Brenda Cote's Story


I left my homeland of Canada and came to England in 2006. I have always been healthy and energetic. As far as my health goes, I experienced several surgeries: two C-sections; appendectomy (ruptured); a hysterectomy that involved three surgeries in the course of one year and other medical issues. Regardless of the severity of my experiences, I would bounce right back to health and resume my work and family responsibilities without fail. Having always been sports-oriented and an avid yoga practitioner, I never believed that one day I would be given the Disability Discrimination Act status by my employer.

I have had some back problems in the past but they were minor ones. I had a lot of pain whilst pregnant (my firstborn was over 11 lbs); suffered some sports injuries and some ergonomic issues, which led to taking a few weeks off work. I tried physiotherapy, chiropractic treatments and other options, which were often expensive, but I never had any long-term effects from the back problems. In September 2008, whilst holidaying in Tenerife, I started experiencing pain in my back every morning, blaming it on a cheap mattress. Once home, the morning pain continued and this time I could not blame it on our expensive orthopedic mattress. I put it off as being too inactive or getting older and increased my yoga practice. However, commuting over two hours per day for work, I was working over 50 hours in the social care field as well as meeting many other daily responsibilities. The more pain I had, the more I increased my activities. I remember getting in my car and feeling this shooting / pinching pain in my right leg and thinking that something was wrong but I ignored these signs. In April 2009, I sought the help of an alternative therapist who proceeded to do some manipulation. I was informed I would be in some discomfort for some days but I would then be ok. We agreed I would return the next week and continue my treatments. Two days later, I had a hard time walking and the pain got worse. The next Monday I called in sick and after a few days of agonizing pain, I went to my local surgery. Rather than seeing my usual GP, I was seen by one of the senior doctors, James Rivett. I felt a level of quality care I'd not yet experienced in this country and at the end of my session I asked Dr Rivett if he would accept to become my permanent GP. Doctor Rivett recommended I take a few weeks off and prescribed pain medication. I thought I'd be back to myself in a matter of weeks.

One month later, I asked to have my condition further analyzed, as I was not making any progress. In fact, the pain was constant and I felt there was something more serious with this condition. Dr Rivett confirmed his hypothesis that I most likely had a nerve condition such as a possible prolapsed disc. However, when I asked about getting an X-Ray he informed me the waiting list with the NHS would be around six weeks and indicated that an MRI scan could take much longer via the NHS. I then asked to get this scan done privately as I could not afford to wait so long, I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible. I also asked to be referred to a private specialist.

Dr Rivett was helpful and arranged for a referral and a scan to be completed privately. The Consultant Rheumatologist reviewed my scan and confirmed a right sciatica disc prolapsed (L4/5). I went through two epidurals in a private hospital and started a course of physiotherapy. I was informed that with time, the disc would heal and I would be able to resume my normal activities. I paid for private sessions with a physiotherapist, saw the Consultant Rheumatologist on three occasions and in September 2009, after a three-month sick period, I was referred to my work Occupational Health where I was given the status under the disability act and redeployed for work.

In December 2009, I travelled to Canada for a three-week visit with my family and friends. Unfortunately, this trip ended up with my being in bed most mornings in pain, not being able to enjoy my trip. My family members were all very supportive but everyone felt helpless. At one point I went the A& E at the local hospital only to be told I would have to pay a fee of $550.00 to be seen by a doctor but would be charged additional fees by the physician as well having to pay for any prescribed medication. I returned to my mum and spent most days in bed taking whichever medication I had on hand.

Following this trip, in January 2010, I returned to my GP and begged him to give me something for pain, which I could hardly tolerate. I started taking morphine (I was already on dihydracodeine), which helped with sleep, and being able to work in the day (although I was left feeling drowsy and often tired). I also increased my anti-depression medication.

In early February 2010, I saw the Consultant Rheumatologist I had seen in private the previous summer (via the NHS). I was optimistic he would agree that my condition warranted more investigation and possibly surgery. Unfortunately, after another quick examination (15 minutes), I was informed that my condition would not be considered a priority within the NHS, the best I would get would be a junior doctor and possibly more physiotherapy. However, he could schedule more epidurals as a possible option. I declined, as I had not felt any benefits with this treatment the previous summer. My partner asked for a referral to a private surgeon.

The first session with the private surgeon took quickly place in March 2009. This was a quick 10-minute question and answer session and I was asked to come for an updated MRI scan. At this point I was so relieved to be in the hands of a surgeon I assumed that I would undergo surgery and have some post-operative time off which I discussed with my colleagues and friends. Two weeks later I was back at the surgeon's office with great anticipation. He sat there and informed me that he could see a very small-ruptured disc on the scan. Nevertheless, he could not explain my level of pain, as there appeared to be no nerve issue. He did confirm I suffered with degenerative damage. I was speechless, embarrassed and completely in shock. I asked him whether he thought I was making up the pain and he said that other people similar to my situation were reporting pain as well but physically there was nothing to justify it. I felt helpless and totally gutted. I tearfully walked out of his office hearing him say he'd refer me to a pain management clinic.

I had just been told that the immense pain I'd experienced in the last year and a half had been basically a product of my imagination!! I knew I did not suffer with any psychosomatic issues.

My partner (bless him) was determined to find a solution; one day Phil came home all excited about this website he had found called the Spinal Foundation. We immediately sought a referral through my physician, who was again only helpful and proceeded to refer me to Mr Martin Knight. My GP had read about this surgeon and his work. He was keen to see the outcomes. My GP had written to the NHS on behalf of other patients who suffered similar situations as myself but he had had no luck in getting them referred to the Spinal Foundation.

We met with Mr Knight on 4th June and to our amazement, he spent over one hour looking at my X-rays, scan and discussing my condition. Iâd never experienced such an ethical and human approach (with the exception of my GP). Mr Knight was approachable, he provided a professional diagnosis and explained that surgery would be an option to consider. We discussed different other options but I wanted to get this surgery completed. I wanted to resume my normal activities, travel with my soul mate and enjoy life. I then made financial arrangements and had Laser Disc Decompression and a Therapeutic Discogram on 6th July.

It has been 10 weeks since the surgery. I cannot describe enough gratitude to the Spinal Foundation and Mr Knight and his team for having helped me get to where I am today: 80% pain free! I am off opiate medication, I have started physiotherapy and I am planning a phased return to work in two weeks.

We have booked a two-week holiday in Mexico at the end of November. Gone is the constant pain, the gait which made me walk like a 90-year old person! I am experiencing a bit of stiffness in the mornings but this is expected post-surgery due to a bit of inflammation. It is unfortunate that so many people continue to suffer with back problems and have no recourse via the NHS or privately lack funds. The lack of support to individuals can only place a heavier burden on our health system; for every person walking into a surgery (revolving door syndrome), taking medication and losing work, the costs are high! But more to the point, I can not illustrate the level of suffering that people endure due to back conditions, which, could be alleviated if people like Martin Knight were allowed to practice under the NHS umbrella.