"Just a note to say a big Thank You and express my gratitude to the team that cared for me on my 'Patient Journey'. From the moment I first consulted Dr Hunt, my GP at Milton Surgery, right through to discharge, I felt cared for and that I received the best treatment under Mr Laing and Dr Gupta and the attentive staff at the Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital.
All-in-all, the care I received couldn’t have been better - better than any other hospital stay I’ve had, despite this one being the most serious.
"I first had symptoms of mild lower back pain in mid-February. On the 1 March I had flu and felt my back suddenly 'pop' when I coughed. I saw Dr Hunt for the first time in three years on 5 March when I realised this was something more than my usual back pain. Dr Hunt recommended referral when I consulted him for a second time nine days later on 14 March because my signs and symptoms had extended down my left leg and into my foot. The care that I received at Milton Surgery was of its usual high standard of friendliness and efficiency.
"I telephoned Mrs Annie Bannister who arranged an appointment with Mr. Laing for the 18 March when he confidently diagnosed a suspected lumbar radiculopathy which is a trapped nerve due to a slipped disc in my lower back. He requested an MRI and Mrs Bannister arranged this to accommodate my prearranged commitments. I had several email exchanges and telephone conversations with Mrs Bannister (an endurance athlete 'out-of-the running' is never going to be easy to deal with) and she was always exceptionally friendly and helpful. She has a calm and efficient manner that quells anxiety and replaces it with confidence.
"I had my MRI on 27 March and the reception staff at the Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital was again friendly and efficient. The MRI nurse was particularly engaging and thorough. She checked me after I had assured her that I had no metal on- or in- my person and noticed that I had a zip in my running shorts which was fortunate for me - I would otherwise have suffered a very hot bottom! She knew, too, that the Sounds of South Africa that I’d selected to listen to (I’m South African) would disappoint because it was not the 'Township/Kwela' I’d be expecting. Dave (MRI Manager) was very accessible and reassuring.
"I saw Mr Laing for review of my MRI on 1 April and he confirmed his diagnosis of a prolapsed intervertebral disc at the L4/L5 level that was trapping the sciatic nerve at its root and causing the pain in my leg with weakness and pins and needles in my foot. He clearly outlined the options, and associated benefits/risks of each, so that I had confidence in choosing what I felt was the best approach and I felt included in the decision-making process.
"Mrs Bannister arranged my preanaesthetic blood screen and ECG for 7 April. The phlebotomist remembered me from our brief meeting when I visited a week before. She was kind and reassuring and very good at taking blood.
"Very soon afterwards, Mrs Bannister telephoned to inform me of the date and time of my operation and I was admitted on the 11 April.
"Being a vet who’d performed a few of these procedures on doggies (and not enjoying them), I was fairly anxious about the possible complications and was, therefore, nervous before I arrived. Admission assessment was straightforward and carried out by a Polish nurse - Liliana? (I have Polish ancestry) in a very friendly, calming and efficient manner. Dr Gupta, the anaesthetist, and Mr Laing followed in succession and were very engaging and reassuring, answering all my, and my wife’s (she’s an anaesthetist), questions.
"After a short wait, I was wheeled to the Prep Room where I was met by Dr Gupta and the happy Operating Department Assistant. I was even more anxious by now, having only had one previous general anaesthetic, but the manner of both Dr Gupta and the ODA was soothing and very empathetic. They did a great job of sending me off to sleep.
"Then I woke up suddenly 2¼ hours later in recovery. My first sensation was of pain in my left foot and I was disappointed because my expectations had been set too high (my brother had undergone similar surgery and had experienced immediate relief). Then the peri-operative pain-killers began to wear off and I was given Codeine which made me feel quite sick. A nice nurse (whose name I can’t remember, I’m afraid) gave me something for the nausea but that made me feel really strange. A short while later the same nurse returned to give me a jolly uncomfortable injection to prevent blood clots (a routine requirement for most operations) so it was not my day! As the pain increased, I sank into despair when I realised I hadn’t been as mobile as Mr Laing had expected and that I wouldn’t be going home that night. I also had a distressing time trying to empty my bladder but not succeeding. When I relaxed a little this sorted itself out. During this whole time, the comfort of the Spire Cambridge Lea Hospital and the level of care and attention of its staff minimised my distress.
"Looking back, my care in recovery and back on the ward was marvellous and answered to all my needs. The nurses were very kind and patient when giving me injections when I was at my most disorientated, vulnerable and quite anxious. Juliette who took my blood pressure and gave me my pain-killers at regular intervals was particularly friendly and concerned for my well-being. Later on, Dr Gupta and Mr Laing visited me after they’d completed their list and were both calmly reassuring saying that the operation had gone well, the slipped disc and some bone had been removed, the nerve was floating freely and I would get better but it could take a little while. My calmness returned and the pain immediately began to recede. The nurse on night duty was helpful and caring when I requested top-up pain-killers an hour early at 03:00!
"After a hearty breakfast served up at 08:00 by a very jolly lady, discharge was promptly and completely done by Kathryn who, sympathetically, efficiently and thoroughly, explained instructions to me. Before I left, Jane (the engaging and very encouraging physiotherapist) took me and another patient (an endurance cyclist) through what we could and couldn’t do. I have to assume that endurance fanatics are more neurotic than 'normal' patients and so it was only the two of us from the days’ list who stayed on the ward for the night.
"All-in-all, the care I received couldn’t have been better - better than any other hospital stay I’ve had, despite this one being the most serious. I suffered some sleep disturbance and nightmares for a few days and was tired and in a little (diminishing) pain over the week but learned what I had to do to minimise this.
"At my follow-up 10 days later, Mr Laing very reassuringly stated that he was happy with my progress (even though I hadn’t been able to run the London Marathon two days post-op!). The extent of the disc compression was responsible for the persistent signs I'm continuing to experience which, at a sensory nerve regeneration rate of 2mm/day, could mean a long time for the tingling in my foot to resolve (luckily I’ve got short legs!) - but that the aim of what, for him, was very gratifying surgery to do, was to restore function so that I could return to running sooner than with conservative treatment. I was told that I could return to training as soon as I felt able, to have another month off of running and to take it easy and accept that I may have to adopt an alternative sport - perhaps not now, but definitely at some time in the future. Guess I have to believe that. And there I was thinking that 'Old Runners Never Die, They Just Thin Out'. At least with the care that I received from the Spire Cambridge Lea team, I can continue my passion for a while. As they say: 'Obsessed is just a word The Lazy use to describe The Dedicated'.
"I appreciated everyone’s effort in collectively making the experience as easy as possible for an anxious veterinary endurance athlete. I’d purchased a brace of new minimalist/barefoot running shoes to motivate me while I convalesced … and, only 12 days after discharge, went for my first short-slow run (1 mile in 15 mins (9 mins per km) in 10 weeks! Only don’t tell Mr Laing (although I suspect he already knows).
"Addendum: On the 4 May I noticed some inflammation, swelling and oozing around the wound - I’d been (carefully) bending and twisting quite a bit the previous day and, without me realising, my trouser belt had been rubbing the wound as we packed for our imminent house move. My wife phoned the ward and, five minutes later, Mr Laing called back with reassurance that it didn’t sound like anything too sinister. He asked my wife to write me up for a prescription of antibiotic and we headed happily into town to fill it. Who says consultants are never contactable on Bank Holiday weekends?