What Your GP or Physio Should Tell you if you Have an Accident in New Zealand.


Ward 9As you may have seen from earlier posts, I had a back accident 15 months ago and after 4 visits to hospital, the most recent being of 7 days duration, I am still no nearer to getting the surgery my orthopedic spine specialist / surgeon recommended for me and requested ACC to fund.

What went wrong?

I’m going to tell you about 2 critical things. The first is about how I injured myself, by which I mean the primary cause and the second is about who I got referred to.

  1. The Primary Cause

Blackroom Relay for Life 2016 Print-47My latest accident didn’t seem like much. I was at my 6th Relay For Life in March last year and ready to walk a marathon distance (my goal, which I achieved) over 18 hours.

Setting up prior to the event and prior to heading for the survivors’ tent (I am in remission from prostate cancer), we had a 4 room tent to set up, and the poles and pegs were in a big bag in the trailer that was provided by the organisers to get our gear from the car park to our team site.

It was super heavy. No one seemed to want to get it out, including the guy driving the tractor. So I tried. Unfortunately, my back couldn’t take it and I ended up with a back strain injury that still has me off work today, 15 months later.

FC9I managed to do the distance through the use of medications like Panadeine and I had booked a couple of days annual leave after the event to recover, based on previous years experience. I also had a float and massage the following day, so I didn’t feel too bad after that. A bit sore, but otherwise OK.

A few weeks later, on ANZAC Day, in fact; I remember because it occured on the weekend before the public holiday (a Wednesday) and my wife and I had taken the Thursday and Friday off to go away in the Corvette for a few days holiday.

It had been raining, and on the Sunday before our planned holiday, I mowed the lawn and using the catcher to collect the heavy wet grass. I had to twist on an awkward angle to detach the catcher from the mower, twisted my back again, and the rest as they say was history.

You can read previous blogs but the key point was that whilst an MRI showed damage, ACC weren’t satisfied with the injury having been caused by the incident, they said it was age based degenerative disc disease. They said they would try to see if a previous injury could be relevant that they could tie it to which would convince them to cover the cost of the surgery and herein lies the problem.

A Skydiving Accident

IMG_0974Many years ago I had a skydiving accident. It was a tandem jump and if you have ever experienced one, you know that the customer is at the bottom and the Jumpmaster is on top. When she tried to flare at about 30 feet we got into an air pocket and instead of opening up, the parachute closed down. Instead of gliding to a running stop, we dropped and I took her weight on top of my own, on my tailbone.

It hurt like mad, but I was also flying high on adrenaline from the jump, so I didn’t really feel the pain that much. That night it was very sore, but we went to a big neighbourhood party and I found that bourbon acted as a great pain killer, so I managed pretty well and enjoyed the festivities as long as I didn’t make any sudden moves.

That night there was a bit of a storm and one of our trees was blown over.

The following morning, I was trying to clear branches in our yard, bent down and found I couldn’t straighten up again.

I went to physio who asked what happened and I told my story, the ACC record said “bent down and hurt back while picking up branches in garden”. I had 26 physio visits, was referred to Pilates and was assigned a personal trainer.

I did talk to them all about the sky diving, but it never made it to the ACC records. It therefore registered as a strain.

Another Accident

I was racing my land yacht in a 180 km enduro on 90 mile beach. I crashed at the northern end of the beach, picked myself up and raced back again and had to endure racing through snapper holes around Ahipara Beach, which is like racing on sheets of corrugated iron. Lots of pain, but again lots of adrenaline. For much of the race, I was going at speeds of up to 100 kph on a thin cushion as you can see on the video above, and with my feet sitting on a steering rod so all of my weight was on the lumbar area of my back.

At the end of the weekend it was a 5 hour drive back home to Auckland and a couple of days later, guess what? I was in the garden again, bending over and suffered intense back pain.

Guess what went on my ACC record?

Lots of physio for an injury sustained doing gardening.

So, when the specialist looking for reasons to not approve surgery (me having had every other treatment they could think of, for over seven months), they looked at what I had been referred for (back strain), looked at old injuries sustained in the garden, so probably not significant, all because I didn’t understand the importance of mentioning the crash or the sky diving on the initial ACC form. After all I was getting treatment. That was all I was concerned with at the time.

So What?

I might have got a very different response to my request for surgery if the primary causes of injuries had been clearly recorded, instead of lost to obscurity. Now I am chasing a Review of ACC’s decision not to fund the surgery which is going to be time consuming and expensive.

So if you are injured and covered by ACC, make sure that, irrespective of which straw broke the patient’s back, that the primary cause of injury is documented, even if you are happy that the treatment will fix the problem.

I’m now in a situation after many back injuries, that ACC are claiming age based disc degeneration disease and I am going to have to prove that I did in fact sustain some major injuries and that it was the cumulative impact of those injuries that has me now needing expensive surgery.

If I had made sure they had all the information correctly recorded, it would probably have been plain sailing for me now, instead of 15 months off work, the possibility of losing my job, and a long, expensive and stressful battle to get my back repaired so I can get back to work.

2. If Referred to a Specialist, Make Sure it is one who Operates in Your Local Public Hospital.

I was referred to a very good surgeon by my GP, largely because he is one of the category of trying everything else before getting the scalpel out and doing major surgery, which in my case will involve 2 surgeons for 4-5 hours and a 5-day stay in hospital.

Because of all the drama with ACC (New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Commission), in April I asked my GP (at the recommendation of my surgeon) to refer me to the public hospital. Whilst I have other medical insurance, it only pays (up to) 80% of the costs, which means I would personally be up for around $18,000 that I have to find myself. It could even be more because they won’t know exactly what they have to do until they cut me open.

So I was referred as ‘URGENT’ to North Shore Hospital on the 4th of April this year. I told them I was not working and that I could come at short notice and asked if they would put me on the cancellation list and they said “Yes, we have a cancellation list, is there anything else?”

I rang a few times, mostly talked to voicemail and the first time I spoke to someone they said “It’s only been a month!” To which I responded, “yes but I was referred as urgent.”

This month I had a flare up and spent 7 days in the Orthopedic Ward at North Shore Hospital. They did an MRI, hooked me up with a pain team and eventually once the pain was under control with drugs, they let me go home.

They told me that the stay would not be seen as my First Specialist Assessment (FSA) for which there is an expectation that you will be seen within 4 months of referral. They said that the Orthopedics Team knew about me and I would probably now be seen within 2 weeks. So they scripted 2 weeks of pain medication for me. They said I would get a confirmation letter from the hospital.

So I got out of hospital on the Sunday, waited until Wednesday and rang to find out when my appointment would be. I had to leave a message on their voicemail. I rang again on Friday and again left voicemail.

On Monday this week I got a phone call telling me that they did in fact have a date for me in late August. Today is the 17th of July.

So much for my 2 weeks of pain medication. I should have got the message when the doctor who checked me out of hospital laughed when I said I was expecting to be seen in 2 weeks.

So what?

If my GP had originally referred me to a specialist who also worked on the public health at North Shore Hospital, there is every likelihood that I would have been referred for surgery at the hospital in November last year, and could well have been back at work by the beginning of this year.

Now instead, I am still waiting for a First Assessment, and they will want to decide for themselves what treatment I should have. So while the logic behind my original referral was sound, the end result is that it set me back anything up to a year.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the point I am making is that you, dear reader, may have a back injury like me, or perhaps a knee or shoulder injury from playing sport.

By learning from my experience, you might be able to have a better experience, receiving treatment within the same year of your injury and not jeopardising your employment and having double the stress. 

SUMMARY

Being in severe chronic pain for over a year is horrific. The potential consequences can be many including

  • losing your job,
  • becoming addicted to pain medications,
  • sleep deprivation with all that comes with that,
  • becoming stressed to the point of depression,
  • having no social life or family life,
  • which also results in relationship stress.

Here are two ways you can reduce the risk of experiencing what I’m going through.

  1. If you injure yourself doing something major and then aggravate it with a lesser injury. Insist that the cause on the ACC form is the major impact and the secondary injury is clearly shown as secondary. It might not matter now, but in 10 or 20 years it could save you from the horrible 15 months I’ve endured so far.
  2. If you need to be referred to a surgeon, even if you have medical insurance, get referred to one who operates from your local public hospital. You may not end up needing to go public, but at least you have viable options and it could save you many months in getting treated.

My Injured Back Loves Float Culture AND my 4th Float in 1987


If you have been following these blogs, you will know that I have been off work with 3 bulging discs in my back. On Monday the surgeon told me we have now tried all non-invasive treatments and he has sent an application to ACC, our national insurer for accident injuries, for fusion surgery. The good news is that after the surgery has been completed it will simply be a matter of recovering and a 99% likelihood of getting back to normal work. Believe me when I say I am eager to get back.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going to Float Culture a bit more often  and I have to tell you it is having results. Yesterday I felt the least pain over a complete day since I injured myself back in April. I was down to pretty much zero inside the tank and about 3/10 when I got home after the massage from Kim. When I went to bed it was about 5/10, normally 7/10 and today the following morning, after my exercises, it is about 4/10. I didn’t have to get up in the night, although I did wake at 4.

FC6I believe this is the cumulative effect of previous floats, which is amazing, because even with the drugs, this is the best I have been. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts. If you suffer from chronic back pain or other limbs, I strongly recommend you try floating together with massage after the float.

I don’t get anything for this, I’m not an affiliate or anything, I pay the same as anyone else, but tell them Luigi sent you:)

So back to the future and my 4th ever float from my journal in 1987

I fell into a relaxed state very easily this time. Nothing very interesting. I felt tension in various muscles that had been used in the last few days.

Several times I noticed that I was floating deeper in the water than previously. I take that to indicate deeper relaxation and less oxygen in my system. I.e. I was breathing more shallow.

I had a number of violent muscle spasms, some causing minor splashes. Not painful, but sharp and sudden.

A highlight was a sensation that I was a speck floating in a black void, with vivid white streaks of light like miniature comets racing in two opposing directions. It was like a 3 dimensional hallucination. I was in the middle, but simultaneously watching from the outside looking in. 

One other strange experience, another hallucination which was particularly vivid. I felt sudden euphoria after imagining I heard 3 musical notes, 2 of the same tone and one a major third higher, in an even tempo.

Getting out, I felt reluctant and disappointed at leaving my comfortable cocoon. I felt reasonably normal, though very relaxed as I climbed out and had a shower.

I was thinking that this float had hardly had any effect on me, as I buttoned up my shirt. It was only then that I realised I had put it on inside out. I then started feeling a little light headed.

I started feeling mildly euphoric and experienced something like tunnel vision. I found myself highly amused by the red dye which infused from a herbal tea bag in my cup. It appeared as though the tea bag was bleeding.

There was a guy sitting opposite me in the lounge, where I rested after the float. He grinned and laughed quietly to himself, arose and walked out. I grokked him. 

Coming home I felt an abnormal burst of energy and engulfed myself in gardening; hedges and lawns. I did not want to sit down and read, even though I had the house to myself. This is highly unusual for me as I am a bookworm and generally read 2-3 books and a magazine or two, more or less concurrently. 

Just as a footnote, regrettably after my cancer treatment, I no longer seem to produce much in the way of endorphins or adrenaline. So whilst I feel very relaxed after a float, I no longer feel the flush of natural opiates that most people enjoy after a float. The reduced pain I’m feeling right now though is more than enough reward. Perhaps I am now producing more encaphelins than normal. These are the body’s natural pain killers. That’s a plus. My back has now though, after writing this gone up to about 5/10, but for the first day in 7 months, yesterday I felt very little pain for an entire day.

Anyone with a major injury, or perhaps a condition like polymyalgia will appreciate what that means. Again, if you suffer from any form of chronic pain, I strongly recommend taking not one, but a series of floats. Constant pain 24/7 sucks, I can tell you. If that is you, what have you got to lose?

There are ways to make this economical. I pay a monthly subscription that not only gives me cheaper floats, but every couple of months they give me a couple of vouchers. There will be two first time floaters heading to Grafton some time in the next couple of weeks, one of whom is claustrophobic. She will try one of the rooms and can leave a door open.

 

A Few Hours of Bliss at Float Culture


I arrived in an addled state this morning at 11AM for my 10AM appointment for a float and massage at Float Culture. It was in my diary for 10AM, but somehow that’s when I had booked my taxi to pick me up. I only got a few hours sleep last night, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

When I got there, they told me they had cancelled my appointment because I hadn’t turned up, even though I had confirmed this morning. I just tapped the button, not even reading it, or I would have realised and called for an earlier cab. How often do you do that with EFTPOS or paywave, just hit accept without looking at the price?

FC9Anyway, after my heart dropped, it turned out I was in luck and despite messing everyone around, they were able to fit me in. They asked if a Pod was OK rather than one of the newer ‘rooms’. When I’m floating on Epsom Salts laden water in the quiet and dark it could be a farm water trough for all I care.

I keep a pain diary so that I can discuss my physio treatment, exercises etc for my back injury with the team of people assigned to restoring my health and getting me back to work. (3 bulging disks pushing against nerves which has kept me off work for 6 months) The injury has me at a pain level of 6-7/10 most of the time and that’s with some hard hitting pain medications. This morning I was up at 2AM (6/10) 3-4AM (7/10) and up again at 6AM with 6/10.

Once I was in the pod, for some reason I struggled to keep my mind quiet and even using breathing techniques, my brain would be off on some tangent before I could count 5 breathes in and out and the hour was over all too soon, BUT I could barely feel my back when I got out of the tank for a shower and I still had a massage to come.

Now I’m no biochemist and my understanding was that endorphins are what used to give me the bright colours and the grin that wouldn’t stop, back before I had radiation therapy, and enkephalins are the body’s natural painkillers, but it seems they both come from the same part part of your brain. I didn’t have the buzz, but I also didn’t have the pain!

Anyway I went straight from the tank to the massage room for an hour of total relaxation.

At the end Kim said to take as long as I needed. I could have quite happily gone to sleep at that point. Well when I did get up from there, I was pain free, I was able to stand up and with a bright red rosy face, I felt the way you probably take for granted. I was able to put my track pants and shoes on without grunting and groaning. I was even able to stand up, leaning on a counter to look out the window watching for the cab to arrive without any pain.

Now to be fair, after the taxi ride home I was up to 3/10 and now I’m now at 4/10 but that’s still a lot less than 6-7. It will go back to 6-7, but I can’t describe how good it felt to be pain free without the use of drugs. No other treatment other than morphine has been able to do that for me in the last 6 months.

If you have any sort of chronic pain injury, I strongly recommend not just having the float, but combining the two. If you think how relaxed you feel after a massage, imagine having the massage when you are already totally relaxed. I pay a membership subscription and occasionally I get given a voucher for someone to get a free float (does not include a massage).

If you live in Auckland, leave a comment and I’ll use some random method to let someone try it for FREE. Find out more about floating on their website. I’ll pick one person on 1 December. Think of it as an early Christmas present. That’s worth $100, but I’m sure you’ll agree the outcome is worth much more. Do remember it is sensory deprivation so if you get claustrophobic, this is not for you.

Meanwhile if you’re still here, I’m going to get into the Delorean and zip back to 4 October 1987 for my 3rd float. You can go back to my previous blog for the 2nd one.

Now just to set the scene, I was working for a company that was bleeding money for no obvious reason (yet). I was making sales for 6 figure sums of money, delivering cheques in some instances, but somehow even though they had been cashed, they never seemed to reach the company bank account. It got worse from there when not long later I arrived at work on my way to a sailing weekend on the family yacht, to find out why my pay hadn’t been deposited. I met the receivers who were in the processing of padlocking the office door. To make matters worse, a certain person (not me) had taken a first class family world trip on my company credit card (note, if you get one of those, you are jointly and severally liable for any debt) and the bank took me for the money. I ended up losing just under $40,000 and I was just an employee and had to refinance our home. Take it that I was a little stressed.

So, off to the Belleview Clinic in Mt Eden on 4 October. This is what I wrote:

“My third float. Nothing spectacular. I didn’t feel any more relaxed, or different. The float itself was unremarkable, anticlimactic. Yet as I sat down to relax afterward, I felt a vibration throughout my body and a general sense of well-being. Not euphoric, but content.

I concentrated some energy on relaxing my jaw, probably the last place where I still felt stress from clenching my teeth.

Driving home I felt rag-doll relaxed, although I still felt fragile in the face of pressure, real or imagined. (Note at this stage I wasn’t aware the company I worked for was being embezzled, I just knew something was seriously amiss), It is difficult going from a cocoon to a demanding environment. I felt like I didn’t want to let go of the comfort of zero responsibility that I enjoyed in the tank.

Floating Book

The current edition available from Amazon

My general bearing and outlook was positive and I could see many parallels to other relaxation methods like meditation. I felt as though I was taking a short cut. It was interesting that subsequently I read similar comments in ‘The Book of Floating‘. It has been compared to many ‘laboristic’ relaxation methods including Yoga and acupuncture. 

There is a notebook of floater’s comments, a visitors book in the lounge at the clinic. Every comment is positive. Most people are there to solve personal problems and seem to want to apply mystical meaning to the amazing results. That’s not surprising off course when their bloodstreams are getting a rush of natural brain produced opiates.

I found myself holding back from conclusions, but was keenly looking forward to moving beyond release of tension and balancing myself, to getting creative with the tank and finding new ways to benefit from sensory deprivation. 

I subsequently did that and had all sorts of experiences and experiments that you can read about in future blogs about these awesome tanks. Bookmark or subscribe to this blog to find out more. If it’s boring you to tears, sorry, this is my personal soapbox and like the woman who was offended by the 2 minute song, based on the doppler effect, that I performed in one of my sets at the Parnell Rose Festival many years ago, called What I Like About Reefton. She stood up and said ‘That’s not very nice” and left her seat in the audience. If you want other types of blogs feel free to visit one of my other blogs like The Future Diaries , Location Is Everywhere , First Home Buyers Training or SoLoMo Consulting.

 

My Latest Float at Float Culture and my Second Ever Float in 1987


Float 5So yesterday I had another float and massage at Float Culture. My back pain from my injury back in April is still hovering around 6-7/10 most of the time and I was so looking forward to the zero gravity and a great massage from Kim.

I had booked the Cosmic Room, which is a newer float tank, which instead of being a pod like the one I showed a photo of in my last blog, which was also cool, this one is more like an Alice in Wonderland meets Dr Who.

What is really cool about it is that while it is still a floating tank, you enter through a door and it is high enough to stand in, which is great when your time is up and you want to stretch out. I can’t say one is better than the other, when you are in the dark in total silence, floating on a silky nothing, it is really irrelevant. It’s also easier if you have a physical injury in regards to getting in and out.

Float 2When you come out after your float, the atmosphere is pretty cool. Bright colours and a picture of a galaxy awaits your heightened senses, especially if your body produces endorphins, which mine isn’t good at since my cancer treatment, along with low cortisol and virtually no adrenaline, I don’t experience the mental natural high that you will, but there are so many benefits from floating that it’s no longer an issue for me. A lot of cancer patients float. Relaxing when life is tough isn’t easy, but here you have no choice.

I think I’ll turn this into two blogs because the next one is going to be quite long and possibly boring unless you really want to know more about the floating experience in detail. Being a geek, I did.

When you have been in chronic pain for 6 months and any time you are awake, gravity wants to push your vertebrae together and you are constantly dopy from pain medications, being in an environment like this is bliss. I was pain free for most of the day yesterday and what you might take for granted (just feeling physically normal) was wonderful for me.

I met, Anton the owner of Float Culture and we had a great chat with him and one of his team about how there is a resurgence of interest in floating and sensory deprivation, some of the history of the origin of sensory deprivation tanks. More of that perhaps in another blog, but for now I just want to say:

  1. Whether you are physically or emotionally stressed, injured, tired or just want to try something new, I strongly recommend going for a float at Float Culture in Grafton.
  2. If you are totally relaxed, life is great, and you just want to try something new, refer to 1. You don’t have to be suffering in any way to get a benefit from it. The experience will still be amazing.
  3. Go with a friend, they have several floating rooms. But you might need to book a few days ahead. They have an app and you can also pay a subscription and get better pricing if you go regularly and even free passes for friends. One or two lucky people who talk to me nicely, might be able to get one of those.
  4. Have a float followed by a massage. Imagine having a great massage when you are already totally relaxed. If you’re thinking about a day spa and want to try something new. Do this.
  5. Tell them Luigi sent you. I want them to know that I am recommending them because I want them to do well. There have been some years where there hasn’t been a float centre in Auckland, which was frustrating.
  6. 6. Just do it. Make a booking today. If you’re not totally convinced, read some of these testimonials from other floaters.

Floating to Relieve Back Pain and Stress



Float TankI didn’t want to have Mental Health Week pass without posting something and this is going to become a short series on the benefits of floating in a sensory deprivation tank and my experiences with it. So ignore the next few blogs if you don’t have aches and pains or don’t suffer from stress.

I have been ‘floating’ for years and it amazes me that most people still don’t know it exists or what it does. I started a bit of a journal back in the 90’s about some of my float experiences and have always thought I would share it one day.

I’ve been off work for about 6 months due to a serious back injury and I have been taking a cornucopia of painkillers which means that I can’t drive and I’m often dopy and unable to concentrate for long. I’m doing physio and seeing a back specialist and trying my best to avoid surgery. Anyway, enough of that.

I’ve been going to a place called Float Culture where I lie in a tank like the one in this picture, which contains a solution of Epsom Salts (I think) and water at body temperature. You have a shower, climb in, float, turn off the light and relax for an hour. Typically there is music for the first few minutes while you relax and again at the end so you know your time is up. Sometimes I go into a meditative state and sometimes I fall asleep, and no you can’t roll over and drown.

Lately I have been combining it with massage and for a few hours I have been able to go from pain of around 7 out of 10 to almost nothing. Unfortunately it comes back after a while when gravity takes hold, but during that time it at the very least helps reduce inflammation and you feel like there is no gravity. Gravity is my enemy right now. Imagine having a great massage when your body is already relaxed.

The masseuse, Kim, probably doesn’t realise how much pain I am normally in, but combining her work (careful around the injury) and the float leaves me feeling so free of pain that is difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t been in chronic pain for a long time. Chronic pain and not knowing when it is going to end is extremely stressful, as is not being at work. If you have ever felt work was drudgery or you didn’t want to go, the feeling I have might be a bit foreign to you. I love my job and can’t wait to get back, but I don’t know exactly when I’ll be capable.

Another element of floating is that without any sensory input, not being able to feel where the water starts and ends, is that it is very easy to get into a trance-like state, effectively meditation. The difference is that you don’t need to know how to meditate. I often see people after they come out of their float room and they are radiating endorphins, your bodies natural opiates and often talk about having almost mystical experiences.

I have floated for lots of different reasons over the years, for relaxation, for creativity, to catch up on sleep, to alleviate jet lag (before or after a long haul trip) and, like now, when I have an injury. Whilst the pain came back, I slept all night (about half of the time I’m up for an hour around 2-3AM because of the pain) and my digestive system felt better. I also lost almost a kilo of weight over the 24 hours which is effectively a litre, even though I drank a lot. I didn’t realise I was carrying so much fluid! That helps too because a side effect of the drugs I am on is that you put on weight and more weight and a bad back is not a good mix.

On their site, Float Culture, one of the more recent additions to the floating experience in Auckland has a blog page where people share some of their experiences. I’m going to share a few experiences of my own. So if that interests you, you will find them by following this blog.

If you know anyone who is not claustrophobic and can do with a bit of inner or outer healing, or just an amazing relaxation opportunity, tell them to try it out and let them know you learned about it from me, or if you have had an experience, feel free to leave a comment. If you are not in Auckland, float tanks can be found in most cities around the world, just Google it.

They are popular with elite athletes, creatives, people with cancer and yet most people, including the health industry don’t even know they exist.

So if you’re interested in learning more of my experiences, follow this blog. If not, remember it for a friend.