That initial improvement was amazing for me. I'd been on crutches for three months and almost completely non-weight bearing for three months prior to the surgery. Although the stimulator didn't reduce my pain enough that I could get off the crutches, it improved it enough to start weight bearing again. I was much happier and more relaxed, actually getting some sleep, and everybody around me commented on how much more comfortable I looked. Everything was going well for a few months, but then I began to develop dystonia in my foot and ankle. In my case, this meant that the muscles down the back and inside of my calf, foot and ankle began to spasm and contract, pulling my foot inwards, almost to the point where I was walking on the top of my foot. This meant that I was in more pain, and that it was becoming increasingly difficult to take any weight through that leg. Until that time I had managed to avoid taking any serious pain medications but finally I had no option.
I was going into my second semester of third year Vet at this stage, and I was getting close to exhaustion. I’d spent the week before exams in hospital for a sympathetic nerve block that hadn’t worked the way we’d hoped, somehow dragged myself through exams with surprisingly respectable marks, then gone straight back into hospital for my stimulator trial and placement. I’d had no real break and although the stimulator had given me those few months of reduced pain I was wrecked. Going onto pain medication and trying to tackle uni as well was enormously difficult. Chronic pain is wearing; it makes you very tired and nauseous, and the drugs just added to that. By this time, a mild depression was starting to creep up on me as well. I was doing my placements in external clinics and my rotations at uni – all on crutches – and starting to seriously wonder how I was ever going to manage in practice. I’d never dreamed of being anything other than a vet, and that dream was threatening to slip away. I collapsed more than once when the pain, exhaustion and drug side effects just became too much for me and without the friends who carried me through, sometimes literally, I don’t think I would have lasted. I seriously considered deferring my final year and taking a rest – even with hindsight, I’m still not sure whether or not the decision to continue was the right one. On one hand, the rest may have allowed me to recuperate, to get some control of the beast. To go back and graduate, and be able to work as I’d dreamed. On the other, it may have progressed anyway. I may never have graduated at all. There is no time, I think, for ‘what ifs?’.