I got 99 problems and the disc ain’t one.

(Don’t worry, I’ve not taken up rapping, it’s just the painkillers.)

I’ve been all quiet on the blog front for a wee while, but fear not, I am back. (I know you’ve been on the edge of your seat. Which is very bad for the lumbar area, by the way). On Monday, I had my spinal surgery, or decompression and discectomy, to give it its proper name. I’ve been whining for six months about being in more than just a little bit of pain. You may have noticed.

So, the good news is, with the disc cut out and no longer pressing on my spinal nerve column, the havoc and tears have reduced. Yep, the pain is no more. Ok, so it’s been replaced by other pain but that will go, I will heal and hopefully by the time Santa Claus rolls up in his sleigh, I’ll be fighting fit again.

It’s fair to say that I was a tad anxious about my operation. Never having had a general anaesthetic before and having been made aware of the risks of tinkering with spines, I was keen to get it over with. Also, as you know, I managed to dodge the hospital by having a home birth, so it seemed a cruel twist of fate that my smug face ended up in hospital just nineteen months later anyway, dammit. I rocked up at the ward on Monday at 7.30am and joined the queue of poorly admissions. Imagine Michael Jackson’s Thriller video being filmed in Orthopaedics. I was at least 20 years younger than my comrades and looked in better condition, that’s for sure. These people were having big things done, like new hips and knees fitted. I felt better that my op was pretty simple in comparison. So, with my baby at home being spoiled and dressed in a tutu by Grandma, my Dad by my side, I took my space in my hospital bed. I had requested a private room, for fear of having to share a ward with, you know, space cadets. But, the rooms were full so I perched on my bed, by the window on the 7th floor and watched the sunrise over the horizon. (Funny how a sunrise can make everything look pretty, even Southend). Hey, if you wanted to be super-cheesy, you could say it was a metaphor for the sun coming up on my pain-free future? The first day of the rest of my life? No? Ok, I’ll stop.

I unpacked my stuff and sat twiddling my thumbs, not quite sure what the protocol was. I’ve only had one other operation in my life, but that was cosmetic (ears pinned back just in case you wondered why I’m still pretty flat-chested) and that was simply done under local anaesthetic in one day. I checked out the other ladies in my room, six of us. They looked fairly normal, thankfully, and it was comforting to know that each of them were petrified too. And with good reason, having a new hip fitted is no laughing matter. I shuffled around nervously, eyeing up my backless gown and surgical stockings, wondering how long I’d be here for.

“Mrs Catling”, as a nurse came hurrying around the corner, “you’re first into theatre, your paper knickers are there” and SWOOOOSSHHH the curtain was pulled around me. Next thing, the anaesthetist arrived, gave me a brief chat and I was on my way, in the lift with a nurse and some man who was complaining that his wife had left him after 25 years. “Sorry about your life, buddy”, I thought, “but HELLO, I am lying here and need comforted!” In the pre-op room, I confirmed my name and date of birth for the 14th time and in came the surgical team. I recognised my consultant that I’d met with umpteen times before. This was the chap that had explained the risks, you know, little things like paralysis. I eyed him up carefully, checking that he didn’t have shaky hands or look a bit peaky. The beauty of having a Muslim surgeon, presumably, is that he didn’t have 10 pints of Stella the night before getting his scissors out near my spinal column.

“Do you like a Friday night out?”, asked the anaesthetist as he mucked up inserting the drip into my poor wrist. “It’s not the time or the place for invitations” I replied, chuckling to myself. My heart rate shot up, beepbeepbeepbeep. “Stop making jokes, Mrs Catling, what I mean is that you’re about to feel drunk, like a Friday night”.

Swirly ceiling, zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Next thing I know, I’m in the recovery room, wrapped in an inflatable hot blanket, have a sore throat from the breathing tube and am covered in marker pen. Mr-I’ve-just-split-up-with-my-wife is back and still talking. I catch his eye. “Hello, I think I’m awake now”.

Back on the ward, a restless night unfolds. I usually sleep on my side, same position every night, but not this time. A combination of drips, a drain and leg pumps have me shackled to the bed. The lady opposite decides to sing herself to sleep and then grunt all night. All I could do was grit my teeth and wonder if I could throw a pillow far enough to stop her snoring. Permanently. I was tired and frankly, a little ratty. After an unfortunate incident with a bedpan and my DVT leg pump alarm thingies going off every 5 minutes, I was less than impressed. Some morphine, an episode of Made In Chelsea and a Boost bar helped a bit. But come lights-on time at 6am, I was still wide awake. Chewing on my two slices of bread (not toast, for the procedure of heating bread until golden brown is apparently too expensive for our beloved NHS), I spot a new nurse come bouncing in. From the doorway he yells “Mrs Catling, my name is Eric, have you passed wind yet today?”. I almost choked on my slice. Now, I know that when you have a baby you leave your dignity with the placenta but come on Eric, is this absolutely necessary? I was mortified so I answered in the only way I could think. “No. Have you?”. He rolled his eyes at me. I imagine that during his shift handover, he was warned about the stroppy one in bed 9C who told them to shove their bedpans up their sluice.

I realised that no doctor had been near me and I had had zero communication regarding my condition from anyone. I figured that the hospital operates on a no-news-is-good-news policy. The physio arrived and I clocked that he was the man to impress if I were to escape from this place any time soon. He was about 10 years younger than me, so I stuck on some lip balm, batted my eyelashes (as if this would help given that I looked rancid, was covered in blood and goodness knows what else) and did my best log roll out of the bed. “Check me out! Can I go now, PLEASE?” I cried a little bit too, surely the best way to terrify a young man into signing off my freedom.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Eric. “Here he comes again” I sighed. “Mrs Catling, do you need laxatives?”. I put my head in my hands and cried a little bit more.

Six hours later, I am finally changed into my own clothes, clutching a bucket of tablets and ready to go home.

The brilliant thing is that my leg and nerve pains are nowhere to be seen. They must be lying in a bin somewhere in the hospital, next to my little disc. Ahead, I have six weeks of being very strict with myself, no lifting, no bending, no sitting for longer than twenty minutes, definitely nothing household-related, no toddler lifting, no driving, no baths. Thank goodness for the grandparents.

I’m so glad it’s done. It was a very long six months of being miserable. It impacted not just on my life but my daughter’s, my husband’s, on our families, our friends. Fingers crossed, it’s worked. And I couldn’t be more pleased to be out of that hospital. The nurses do a good job in difficult circumstances, they work hard and seem to make the best of what limited resources they have. We are so lucky to have the NHS and while it wasn’t a posh hotel, I was fairly content with it all. I got to see a beautiful sunrise and sunset, met a man obsessed with bowels and ate a macaroni cheese that will forever make me grateful for my Mum’s recipe. Can’t ask for more than that, can I?

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9 Comments on “I got 99 problems and the disc ain’t one.”

  1. i15minutes says:

    So pleased you’re out of there. As always, great blog. The ceiling spinning moment must have been terrifying.

  2. Rachel says:

    Just found you via Tots100. Great entry, I really enjoyed it. (Feels a bit wrong to write that, when you’ve had a major operation. Sorry…!)

  3. I shall go and read the rest of your blog later, but, well done for getting this done and glad it has started to help already. If it is ok, I might have some questions to ask you about how it has been getting to this point, but for now, just wanted to say, thanks for giving me some hope for the future and get well soon.

    • Hey, sorry for the delay, I wanted to give your comment the response it deserved.
      I feel for you completely. I’m 3 weeks on from my discectomy and decompression now and feeling much better.
      Mine started 7 months ago, not an instant pain but gradual. Was diagnosed with sacroilitis at first which was incorrect. I was told by GP to keep exercising and therefore was running for several months with what turned out to be a slipped disc, L5/S1. I have a 20 month old toddler. I saw several different GPs and took anti-inflams, codeine, diclofenac, tramadol blah blah. Eventually called the GP surgery and begged for a home visit as couldn’t even make the 15 min walk to the surgery. I wept my eyes out. I had been through a natural pain-relief free birth with my baby and thought I was pretty hard as nails. But the disc was unbearable. I had 3 sets of steroid injections in my spine. The GP administering these absolutely was dead against surgery and never once mentioned having an MRI to actually see what was inside. I am still contemplating a formal complaint against them all. I am prone to depression and was slipping down and down. I could only sleep after several wines! We took the decision to have an MRI paid for privately and I met with a surgeon there. Within a couple of days we were £1K down but had the answers. He then referred me back to the NHS, for him to carry out the discectomy operation but without us footing the bill. 7 months after the first pain, I had the op. The nerve pain was gone immediately. My parents moved in for the first 2 weeks after the op as my husband was working overseas. I have taught my daughter to climb up and downstairs and my friend is acting as taxi driver. But otherwise, I should be back to ‘normal’ soonish. I am no longer on any medication whatsoever (though had a hellish time coming off the evil codeine). I have NHS hydrotherapy in 2 weeks and then see the surgeon the same week. While the op is not for everyone and definitely carries risks, it helped me 100%. I had to fight for it though.
      I guess that it just helps to know that others are in the same boat. I can see a way through this now but I (and my husband) have had some tough times. The pain is the worst I’ve ever felt. Anyway, you’re not alone and I hope that you get somewhere very soon x

      • thank you for replying. I am struggling with the anti surgery attitudes. The first MRI showed a prolapse and tear but said it was not significant enough to do a discetomy. They have never really explained what is causing the pain. Since then it got significantly worse, and I was promised a new MRI if I jumped through some hoops, not happened yet although the hoops have been jumped. It has now been 10months since I started pushing it hard, and now feel ok painwise due to being pumped full of drugs including amitriptyline which is am amazing painkiller but numbs me completely so I have just stopped it, waiting for the pain to return. I am so glad you got it sorted and your operation was successful, i hope it stays that way for you.

  4. […] ready in the morning for example. She wants out of her cot, so I lift her (VERY carefully, due to this). Then she wants back in again. She wants her nappy changed but doesn’t want me to change her […]

  5. […] no third option, OK?” I exclaim.  I’m praying it won’t end in carrying as my surgeon will shoot me.  She holds my hand, we walk on and she spots an alleyway off to the right.  Oh no, […]

  6. […] exercising again too but not due to the arrival of 2013, it’s actually 3 months now since my spinal surgery and therefore I am officially declaring myself fit.  I’m fed up, feeling chubby and low.  I […]


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