Sally through the veil of pain

Sally lives with pain. It haunts her every waking hour and breaks into whatever sleep she manages to get.

by Michael McDonald

The pain began in the winter of 1993, when she visited a chiropractor in far north Queensland. A simple manipulation ended in disaster when the chiropractor rammed her right leg into her hip and ripped a nerve beyond its limits in her lower spine.

'It felt like a sledgehammer blow to the back,' she says, 'like a Chinese burn around the spine.'

Sally went into shock. She couldn't move or breathe. Using her training as a hypnotherapist she mentally fought to find calm as her muscles locked around the injury. The chiropractor helped her to her feet and then backed away, and Sally somehow drove home at ten kilometres an hour, there to collapse on her bed.

She says she then felt 'hot, boiling blood' inside her. Her internal organs gurgled and swelled. Her abdomen swelled up as if she were pregnant. She had no help for two and a half days and spent virtually the next three years in bed. The pain has stayed with her ever since.

'I've had no weekends off, no nine to five, no holidays, just pain all the time,' says Sally. 'There's inflammation of the nerves, I get shooting pains in my legs, muscle spasms, feeling severed in half. 'I got sick from the opium suppositories and other medication I have had to take for the pain. I tried to control it without drugs but I kept losing consciousness and now I can't take any medication as it makes me too ill two to three days after taking it. 'I used to enjoy dancing at home every night. Now whenever I go to sleep I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a Mack truck.'

Despite the pain Sally is dealing with it remarkably well, hoping soon to find a way to be free of it. As well as the pain, she has had to deal with the fact that the medicos didn't detect the problem for four years. X-rays soon after the incident showed no abnormality. The third collapse in a row from the pain ended in a two week stay in hospital, but still no-one detected its source.

September1993 saw Sally put in a wheelchair so she could move to Byron Bay, to find extra support from her old friends. Further X-rays and CAT scans showed nothing, and then in August 1994, 15 months after the injury, a haematoma, a lump of blood the size of a golfball, burst in her back. 'It had always felt like a fist in my spine. I'd been putting on a brave face, but when the haematoma burst, I burst,' says Sally.

She ended up in hospital for another week. It wasn't until October 1994 that she was advised to see a neurosurgeon to organise a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. The results of the scan were normal and the surgeon remarked, 'Quite often these things are unexplainable.'

Through that year and a half Sally tried physiotherapy, laser acupuncture, hydrotherapy and other methods to help her back, but her body was so sensitive she kept going into shock. Even loud noise can send her into a crisis. She also suffers from bowel and bladder problems, low energy, sluggish digestion, finds it hard eating much as a full abdomen painfully presses on the nerves, has pain on walking, sitting, lying, standing and for the past four years has needed Homecare help.

It wasn't until March this year that Sally got somewhere with an orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney. He was shocked that she'd seen three other specialists but hadn't received a proper diagnosis, felt there was nerve damage, and other injuries that weren't defined, and arranged for extensive nerve conduction tests.

The nerve tests were 'barbaric', says Sally. Leads were put all over her body and an electromagnetic current run through them. A doctor had to push a needle through her leg to the bone. Several times.

More tests followed, and it took Sally a month to get over them. the situation now is that her Sydney surgeons feel there is nerve root damage at vertebra L5, and another MRI scan is in order.

While nothing can take away her years of pain, Sally now hopes for appropriate diagnosis which will help her to heal. She is also seeking a legal remedy against the chiropractor with an action in the Supreme Court.

Sally's belief in the 'bigger picture', that her reality is not solely her physical experience, has kept her going. 'I had a lot of time for contemplation, especially when I couldn't read. 'After spending my time as consultant hypnotherapist helping others in trauma, I was bamboozled to find myself put in that situation. I remember lying in hospital in a foetal position and a voice inside me saying, "No-one can go through this but you."'

'Sally' is not Sally's real name. She chooses to remain anonymous for personal and legal reasons. I have known her for nine years, and it is both heart-breaking to see her have to fight so hard to tear aside the veil of pain, and inspiring to see her courage, and faith in a life beyond her physical burden.

Her other burden is, of course, financial. For someone on a disability allowance, A$700 for another MRI scan is considerable, not to mention the A$500 a half hour for a top surgeon's consultation, and Homecare at A$30 an hour for two and a half hours a week. Then there's the A$2,000 medical report and a legal battle to be won, around A$10,000.

So if you can help Sally take another step further, you can deposit money in the name of 'Sally' to the Australian Commonwealth Bank in account number 2514 1008 9147. She intends to pay back all her supporters, so send a copy of your bank receipt with name and address to Sally, PO 1447, Byron Bay, NSW 2481, Australia if you'd like the money returned. You can also get supporting documents on Sally's condition from that address.

'I have had a lot of beautiful, caring people helping me,' Sally says. Her endurance has been pushed beyond the limits, and you could forgive her for giving up. That she has not, and still finds the strength to laugh and smile, is a testimony to the spirit which dances inside her in spite of the pain.

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