I’ve always been a slave to the desk spending far too long there, driving myself hard to do the best I can for those who work for me. My job has for most of my life been not only my career, but also my hobby and my passion. I don’t think the military can be anything other than a lifestyle choice if you’re to have any chance of happiness and success in it. Now all those hours sat hunched over desks built for average sized people and me being about 6ft 1 has meant that neck pain is nothing new to me. I’d lived with a mild ache for years but a good run or session in the gym normally got rid of it. However, at the end of 2009 my neck pain had slowly gotten worse and knowing we weren’t due to deploy on operations for at least a year, I thought now is the time to finally do something about this. Heat pads and enough neurofen to down a horse were losing their effectiveness and I was a bit sick of living with the pain which had for some reason started to get worse lately.
So in December 2009 I went to see my military GP to try to procure a referral for physiotherapy. He was as helpful and efficient as always and before I knew it I had my first appointment. The military have a fantastic and rapid referral system which aims to get initial assessments and quick impact treatment commenced as soon as possible. Great news we’ll soon have this cracked I thought. Physio was a nice guy, very efficient and when I had the initial assessment explained to me that the relatively low level headaches I’d been getting – the medics use a pain scale of 1 – 10, 1 being okay, 10 absolute living hell get me an ambulance now and I was on about a 2 at this stage – were very common in people with postural problems and neck pain, he had all sorts of posters that through the use of diagrams explained the theory. It all seemed to make absolute sense and was very much the most obvious explanation.
So, off we went on the great Physio adventure. Neck pummelled, heat applied, taking a break regularly from the desk at work, stretching exercises, feet and stride analysed and corrected, he even tried sticking needles in me! We did it all and at no stage could I fault his logic, because for 99.99 % of people that was the most likely reason for the neck pain. As an aside, what was bloody typical for me was that here I was in a room full of very nice, fit and healthy female physios and I got the hairy ar*ed South African bloke.
So all good you would think, well by about March 10 there was no improvement and to top it all, the damn headaches were getting worse! By this time I was getting some other symptoms which were worrying me somewhat. The strangest for me was a numb spot in the middle of my tongue which seemed to come and go at random. It made me feel like I was lisping, my mouth was filling with saliva and I was becoming paranoid I sounded like Elmer Fudd. I’ve also had perfect 20/20 vision all my life, but was finding that I was having real problems when driving at night, getting tunnel vision which sometimes sprang up on me so suddenly, I had to pull the car over.
Maybe I was just turning into an old git and the time had finally come for me to have glasses when reading and driving. So I had an eye test and no, no problems there. The well meaning Optician came up with some theory about my having developed a habit of fixating on objects in front of me when driving, which caused blurred vision. I wasn’t convinced but tried the techniques he suggested which surprisingly seemed to help a bit, although I guess maybe it was just psychological and the evenings were getting lighter anyway. I’d also started to get what I call ‘shaky hand syndrome’, locking the door of the house when leaving was becoming a very frustrating two handed affair and I also found that I kept dropping things, every now and again my hands just seemed to lose their link to my brain. It was infuriating, I would be wanting an action to happen and it just wouldn’t, very hard to describe and very annoying. This was also the cause of some comedy stumbling moments when the same happened to my feet and legs. As if all that wasn’t enough, my historically poor memory had become even worse.
I didn’t really know what to make of it all but thought maybe it was all just down to stress and I needed to in the words of the often used phrase in a hard-worked Army take responsibility myself and ‘correct the work/life balance’. How could anyone possibly suggest that in the current climate people in the Army may be overworked and under-resourced?! Anyway. I did feel stressed at work which I shouldn’t have done, I’d done a similar job as a Squadron Commander albeit in a slightly different organisat1ion before, where we put up to 200 new recruits at a time through basic training. This in itself with all the changes to rules that came out of the Deepcut Inquiry, was an extremely stressful period. I therefore wasn’t phased by my current job at all and in many respects was better supported by the hard hitting planning team I now had supporting me which for structural reasons I hadn’t had in the previous job.
I certainly didn’t struggle with the work we were doing, the major problem was that despite this I was having to mentally work very hard, to think, to operate, to just be my normal self. I realize now, looking back, that it was how I was starting to feel physically that was putting me under additional pressure and not my work. As a new experience it took me a little longer to bring it all together. I’ve spent my whole life used to being sharp all the time, working on the edge, thinking and anticipating. I’d without realizing it slipped into a mentality where I was just exhausted all the time and wanted to be left alone. It was incredibly frustrating.
So around April 10 I was at the physio for another routine appointment – for some reason I cannot recall my normal person was away. However there was a lovely lady standing in called Vicky who decided to have a go at beating my neck up. Before she started she did a full patient assessment during which I told her all of the above paragraph. I must have sounded like a real sick note. I clearly did too good a job because when I’d finished talking she didn’t want to do anything to my neck instead telling me she was referring me back to the Doctor with the advice that I be referred to a Neurologist to get my neck scanned. Dammit, more delay! She explained that I had described a number of what they call ‘Red Flags’ and she was therefore not happy. I could only respect her professionalism and off I went to make an appointment back with the Doc.
The Doc agreed and referred me to a Consultant Neurologist whom I saw shortly afterwards. He gave me a full neurological examination followed by lots of reassurance, the symptoms were very non-specific and of course the brain is still not fully understood. It could be any number of things but most likely nothing at all and related entirely to postural problems. However, there was no harm in doing some precautionary MRI scans to make sure we were 100%. I had BUPA cover – if you’re military or immediate family of then it’s nearly a 50% discount http://www.bupa.co.uk/uk-products/hm-forces-mod The Neurologist agreed that once it was done and confirmed there was nothing wrong with me skeletally then the Physio could really go to town on my neck and sort it out. Happy days!