The Trigger of My Health Challenges

In 2001 I worked on a medical (Cardiac and Haematology) ward at a local hospital as a Nursing Assistant. The only medical issues I had experienced up until this point were pelvic pain/ period issues and re-current Sinus problems. Ben was four, he had just started school.

One October evening Chris and I returned to our home in Ilfracombe after visiting his Mum. To save a lot of trips back to the car I carried a couple of coats in the crook of my right arm, along with a shoulder bag. Ilfracombe is a very hilly town. We lived on the lower edge of Hillsborough, a hill on the outskirts of town, near Hele Beach (see featured image).  Due to this, the top of our back garden was level with the upper floor. To get down to the back door, there were three flights of steps. The first row was very shallow and with only a few steps. On the first turn the steps were much steeper, like a flight of stairs in a house. As I stepped onto the first of this row of steps I lost my footing, due to a layer of mossy slime. As I was holding things in the crook of my right arm I was unable to grab hold of the top of the wall to steady myself. I slipped down all 9 steps, which were crazy paving slabs. The step my lower back landed on was sticking out in a small ‘point’. It hurt. A lot. We went inside, where we had a sweet cup of tea. It was very painful to walk, sit down and lay down. I rang in sick for the following day. I saw a G.P the following day. I had the biggest bruise I’ve ever seen on myself. She told me to rest and signed me off for a couple of weeks.  It took a lot longer than a couple of weeks to get better. Eventually I saw a doctor from the occupational health department at work.  I also saw a physiotherapist at my local GP practice. I remember at the time, when my back wasn’t improving, feeling that my GP didn’t believe me. I was sure something was wrong, but was told that ‘these things take time to get better’. I was never given a an x-ray or any other tests to see if anything was wrong.

By late November/early December I was so fed up with not being able to work that I lied to the occupational health doctor. I made out my back was much better than it was in order to go back to work. I returned to work at sometime in December. The Nursing Sister was very helpful at sorting my shifts and annual leave out. It worked out that I only needed to work 24 hours a week, due to having annual leave one day a week for a long length of time.

Returning to work was hugely demanding. I had lost some fitness whilst recovering from the back injury. I struggled with looking after patients who required two nurses to get them washed and dressed. It put a lot of strain on my back and joints to hold a patient on their side for their back to be washed and the bottom sheet changed. Also, so many of the tasks a Nursing Assistant carry out require ‘stooping’, leaning forward to measure someones temperature, leaning forward to reach the notes at the end of the bed, leaning forward to feed patients and give them drinks. Until you’re doing those tasks in pain, you don’t realise how bad they are for you! Generally the staff were very supportive and to start with I didn’t get put to do the patients who required more assistance. Whilst good for me, this actually put more strain on the other Nursing Assistants. One of the girls did say to me, when I said I didn’t feel able to carry out a heavy task and these are probably not the correct words ‘you shouldn’t be here if you can’t do all the work.’ Which is absolutely correct. I was upset about it at the time, as I was doing my best. This was in fact one of the first occurences of losing the ability to do something I was once able to do.

I had a lot of sick time after returning to work. A week after returning I came down with the Noro virus. I had Tonsillitis in spring of 2002. What I remember about that time is that it didn’t take much to flare my back pain up. I attended a back care course at the hospital during spring/summer of 2002, when once again, I was on long-term sick leave. Even by this point I still had not been given an x-ray or any other tests.  The back care course was 12 weeks in length, attending once a week for an hour. It was run by two physios. The first part was warm up and stretches and the second half was stamina based circuit. Attending this course saw a great improvement in my health. I lost weight due to all the walking I was doing. I actually think that by the end of the course I was the fittest I’ve ever been.

I was on track to go back to work and start Nurse Training at Exeter in September. I was so pleased that the hard work had paid off and my health had improved so much.

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