Part 2: THE DIAGNOSIS
As an adult, I’ve had more than my fair share of illnesses, including encephalitis, meningitis, mastoidititis, appendicitis and kidney stones... All quite serious, a couple even life-threatening. And each with its own kind of pain/discomfort.
But strangely, despite a love for riding bicycles often and (mostly) fast, I’ve never had a serious injury. Most of my mountain bike crashes have been wash-outs on corners, so grazes and cuts on my legs, arms and hips have been my injury ‘norm’.
I’ve also never had to be taken to the ER in an ambulance by paramedics. A few ‘firsts’ were happening to me and it was deeply worrying.
During the hour or so from when I fell (flipped unexpectedly onto my back while doing a wheelie for those that missed Part 1) to when I arrived at Mulbarton hospital’s ER, I had decided that, based on my symptoms and pain, the best scenario was broken ribs and a punctured lung. Why else would breathing and talking be so difficult?
The worst scenario was a spinal injury that would require surgery and may alter my mobility for part of or the rest of my life.
I kept wriggling my toes and moving my legs a bit while in the ER just to console myself that if it was spinal, it wasn’t spinal chord and that paralysis would hopefully not be something I’d have to face.
Once the pain meds had started to take effect and after what seemed like a decade, I was undressed from my tight Lycra clothing, socks and cycling shoes and wheeled off for a CT Scan of my spine and X-rays of my pelvis (the latter because I’d pointed out pain in my right, rear pelvic area).
I knew this process was important and would deliver the news that I needed to know. It’s amazing that once you know, even if it’s a worst-case scenario, you can prepare yourself for the journey ahead.
The most difficult period of course is waiting for the results... Fortunately, during this wait, my wife, Joanne arrived with her Dad. Her reassuring touch and sympathetic smile was a huge comfort and her Dad’s humour, as always, a temporary mood lifter...
After what felt like another decade, the doctor on duty gave me some news.
“You have a fractured vertebra. We need a neurosurgeon to give you more info. We are trying to contact the neurosurgeon.”
More info?! I needed a LOT more info!
I managed to get the doctor to give me some idea of the seriousness of the injury. She didn’t commit to anything other than to say it seems like a stable fracture and probably won’t be life-changing.
Fortunately, an orthopaedic surgeon that had attended one of my MTB skillls clinics in 2017, recognised it was me and came over to chat to me.
He said that he didn’t do spines but from the CT scan report I had compression fractures of two vertebrae T6 and T9 (T = Thoracic region - middle section of the spine). He said that it would be the neurosurgeon’s call but it seemed to him the fractures wouldn’t require surgery and weren’t a danger to my spinal chord.
Phew! So it was TWO vertebrae! But I was a lot more comfortable hearing him speak about the possible prognosis, which sounded like a detour, not a different life path...
By now, I’d been in the ER for around two hours.
“What’s next?” I asked the ER doctor.
We’re still waiting for the neurosurgeon. We are going to admit you and he will see you and decide,” she explained.
At this stage, there was only severe pain when I tried to move, which was only small movements to try and be slightly more comfortable, none of which seemed to help.
But the pain was intense and spread deeply from my sides and across my back.
In the ward, I was given more pain medication, intravenously and while lying there, contemplating my new situation at around 21:00 (about 10 hours after my CT scan), in walked the neurosurgeon...
He was very relaxed and told me that I had 25% compression of T6 and 10% compression of T9. Anything over 50% may require surgery. No danger presented to my spinal chord he confirmed.
He said I should be able to start moving around soon too. The next day.
This helped me sleep a bit easier in my hospital bed, but I was still in a lot of pain, so it was far from a good night’s sleep.
The next morning I decided to get up and wash myself and brush my teeth in the adjacent bathroom. It was pure agony actually getting off the bed (the way I’d gotten of beds for my whole life), but good to be upright and on my feet for the first time in 24 hours!
I tried to take a pic of myself standing so I could send it to my family, easing their concerns for me. Very shaky pic. It looked like I felt.
Joanne stayed a bit after the 11:00-12:00 visitor time because the neurosurgeon had told me that he’d see me again around lunchtime.
Shortly after 12:00 he arrived and told me that I can go home.
Shew, I wasn’t expecting to be discharged that soon.
“I’ll give you a strong pain medication and you need bed rest for one week,” he said.
“Do I not need a brace,” I enquired, knowing how painful it was to make any torso movement and having been told by the ER doctor that I’d need one.
“I don’t think so. They can be very expensive - up to R40 or even R50 thousand Rand and medical aid doesn’t cover them 100%,” he added.
As he left, Joanne and I looked at each other and smiled.
“Well that’s pretty good news,” I said. “I think”...
Joanne went to collect my medication from the hospital pharmacy while I pulled some clothes on and said goodbye and good luck to my hospital roommate, who was about to have his second hip replacement.
A porter pushed me to the front door in a wheelchair and with a lot of difficulty and pain, I slowly eased my way into the passenger seat.
And that was the start of my recovery. Or so we thought.
At home, I sank weakly into my bed to start my one week of bed rest.
Little did I know it wasn’t quite the start of my recovery, but the beginning of what would be the most frightening week of my life...
Part 3: THE SECOND HOSPITAL ADMISSION (to come).
This photo was taken on 15/09/2018. Showing my family I’m okay a few hours after my fall...