The six week post-surgery appointment left me lost and beginning the week that way was unsettling. I started my Monday going through meetings, finalising lectures for the week, trying my hardest to remain focused and get tasks done. But my confusion over the extent of the nerve damage was too distracting. Anxiety was now lurking at the corner of my mind. Oddly, rather than being defeated by the lack of clarity, the confusion stopped me giving up. Uncertainty may paralyse some; I’m wired though to relentlessly seek clarity when something is unclear. Uncertainty drives me to find answers, if indeed they can be found.
I was very much entrenched in an anxious state when I met my new GP on the Monday afternoon. Letters from my surgeon and my rehab team had not yet reached him, so he asked me to start from the beginning. Normally, recounting the events from the onset of severe back pain to starting as an outpatient causes me to relive the events. I can’t easily say to someone what happened. But not that day. For the first time I was able to recall what happened, the loss of movement and the loss of sensation, without shame. And by recounting what happened from the first onset of back pain to being discharged from the rehabilitation hospital, I grasped why I was so lost. My rehabilitation plan had addressed the nerve damage to my legs. There was a plan in place. I knew exactly what I needed to do not only for the next six weeks, but for the next two years. I knew how we were going to achieve regaining that 70-80% of function in my legs. What had been gnawing away in my mind since I was discharged as an inpatient was knowing that health complications were still continuing and there was no plan to manage the problems. I finally understood what was derailing me. The words of the surgeon kept replaying in my mind, ‘where there is no or little improvement, there may not be much recovery’. I was painfully aware that the nerve damage that showed little progress was where there was no plan; no mapped out way forward. I knew I needed help. Asking for help is not my strength; I’m someone who stubbornly keeps trudging on until I end up in a heap. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place. To now, the help I have accepted was asked for grudgingly and because I had to. Hearing the GP admit the complexity of what happened was helpful. He was honest that the way forward was not going to be easy. I wasn’t going crazy for nothing. To help me though, he needed more information, including more tests and more x-rays. While I didn’t walk out with a clear cut plan, I walked out not feeling as lost.
Going to my outpatient physio appointment the next afternoon, my physio was bright and all smiles when she came to the hospital reception, but when she saw my face, her smile dropped. My grimace told her that not everything was okay. She asked me straightaway how my post-op appointment went and, suddenly fighting back tears again, I recounted the conversation I had with the surgeon. Although I had found some clarity, I was still perplexed by the whole situation. Too many pieces of the puzzle were missing. I still didn’t understand the consequences of my spinal injury. I couldn’t piece together by myself what that week was like before I was admitted into hospital. I can recall the intensity of the pain, the humiliation of not being able to walk properly, trying to get through the working day, and the sleepless nights. But I couldn’t piece together what my physical condition was like. Very patiently, my physio walked me through what happened between the initial onset of the severe back pain and admission into hospital. The pieces began to fall into place. My physio heard enough to suggest that a management plan was needed for the long term. And for the first time since my surgery, I heard what a spinal injury rehabilitation plan might look like. I realised how much I didn’t know. How much wasn’t done while I was in the rehabilitation hospital. I didn’t have a clue that nerve damage to other parts of the body need as much rehabilitation work as my legs. While I live with the reality of the nerve damage, I had unconsciously adapted how I did life every day to cope with the effects. I just did the best I could, but now that life was becoming more demanding, my best was not able to keep up. For the second day, I was feeling a little less lost and a little more confident that a way forward might be found. There was still anxiety. I was still down and flat. But a plan was beginning to form to get the kind of help that I had needed from the beginning. I was reminded of something that day. Something I have a tendency to forget when I become entangled in tasks. I was reminded of the value of someone taking the time to listen, to throw tasks out if relationship is more helpful. We didn’t do any physio exercises that afternoon. The value of stopping and helping someone sort through details, however awkward, could mean the difference between hope and despair.