Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.

Josephine Hart, Damage, Ch. 12

January 3. Friday.

Pain 9
Mobility 1

I struggled briefly with the confusion, the fog lifting rather more slowly than I would have liked and for a split second I was suspended in my own ethereal quasi-reality, no doubt a side effect of the narcotics. The room, a bland and flavourless kind of orange snapped into view, but still the logic of the situation evaded me. As I exhaled a seemingly endless breath, the incision reasserted itself at the front of my mind with blinding reality. I am certain that waking up in a hospital bed isn’t going to make it onto my top ten things to do first thing in any new year, at least not short term. In reality, the situation in which I found myself this January 1st may (I hope) prove to be the very best of all possible outcomes.

It started about 3 weeks ago when I started to feel tightness and pain around my right lower back. This is a recurring event for me, seemingly every 6 months or so something happens to aggravate my L3 L4 disc making it herniate and pinch the nerve. The “event” is normally something like tying shoes, picking up my bags or some other mundane and definitely not typically dangerous activity. The result is a moment of excruciating pain followed by a list to one side and the spasming and involuntary contraction of various groups of muscles of my torso. The effect is one of Scoliosis, however the effect is largely temporary, cured by rest and lots of muscle relaxants. The inflammation of the nerve is treated by a very strong anti-inflammatory used to treat arthritis called Arthrotec, and usually I am up and about in a couple of days. Over time I have learned that indeed if I am not active almost immediately, my condition deteriorates until I am once again up and about. However, this time was different. There was no event to signify the start of the condition, just a nagging pain and dull ache around the usual region. I took the usual evasive steps but was surprised to find that no matter what I did, the condition worsened. The problem was not necessarily that I had done something significantly wrong to create this problem, but rather that in an attempt to stay active I was aggravating the problem. Couple this with an evening of standing in a cold server room with my boss who had called me in late one evening to fix a server issue and you have a recipe for disaster. After the evening fixing the problems that seemingly run rampant the second I am off site and assuring my boss that thanks to him I would not be returning to work that week, I was afraid that I had done too much. Little did I know just how far I had really gone. After 2 weeks of increasing pain, non-responsiveness to the medication and an increasing discomfort in my right thigh, I was becoming a pain in Nicole’s behind and she finally decided enough was enough and drove me to the emergency room. It wasn’t until I was in the car that I realized just how disabled I had become. Much like the boiling frog, I had adjusted magnificently to the pain and was unable to see that I was almost completely crippled. We saw the triage nurse, registered and then sat for 2 hours waiting for admission to the ambulatory area. Once there however, things sped up somewhat and 8 hours later (yes, I was being sarcastic) I was given 2 cortisone injections directly into my spine and several shots of Demerol to numb the pain. I was then taken to the CT room for a CT scan to determine the extent of the herniation. I was given the opportunity to stay for observation, but being less than thrilled with the treatment so far I decided home was the best idea. The decision to return home enabled me to relax (!) in familiar surroundings, but proved to be a critical error. On my way up from the basement, my leg gave out on me and I fell backwards into the handrail, trapping my leg through the open steps and cutting my knee in the process. This was the final sign that unlike my back episodes in the past, this was becoming critical.

Two days later, I was back in front of the triage nurse begging for someone to put me out of my misery.

This was where the true colours of the Canadian Health Care System really shone through. I have spent the last 5 years of my life committed to providing the best in security, speed and availability to the Clinical system at the hospital and hearing all about “patient care” and the need for prioritizing patient data but now I have to admit, my attitude is forever damaged. The nurse, the registration nurse and the ambulatory nurses and doctors failed to take a look at the visit form just 2 days prior. Although I told them many times when and why I had been there, their staunch refusal to pull the charts for the CT or the prognosis left me with a feeling of anger and neglect that I will remember for the rest of my life. I still, days later, find it hard to believe that the millions of dollars that the hospital has spent on the clinical system and training medical staff to use it that we may as well be using paper charts and pencils for all the good it does. I can’t even imagine how I would feel or how I would have been treated if I weren’t staff, and it is taking all my strength not to voice with great volume my displeasure with the system, the people in it and the brutal treatment that people must endure in order to get the care they need.

10 hours after being wheeled into emergency for the second time in two days, unable to walk, shaking with the pain and obviously under extreme duress I was admitted to the OR for surgery. I had been given Demerol, percocet, several muscle relaxants and some sublingual painkillers to enable me to withstand the pain of the MRI since having my legs straight caused intense burning from my thigh into my knee. I think of myself as having an extremely high pain threshold, since much of my life now involves managing pain of one kind or another but I was overcome by the intensity of the pain that seemed to localize over the interior cruciate area of my knee.

The pain was simply intolerable as I slipped away, breathing farewell into the plastic mask that covered my nose and mouth. It was 4pm, New Year’s Eve, a fitting end to what had started off as the Nightmare Before Christmas.

Several hours later, the herniated portion of the disc sat in a sample bottle by my bed, small victory over a piece of tissue that potentially has been the bane of my existence for the past the past 11 years. I squeezed the button to introduce another shot of Morphine into my IV and drifted off to sleep once again.