Coccygectomy has it's risks but it is the best thing that has ever happened to me

Gemma King - wingnutgk@hotmail.com

It all starts when I am 4 months pregnant with my son Thomas in 1990, I started getting horrible pains in my lower back and shooting pains down both my legs. I was waitressing which meant I spent most of my life walking - that was fine, it was the sitting that caused the pain. After the birth (which was painful) my doctor diagnosed a fractured/dislocated coccyx due to the relaxation of the ligaments. He gave me painkillers and said it would take around 2 years to improve - this was early 1991.

I spent the next 7 years (also covering my daughter being born in 1993) on varying amounts on pain killers. Being fobbed off as a hypochondriac/time waster and generally being made to feel stupid by the assorted UK NHS doctors I spoke to. An operation was not an option "suitable" to me. I had soon OK times and some horrible times. I don't actually have any recollection of being "pain free". I may have done... but I just remember degrees of hurt.

By late 1997 I could hardly walk, was on anti-depressants to help me sleep at night (4 hours if I took extra), pain killers to help me work during the day and then a bunch of pills to counteract the affects of all the drugs I was taking. I refused to allow the pain to run my life - but of course it did. I laid a carpet in my bathroom - about 3' x 8' and couldn't move for 3 days. I couldn't do anything - but lay on my sofa and hobble around my office.

Luckily I was making not bad money in my job. I started paying a private osteopath (physicalbalance.com - recommend if you are local to Hampshire, UK). I had some x-rays done and also forked out a few hundred quid on an MRI. Ian (my osteopath) told me that he couldn't help me properly because my whole spine was a mess. He could put things back in place but because it was a physical problem pushing everything out he couldn't stop it happening without clearing the underlying problem. However with the manipulation, it meant my spine was slowly being trained to stay in the correct place and my pain-free (ish) times lengthened between visits, up to 3 days. I also had cortisone injections and cranial osteopathy. Cortisone did nothing but the cranial stuff was worth a try.

Ian and I discussed what I had done in the past - I used to do gymnastics from 11-15 - which possibly could of caused the initial injury. When the pregnancy hormones kicked in (ligament relaxers), this could of allowed the injury to show itself, and then because I sat bad (because it hurt) that caused other problems up and down my spine. I was getting extremely depressed. I couldn't work properly or walk properly. I had little or no feeling below my knees and screaming pain down the back of both legs (chronic sciatica). My neck and shoulders were locked up (due to sitting badly) and the middle of my back was kinked at stupid angles.

What did I get from Mr NHS...?. we are going to do "Long Term Pain Management"... I was 26. I got to wondering how "long term" could I manage? I was having trouble living day to day. My kids helped my try to look at the long term... I was lucky to have the support of my family, friends and boyfriend. My career was failing rapidly. I work in sales and you have to be on the ball. I was losing sales (and therefore commission) because I simply couldn't function. But in the end it was my job that made the difference. We changed our Private Health Insurance to one that took pre-existing illnesses. I was down the doctors before you could shout "queue jumper"!

They (the NHS) didn't want to refer me because I was "better off on drugs" - at this point my toys were formally thrown a far distance from the pram... so to stop me shouting they referred me to our local private hospital (The Hampshire Clinic in Basingstoke where Ian is based). I met the orthopaedic surgeon who x-rayed me, repeated the cortisone injections and asked me to do some Physical Therapy just to clear off the non-invasive stuff (just in case). I did gentle exercise, acupuncture, magnet therapy and continued my osteopathic visits. It was quickly apparent that it wasn't helping so I was offered a coccygectomy. I then waited for two months to pick a "good time" for work (don't ask!!).

27th July 1998, Monday... afternoon operation. I was scared witless as I hate operations (I had my appendix out when big son was 12 months old). I signed the consent form which said I understood I may wake up paralysed from the waist down. It was a preferable option to the pain I was in.

Monday late PM - back in my private room - watching Eastenders, surprisingly pain free.

Tuesday PM - I thank the surgeon for curing me. He told me not to be so stupid as it was too soon to tell - I could tell... I had feeling in my feet for the first time in years. I could sit without pain, I could move without pain - OK I had pain from the operation site. I didn't have sciatica for the first time in seven years. I also had (and still have) ticklish feet - not something I had as a child either!!

Wednesday - I keep being sick - and continue to for the following several weeks.... That is another story... I had my coil taken out due to it causing womb pressure which causes spinal pressure. You'd think I'd know better by then... Not a anaesthetic reaction I was blooming pregnant again. I had six weeks off work to recuperate. I did need all six weeks - but it was the scar that hurt, not my back. Proper pain!

Child No.3 turns up April 8th 1999.

April 9th 1999 - the first night sleep I had in many years without back pain or pregnancy stuff. I woke up after 6 hours solid sleep with my chest hurting from how deep I had slept. It was marvellous. I "officially" had NOTHING wrong with me. However I did have a couple of small issues. I had no muscles left in my waist, bottom or lower back - having not been able to use them for years and then hitting the whole motherhood impact.

I started doing Pilates - if you haven't tried it - please do so. It works on strengthening your stomach muscles to support your back. Make sure you go to a recommended class as you have to keep the exercise within your personal range and overdoing it is NOT a good thing. Do what your body tells you and listen to any pain. It has finally built my muscles back up - I am fit, healthy, jumpy around and PAIN FREE...6 years ago I was waiting for a wheelchair - now I can chase them...

I spent a long time sat about not being able to move - almost as long as typing all this. If I hadn't have got my operation done via work I would have paid for it myself (via a loan or something/anything). I paid tax against the operation so I got to see how much it cost, £2500... the NHS paid out £200 A MONTH in pills for me not to hurt - over 7 years (200 x 12 x 7... er.. £16,800.00.) I think I got a bargain.

My message to anyone suffering - get a 2nd, 3rd opinion. The operation does NOT suit everyone but make sure you are not being fobbed off by someone who doesn't know for sure. It has it's risks but it is the best thing that has ever happened to me... well apart from the kids and stuff... but they still cause me stress and pain and my back doesn't.

I tried all sorts of stuff to stop the pain... legal and illegal. Not sure if I can offer anyone good advice, but have "been there and done that" and if I can help I am happy to.

Gemma King

Updated 2004-08-08

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