I had had about 10 years of mild intermittent back pain and had built up a fear of it becoming worse – having been told at the start by my GP that “what can you expect when you weigh as much as you do? Now you have a bad back it will probably only get worse”. In December 2009 it did just that; got a little better and then got much worse in March 2010. During that time I was gradually prescribed more and more painkillers until by May I was taking high doses of 4 different types including a nerve blocker. I cried on a daily – almost hourly basis. I woke up to 20 times a night in extreme pain – I didn’t sleep for more than about 20 minutes at a stretch. I could sometimes get into a position in a chair or kneeling where the pain dissipated, but I knew it would be agony when I had to move. I felt my life was over and in truth I reached the point where I hoped it would be, as I literally could not stand the pain anymore. I cried over everything that I felt I had lost – all the things I would never be able to do and for my poor children whom I felt had lost their mother.
Wherever I looked I saw an image or a reminder. I had this refrain ‘I’ll never do that again’ – for big things like cycling or dancing; simple things like cuddling up to my kids on the sofa and mundane things like cooking, washing my own feet or helping my Dad…and as for work; I assumed that I would have to give up work which was especially worrying as I am the main family breadwinner.
After the admission to A&E I had an MRI scan done which showed a "massive prolapsed disc" compressing the nerves on both sides even though I only had pain down one leg. It was suggested I be referred for surgery, but in the meantime I had found out about TMS and joined the programme and started to see some symptoms lessening. When the NHS Physio called me to tell me the results of the MRI she couldn’t believe that I was feeling a little better, so held off on the surgical referral and gave me some exercises instead.
Middle of May 2010; Ended up in A&E in Durham after five months of doctors and physio visits.
When this picture was taken I had Paracetamol going in my veins following some morphine, more morphine had gone in my mouth (plus a good few breaths of entenox) and I had diclofenac up my bottom. This was the first time I slept for more than about 20 minutes in a couple of months. I couldn’t stand up straight at all. I was in pain all the time from Dec 2009 until the middle of the TMS support group at the end of May. I pretty much struggled to walk from one end of the house to the other.
A note from Marie's son Tristan;
"It was sad coming back from school that day, I knew mum was in a lot of pain but I didn’t expect her to have been taken away in an ambulance, and when my biggest brother said that she’d been taken to hospital I was dead worried.
It was very sad when mum thought she might not be able to go to Tunisia with us, but in the end the Physiotherapist decided it was best if she did go. In the end it was better she did go because going and having a bad time was better than staying back and having an even worse time. Even though she did not go on the excursion so we missed her for those two days, she still had a mega time. It was definitely better than being stuck in the house for a week and in the end it was partly the holiday that made her a bit better because in a way it made her realise that she could still do more things than she thought. Although she is better it was still depressing because we had no idea that it was going to turn out that way."
I followed both the TMS (SIRPA) programme and the exercises – but frankly I don’t think even the Physio expected the exercises to work…I remember the day when she asked if I thought a session in their hydrotherapy pool would help and I had to tell her that I had been swimming. She was pleased and encouraging and didn’t dismiss the TMS approach – although she did tell me to keep all the painkillers handy and have a plan ready for ‘flare ups.’
It certainly wasn’t a magic wand; some of the techniques on the programme did not work for me and some (the ones I was most sceptical about) I think were the most helpful. But generally believing that things could get better was the turning point.
Graphic demonstration of Marie’s recovery: Marie recorded the reduction in pain and medication on these graphs. ‘these graphs’
Mid July 2010; me and my youngest, Tristan out with his mates on a bike ride. They were very impressed I ‘went over the jumps’!
I still obviously have the prolapsed disc and then I couldn’t walk too fast due to some left over muscle weakness in my leg, but I could go anywhere I wanted virtually pain free by bike….. , or if I could can swim there!
I had just played a small (sedentary) part in my theatre group’s summer show (another thing I had given up and thought was gone for ever) and that night I went out and boogied - doing something that just 3 months ago I thought I wouldn’t be able to do (a friend’s birthday disco dressed as the London tube map!).
January 2011– I would describe myself as virtually pain free. I can do everything that I used to do. I have achieved most of the goals that I set during the programme. I’m incredulous when I look back at my notes at the time; one reads “good night’s sleep; only woke up five times”!! When I was in pain it seemed as though it had lasted for ever and would never end.
January 2012 - I still have a little numbness in my right foot but I mostly don’t even notice it. I have had no back pain or sciatica for a year! In the past year I have taken up Zumba and open water swimming - swimming a mile in Loch Ness in September. I would urge everyone to read about the TMS / SIRPA approach which you can do for free by getting the books from the library, researching online or chatting with Georgie. There’s no commitment and no money needed unless you feel that the full programme will help. If it feels like it doesn’t fit your situation then you have lost nothing, but if it sounds like it might be for you then what have you got to lose?
I have realised how often over the years I said to myself and family ‘be careful’ when they had to lift or bend. Last winter I shovelled snow without worry and with just a few twinges – all the time saying “this will make my back stronger” – and it did!
Marie's husband - 'Thank you for saving my wife's 'life'."