down the rugs on our stripped pine floors, and ugly white plastic coated grab rails were installed in the shower. A raised seat with arms over the loo, perching stools and a downstairs commode.My home littered with the word “disabled”. I was ambulanced home at last and helped upstairs.
The technician from the Disability Services was there installing a bed lever. He came out of my bedroom red faced. The belt that attaches the lever to the bed had to go through the under bed drawers, one was just filled with towels, but the other, the one on my side, contains my special naughty toys and lingerie, he must have been surprised. The physios and I giggled, and one said she also had a naughty drawer, the other a naughty box. We shared a welcome moment of sexy kinship.