Yes, after just under 7 months leave without pay due to the chronic pain issues you may recall I was suffering from last year, I am finally pain-free (relatively) and starting back at work in a graduated fashion. Last week, I only worked two days (most of which was deleting email that accumulated while I was gone – around 95,400 of them!). Today, I hope to work three days (if my body holds up to it) and then gradually increase back to the full 5 days, but that really depends on how my body reacts!
For those of you that aren’t interested in the gory medical details, you can stop reading here.
For those that ARE interested in the gory medical details, you may recall that before I stopped work, my knee was giving me enough pain that at times I was up to 10-12 Oxycontin tablets a day, and the pain was still getting through. Oxycontin, or Endone as it’s known down here, is morphine-based and, of course, a drug of dependence. When you’re up to that level of dependence on strong painkillers, it’s damn near impossible to focus on work, so I stopped working. Thankfully, I had income protection insurance, which largely covered my entire pay while I was off.
Previously to the knee issues, I was having a lot of pain issues associated with my back (which had in fact been the cause of the knee issues). The back pain was almost totally alleviated by a spinal cord implant inserted by my pain specialist, Geoff Speldewinde. Since I’d had such a good reaction to the back issues, I went back to see Geoff to see if he could work another miracle for my knee.
The first thing he tried was to burn the ends of the nerves off so they weren’t signalling the pain. Unfortunately that’s much harder to do with a knee than with your back, because the locations of the nerves are harder to find. That gave me some minor relief, but there was still a lot of pain, so Geoff suggested the use of a ketamine infusion. The purpose of the ketamine infusion was twofold:
- It resets the pain system to start from scratch; and
- It gets me off the Endone (which in the 5 days the infusion takes is pretty damn good!)
If, like me, you have no idea what ketamine is, it’s a mild anaesthetic. It is often used on horses (!!!), and also as a sort of precursor for people that are going to have a general anaesthetic but are scared of it. A ketamine infusion (in my case, anyway) is given by a subcutaneous injection i.e. a needle is inserted just under the skin of your stomach and the ketamine is delivered in a measured dosage (this is a 5 day hospital procedure, by the way). For me, they started at 1 ml/hour (no idea what that is for you backward Americans without the metric system), then increased to 2 ml/hour and finally 3 ml/hour. The reason for the gradual increase in dosage is that some people do not react well to the ketamine.
In my case, when they increased the dosage to 3 ml/hour, I started tripping – hard! Never having been part of the drug scene in my youth, this was a completely new experience for me. However, it didn’t worry me much, because I could open my eyes and see the hospital ward, so I knew where I was. Unfortunately, there were no dancing girls or pink elephants (though my daughter did send me a GIF of the pink dancing elephants from Dumbo!) or anything of that nature. 🙁 The only thing I can really recall from that night was I was standing alone in the seating area of the Sydney Opera House, looking down on the stage. There was no-one else there, either in the seating area or on the stage. I was totally alone. Now why I was in the Sydney Opera House I have no clue, since it’s 300 km away from where I live, but hey, this is my trip and I could do anything! Next thing I knew, I blew up through the roof to 35,000 feet and stayed there looking down on the Opera House. Weird!!!
So they cut the dosage back down to 2.5 ml/hour for the rest of the 5 days, and I was fine. The end result? I have had a few relatively minor periods of pain (mild enough that I could ignore them till they went away) and I haven’t needed any Endone since the day after I entered hospital! So this is another miracle from my pain specialist. Being a Catholic, 2 miracles is all you need for sainthood, so you may soon hear of Saint Geoff! 😉
One thing you may have missed – this procedure does NOT address the cause of the pain, so it will gradually come back again. How long that takes differs from person to person, so there’s no way to tell when it will come back for me. If it comes back within a month, then it’s not worth redoing the process as it would require 5 days in hospital every month. If it takes a year, then we can redo the process and hope it gives me another pain-free year. I know of one person that’s had 5 of these ketamine infusions, so it’s not a problem to redo the treatment. Fingers crossed it’s more like a year for me!
There you have it. I’m now back to work (though still only part-time). Once I have finished catching up on the last 7 months of changes at work, I’ll be back to doing my usual social media posts, so stay tuned for that to happen!