That Friday in June 1990 began like any other Friday – two adults, three teenagers, family pets, all heading out. I was totally unaware that this was the day "Super Mum" would die and life as I knew it would be over.
After work I did the weekly grocery shopping and arrived home just as a shower of rain was starting. As I rushed to get the groceries inside without getting too wet, I lifted a heavy carton and twisted awkwardly at the same time. Although I felt no severe physical injury at the time, during the night my back went into spasm and when I woke I was unable to stand upright.
Eventually I phoned my family GP, and he and my local pharmacist became key members of my "rehabilitation team". After numerous tests over the next few months I discovered that, in that awkward moment, three of my lumbar discs had herniated, impinging on my spinal nerves and sending radiating pain into my legs and feet. It also caused all manner of strange sensations in many different parts of my body – including aching teeth!
I got to know numerous healthcare professionals and had two shopping bags full of various medications. I also had a library of books on managing chronic pain, as my spinal condition had progressed after three surgeries and an implanted dorsal column stimulator.
I went from being an optimistic, confident "Super Mum" to a helpless, depressed (suicidal), patient, with no self confidence, believing that I was useless to the family and my husband. Isolated, lonely, unable to cope with the constant, severe, intense, draining, exhausting pain night and day, I was totally exhausted.
I always believed that the next treatment would fix me, and was thoroughly devastated when it didn't. My only comforts were my pets, a couple of wonderful, understanding friends who never left me, and, of course, my husband.
My recovery began when I attended a pilot of the ADAPT course, then run by Sydney Pain Management Centre. There I learned that I had nothing that could be fixed, rather, I had developed a sensitized nervous system causing chronic pain that could be managed.
I also had an epiphany when the grief process was explained and I realised I was passing through the grief steps. "Super Mum" had indeed perished, but it was possible to reconstruct a new "me" who could still lead an enjoyable, useful life by learning how to manage pain.
I am also indebted to the American Chronic Pain Association and its founder, Penney Cowan, who trained me to become a support group leader. Their leaders' manual reinforced all that I had been taught in my pain management course and I was able to regain my self-respect and confidence. Eventually I led many support groups all over Sydney.
The other essential element in my recovery was a wonderful pain specialist who worked with me to titrate the dose I needed of slow-release morphine. Once this dose was reached and strict conditions on its use understood, this medication allowed me to behave normally and also gave my body respite from its continual fight against pain. Through nerve pathway regeneration, I was able to gradually reduce my dose of morphine until I needed it no longer.
Today I take no medication, have no pain, but always exercise, stretch and scan my body for stress. My life has been fulfilled in a direction I never imagined. I have built the new "me".