The last moments seen right of nervous good health back at the end of July…
I’ve been waiting to post these thoughts for four months as my left arm and hand’s ulnar nerve has begun, at last, to heal from a very nasty uncharacteristically (honest) alcohol-related, zero miles-per-hour crash in Dublin at the end of July.
The great Round-the-World cycle tour probably won’t happen as a result, and aged just over 60 with what MRI scans and X-rays inform me is a not-unusual-for-the-age arthritic neck, I’ve learned more than ever I would have wished to about how nerves can get damaged and then slowly – VERY slowly – begin to heal .
It should have been, after all, a very safe Cirencester Church Choir’s summer trip to Dublin, singing the weekend services at St Patrick’s Cathedral. So how did it happen?
OK, I’ll own up. Too much pre-Saturday-lunch Guinness at the Guinness Factory, followed by too much later-afternoon Guinness after watching the show Riverdance, followed by a killer glass (+ a bit) of white wine at dinner. Followed – and this is the silly bit – by sleeping, semi-anaesthetised, awkwardly on two pillows instead of the usual one in an unfamiliar Dublin hotel bed, with neck in effect in traction.
As simple as that. The result? Left cervical nerve root at C8 got hammered, squashed, stretched, and partially severed. With the consequence of crippling nerve pain in hand and forearm, numbness/pain in the foot (referred pain down the spinal cord and sciatic nerve), and virtual immobilisation, for several weeks. (If you know the terminology, you like me probably know more than you would like to about neck injury)
Bye-bye German tandem holiday, and bye-bye two months’ worth of therapy work with clients.
Ah well. All is now getting better, and a lovely doctor at the John Radcliffe in Oxford has just done detailed nerve conduction tests which show how the axons (that’s the actual wiring) were indeed severed in part, but how also they’re now slowly growing back, while neighbouring nerve circuits are helping my left hand regain some of its previous grip and strength.
It was thrilling, emotional too, to see on his computer screen and especially hear on his loudspeakers the chatter of the nerves as they tried to communicate with the muscles in my hand, some of which have wasted as they’ve lost their nerve connections to the brain.
Healing is indeed happening, my doctor told me, but as the dear old axons grow at only a foot a year, it will be two or three years before, with luck, I’m fully back to normal. And possibly longer if that’s how long it takes the ball of the foot to come back on line.
Cycling has had to stop for the time being, as has any vigorous exercise. Playing guitar again has been good and challenging, however, as the left hand’s blessed little finger (I have a whole new relationship to my nerves and my body as a result of this, which is a very real silver lining) has gradually regained power.
I’m re-learning Ralph McTell’s ragtime pieces, with simpler and, it turns out, more effective fingering. Meaning there’s one piece which is at last coming right after 40 years of not being able to play properly!
The point of all this? If you’ve suffered nerve damage, or what my electrical doctor today rather kindly termed Insult to the Nerves, you’ll know how achingly painful and long-lasting the consequences can be.
And if you’ve read this far, here are some websites which I found marvellously informative about what this injury actually is. Though nowhere, literally nowhere, have I found reference to anyone who’s managed to injure themselves so severely at a nerve root level as thoroughly and, let’s face it, stupidly as I did.
Thank you Guinness – you’ve finally cured me altogether of alcohol.
eMedicine summary of the physiology of cervical neck injury.
Eight steps to beating cervical radiculopathy – a helpful website by a fellow sufferer.
Pain Clinic’s account of what goes on when the nerve gets bashed or stretched.