Walking into the Physio room at Calvary Rehabilitation Hospital, I was ready to dig in; the beginning of my last week of outpatient rehab. It’s been ten weeks since I was first admitted into Wakefield Hospital and six weeks since I started as an outpatient. I followed the same routine. I put my bags down on the chair beside the Physio bed and walked over to the stepper machine; I put my walking stick down, lifting my feet onto the machine, I started stepping down. It was just a passing thought to begin with. Is my left leg feeling weaker? My response to myself was, ‘Of course, not! Just get on with it’. I had, after all, just done three hours of lecturing standing up. The three minutes complete on the stepper, I went to lift my feet off. And I couldn’t. I had to help my feet off the steps. I hadn’t done that for two weeks. My Physio asked me to walk over to the barre, rather than continuing onto the Pilates Reformer. I started walking, the thought nagging that my left leg didn’t feel right. I then heard myself asking the Physio whether she could check the muscle strength in my legs. Something wasn’t right. A shadow of concern passed quickly over the Physio’s face and she asked me to lie down on the Physio bed. I did what I was asked, I made my way over to the bed and lay down on my back. The Physio then asked me to lift up my left leg. I tried. But my leg didn’t move. I could feel my hip flexor muscle trying to engage, but nothing happened. The Physio asked me to do the same on my right, my weaker leg. I tried, and my right leg lifted up two inches from the bed. My right leg was suddenly the stronger leg. My Physio went through testing each muscle again as she did the first week that I started as an outpatient. The sudden loss of muscle function was all too apparent. She stopped, writing something in the notes on my file, she then asked me to remain lying down while she contacts the doctor overseeing my case at the rehab hospital. Some ten minutes later, she returns saying that the doctor is contacting the surgeon in case he needed me to go straight back to Wakefield Hospital. That was the last thing I wanted. Thankfully though, the surgeon didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital that day. I was functional enough to wait until the next day. I cannot even begin to describe what that moment was like when I was trying so hard to think the movement into existence, willing for that thought to be turned into a visible action, and nothing happened; it’s nauseating, gut emptying. Then I felt an unidentifiable feeling wash over me, just utter shock. Without much thought, I rolled off the Physio bed and made my way to the pool to begin hydro. The surgeon instructed that I was to continue on as usual. So I continued.
I wasn’t anxious. I didn’t lose sleep. Unexpectedly though, my Wednesday did not begin well at all. I woke up with my legs feeling heavy. Trying to bend up my legs to roll over took a lot of mental effort, but I managed. I was slower than slow getting ready for work. I knew I had a tough meeting that morning. I was resigned to whatever the outcome was going to be. Arriving at College, I walked up to the three steps that led up to the red front door. Since returning to work, I haven’t had a problem going up the steps, leading with my stronger leg – my left. Now I could hardly lift my left leg up onto the stair. I had to place all my weight through my walking stick and through the hand rail to go up the stairs. And I knew then that there was more weakness in my legs compared with the day before. I made it to my office, started getting some lecture preparation for the day done until the time of my meeting. I left that meeting emotionally drained. I can’t say what the meeting was about right now. But I left shaking. A mix of disbelief and shock still clouding my mind when I returned to my office. It was all too much. And I still needed to get through my appointment with the surgeon and then three hours of lectures that afternoon. I needed space and air. So I made my way to a cafe before meeting with my surgeon. I just needed to breathe.
My mind was absorbed in proof reading when I heard the surgeon call my name. Proof reading a paper was the only way I could distract myself. I put the paper away, got up, and made my way to his office. The surgeon asked what happened the day before, so I explained. Unsurprisingly, he asked to check my muscle strength for himself. But this time my right leg wouldn’t lift off the bed either. And the surgeon just kept repeating the same instruction to lift my legs off the bed and all I could say was, ‘I’m trying’. He tested a few more movements and admitted that what he was seeing was a change from two weeks before. He tested my reflexes. My reflexes in both feet had gone as well. When I was returning back to the chair in front of the surgeon’s desk, I heard him say, ‘That left leg doesn’t want to work.’ I corrected him before my mind caught up, ‘struggling to work’. Both of us now sitting down, in that earnest and gentle way of speaking that he tends to use when he wants me to hear, the surgeon told me that there could only be two explanations for the sudden weakness, infection or a recurrent disc. He didn’t mention a third option. There were only two. He asked me to get another MRI done, this time of my whole spine, and within the next couple of days. I grimaced remembering the state of my work schedule for the remainder of the week. He clarified that the weekend would be fine. The MRI needed to happen though. When I was standing up to leave his office, the surgeon said smiling, ‘It really is good to see you’. I only half heard, my only response was another grimace; his words ‘recurrent disc’ were replaying too loudly in my mind. With the MRI order in hand, I left the surgeon’s rooms and walked to Radiology. The MRI was scheduled for Sunday. And the four day wait began.