Such a lot can change in 4 years. Four years ago, we were living in Finland, in the house that we had almost finished building. I was teaching at Oulu International School. We were leading an international church. Now, we're living in the East Riding, trying to gradually adapt our house for my needs.
Today is the 4 year anniversary of my spinal operation. It shouldn't be. I needed surgery weeks earlier than it actually happened. It was the end of April 2012 when general back ache progressed to cauda equina syndrome. I was walking through the school lobby and a got a static shock from a plastic plant. Within a very short time, I was in severe pain down my left leg and couldn't move or do anything for myself.
We should have called an ambulance but we were scared... really scared! I was scared what they might do to me if I was taken into hospital. We were both scared that the bill for calling an ambulance would be more than what we could afford. So we kept delaying the decision - see how it is in an hour... see how it is tomorrow...
After making phone calls, I was prescribed Lyrica to help with the pain, and 800mg Ibuprofen tablets. It took several days but eventually I was able to be moved without screaming in pain. I still couldn't do much for myself but we managed to get me to the doctor's. By then, my left leg was completely numb down one side and I couldn't take my weight on it. The doctor sent me for an MRI, which showed a huge prolapsed disc at L5/S1.
The following day, I had an EMG test, which confirmed that I had nerve damage to my left leg. The doctor referred me for immediate surgery. That was on 24th May - already too late - but then my referral papers went missing and I didn't get called in for surgery.
By 5th June, I was beyond desperate. I got a Finnish friend to ring the hospital for me. She was really funny. Having had many operations herself, she was quite bolshy with hospitals. She started ringing to ask for an appointment at 8:00 a.m. and kept ringing every 15 minutes until they found me a time slot.
I went to see a consultant. She examined me and looked at the MRI and EMG results. She asked whether I had any bladder or bowel problems. At that stage, I couldn't bring myself to tell anyone that I was peeing without knowing about it. Then she stuck her finger up my bum and asked me to squeeze. I couldn't even feel her finger and apparently didn't manage an acceptable squeeze, as she got straight on the phone to theatre. It's bizarre, hearing someone having a panicked conversation about you in Finnish. I could understand the general gist of it. Cauda equina syndrome... serious nerve damage... leg... foot... reactions not normal. That was the point where I first realised that this was serious and could have long term implications.
They operated that day, removed the disc and some bone and I woke feeling much better indeed. The initial recovery was pretty good. But when they say that cauda equina syndrome needs surgery quickly, they are right. I have permanent nerve damage to my left leg and bladder.
I have managed to regain a decent quality of life but many never do. It's really important to know the red flag symptoms of this condition and seek immediate treatment if you suspect that you have it.
- Severe low back pain.
- Pain, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs that causes you to stumble or have trouble getting up from a chair.
- Loss of or altered sensations in your legs, buttocks, inner thighs, backs of your legs, or feet that is severe or gets worse and worse. You may experience this as trouble feeling anything in the areas of your body that would sit in a saddle (called saddle anesthesia).
- Recent problem with bladder or bowel function, such as trouble eliminating urine or waste (retention) or trouble holding it (incontinence).
- Sexual dysfunction that has come on suddenly.