Slipped or herniated discs are a very common injury, a lot of people don’t even realise that they have them. Mostly seen in people aged between 30 and 50… I managed to slip two when I was 14.
The cause of the injury (he will hate me for sharing this) was a friend of mine dropping me on my head on our school field, following this I damaged it further on my trampoline. I began to walk with a hunch and one shoulder fell, when I first met my physiotherapist he asked me to stand straight and I did, he asked me to look in the mirror and I was pretty mortified to find how crooked I was.
I visited the doctor a few times before they finally gave me an x-ray, which came back clear and he said I was fine. At this point I could barely stand, sitting was painful and walking to school was becoming difficult but there was no break, so I was fine?
We convinced the doctors to send me for an MRI, which was luckily covered (and all future appointments, consultations, physiotherapy, operations and another 5 MRI’s) by my dads private healthcare plan. Without that I can only imagine it would have taken months and months longer for a proper diagnosis and care.
The MRI came back showing 2 prolapsed discs. L5, which I had already worn away and L4, which was jamming into my spinal cord and crushing a bunch of nerves, (the slipped disc at L4 is the little white bean thing, the 5th one down!) this was causing me severe sciatica, pins and needles all over and constant shots of pain throughout my body when I moved in certain ways. The prolonged pressure of the prolapses had caused my spine to curve as well, which had been the reason for my change in posture.
I was immediately signed off of school, told not to sit AT ALL and only to lay or stand and physiotherapy began. I was taught how to sit, stand and sleep ‘properly’ and had exercises each waking hour to realign my spine.
There was one rule that I did break though…
I was starring in our school production of High School Musical as Sharpay and my understudy was a smug little… well, madam. I decided she couldn’t outshine me so I did all of the planned evening shows. The last night I remember my pain being pretty intense and all we had were GHD straighteners which I heated up and held to my back for some sort of relief. I laid in bed that night and knew it was only going to get worse from then.
I was booked in for a Micro Lumbar Discectomy following our holiday to France, which was a holiday we went on every year, taking the drive down to the South over a two day period. A couple of weeks before our trip mum called me down for dinner and I tried to stand to eat it but was crippled with pain and instead laid on the sofa on my front to eat. Knowing I would have no chance sitting in a car for 10+ hours we booked a flight that my dad would have to escort me to.
Following this I only got worse. Walking was difficult so I spent most of my time laying down and as most of my physiotherapy involved my arms they became nice and muscly but the rest of my body was weak and unstimulated. Sitting on the toilet to pee had me in tears and I’d often need to lay down on the bathroom floor after to get back my strength.
The day before my flight was due my mum could see that even sitting on a plane for an hour was going to be impossible for me so she went to the doctor to demand painkillers (before then I had been on no pain relief) I had ibuprofen and co-codamol and walked up to my bedroom, with a few pitstops, relatively easily, for the first time in what seemed like forever. We decided that we would dose me up and drive to France, which I did, and did so pretty much pain free.
The medication, along with sun, the pool, and copious amounts of stolen Bacardi loosened me up to the point that I was jumping in the pool and running around by the end of the trip and after a consultation once we arrived home, the surgeon said I had worn both discs away and would not need surgery. My medication was changed to take me off the addictive tablets and stop my stomach from being destroyed and after a while I was a normal kid again.
I write this because of an article I read recently by Lara Parker ‘If Women Want To Be Taken Seriously By A Doctor They Should Just Do One Of These Things’ and it made me think about my situation. Looking back I know it shouldn’t have taken so long for a diagnosis, I remember my male PE teacher forcing me to run (hobble) 1500m even after I’d said my back was hurting. The doctor dismissing me over and over even though I couldn’t even stand straight.
Now I have a high pain threshold, made more so by this experience and by generally being a clumsy bitch, but I was hitting 8’s and 9’s during my suffering, I was 14 years old, played for 7 sports teams at school, swam, rode my bike, and I couldn’t walk the 15 minutes to school. Had it taken so long because I was young? Because I was female? Did they think I was exaggerating? I remember texting my mum one day walking to school before diagnosis, I was hobbling, stopping every 20 or so steps to rest and to cry my eyes out and I told her I didn’t think I could go to school, but even she was dismissive then (she helped me every second of every day later on don’t worry!).
This was probably over the course of less than a year and I do have issues now, one small movement can put me out for a few days, one bad sleep can be excruciating, but day to day I am generally fine and would never know I had a problem. But I have several disabled friends with chronic illnesses that can’t be seen from a quick glance, from a meeting, or even from a full day of socialising from an outsiders point of view, these are all women and most of them have no diagnosis. To live your entire life fobbed off, ignored, told you’re exaggerating, people assuming you’re lying or playing up your symptoms, I can’t even imagine what that could be like. Please never assume someone’s abilities based on their physical appearance, you really never know what’s happening inside.
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