My quality of life has been totally destroyed


MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:With degenerative disc disease ‘my health is ruined’ relates WILLIAM TRENT

CHRONIC BACK pain costs the economy millions of euro every year in terms of lost work days and disability payments. But what is the cost to the individual? It’s impossible to quantify it. And I should know. I’ve been suffering from back pain for the past three years and I can only describe it as a living hell.

It all started when I got extreme pain in my right leg in April 2009. It then moved up and centred in my lower spine. I would later learn that I had a degenerative disc disease.

While waiting for treatment I tried to get the severe, debilitating pain under control and succeeded to some extent. Then I had a very bad back spasm in December 2010 which caused me to fall at home. My knee was seriously damaged and I was housebound for five months. The pain was dreadful. I live alone in Dublin and I had to rely on a couple of friends to get even the basic shopping.

For the first couple of months I was severely restricted moving around my home and I had to hold onto furniture to support myself. The enormous effort it took to navigate the stairs meant I used them only twice a day.

Basic daily functions that we all take for granted were either impossible or very difficult. How long does it take you to sit on a bed? A few seconds? For me, sitting or getting into bed was a major effort. I had to keep my damaged knee locked or the leg would collapse. When I dropped something, I had to leave it on the ground as I simply couldn’t pick it up. Living alone, you can imagine how difficult that was.

It all became too much after five months of agony and my body gave up. I was taken by ambulance to St James’s Hospital. I was told I had ruptured my right quadriceps (the muscle group at the front of the thigh) and damaged other muscles. I also had very serious deep vein thrombosis in my right leg. This was a direct result of being left housebound for so long.

I was kept in hospital for 15 days and it was such a relief to finally be taken care of. That trip to the hospital in May was the first time I had been outside the house since the previous December.

Life is a little better now, thanks to St James’s Hospital and the support of my local physiotherapist. My occupational therapist also worked hard to get my bathroom rebuilt. The hospital is now arranging to X-ray my spine to see if they can do anything for me. However, my life is still severely restricted.

Mornings are worst. On a typical day I get dressed lying down and need to sit for at least an hour after taking painkillers to let things settle down. Then my day starts. I spend the vast majority of my life sitting or lying down and also doing strengthening and mobility exercises.

An ambulance is supplied to get me to and from St James’s for orthopaedics clinics and DVT clinics.

It is only in the past few months that I’ve started to make progress. I can now sit or get up in a normal fashion and without great pain. But everything still takes much longer and fatigue sets in fairly quickly.

If I go out, I must use a specialist leg and knee brace and crutch and I can only carry a very small amount of shopping due to balance problems. A normal life is impossible. I can’t just decide to go out on the spur of the moment.

Even if I feel that I am well enough to go out, a strong wind or slippery footpath is enough to scuttle my plans.

Simple things such as changing a light bulb are impossible and anything that involves stretching or bending is out of the question. I’m greatly limited in how long I can keep in one position or how long I can stay on my feet.

Up to now I had to have at least a day’s rest between each outing, but now I’m trying to build up to getting out two days in a row. I still have to come down the stairs backwards unless I’m wearing the brace.

I was very active before the back pain set in. I could walk 10 miles without thinking about it. Now, walking a full mile is a major victory. Things usually stiffen up badly for the last couple of hours each day and then it’s back to sitting and lying down.

Looking back on the past three years, I feel that I have become a virtual cripple. My quality of life has been totally destroyed.

My health is ruined and I have no peace of mind. I am now 64 years old and my life is passing me by.

Back pain can often be dismissed as a malingerer’s excuse for dodging work. But after my experience,

I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

In conversation with Alison Healy