Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Pain In The Neck - The Last Resort

December 2014.
I was reading in my rattan ‘easy-chair’.  When I got up I felt this nagging pain in the old spot.  Within a few minutes it got worse and I still thought it was an ordinary pain-in-the-neck problem because I found it hard to turn my head to the right.

A week later (19-12-2014) and still feeling pain, I went to check with a GP.  He gave me some medication.  That finished.  The stiff-neck problem went away.  But the nagging nerve pain that went down to my last 2 fingers came more and more occasionally.  By end of January I was already feeling depressive.  It was getting worse. That pesky problem from ten years ago was back to haunt me.

I called the office of my former Chiropractor who has since moved to E-Gate.  The reception gave me an appointment for 4th March, 2015.  I said I don’t know if I can last that long.  She cheerily said if there’s anyone wishing to cancel their appointment, she’d call me.  I haven’t heard from her yet.  I tried searching on line for another chiropractor in my area with little success.

Days later when there was no other option I asked neighbor the contact number for the Chinese physician he was visiting regularly.  But I had doubts about whether he can help my case.  On the morning when I was supposed to drive over to Penang to see him I changed my mind.  I searched again for another chiropractor.  And I found one in Queensbay.

After the first treatment I felt I was on the right track.  4 treatments later I feel much healthier.  

But it was not to be.  Even though I finally went back to my former chiropractor I realized my neck condition had deteriorated to such an extent that it was beyond fixing by alternative means...

After today’s chiropractic session I didn’t feel much relief.  It seems the tension is rebuilding in my neck.

Sunday.  I felt the pain was getting too intense.  I called my Chiropractor.  Nobody answered.  I sent a message to him via Facebook messenger.  Surprisingly he responded.  But he was in KL.  He told me to see his partner.  I told him I couldn’t lift my head.  He told me to get pain-killer.  I called my bro-in-law and requested his help to send me to chiropractor tomorrow.  I knew I couldn’t drive anymore.  It was too risky.

With my head tilted to the left I went to E Gate, Penang.  We arrived too early, so we had to wait.  The chiropractor tried to fix my neck.  She took extra effort and went through all the procedures.  But the pain remained.  I still had to keep my head tilted to relief the pain.  She arranged for another appointment for tomorrow.  On the way home I told bro-in-law I think the time has come for a decision to go for surgery.  I was still hesitating, still doubtful.

That afternoon the heat in the house was horrendous, especially in our dining area.  It was like an oven.  The heat was coming from the air well as the roof had only one layer of corrugated asbestos sheeting.  The on-going El Nino phenomenon added more discomfort to my condition.  At other times it didn’t seem so hot.  The pain went from bad to worse.  I tried lying down on the cool floor.  No relief there.  I went into our children’s room and turned on the air-conditioning.  I slept all afternoon with ice-pack pressed against my neck.

I had slept all night (I mean, I tried to sleep) on my left side without a pillow, keeping my head tilted in such a way that it is positioned lower than my shoulder.   It was the last position that I could maintain to escape the torture.  When morning came, I tried getting up.  I felt hopeless.  I realized the time has come.  There’s no more choice but to go for the operation, in spite of what everybody and the medium at the temple said.  I’ve reached the last resort.  I told my wife my decision.  I got her to call her sister and to prepare ice-packs.

They took me to the SP General Hospital.  Sis-in-law thought she could pull some strings and get a doctor to give me a pain-killer shot or something.  No such luck.  There was no friendly, familiar doctor around that she knew from her nursing days.  The emergency room looked like a morning market in the afternoon.  There was no sense of urgency and no signs of urgency.   After a while I was called in to see a young woman whom we thought was a doctor.  She asked a few routine questions and then told us to wait.  She was probably only an intern.

I lay sideways on a row of plastic chairs.  A Hospital Assistant passing by grabbed a blanket from a nearby wheel-chair and gave it to me telling me to place it under my head.  It was thoughtful of him, but it was of no help.  I was trying to keep my head lower than my body while lying on my side.  I shoved part of the blanket under my shoulder instead.

I told sis-in-law to call my nephew, a radiologist at LGL Hospital, Penang, to ask him if Dr Kazem was in.  Yes, he was there on duty and Dr Kazem was also present.  I said let’s go.  I got into the back behind the driver’s seat so that I could partly lie down on my left side with my wife on the far left of the seat.  We kept changing ice-packs.  Along the way some of the ice had melted.  But the cold wet towels were better than nothing. 

I began to think of other things to dissociate myself from my predicament.   I thought:  If only I had a guardian angel.  I then realized I already have one.  My mother-in-law’s face appeared in my mind.  She’s long gone from this world of turmoil and suffering, but every time I was in trouble I thought of her.  Somehow I felt I was going to be alright.  She was seeing to it that I was being taken care of.  Everything was in place to save my day, like, here’s someone driving me to hospital.  I have a veteran nurse who knew what to do when we arrive.  I do not have a medical card, but I have someone to handle the financial requirements so that there’s no delay in checking in.  And there’s a relative right there in the hospital who was already alerted of my coming and who knew about the seriousness of my condition.  In fact, he’s the doctor who made out my MRI report.

Yet, it was the longest journey I’d ever taken from Sungai Petani to Penang.

When we arrived I walked into the E.R.  A gang of orderlies, nurses and (I assume) a doctor sprang into action.  One lady in blue uniform got me on a bed, checked my blood pressure and asked me lots of questions.   With sis-in-law as my spokesperson, I requested to see Dr Kazem.  I told the reception I consulted him 10 years ago and would like to refer to him again.  They spoke to the doctor and he instructed them to send me for an emergency MRI and wait for him.  That was good for another long painful wait and a nerve-racking endurance test inside the MRI machine.  But I took comfort in that a long overdue relief was coming soon.

Later in the afternoon the doctor came.  He tried something that seemed like humour.  He said, ‘Ten years ago I told you to have that operation but you ran away.  Why?’  I said I was afraid.  Everybody and some doctors told me the operation had only a 50:50 chance of success.  I didn’t want to mention the worst, but sis-in-law spelt it out.  If it was a failure, I could end up as a vegetable.  I couldn’t take a risk with that.

(On looking back, that was when my two older girls were in higher education while the youngest was still in secondary school.  If anything happened to me their future would be affected.   I decided I had no choice but to find an alternative.  And I did find an alternative although that was good for ten years.)

He then explained that there’s nothing to be afraid of now.  He does hundreds of such operations and no one has ever had any problems.  In fact, he said, your risk of facing a mishap on the Penang Bridge is greater than the failure of this operation itself.

After all the admittance procedures and necessary paper-work were done they wheeled me into my ward for the night.  It was to be another long wait until morning.

There was a nurses’ station right outside our 4-person ward.  Music, singing and some broadcasting was blaring away on a radio or TV.  Occasionally someone was yelling out in pain or some people were quarrelling among themselves.  Nurses discuss jobs, off-day activities, or something.  It was like a market place.  The door could not close by itself.  The automatic door-closer had broken down.  Every few minutes someone would enter the room for something or other.  My room-mate had endless visitors or talk loudly on his mobile phone to well-wishers.  That night I tried to sleep but it was impossible.  And it wasn’t just because of the noise.

At one point I managed to summon the nurse for an ice-pack.  She brought me one.  Before dawn arrived I had already used up several ice-packs.

It was around 6.00am when a nurse entered the room and asked me if I could get up and take a shower or should she give me a bath.  Thrown off by that awkward question, I said I’ll try but I need another ice-pack.  She refused to oblige and ordered me to get the shower first.  Always being independent and doing things for myself, I wasn’t about to lie back and let a nurse do such personal things for me, as long as I could get up and walk, I could do it.  I forced myself up in spite of the terrible stabbing pain in the neck and headed for the bath-room.  I couldn’t locate anything that looked like a shower. 

The nurse said, ‘That’s not the shower room.  Shower-room’s next door!’  It sure was difficult trying to recognize things in semi-darkness while you’re viewing things from a horizontal angle.

I stripped and hastily showered (if you could describe wetting your head and body haphazardly, a shower), shivering, hissing and groaning in pain through my clenched teeth.  Quickly mopping off my wet head and body, I struggled to put on the operation gown.  That gown was made like an apron.  There was no covering for the back.  Only strings to tie it back.  It was as good as wearing nothing, so I struggled and managed to get my pants back on.  By the time I got back to my bedside the hissing and groaning noise level coming from me had increased by several more decibels.  The nurse told me to get back in bed. 

With her ‘job’ done, she left.  I lay down on the bed and let myself go, overwhelmed by the helplessness, frustration, more than a year-long of nagging pain and all that tension.  I let my tears flow and my nose to run into a towel I managed to grab.  My uncontrollable sobs came so loudly I thought that the racket should have woken up my room-mate by now.  But there seemed to be nothing coming from him.  Not even words of comfort or encouragement.  Here I was, feeling old, helpless and totally undignified, sobbing like a baby.  I felt like a mortally wounded survivor they somehow managed to salvage from a disaster site.  After a while of lying motionless, the pain subsided and I drifted off to sleep.

Later another nurse showed up and gave me 2 tablets I assumed to be pain-killers and allowed me a sip of water to get them down.  No more food or drink intake other than that, she said.

At around nine am, they wheeled me into an X-ray room.  Then a nurse gave me a shot I thought to be another pain-killer.  I looked around at what looked like factory store-room with grilles separating several enclosures.  There were production machines and workers moving about busy with their work.  I thought this was supposed to be a hospital…

A while later, someone said, ‘It’s over!’  (It was actually 4 ½ hours later.)  They wheeled me out of the operation room.  I noticed some familiar faces lined up outside the door but they were blurry and I couldn’t figure out who they were until I heard Chen Yee greeted me with a hand wave and a ‘Hi…!’  I opened my eyes again later and she was holding my hand and I managed to squeeze hers in response feeling grateful and comforted that things are going to get better from here on.   

When my lunch of fish porridge came I tried to get up and eat but I couldn’t manage.  My right hand wouldn’t cooperate.  There was a heavy blockage in my throat.  I found it hard to open my mouth and I couldn’t swallow.  And worse of all it was difficult to breathe.  Chen Yee fed me.  I forced myself a few mouthfuls drank some water and lay back exhausted.

Later when my wife and daughter heard about what happened the night before, Chen Yee managed to get me moved to another room.  This one I shared with a guy named Ganesh who was suffering from diabetes and some other renal problems.  He was a quiet chap who loves to watch TV thrillers (like Mission Impossible) around midnight with the full sound system.  After the movie ended, I told him if he wanted to watch some more TV, go ahead, but please turn down the sound.  He said, ‘No’.  And he went to sleep.

to be continued...


  1. What an experience you went through!!! Hope that in a few years, you'll return to read this and smile because somehow you survived!

  2. In this abandoned 'Blogosphere' we still find kindred souls. No one else bothered to read blogs anymore, much less to comment with some healing words. Thank you Lita.

  3. Hi Teh, how are you coping there?

    im relieved to find your experience on neck osteo-phytes (bone spur). My husband had the same experience of neck & shoulder pain which you experienced some 10yrs ago. He recently had a MRI scan & the surgeon diagnosed C3 & C4 osteo-phytes. We were shocked to learn about this news.

    We appreciate if you could share your methods of recovery, methods that you have tried & practised deemed effective that minimize the pain & perhaps restoring the cervical spine.

    Alternatively, would it be possible to have your email address where we could communicate & understand more of your experience.

    We appreciate if you could share your experience & hope to hear from you soon. Thank you,