In April 1990, after completing a four-year apprenticeship as a fitter machinist and then travelling around the world for 12 months I drove through the gates of the NSW Police Academy a fit, healthy 24-year-old ready to fight crime and help the community where ever I’m posted. But a bit naive to an organisation yet to be changed.
I continued my fitness, running every day. Ten kilometres was easy. I enjoyed my surfing, snow skiing and off-road driving. I was very active and spent a lot of time outdoors. My first posting was to the Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs at Waverley Police Station. Here I got a solid grounding to the daily life of a Police Officer, still young and enjoying the vast experiences that the job threw at me. I married and after six years at Waverley managed to secure a transfer to area, where I grew up at, The Entrance on the NSW Central Coast. My first child was on his way and life was happy, still being active and enjoying my sports. Not long after this son number two arrived.
I set myself goals and achievements, performing various duties over the oncoming years expanding my career opportunities with the foresight of promotion. Completing numerous internal courses as an Education Officer and facilitator for courses along with becoming a driver training instructor for both, vehicles and 4WD’s whilst being an involved, committed, father to two gorgeous boys.
Fast-forward now to the 5th November 2005. My rostered shift for that evening was on General Duties performing the role as Custody Manager at The Entrance Police Station. It was about 4.30am and the Charge room had quietened down. I remember it was raining and had not stopped most of the night. At the rear of The Entrance Police Station was a demountable building which housed Commander and Duty Officers whilst new premises were being constructed at Wyong. About this time, I knew that our Duty Officer was in his office and I had a reason to speak to him in relation to the night’s incidences. I quickly walked out of The Charge room and up a small set of stairs that joined to the demountable. The stairs were wet and it was bucketing down rain. About the second step, I took up the stairs, I seemed to have slipped on the edge of the step causing me to fall forward with my knees hitting the wet cement stairs causing my trousers to get wet spots on the knees. I quickly got up and continued. Whilst speaking the Duty Officer in his office he remarked why were my trousers wet on my knees. I jokingly relied, ` I fell up the cement steps, it’s bucketing down outside’. (I think I used a few more colourful words in the description of events though). After a while I returned to the Charge room and massaged my left leg a little. I had a conversation with my Supervising Sergeant at the time, explaining what had happened and who insisted that I put a self-reporting injury form into the system, just in case. One was submitted and I completed my shift at 6.30am only to return at 6.00pm that night for another shift.
By the time I had got home, I felt some minor pain in my left leg and ankle but thought not much of it and soon went to bed exhausted. I returned to work that night with what felt like a sprained ankle. I was due to have six rest days off after this shift and requested that I perform Custody Manager again due to my ankle just not being right and allowing it to rest. The shift began as normal and as being one of the busiest Commands in the state we soon had a full charge room. I was extremely busy and not thinking of any thing but churning out Bail to offenders and processing the necessary paperwork for Court proceedings. I remained poised behind the Charge Counter for several hours and at a point around 2am I hopped off my tower chair with my feet hitting the floor and what felt like all hell had hit me for no reason, leapt, from one side of the charge room to the other screaming. My left lower leg and foot were so tight within my boot, swollen, I had not noticed until I put pressure on them. I was subsequently driven to Gosford Hospital for an X-ray which showed that I had a small fracture in my left lower Tibia. My leg was placed into a backslap plaster cast and due to return to the fracture clinic in a week’s time. Wow, a simple slip on a stair caused that. Well things can only get better.
Over the next few weeks, I had seen my own GP, had a fibre cast put on and at least lived life as normal as anyone with a minor broken bone. Looking forward to Christmas and my boys enjoying the summer, hitting the beach and swimming at home in the pool, I was biding time until the cast was removed, knowing there would be a small recovery period and returning to work. Five weeks had now past and my leg was starting to throb within the cast. The pain soon became unbearable, so I went to my GP and he sent me for a ultra-sound with the thought of possible blood clotting or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Being the fifth week, my cast was cut off, length ways and bandaged around to still contain the support. The following day the pain in my leg was unbearable. The next day I was referred to a specialist doctor at North Gosford Hospital. He removed the cast and bandages and my leg had swollen dramatically over the past couple of days. The doctor was concerned and stated that I may be off work for a further six weeks. To reduce the swelling he requested that I wear a compression stocking, go home and raise my leg above my heart for long periods of time for the next 2 weeks and then we would attempt to build back strength. Over the next few days, the pain increased as did the swelling, even though I kept my leg raised. As soon as I stood up, I could actually see fluid from my leg filling my foot and then continue up my lower leg. I could push my finger into the side of my leg about 1cm deep making a divot with no pain to that area, which would remain for a short period and fill up again. I was prescribed some medications, diuretics to reduce fluid and Panadeine forte for pain. Over the next couple of weeks, I was in extreme pain where my leg felt like it was on fire and the fluid inside rushing around like a series of whirlpools. My leg and foot were a large oedema and looked like it was going to burst the skin and became tight and changed colours. I was losing track of doctor appointments and unsure of what was happening as no one could diagnose my condition
By the end of January, almost 3 months later, I saw another Specialist Doctor who started to shed some light on my mysterious condition. After a lengthy consultation with him, he lent into the side of his desk and pulled out a piece of paper and stated that he had just been to a seminar and I may have what they call, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), more commonly now known as Complex Region Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Although being in extreme pain it was still not clear what this diagnose was so I was sent off for bone scan imagining, MRI’s and CAT scans. A few days later I returned to this Specialist Doctor who confirmed I had the condition called RSD or CRPS. Somehow, I was slightly relieved as I now know what this thing was that I have, but yet to know how to deal with it. There were still many sleepless nights with extreme pain to follow and the stress that this would have on me, my family and my job.
I started Physiotherapy to help build up muscle which I had lost. The bones in my foot had `feathered’ due to the swirling of fluid so it was difficult to walk unsupported. I gave up the crutches and attempted to walk around the house using furniture to support me. I still remain on pain killers and this in itself has other consequences to the functioning of your internal body movements which requires other medication to assist. In other words, one drug may help the pain but it stuffs up your daily functions (nice). This being a work-related injury I had assistance to help support me through and my GP became the hub of knowledge assisting and controlling medications for pain and referrals to Specialists. The pain continued to increase although the swelling was contained. By this time, I had tried numerous forms of nerve pain medication and finding things hard to recall due to short term memory loss. I had started seeing a Psychologist to assist me not only with the stress but the anxiety, depression and now chronic pain. My mind would act as normal and I would turn around but my leg would stay in the same position. It was as if I was paralysed for a short period. I had a phobia of walking up and down stairs, always holding tightly to the rail so not to fall. I dare not walk to fast or attempt to run in fear that my leg would not follow through causing me to fall face first. I was afraid of walking out in public and embarrassing myself. This Psychologist introduced me to mirror therapy in an attempt to trick my mind by placing a mirror between my legs and having me move my right leg whilst looking at the mirror thinking I was in control of my left leg. For some reason it appeared to have an effect on the mind and with time I managed to regain control of my leg.
I finally returned to work on a part time basis in mid-March 2006, restricted office duties. Still in a lot of pain but I was able to contain it, so I look normal, acted normal and appeared normal to my colleagues, who really were unaware of what I have experienced. Who would have thought a slip on a step with a minor broken bone some 4 months ago could have such a big impact on life? Now I was determined to get on with it and back to normality.
The pain did not go away and I continued doing my physiotherapy, hydro therapy and medications but for some reason after a further 5 months had passed, I was yet again struck down with pain. Due to walking uneven and being on high doses of pain medication I was unaware that I had bulged, discs, in my back. I underwent numerous nerve block operations to alleviate the pain, but this only lasted a short time hence requiring further operation in the future to no avail. I returned to work in early 2007, again to office duties. I can remember copping a remark from a colleague in passing say to me, `you look OK, you should be out on the truck’, meaning working front line policing. I took it somewhat as a joke but another person nearby heard it and said to me, `You don’t need to take that. I’d walk out the door. They should have known better’. This person was right when thinking back on it. I felt that obviously people think I’m `bludging’ at work. I like my job and enjoy being a Police Officer working shift work. But I suppose others felt different. I may look OK but they don’t know what barriers I had at the time stopping me from my potential that was not my fault. I pushed on and eventually returned to full duties by mid-June 2007. I had learnt to live with the ongoing pain and maintained my fitness.
February 2009 and the pain in my left foot and leg had started to increase where I was finding it hard to walk. I began to feel the same pain in both my feet and ankles. Unbeknown to me that the CRPS was transferring from one leg to the other.
“The chance of a recurrence of CRPS is greater than the chance of it occurring for the first time. However, if it does recur following a period of remission, it won't necessarily recur at the same site and may recur spontaneously, ie there may be no single identifiable reason for the recurrence”. (BLB Chronic Pain).
Here we go again. Yes, but this time the CRPS came back bigger, stronger and more aggressive. This time it ended up having a detrimental effect on my life, marriage, children and physiologically. This time it lasted longer took more intense pain management to control and physically changed me. It came back in both feet, ankles and legs. The pain was so severe that I was on morphine patches of 40mg for months. I felt like I was living in a bubble. I tried to maintain a normal life but this was impossible due to the medications, pain and daily pressures of family. I remained off work for 6 months, which seemed an eternity. CRPS can affect any part of the body and its organs at any time. I now have a heart condition where it races at around 200 beats per minute due to the sympathetic nerve from the CRPS, which I control with medications twice a day.
I returned to work on limited duties for a long period of time until I was able to resume full hours and full duties. This was not without chronic pain, anguish and the loss of my marriage. With the help of my GP, Pysio and Phycologists along with other medical practitioners I managed to deal with my depression, anxiety and chronic pain.
In the past few years, I was required to have surgery on both my feet to correct the bone damage that was caused by the `feathering’ from the CRPS. I have plates and pins inserted into my toes and some bones removed. This was only done when I felt that I was capable of dealing with the possibility of CRPS coming back, which it did. The pain will never go but it will never kill me, so I can manage it. Some days it’s worse than others and the weather is not my friend playing a huge part to the discomfort. On bad days I may sit around more unable to enjoy what I had done in the past. On better days I tend to make the most of things and try to push through the pain by doing more. I don’t enjoy the ocean as much as I did as the cold-water effects my nerves causing pain, even on some hot days. My life has changed as a result of this condition and living with chronic pain. I have found new hobbies and ways to exercise, but to a limited capacity. It has been trial and error, knowing how much to do and when to do things. Adapting with life and what it and work throws at me.
On the McGill Pain Index, CRPS ranks 42 out of 50, making it one of the most severe pain conditions of all, even rated more painful than childbirth, amputation and the pain associated with cancer. A burning, gnawing pain that won’t go away.
I have met and married a lovely lady who is supportive, caring and understands what it is like living with chronic pain. I still remain at work performing full duties as a General Duties, front line Police Officer with 30 years’ experience. I still continue to enjoy my job, educating junior Police in driving and 4WD’s along with facilitating some internal courses.
It has now been 15 years since that little slip up a step that changed my life. People are unaware that I live my daily life with chronic pain as I don’t complain and because my pain can’t be seen. It’s a hard concept, but pain won’t kill you, you just have to learn to deal and live with it.