David McElroy's Story


I first reported back pain to my GP when I was 5. I am now 28. I do not remember having any problems through my childhood or my teens and it was in my early 20s when I started to have noticeable discomfort. It could have been before this as I got used to it. My journey to the Spinal Foundation began in 2007 when I woke up and couldn’t move my legs without severe pain. I had to drag myself to a walking stick in another room. That got my attention! The hospital and GP throughout this period were unfortunately not very helpful. Investigation was non existent and I was told the usual - ‘try some physiotherapy’ (this does get old after a hearing it so much). I did do Physio, my back got worse. After a few visits to the hospital and GP over the next few months, I got tired of it all and decided to pay for scans at a private clinic. There was some progress here, as I now knew what was wrong but the only options given to me were; leave it, fuse it, or more physiotherapy. I picked more physiotherapy and my back pain got worse again.


At this point I was very disappointed and frustrated and decided that I would try to help myself. I started training at the gym using weights. Every case is different, but this did seem to work for me - but I do not recommend it! My discomfort was manageable and I did not need drugs for my everyday life. Gradually the weights got heavier, so did I and my enthusiasm for it all.


A few years later my discomfort was no longer ignorable. It was affecting my social and family life and I was sometimes stressed, grumpy, short tempered and depressed. It was time for another GP/hospital talk. They must have been getting tired of me and they offered me some treatment. My choices this time were; a nerve root block, fusion, or nothing. I accepted the nerve injection which I remember working for two days, giving me bounce and a lighter feeling, then I was back to normal. By now I had accepted I would just have to carry on my life until one day I couldn’t move and then I would have the fusion.


About a year after this I had a lifting accident in the gym which caused the pain to accelerate and I had started to notice my body seemed weaker on one side. My walking ability was deteriorating, I didn’t even think of running or working. I was on the way down and I had to get definite answers.


I was given a scrap of paper by my sister with The Spinal Foundation written on it. She had told one of her friends about my issues and he had been a patient of Mr Knight. I kept the scrap for months thinking that I’d just hear the same old options that I didn’t want to hear. Eventually I looked at the website. It was a breath of fresh air with a small bit of hope in there somewhere! I still wasn’t confident but it was really nice to hear something I have not heard before. I sent an email. Jenny replied promptly, inviting me in for a consultation and some x-rays.


The first consultation was good. We got straight down to business with x-rays, a short physical exam, a topical chat and a study of my previous scans. I was pleased to find that Mr Knight had confidence in himself and with how he perceived any possible treatment. He did not take long to locate the source of my problem, neither did he take long in determining and explaining the suitable treatments and associated risks. He was very definite and professional. I was amazed at how, in under an hour, I had a diagnosis and treatment options. This could have been done years ago had I taken this route earlier.


I left Fawkham Manor Hospital that day with a new found hope. There was no pressure to have treatment or even another consultation. I took the literature home and thought about my options for a few weeks and let this new information sink in. I did not require urgent treatment and so had plenty of time to come to the right conclusion. Deciding to act early rather than to wait until the damage got worse, I contacted Jenny Jago again (who, by the way, is very professional, proactive, gives good communication and generally a nice person to talk to) to book another consultation. I had some more up to date MRI scans taken before the consultation.  This review was to analyse the new scans and review the treatments. I took it as an opportunity to clear up a few questions I had; to make sure I understood everything to the best of my ability; to get more confidence about the procedure and maybe more importantly to make sure that I chose the right man for the job, qualifications aside! I was pleased with the outcome again and felt at ease with the idea of surgery and what benefits I could expect.


Jenny gave me some dates to consider. I chose around 3 months in the future at that time. This was a big decision for me and I wanted plenty of time to be sure that surgery was the best route for me. I was waiting in anticipation for 3 months. I was just thinking about how much better life would be, until the morning of the operation at least.  When I got to the hospital at Fawkham Manor I did get very nervous. This was to be my first surgery and instead of thinking about all the positives post-surgery, I dwelled on what could go wrong.  I found the staff very good indeed. The nurses were friendly, cheerful, helpful and caring as well as being knowledgeable and professional. This gave me a dose of confidence that I would be looked after, that I was in the right place and acting in my best interest. The anaesthetist came in to see me prior to the operation. He talked me through his side of the procedure. I picked up on his professionalism and his relaxed and gentle nature. He was sympathetic to my nervousness and explained about the pain management during the procedure. Mr Knight also popped in which was appreciated. I found that all involved were able to put me at ease somewhat. I still had half a mind to jump off the bed as I was being wheeled to Theatre and run for my life, but the other half of my mind was still working normally, so I stayed. Sometimes you must do things that you do not want to - for the greater good.

I was then sedated with the IV in my hand. This simple injection turned out to be the most unpleasant part of it although I didn’t know this would be the case at the time. I was talked through the whole procedure. This helped greatly as I knew things were going to plan. The extreme pain that I had prepared for never came. The anaesthetist adjusted the dosage to match my communicated level of pain immediately, which took effect instantly. During the laser section of the operation I felt a split second of pain from heat. I expressed this and Mr Knight stopped at once and allowed the feeling to subside, which it did straight away. He seemed to work with me and my pain rather than work on me regardless, or in me as the case was. I did not fall asleep but was close to doing so a few times. I could have slept if I had chosen to but I elected to stay awake for the experience. I was surprised at how much of a big deal it was not. Even the most sheltered of people will have experienced a higher level of pain at some point. It really is easy-going.

After the procedure I worked out that it took roughly 3 hours. It felt no more than 1 hour. I was in a more comfortable position than I had expected to be. Not a single part of the experience from start to finish was as unpleasant as I had imagined and this left me feeling a little silly afterwards, thinking of my pre-op dread. I was feeling a touch spaced-out but I was back to normal shortly after leaving theatre. The nurses are just as good post-op as they were beforehand, they really do their job well and are constantly smiling which really does make all the difference. The next day, after Mr Knight had telephoned me and I was briefed on the physiotherapy regimen, I was given all the supplies I needed to make a good recovery and was free to travel home a thankful and happy man, with a positive eye on the future.


It has been five months now and I am progressing well. I have stuck to the rehabilitation regimen for the entire time and am still doing it now. It is not my place, nor am I qualified to give advice on this other than to stick to it; make time to do it; be strong minded and it will work. The rehabilitation period is not easy at all but it really does go hand in hand with the procedure and does require full commitment. The rewards are plentiful!