I am 48 years old, and I have not worked since 2011 when my employer presented me with a choice: either accept medical retirement, or be sacked for exceeding my allowed sickness days.
My problems started one morning in December 2006, when I woke up in extreme pain and with numbness down my left side. My GP initially thought that I'd had a stroke, until she decided after examination that in fact I had extreme case of acute sciatica. After two weeks she referred me to a pain specialist; I had a MRI prior to my first appointment and was told that I had some fully prolapsed and partially prolapsed discs, excessive dehydration between other discs, and excessive wear and tear. I was prescribed medication for the pain and got on with it.
During 2007 my husband and I decided to move back to the area where my mother lived 200 miles away from us, as she was quite ill. Some eight months later she passed away, and from then on my health deteriorated quickly. I was unable to drive to work and so I changed my workplace to an office nearer my home. I gradually got worse, the pain levels started to get out of control, and I was placed on much stronger medications, including fentanyl patches. My life went from being active and enjoying dancing, walking along the coast and foreign travel, to struggling to walk and being in constant pain. The spasms were so intense that it was hard not to cry, and my head felt heavy. I spent three months in bed at one time as I could not climb the stairs to the bathroom. I've been to hell and back. It was at this time that an occupational therapist at work informed me that I must leave work and not return until the correct adjustments were made. March 2011 was the last time I saw my workplace, by July of that year I was medically retired.
Since this time, I've deteriorated physically as well as mentally. I have become very depressed, which in itself makes everything feel worse, and I was recently informed that I have osteoarthritis in my hands and feet as well as my spine. I also have pain and a weird sensation in my left ankle/foot which my GP does not seem to concern himself with. The medical profession are happy if I accept medication, but once I ask for a referral to a specialist they become disinterested.
For treating my pain I have been given a TENS machine, which did not really do much for me. I have also had physiotherapy, however, after five sessions the physiotherapist said that he had seen my MRI and did not believe I would benefit from further treatment as my condition was too acute and he could not do anything for the nerve issues. I have tried to get hydrotherapy without success; my local hospital only offers this to terminal patients or those with limb or head injuries.
This summer I went on holiday to Greece, I could not believe the difference in the levels of pain and stiffness I was experiencing, and in my mood. At home I use a wheelchair when I am out and about as I cannot walk more than 50 yards without acute lower back pain, hip pain and ankle pain. However, there in the beautiful warmth I was getting around the small complex on walking sticks. I felt human again! I would love to move to a warm climate, it might give me the chance to return to work.
I feel for everybody who has pain to face every day. My mother suffered for over 30 years with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, along asthma, and I wonder if her warning that I would suffer just like her was something I should have listened to more seriously.
I know that the weather affects me; I just hope that the world starts listening once this study is finished.
If you are struggling with chronic pain or a difficult diagnosis there are patient organisations for almost all conditions who are on-hand to offer support and advice. All this month Talkhealh are running an online clinic for those affected by arthritis and chronic pain, which is free to access here.