Kate's Sciatica

My story begins just 7 weeks ago and since then, my life has become concentrated around one thing: my back. At the ripe old age of 21, my back should be the last thing I need worry about. I should be concerned with what clothes to wear this Friday or how to pay rent. But instead, my every waking thought is about my posture, how to lift myself out of a chair or even to simply walk across my apartment.

It is a terrible, awful, heart-breaking thing to be terrified of your own body, but that is how I feel now and I can only pray that this is something that will someday not be a constant factor.

Anyway, it all began 7 weeks ago.  It was my last day at work before starting a new job. My previous job had been for an electrical store and what happened was that I was in the top of the warehouse getting a TV for a customer, but the conveyor belt was out of order, so I had to carry it downstairs and across the shop floor.

The pain itself didn't start till about 3 or 4 days later and started simply with tenderness and stiffness in my lower lumbar region. I didn't take much notice of it, as I'm a heavy girl and these sorts of lift-related strains weren't new to me. But when it didn't go away, and instead got worse, I went to see my doctor when I was finally unable to move very well. I wasn't taken very seriously and was sent away with orders to relax and to take paracetemol. I wish it was as simple as that.

2 weeks later, I was back in the doctors office, as the pain had increased and I was by then hardly able to walk or, god forbid, bend down at all. The doctor then seemed to take me seriously and examined me.  After seeing me grimace in pain on the bed and being unable to lift my right leg higher than 40 degrees, he sent me away with a prescription for co-drydamol and diclofenac (heavy duty painkiller and non-steroidal antinflams).

For a while, these seemed to help. But then on a Friday, that was particularly icy, I was walking back to my car when I slipped on a patch of ice.  Instead of falling,  I caught myself and I felt something in my back click and an extreme jolt of pain shot up my right thigh to my lower back.

As it was the weekend,  I  thought I would take it easy and did very little moving in order to rest my back, but this worked to my detriment.

On that Sunday evening, I went to sit down on the bed, when suddenly the most excruciating pain hit me in my right buttock and right side of my back. I started screaming and writhing, trying to find a position to help my back, in utter desperation. I was yelling and crying, utterly hysterical with pain and fear. For anyone who knows this pain, I imagine your expression to be an understanding one.

At length,  I had curled up on the bed and the throbbing spasms seemed to lessen. I even managed to get myself down the 3 flights of stairs to the car, where my terrified boyfriend was going to drive me to hospital, but upon trying to get into the car, I was once again attacked by those god-awful, terrifying spasms and cramps and it took all my effort to not scream again.

I couldn't get out of the car either, so instead had to wait there, propped across 2 seats to wait for the ambulance. After being given some tramadol at the hospital, I was sent away with an 'it'll get better in time' and nothing more.

I was never told what to do, how to deal with it, what caused it, no offer of further tests, nothing. I felt utterly ignored and patronized. I was miserable.

I was just grateful that after an hour in hospital, I felt able to get into the car to go home. I thought all was well, a one time thing, until the next night, when the same thing occurred once more. I don't know who was more scared; me or my boyfriend, who was helpless as his girlfriend writhed on the bed screaming in pain.

That was two weeks ago and thankfully there has been only one attack since. I call them attacks, because I see no other fitting word for something that comes on so suddenly and hurts in ways that are completely indescribable and unspeakable.

If you've never known this pain, then I feel inclined to comment that you know nothing about the nature of pain. As a side-note, the paramedics have this pain-chart thing that goes from 1-10 based on facial expressions and reflex actions and I was scored a '9'. An '8' is the top end of 'severe' and '9-10' is 'unbearable'. '10' is presumably when you pass out. I could only wish I could pass out.

Anyway, since then, I  have been on steady medication and signed off work, which I am to conclude tomorrow when I go back to work for the first time in 2 weeks.

I have bought a memory-foam mattress topper, which helps to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve and to regulate pressure on the surrounding muscles.

I still cannot walk or move much, but I manage most days and  I thank every star in the sky for that simple luxury. But still, I am too terrified to sleep on my back, because that triggered an attack once at 2 AM. I dare not sleep on my right.

Every time I get the slightest jolt, I have to calm myself down immediately, as panic can trigger an attack and my GP has said that if this is still the case next week, when I next see her, she will prescribe me anti-depressants and anti-spasmodics.

It has been such a short time since this happened, but it feels like years and I honestly don't know where I'd be without my boyfriend, who has done so much for me and is always there. When an attack happens, I make him talk to me, about anything and everything, as his voice soothes me.

I'm 21 and I've been told this could last years if the cause is found to be more serious. If I'm lucky it'll be something like my hips and pelvis are misaligned from the lifting and the slip. If I'm unlucky, it'll be a herniated lumbar disc.

It has been miserable and isolating and at times, I cannot help but sob, because it hurts so much and it's so frustrating. But at the moment, it is tolerable and that is the most important thing.

I have yet to be diagnosed, because it's taken doctors this long to take me seriously and realize this is not a simple case of persistent lower back pain. Next week, I hope to be referred to get x-rays, MRI and cat scans and then to a neurosurgeon and an osteopath.

What I have found to help is my medication, sleeping on my side with a pillow in between my legs to straighten the muscles out and to have my arm hooked around either a pillow or my bf to support my front and make sure I don't fall forward in my sleep.  Also alternating heat and cold on the area feels good.

I'm partial to deep freeze more than deep heat, but a hot water bottle brings relief. Trying to walk straighter helps. Annoyingly, I have to keep moving frequently. I can not be lazy with this thing. I spent that whole weekend not moving and had my first attack on Sunday. The muscles cannot be allowed to stiffen from inactivity or I will feel the pain in due time. The mattress topper has also proven it's worth.

In all, this is something that no one seems to know much enough, but in all my searches to date it is shocking how many people suffer from it. I wrote an apology to the guy who lives below me for the screaming and he wrote a note back saying simply 'an an occasional sufferer of sciatic pain myself, you have my sincerest sympathies'.

There's so many of us out there and yet most of the stories I've read from people seem to include a note about how the doctor simply wasn't interested or tried to fob it off on something else. The only reason I know it is sciatica is because the lovely paramedic did take me seriously when she saw what parts of me where spasming and said 'I've had it too'.

This is not something I want to live with, but I know understand that it may get to that point, in whatever incarnation. I would not wish this on the wickedest person on earth, but now that I am more in the know about it and that it may take a long time to heal, I feel better able to cope with it.

It is useless to think it will only last a couple days or weeks, because you will only to let down. You have to take it one day at a time.

- Kate




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