My Parkinson’s Journey #4
It’s Getting Serious Now!
Work was becoming a major problem for me, to put it bluntly I hated every god dam minute of it. I’d put in a request to move to a different team, one that would utilise my skills more effectively and more importantly my immediate colleagues would be UK based allowing me to interact on a more personal level rather than endless mind numbing conference calls. Although that element of it never went away due to the nature of the business I was operating in. To my delight my request came to fruition in March 2016. I was happy with the move but yet again there was still that feeling of apathy and just something not right with me. I had a great well paid job, flexibility with my working hours and if I chose to pursue it, a fulfilling career ahead of me. But I still wasn’t happy!!
I was doing a lot more walking nowadays especially with my old friend Neil. I think the guy must have trodden almost every hill in the British Isles, he was a source of great knowledge and always had a story to tell of his very colourful past. One walk he did take me on was the Fairfield Horseshoe, which is a series of peaks overlooking the north of Lake Windermere. On a clear day the views are breath-taking. Unfortunately on this particular day Neil being a gentlemen in his early eighties bitten off more than he could chew and didn’t manage to make the whole walk so we cut it short. Nevertheless it was still a great day out. A few weeks later I took Mike and Phil (whom I’d previously climbed Ben Nevis with) to the Fairfield Horseshoe and we managed to complete the whole 11 miles of it.
During one of my many walks with Neil I noticed that towards the end of our walks and particularly on the downhill stage a pain would develop in my right foot, it was as if a stone had found its way into my boot and causing me a considerable amount of discomfort. Initially I just put it down to something and nothing but it became a real problem with the pain appearing in much shorter time scales on future walks.
It was after a local walk at a place called Boulsworth Hill in August 2016 that I decided that I needed to get my backside to the doctors to get this thing fixed. Little did I know it at the time but that would be the last walk that I did with Neil.
To cut to the chase with the foot problem, it would turn out to be an ongoing issue and to this day still is. After visits to the Podiatrist, Orthotics and Orthopaedics it would turn out to be a dropped second metatarsal in my right foot which is currently being badly managed by Orthotic insoles. It may need surgery but this is still, to this day, ongoing. What is important is that this particular annoying but minor problem would mask what was to come.
It was October 2016 and guess what, for the third time in 18 months the black dog had returned and yet again I had to take time off work. So my recently resurrected career was in ruins again. Something else also happened whilst I was off work, I developed a stiff neck! No big deal, I did spend a lot of time monging out on the sofa watching movies during this period off work. It will eventually go away.
Well it didn’t!!
I’d also started to walk oddly, I can’t really describe the walk but it just seemed an effort as opposed to something that is usually such a natural thing to do. I concluded it was a limp due to my metatarsal problem albeit at the time I didn’t really know what was wrong with my foot.
I eventually got back to work after around 3 weeks, tooled up with Anti-depressants, again! However I did develop fatigue, I seemed to be constantly tired. So by now I felt like I was starting to crumble, I had a dodgy foot, stiff neck and was knackered all the time.
By December 2016 I still had the stiff neck and it was now becoming a real concern. The fatigue had subsided to a degree. I’d been to see my doctor and I removed myself with the doctor’s permission from the anti-depressants. My energy levels increased (a bit) overnight. So the conclusion to the fatigue was that it was the anti-depressants. One problem fixed, now to the next.
I’d decided to try a deep tissue sports massage for my neck problem. The lady that provided the treatment was sure that it was muscle related and was confident she could fix it. After the first session I was very sore for the first day which apparently is completely normal but I was assured that things would improve. Well the soreness went away but I still had a stiff neck. So I decided to try it again. Unfortunately with the same result. By now she recommended that I see an Osteopath to rule out any skeletal related problems. This was starting to get a bit pricey!!
Visiting the Osteopath was like de ja vue, another health professional making a packet and giving me false hope. I had a couple of sessions of back twisting and neck clicking to no avail. I still had a stiff neck albeit on some days I would hardly notice it so came to the conclusion that eventually it would right itself. I was certainly not getting into a panic about it.
Christmas 2016 past and I brought in 2017 the same as usual, a few quiet drinks and the promise of half a dozen New Year’s resolutions which I usually ended up breaking by the 3rd January.
During January 2017 things were kicking off at work, there were rumours of yet another round of redundancies. It’s one of the things I hated about the job, there were cutbacks every quarter but I always seemed to have dodged the bullets. But there were strong rumours that the area I was working in was likely to be hit this time.
My walking also seemed to be getting worse, as before I couldn’t describe exactly what was going on, just something not right and a lot of foot slapping. The limp due to my metatarsal problem seemed to be getting worse or was it? The whole thing was just odd, I did come to the conclusion that there must have been some sort of correlation between my dodgy foot problem and my stiff neck. The limp was putting my body out of kilter and so causing the stiff neck problem. I should have been a doctor, all I have to do is get my foot sorted and the neck problem will go away. I wish!!
The rumours were bang on. I was invited to a company conference call towards the end of January 2017. A total of 1,500 lambs to the slaughter were invited and we were callously told that 1,100 of us had to go voluntarily or dragged out kicking and screaming. For me it was great news to be honest, this was an opportunity for a fresh start and maybe even to look at doing something completely different with my life. To that end I volunteered, took the money and ran.
I was quietly confident that I wouldn’t find it too difficult to get another job but it wasn’t that easy. I’d applied for lots of jobs had a couple of interviews with little success. It started to look a bit scary and I did have thoughts of dusting off my old HGV license from my army days and maybe doing that, which to be fair sounded appealing. A life on the open road or would it be just one big traffic jam……
Anyway things came good and within a couple of months was offered a position with one of my old company’s rivals. A very similar role but nevertheless I was very pleased with my efforts and was determined to make a real go of my new job. I felt like I’d been given a second chance following the turmoil of the last couple of years. However I’d decided to postpone my start date to early July, now was the time to take some downtime, recharge my batteries and get my mojo back.
During the job hunting period my neck problem continued to make life difficult. I went to see my doctor and demanded a physio referral which I was granted. The physio appointment was a bit of a joke, I gave the guy my theory on the foot problem and guess what? He agreed. So he sent me packing with some YouTube links for neck stretching exercises. I did miss a trick at that appointment as I’d started to lose some dexterity in my left hand but for some reason played it down and just said my left hand feels a bit shaky now and then. He didn’t pursue the line of questioning and I just thought I was being a drama queen.
My job offer came through in early May 2017 and as I wasn’t starting until early July I had a couple of months to enjoy things and the first decision I made was to throw some money at my neck problem and get it sorted once and for all. I decided to try acupuncture. Honestly, the health professionals of these alternative medicines in my area must have been rubbing their hands together. So the very nice Chinese man who did the acupuncture examined me and immediately came back with a cast iron diagnosis. You av spondylitis, you pay for acupuncture, me fix. Get in, I love this guy. Unfortunately £400 later I still had a stiff neck.
In June 2017 I eventually had an orthopaedic consultation about my foot. This guy was going to be my saviour, get the foot sorted and everything else will sort itself out. The conclusion from that consultation was that I had the wrong orthotic insole, so a new one would be ordered and if all else fails surgery could sort it. So a bit of relief, a plan was being followed now which would end the misery.
It was my 50th in June and we all went on a family holiday to Crete to celebrate it. Myself, my partner Karen and our kids with their partners and my granddaughter. Ten days of, sunbathing, eating, drinking, relaxing with all the people that I love. It really was a memorable holiday. Although by now the neck pain had slowly creeped into my back as well and in all honesty my health felt bad. I was popping prescription strength co-codamol on a regular basis to keep away the neck, back and foot pain. I looked back at some holiday pictures a few weeks ago and there is one of us all sat on the floor at a crowded Crete airport on the journey home. I can honestly say I don’t look like somebody who had just enjoyed a 10 day break. I look like absolute s**t.
I had a week or so at home on returning from Crete before I started my new job. A family friend (the local plumber), highly recommended a chiropractor. He claimed that this guy could work miracles and he had used him for years to sort out his troublesome back problems. What the hell I thought I was willing to try anything now.
Well it was the same old story, yes no problem I can fix it, a bit like bob the builder can!! I’d had 3 sessions with him and there was no change so he highly recommended an x-ray which I thought was a great idea, all at yours truly expense of course.
My job start date came. I had to be in London for a corporate induction. I travelled down the night before and was picked up from the hotel the morning after. This was my fresh start, although it didn’t feel like it. I felt ill, this was not the start I was hoping for. The day finished, I travelled home but had to be up early hours the next morning to travel to South Yorkshire only to find that my manager I was meant to be meeting was in Paris. Good start!!
I had my x-ray with the Chiropractor during my first week in my new job, I was just doing induction type stuff so it wasn’t a big problem although not ideal to be already asking for time off.
Well it was a eureka moment at the x-ray. There was a definite and clear misalignment of my vertebrae. At last, it’s not my foot or anything else that is the problem it’s that. The Chiropractor claimed he wouldn’t have any problem at all fixing it, it just may take a few hundred quid more!!!
My first few weeks in my new job were quiet, due to the holiday season time of year, big projects were not being signed off so work was scarce which is pretty normal. It gave me a chance to have a more sedentary start rather than being put in at the deep end as well. It also gave me the space to get as many sessions in as possible with the chiropractor to get me back to normal.
After a dozen or so sessions and close to £350 later there was no improvement. This was now getting depressing. I started to feel like I was in deep s**t. Not only did I have the aches and pains, I felt awful. I did speak to my new staff manager about my neck problem and he advised that I take advantage of the company medical insurance that I now had access to. So I did. After an initial telephone conversation with a senior physio from Nuffield health I was immediately referred to a neurosurgeon the following day.
Finally I was getting somewhere, although not the start to my new job I was hoping for. I felt like a problem child and I’d only been there a few weeks. The stress of it all also seemed to make my symptoms worse. Even at this stage I still didn’t think I had anything remotely serious wrong with me. The neurosurgeon examined me, listened to my story to date, the foot problem, stiff neck, dodgy walking etc. I even showed him the x-rays I’d had done with the chiropractor as I had pictures on my iPhone. He strongly suspected a bad disc which potentially could have been stenosis, a condition were by the spinal cord gets crushed with misaligned discs and so causing all sorts of weird problems. He referred me for an MRI scan on my neck to confirm what he thought. The scan was the day after!! Money talks!!
I had the results consultation with the neurosurgeon on the Saturday morning following my scan only to be told that the MRI Scan on my neck was fine. He did confirm the misalignment but also confirmed it wasn’t enough to be causing me any problems. So he said “You now need a brain scan” WTF this was now getting scary.
I’d also been assigned to a project and was having to produce solution design documentation for one of my company’s customers. The timescales were tight, I was new to the company and I felt like crap. Things were not good, my stress levels were through the roof, my neck would seize up it was that stiff and I couldn’t sit at my laptop for more than 10 minutes without being in pain or feeling nauseas. This was my worst nightmare.
I went for the brain scan by myself and not scared to say it, I was terrified of what they might find. This was Thursday 17th August. The neurosurgeon called me at home on Friday 18th and told me that the brain scan was clear. The relief was overwhelming, my first thoughts were “well whatever is wrong, it isn’t going to kill me”.
I was now referred to a Neurologist who I would see on the 24th August 2017 (P day Blog 1). Even at this point I’d never even thought of Parkinson’s, well maybe for a nanosecond.
And that folks is how I arrived at my diagnosis day depicted in Blog 1. I am still travelling this journey and have stories to tell including:
A Neurologist that says I am in good shape!!! F***g really!!!
A heart attack brought on by Parkinson’s medication
And a few dark moments fighting my inner demons and bad thoughts of what my future might be