After spending most of the weekend nursing pain in my left shoulder and arm, and getting by on a couple of hours sleep, I arrived at work today, Monday pretty worn out. Sitting looking at a computer screen, with pain steaming out of my neck and down my arm, and the back of my left hand burning with pins and needles, courage deserted me. I threw in the towel. I rang Dr Ian Farey.
I didn’t know if he was still practising medicine. Last time I had seen him was 1998 – 17 years ago, when he operated on my Cervical spine. Looking up his address on the Internet gave me a jolt. Up came a photo of a building that formed a pivotal place in my life. I hadn’t been there for nearly 2 decades. I was one person when I walked into that building, all those years ago and quite a different person when I walked out.
The charmless building opposite Chatswood railway station, that housed the consulting rooms of Dr Ian Farey, one of Australia’s most renowned Cervical spine surgeons. I arrived in his rooms back then with a paralysed left arm and hand after a horse riding accident. I was bent over in pain and he operated the following day. He performed a Cervical spine fusion, at the junction of my cervical spine (C7) with the top of the thoracic spine (T1) That involved cutting a piece of bone out of my pelvis and jamming it into my neck, entering through the front of my throat. Way too much fun!
Six weeks after the operation – it’s called an Anterior Cervical Discectomy with bone fusion – I had regained the use of my arm but not the use of my left hand. It was virtually dead from the wrist down. I went in for a follow-up expecting that this would just be another speedbump. I expected Farey to tell me that the recovery would just take time. That I would soon regain the normal use of my hand. I remember his words:
Kelly: How long is this going to take to recover, till I get my hand back?
Farey: I’m sorry to say that the recovery you’ve had so far, is all that you’re going to have. It won’t get any better than it is now
Kelly: What never?
Farey: Yes, I’m afraid so. It’s most unusual but you’ll be left with permanent disability in your left hand and a partial disability in your left arm
I was rendered mute.
Kelly: Well just do another operation and fix it up. There must be something you can do.
Farey: No by now the muscles in your hand have atrophied. If they were going to come back to life, they would have done so by now. You’ve had permanent damage to the nerves running down from your spine into your hand and arm and the surgery didn’t fix it.
Kelly: So you mean it’s going to be like this for the rest of my life? I held my now lifeless left hand up in front of his face.
Farey: Yes I’m afraid so.
I looked at him in profound disbelief. I had come to Farey comforted by his reputation as one of the best Cervical spine surgeons in the world. I was devastated at his suggestion that he couldn’t he fix me up? I didn’t want to be a cripple. I travelled down in the lift, feeling I was standing on one of those hinge points in existence where you’ve left an old life behind and a new one is beginning – a new one you can’t see. My legs nearly buckled underneath me. I staggered out onto the footpath thronged by busy commuters coming out of Chatswood railway station, all oblivious to my recent news which though important to me, was immaterial to them. I looked at their left arms. All I could think was, Oh shit. I repeated it to myself, over and over, standing solitary and alone on the crowded footpath.
I didn’t blame God then. I had no idea of what a nasty, vindictive whack-job He could be. My hand has never recovered
I made an appointment to see Farey in a week’s time. They had to dig my medical records out of the archive. He wants me to have an MRI, but they saw in the records that I can’t do the standard MRI due to claustrophobia. It’s akin to being buried alive. I’m going to see him anyway but I feel very threatened by it. A walk back to the past. A ride up that dreadful elevator. I hope I don’t have to have more surgery.
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years