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.

Blogfade and a Back Injury


Have you missed me? I’ve been off the grid, after trying to be superman and  lift a heavy bag of tent poles out of a trailer for a 4 room tent at Relay For Life and following that up a couple of weeks later mowing wet lawns (Auckland right?), piling up the clippings into a barrow and then lifting them to head height to empty into a garden bag, the straw that broke the Cappel’s back.

MRI Result? 3 bulging discs on both sides of my lower spine, all touching nerves and causing me lots of pain in my back and legs. I had 3 (starting very early in the morning) day trips to hospital when the pain was at 9/10, each time they kindly shoved a finger where the sun don’t shine to check that it still had muscle control, because my left leg is very weak and I had no sensation surrounding my left knee and referred pain down both legs. Or maybe they did it to scare me into not coming back:)

I thought I was over that one with my prostate cancer which has been in remission for just over a year now!

IMG_2290

It was a real eye opener sitting in the triage rooms and seeing how awesome the staff are, dealing with a constant stream of frightened, sick and sore patients. My hats off to the staff (and the volunteers who fed me) at North Shore Hospital.

So I’ve been popping morphine and other drugs, (off work for almost 2 months on ACC) to the point where my brain has been mush. It only hurts when I stand, walk, lie down with a pillow between my legs (for more than 4 hours) or sit (only on a wheat bag on a straight kitchen chair with another bag on my back as I look longingly at the couch). I can’t drive and my decision making is such that I would not represent myself or my team well at work. I’m good at putting things in the wrong cupboards or forgetting what I went into a room for.

back injuryI’m not complaining, the drugs are keeping the pain between 4-7/10 and whilst I hate not having a clear head, having no responsibility means I can focus on getting well and not worrying about dropping clangers at work where I really do need to be on my game. My wife kindly took 2 weeks of work at the beginning to look after me. I can now look after myself and walk to the letterbox and back. Not twice in a row though I discovered.

The good news is I am mending. Tomorrow I will be getting 3 Transforaminal Steroid Injections guided by x-ray to within half a millimeter of the 3 nerves (sounds impressive doesn’t it). I had one a few weeks ago and it got the pain levels from peaking at 9/10 to peaking at 7/10, so we’re hoping that this lot will bring it down to a level where I can reduce the meds so I can stay in bed all night and get my brain back to near normal and start planning my return to work.

Work by the way has been fantastic. I have really felt bad about not being there with my team at the end of the financial year, but conscious that if I don’t recover carefully it could be much worse. As it is I’ve been told to be extremely careful after the injections because my back pain may be reduced, but I will have to be really careful when the pain is down to not lift or do sudden movements which could set me back, so I’m expecting some physio to follow.

Buying a House Final Cover ArtSo I’ve been off most social media, blogs and anything else requiring concentration, but I have been thinking. About real estate and location based services and all the mistakes we make when we buy houses. As you know, I wrote a book a few years ago about using apps, maps and location based services. I’m now looking at a follow up course rather than updating the book. I’ve been thinking about this while I’ve been off and am keen to hear from anyone who would like to share mistakes or things they would do differently when they buy their next house.

I’m not looking for sympathy, but I’d love to hear some stories about homes you have bought and things you should have checked out first, maybe the neighbourhood, crime, amenities, the commute, property values, flooding or other things that you could have researched first. Drop me a comment. Apologies for any typos, I did proofread this about 10 times.

 

Day One External Beam Radiation for Prostate Cancer


I was all geared up to start on Monday 7 December, but it turned out that they had several people starting with both chemo and radiation, whereas I’m just doing radiation, so they changed it to Thursday 3rd December. Minor problem, I was going to be in Christchurch so we met in the middle and yesterday morning I was up at 05:30 and on my way to Mercy Hospital joining the early morning peak traffic hydrating from a bottle of water I had to finish by the time I was about half way there.

When you have radiation treatment you have to have exactly the right amount of fluid in your bladder and your bowel needs to be empty. The water helps push your organs out of the way and stops them getting hit by the radiation beams. If you don’t have that right, they’ll take you off the table to drink more or have a bowel movement (one way or another) and then you have to wait while someone else goes ahead of you as they are treating around 100 cancer patients a day!

They told me this happens to everyone around 6 times during their treatment and I didn’t want that being me. This involves changing your diet, for me it means drinking a lot more water than normal (apparently I’m in good company, in that most men live their lives in a state of dehydration) and avoiding any foods that can create wind, because gas also impacts on the shape of your bowel. If anyone wants details, I can share them but the list makes it very difficult to eat at restaurants as I found in Christchurch.

So it was with a sense of trepidation that a. I would arrive at Mercy Hospital in the right bodily state and b. that I would arrive there on time.

Once I got there I was sent downstairs where I was issued with my lava lava in a nice yellow tulip colored bag, got changed and escorted to the control panel outside the radiation room and then into the room where it all happens.

Mercy ScannerThe 2 machines on the side make up the CT scanner. When I was prepped I had an MRI and a CT scan to measure the size, shape and volume of my prostate. The CT scanner in  this room is there to make sure that you are lying in exactly the same position as you were when they took the first image. That way they don’t kill healthy parts of your body. The part at the top is where the radiation beams from.

You lie on the table with your head on a little support and your knees on the blue half pipes. They prod you into place so that you line up as above and then leave the room. Like most scanning systems they have microphones and speakers so they can stay in touch with you while you are in the room.

Once they get started the CT scanner and the radiation head rotate around your body in one 360 degree circle. It felt like something out of a science fiction movie and just as I was settling in, thinking “this is interesting” it was all over, they came in and told me I was done and I could go. The whole treatment itself took about 1 1/2 minutes.

I got dressed, went to my car and drove to work for a $4 Subway breakfast sub and a coffee that I had been hanging out for (not from Subway).

Then something hit me like being knocked in the head by an out of control snowboarder in a white out. I felt overwhelmed for a couple of hours. I think it was all the underlying stress that I had been ignoring and the release that the first bout of radiation was completed, I had drunk enough, followed the diet strictly, hadn’t embarrassed myself by having to get  up off the table, all the time reading books and Doctor Google and thinking about side effects, planning for succession at work if I needed to call in sick, all the things I’m trying to get done at work before the Christmas break, a friend who had just passed away during the week, reassuring my family and more. I was in a funk.

I worked my way out of that and had a good day in the office (my colleagues have been awesome), went home and once again felt exhausted. I ended up crashing on the bed for a couple of hours after comfort eating some nuts and my mandatory Kiwi Crush (a pleasant part of my treatment diet).

Now a day later and I’m still feeling a bit tired, but much better knowing I am on my way to dealing with this cancer. I’m getting focused on the future. Things like adding to my bucket list (number one is of course beating the cancer) and looking forward to Relay for Life. My kids have started Team Early Birds. More on that later.

 

How Do You Talk To Someone Who Has Cancer?


Last week my wife and I went into hospital to get me inducted into the process of external beam radiation. I’ll spare you most of the detail. It largely involved a CT and MRI scan to ensure that the radiation only hits the affected areas and to minimize radiating healthy parts of my body.

radiation Auckland Star 1903

Radiation Treatment according to the Auckland Star in 1903

Anyway, as I walked to the bathroom (part of the process is having the same amount of fluid in my bladder every visit), a woman piped up that she had more hair than I did. Her punchline was that this was because she was wearing a wig. I was taken aback, thinking “how do I talk to someone who has cancer?”

Then of course I realized that I have cancer and people will be wondering  how to talk to me. Funny how you have these moments of lucidity!

I realized that I now have the right to share black humor with other cancer sufferers because we are all on the same boat, so I quipped back that losing my hair wouldn’t be a problem for me.

I think humor is a very important aspect of health. People survive many tough times by engaging their sense of humor as my friend the Joyologist Pat Armitstead will attest to.

So back to my new compatriot under the wig. When she was called for her appointment, they asked her if she was well. REALLY? She responded with “I wouldn’t be here if I was!”

As she went off to her appointment I pondered on this topic and was a little disappointed in myself. Clearly she was feeling stressed and I could have sat down with her, engaging with a bit more of a joke or a chat. I will do that in future if I have the opportunity, particularly after my first bombardment with radioactive isotopes. Having become a veteran of cancer treatment, I will feel more empowered.

So how do you talk to someone who has cancer? Just like you would talk to anyone else, just keep in mind that they have a lot on their minds and may be distracted, oversensitive, tired, confused and most likely a little stressed. Lighthearted would be a good place to start. Some of us will be open to conversations and some won’t. Respect that either way.

How should you not talk to someone about cancer? The other day I was in the office lunchroom and an “exspurt” (deliberate misspelling) was giving an oratory on cancer. I was disappointed because he’s a nice guy and he obviously didn’t know that I have cancer. Anyway this kind hearted expert proceeded to tell anyone within earshot that as soon as any kind of cancer gets you, it’s all over Rover. “It will kill you, maybe not today or tomorrow,  but they all die from it”, he expounded.

I quietly left the room thinking that in our business, we not infrequently complain that every man and his dog are traffic engineering experts, telling us how to do our job. So if you have an opinion like that, I’d appreciate not hearing it. You never know who you are standing next to and what they are dealing with.

Footnote: This is my third blog about my cancer journey and I had some trepidation about sharing my adventure. It is helping me work through some of my thoughts, but more importantly:

6 people have now come to me and told me that they are going to get tested, motivated by my story and that’s really exciting. If I can help one person, who like me, is in an early treatable stage of cancer, that otherwise wouldn’t have known about it, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I really have appreciated the support from friends, family, colleagues and total strangers, some who have shared intimate experiences and all with kind thoughtfulness.

Don’t be afraid to talk to me or ask me questions, or simply leave a comment. Prostate or any cancer should not be a taboo subject.