Firstly, thanks to all those who have shown concern… secondly, the observations are quite correct. I’ve gone through quite a rough patch lately (and serious), as a result of years of sporting activity and injuries catching up with me.
As we age, recovery time increases after a rough and physical game of footy. This is normal. However after the game against the Malaysian Warriors two weeks ago (in which the Singapore Wombats absolutely demolished the visitors by an embarrassing 15+ goals), I knew all was not well with Aussie Pete’s ageing body.
By Sunday night, my wife (after suffering through hours of my whining) insisted that I pay a visit to the local GP (general practitioner) to have my neck and back checked out… it was made quite clear to me early this year when I decided to pull the footy boots back on, that I would expect no sympathy from Sammi if (and when) I injured myself – I went into this with my eyes wide open. :D
The doctor at AMK Healthway clinic checked me over and provided tablets for inflammation and pain, suggesting that it was most probably some damage to my ligaments – see how it pulls up over the next couple of days and if problems still exist, go back and see him again. He continued on to say that I should not risk playing footy again for at least 3-weeks… so there went my chance at an appearance in the Asian Championships in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this weekend – Aussie Pete went away feeling very sorry for himself indeed!!
By Tuesday, I was still feeling quite sore all over (especially my left shoulder blade and left arm) so attended the TCM (traditional Chinese Medicine) doctor for acupuncture… this did not bring any obvious relief.
So come Wednesday morning, the pain in my upper back and neck had eased somewhat, however I had this very nagging ache in my left forearm and shoulder blade and a tingling sensation in my left hand. I returned to the AMK clinic that afternoon, and the doctor provided a slightly stronger pain killer and sent me for x-rays (on my cervical spine and scapula) around the corner from the clinic.
Come Thursday morning (after no sleep), I climbed out of bed – only to collapse in a heap with absolutely agonizing, cramping pain in my left arm, shoulder blade and upper back – I have had broken bones before, and the pain of that pales in comparison to what I felt on Thursday morning last week. Also (and it was not until much later I realized), the pinkie and ring finger on my left hand were both nearly completely numb… enter my wife to the bedroom to see a sniveling heap curled up on the bedroom floor… after taking the pain killers previously provided by the doctor, I was able to at least get myself into a sitting position and talk with some semblance of sanity.
Around 10-minutes later, we received a call from the doctor at AMK to tell me that the x-ray showed some ‘degenerative’ problems that needed urgent attention, and that we should return immediately and pick up a referral to an orthopaedic surgeon.
Friday morning – once again (still with no sleep), arose from bed only to drop on the floor like a sack of sh*t… almost crying like a baby from the pain. I attended the office of the Orthopedic Surgeon at the Gleneagles Specialist Clinic for an early morning appointment. After studying the xrays and conducting some strength and pain tests he immediately booked me in for an MRI scan at Mt Alvernia Hospital (where he has a secondary clinic also). He also gave me a couple of injections to help relieve the agonizing pain and try to reduce some of the swelling around my vertebrae.
Next stop – MRI at Mt Alvernia – I would think if one can get past the claustrophobic type sensation of the MRI, this is not such a big deal – my eyes were covered and my ears blocked, so the enclosed space presented me with no problems… however, it is critical to remain completely still for the entire MRI – that includes all the extremities (fingers and toes). The problem with this is that by lying flat on my back with the vertebrae completely straight, the pain in my arm was excruciating… I spent the 30-min with my teeth clenched tight and trying my best to meditate (telling myself that the pain was bearable – concentrating on my breathing – and all the time counting the seconds and minutes in my head).
Upon return to the Surgeon in Mt A. clinic, I first was consulted by another colleague of his… the MRI images confirming the GP’s initial diagnosis, but showing the problem in much more gory detail… Four vertebrae in the cervical spine are ‘squashed’ together (C5 to C8). That is, the cushioning between them is almost non-existent. Therefore the nerve roots that reach out to the limbs are also squashed… hence the pain in my left arm and numbness in my left hand. On each of the affected vertebrae, there is also some ‘spurring’ of the bone (osteophytes) that contributes to the ‘rubbing’ effect. This problem is degenerative (Cervical Spondylosis) as already suggested, and (although probably helped along a little by getting tackled at football) is something that has been there all the while. This problem (at my ‘young’ age) was most probably caused by irregular damage or wearing on the vertebrae when I was younger… always the avid (contact) sportsman…
Diagnosis is one thing – treatment and resolution to the pain is another thing altogether… the surgeon has told me that I could be treated surgically for this problem… perhaps ‘shaving’ of the spurred bone – but any operation is very risky and extremely complicated. It is his opinion (and recommendation) that we try to treat this thing ‘symptomatically’ first. So next visit – the anesthetist… she was very knowledgeable with this affliction, and offered me much needed relief by injecting anesthetic into the muscles surrounding my shoulder blade and upper spine… I am so very grateful for this – for the first time in days, I was able to go home and sleep with some level of comfort.
I have been living ever since with a strict course of strong pain killers and nerve pain killers along with muscle relaxants… the pain in my arm is (only just) bearable and I still have numb fingers and half a hand. But I cannot continue like this – I’m back in the office today, with people just screaming from all over Asia, Europe and the Middle East for my attention and assistance… also we are moving home in just 3-weeks – so I must be able to continue (somehow) without all the tablets and without surgery…
Tomorrow morning I will be returning to the Orthopedic Surgeon to discuss all the options and arrive at a path forward… perhaps this will involve rigorous physiotherapy to relieve the pressure between the vertebrae (I’m just guessing), but I’m also thinking that I will eventually have to go down the surgical path – this fills me with great fear and apprehension – it certainly cannot happen right now in this juncture of my life.
Ever the optimist, I know a couple of things are for certain – I am extremely grateful to the company I work for, for including such a robust and comprehensive healthcare insurance scheme in my employment package through my private work package (although I am a PR and have Medisave). I am receiving full coverage and would have paid a fortune already for the tests and treatment undertaken.
Secondly, and I say this without a moment’s hesitation – the quality of the medical staff who have attended to me – from the GP, to the MRI staff, to the Receptionists, and of course the Surgeons and Anesthetist – have displayed the highest level of professionalism, and are obviously expert in their fields. I have extreme confidence in their abilities, and for a worrying affliction such as this, I have complete faith in their recommendations and treatment as we move forward. Singapore should be very proud to have such high quality Healthcare Professionals.
Finally – my football career is officially over… the Surgeon made it quite clear to me that if I were to step on the field again, I would be risking permanent paralysis. So it is with great sadness that I formally announce my retirement from this great game (again). The boots have now officially been hung up. :(