Margaret Catlin's Story


The journey that led me to Mr Knight/The Spinal Foundation

I am usually a busy working  mature female of 61+  years, married for 42 years with one daughter.  My back problems started  20 years ago following a silly accident whilst  moving heavy furniture.  The injury resulted in  a stay in hospital for 4 weeks,  traction followed by major surgery spinal surgery known as a laminectomy. 

The past 19 years had been pretty uneventful until February 2011 when the office chair I was sitting on lost height and sprung back, which resulted on me landing squarely on the floor on both buttocks.

I used to walk an hour a day, so initially I tried to carry on as usual.  Unfortunately, the deterioration was a gradual decline.  Who would have thought such a minor accident could  bring so much pain, humiliation, anxiety and  loss of quality of life. My journey lasted approximately fifteen months.  I had pain like I had  never known.   I went from a fairly active individual into a stick wielding/ wheelchair dependant, who required personal assistance with every aspect of her life.  I could not walk any distance, drive or travel in a car, unless  I was laying down.  I don’t know how but I managed to stay at work with the wonderful support of my colleagues and daughter  who was my chauffer.

Over a period of a year I consulted three senior Consultants.  I accepted conservative procedures such as a sacroiliac joint injection;  Facet joint injections; Caudal epidural.  None of which proved positive. I was prescribed  traditional painkillers  such as  Cocodamol; Gabapentin; Tramadol, Butrans patches; Diclofenic, together with paracetamol 4 hourly and Amitriptyline at night.  I even tried Acupuncture in the hope it might just work.

The last Consultant before Mr Knight advised me that he was not prepared to operate and recomended  I work with  my GP  through the 30 or so painkillers on the market until I find the one that works for me. I pleaded with him but the door was firmly shut, we had reached the end of the road.   I cannot tell you how emotionally devastated I was, my husband and I spent the journey home in complete silence.  It sounds melodramatic but  I just wanted to be alone, so I went to bed and asked him to leave me.  I can only describe it, as entering a well of despair.  I could not face going on like this any longer.    My husband tried to console me, but all help was rejected by me.  I never realised just how horrible I could be to someone who had done far  more for me than any reasonable person would expect.  I am so grateful to him for his undying compassion, loyalty and patience. 

A few days went by and he suggested that I try and contact the surgeon that had operated 20 years earlier.  I searched the web, Royal College of Surgeons etc. etc. to no avail.  I then went onto the website for BMI Fawkham Manor Hospital as that was where I had had the surgery in 1992. With no trace of the previous Consultant Surgeon, I reviewed the practicing Consultants and read up on each one.  It was like a bolt of lightening when I read about Mr Knight, he was a pioneer in his field, loads of experience.     I felt I needed someone strong, with self  belief/confidence and determination not to be beaten.  I don’t know why but I was drawn to him.  I made an appointment to see him following a discussion with my GP and my first condultation with Mr Knight was on April 18th 2012.

I presented myself to Mr Knight  as a rapidly aging female, listing 30 degrees to the left, unable to walk unaided or sit upright in a chair.  I had a series of X-rays and handed over the latest MRI reports/scans.  The consultation was unhurried, and very calm.  Mr Knight listened intently to me and we looked at the past conservative treatments I  had explored and looked at  the options I had either with him or  down  the more invasive/traditional  type of surgery route.  He afforded me time to absorb the information, ask questions and then shared his opinion.  His diagnosis was easy to understand and my confidence grew when I realised how accurately he had listened.  I was convinced he was 100% correct and he gave me a task to read the literature thoroughly and spend some time with Jenny who would explain the finer details and who I should liaise with if I wanted to pursue  the surgery.  Jenny was great, she talked us through the process in detail, cost, pre admission tests etc and the diary for surgery.  I just knew this was the way forward and agreed to proceed.

I was given the email address which  I could send any questions or queries to Jenny and the website details should I wish to read about other patients experiences.   I want to share with other sufferers/ readers a very honest account of the  personal journey I  have lived through.  My main objective is to provide a gauge others can perhaps measure themselves against and enable them to make an informed choice and not give up.      I truly believe that if Mr Knight has agreed to help you then you are placing yourself  in the care of a highly skilled/ experienced  Consultant who is also a very gifted man, he has  such empathy/ compassion and human qualities  that sets him well apart from his peer group.  
It is true that you too  have a part to play in this journey.  Mr Knight is very detailed, he will be  very honest, he will describe exactly what to expect and above all strict instructions to follow post operatively.   I am testament to the fact that if you follow them accurately,  you may well have a recovery that whilst it  cannot be hurried, your compliance  can positively influence the body's reactions during the  period  of recovery.

Leading up to the day of surgery 9th May 2012,   yes I like many others I did have  concerns about  the “Aware State Anaesthesia”  but  true to the word of  Mr Knight, I did l sleep through most of the surgery. He will at times need your feedback and that whilst you may feel pain, it will only last a nano second as the Anaesthetist is definitely there for you, he  is constantly watching and will compensate by immediately releasing pain relief.  Mr Knight together with his expert team of theatre staff who can so easily be forgotten and of course the nursing staff made it a very comfortable  24 hours.  I say its  magical because when I compare the surgery I had 20 years earlier to the current surgery there is no comparison.  I think historically I was sedated so heavily  after the Operation that I lost the first four days versus 2012 when I was upright and walking  within 6 hours.

Post operatively, you are told you can have flashbacks.    I do remember various conversations and slight feelings of more fear than  discomfort  during the operation, but nothing to worry about.  My biggest fear was that I would move at a crucial point in reaction to pain,  but rest assured, I think before the brain has time to send a signal you are back to sleep, totally oblivious.

Following my return to my room I spent the afternoon  resting.  To my surprise Mr Knight came to see me at 5pm and I actually walked a short distance down the corridor, upright and without the aid of my walking stick.  I was elated, I was able to sit totally upright and I could not believe it.

I went home the next morning and the few days following were  surprisingly emotional.  It  varied  from overwhelming relief to tears of where I would have still been if it was not for Mr Knight.     I am assured  that it is a completely normal emotions  following a long  period of suffering.

I have now just had my post operative follow up appointment with Mr Knight. I was so excited to share with Mr. Knight that I had had a remarkably uneventful recovery period so far, I was pleased that I hadn’t felt  the need to take pain relief for the past couple of weeks and that I was slowly coming off of the Amitriptyline.

I am delighted with the outcome and feel so grateful that l have regained my  quality of life again. The work  Mr Knight  does is remarkable  and I will be eternally gratefully to him.    The Spinal Foundation is in my view highly specialised and   under utilised,  which  probably results in far too many people suffering unnecessarily and accepting a quality of life less than they can have.   If there is anything I can do to support and assist the Spinal Foundation I will.   I am now embarking on Phase II  of my recovery which means more gentle exercises such as Pilates or the Alexandra Technique.   There is one last word that is impressed in my  mind “moderation”  just because you may feel good and think you can climb Everest – don’t do it. I do hope my words helped you and  I am now looking forward  to the rest of my years, oh and returning to work!