September 23, 2006 was a beautiful, still, sunny autumn day.I was in the UK to visit my elderly mother and other family members and had taken the train to London to visit a friend.
After a traditional afternoon tea at her home, we went for a walk in a cemetery park - one my friend had walked through with her dog almost every day for the past fifteen years. About half-way around, my friend and I heard a massive crack and a tree fell, the 1.5 tons crushing me underneath. What are the odds on that - a tree falling on someone in a cemetery on a sunny day in London?
My main injuries were two broken vertebrae in my back, broken ribs and later a punctured lung. A few days later I had titanium rods and screws inserted in my back.
This was the beginning of my three years of chronic pain.
It took three months before I was able to manage a flight back to Australia and in that time I faced a constant battle trying to manage the pain, using morphine patches and regular paracetamol.
On arriving back in Melbourne and finding a wonderful general practitioner, I was immediately weaned off the morphine and referred to a pain rehabilitation hospital, a counsellor and orthopaedic and neurology specialists for advice and support.
It was here that I was taught skills to manage my pain, although I was also told that it might never go away. This was a severe blow to me.
I had been used to being fit and well and when I caught the occasional cold I knew if I drank plenty of fluids, ate well and took vitamins it was only a matter of time before it disappeared. Chronic pain was a new ball-game but I was determined I would not let it get the better of me. After all, I was extremely lucky to be alive and I was sure I could conquer the pain in time.
After rehab, I fell back into my old ways - taking on too much, thinking I could return to work without too much trouble. How wrong I was.
I could not sit or stand for more than twenty minutes so I was unable to manage commuting. I look fit and well, so no one would offer me a seat on the train if I was standing. When I got home, I could only grab some food and crawl into bed. Each day, the pain grew - until I had to acknowledge I was not Superwoman.
I returned to my GP and the pain specialist and undertook more rehabilitation - physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, chiropractic etc.
It was then that I realised I would have to practice what I had been taught. I also came to the conclusion that I needed to re-invent myself if I was to continue what I enjoyed most and to live a full life.
On a daily basis, I give myself more time to do things or to get places. I leave the dishes to soak in the sink because the action of scrubbing them is still painful. I pace the housework. I try to travel off-peak. I use a trolley to carry shopping as I can no longer manage heavy bags. I ask for help when I need it. I have learnt what works for me, what is important and what can wait.
My life has been totally changed. I take regular medication, varying it based on need. I have ongoing support from my GP who co-ordinates my treatment plan.
During the past three years, I have looked for information on chronic pain and found that most of the information I gleaned, was from American websites.
I wanted the knowledge and support of an organisation that knew what it was like to have ongoing pain – and then I stumbled across Chronic Pain Australia. Based in NSW, it was only started through goodwill and a grant from a local Rotary club. This organisation has now extended its great work by offering a telephone service to people struggling to cope with their pain. As a member of this organisation, I would like to see a similar one develop in Victoria.
I have found there are far more issues around chronic pain than just dealing with it. It is an invisible issue – no one knows that a large percentage of the population are dealing with it on a daily basis.
Many people are accused of being bludgers if they accept disability payments. People with chronic pain are not the most reliable because sometimes it takes longer to get going. We miss out on social events, unless we have a plan to leave early without being noticed (party poopers).
Many people feel isolated and have low self-esteem through losing jobs, work-mates, friends and family. Society does not recognise chronic pain. They think it is just something the elderly have from time to time or it is an excuse used by weak people who are lazy or avoiding work.
For some, they develop a victim mentality because they find it just too hard to try anything other than just coping with pain. Some become suicidal.
Like many people who have had major challenges in their lives, I have developed my own holistic plan - to get a balance in my life. There are positives to be found in negatives and I have been lucky to gain a closer relationship with family and friends.
Having a warped sense of humour has enabled me to see even more of the funny side of life. I am writing my book, doing some training, developing as a keynote/motivational speaker and working towards delivering programs for people who need direction and support to move on with their lives.