Thursday 29 September 2016

'Don't ignore back pain, but ignore me lying on the floor...' - Ivan Yates

Broadcaster Ivan Yates' biggest regret is not dealing with his back pain sooner. Even after surgery, he admits he has adjusted his life to live with the pain. His message to others is to seek help - now

Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30

Ivan Yates regrets not treating his back sooner.
Ivan Yates regrets not treating his back sooner.

Back in February 2003, I was doing very long car journeys and I got this worsening back ache in my lower back. Unfortunately, I ignored it and as a result I have a disability for the rest of my life.

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My pain manifests in two ways, first of all when I sit for any length of time I have a dull, stabbing, throbbing pain - like a really bad migraine - right in the centre of my lower spine. Then if I don't get up out of the chair, if I remain sitting, it permeates down my left leg. Starting at my toes I get pins and needles, and eventually my whole leg will go numb and I can't walk.

Sitting is without a doubt the worst aggravator. If I sit in a chair for more than 30 minutes, notwithstanding the medication I take, the pain commences and it just ratchets up incrementally. That is my back telling me to get out of the seat, stand up, kneel or lie on the floor - do anything to relieve the pain. Basically my upper body weight on my spine is causing the pain, which then goes down my leg and I just know when it is time to move from over 13 years of managing this pain.

As you can imagine, this has a huge impact on my everyday life, whether it's going to meetings, events or the cinema or theatre, or even just going for a meal.

Unsurprisingly, I'm not alone here, as research conducted by the 'My Pain Feels Like' campaign found that 45pc of people with chronic pain in Ireland say it affects their social life.

I've learned to adapt and have developed all these little routines to manage my back pain. For instance, I don't have a desk in Newstalk and stand when presenting the show. Often I have to lie down in studio, much to the horror of some of our guests who think I have collapsed in a heap.

When I go to the cinema I lie on the floor after about 30 minutes and, as you can imagine, I see many shocked faces because people see this body on the ground in the dark. But you can't tell everyone your life story, so once I get over my dignity, everyone else is a lot easier.

I don't drive anymore, Deirdre, my wife, has to drive me and I lie down in the back with two pillows. Whenever possible, I travel by train, so I can get up and move around during the journey.

But there are always days when I can't avoid sitting or where it would be considered unprofessional to lie on the floor. On these days I have to increase my pain medication to cope and I'll suffer for a few days afterwards.

The big mistake I made when I had the first serious back pain in 2003 was that I kept thinking 'this will go away'.

My biggest regret is that I endured this pain without going straight to a doctor and that caused permanent damage. Eventually I woke up one day and I couldn't move. Following that I was on crutches for several weeks. I went for an MRI and it showed that the discs between the L3 and L4 vertebrae were worn away.

I will never let it get that bad again because as a result, there are parts of my toes that I have no feeling in and never will.

In 2011, I underwent spinal fusion surgery. This involved open surgery on my lower back with two rods inserted to support my spine. The operation was long and the recovery was too - I spent five weeks lying on my stomach watching The Wire. Unfortunately, the operation wasn't a success in my case, and I still have pain every day.

For me, the critical thing is; pain means your body is telling you to do something. Personally, I know I left it far too late to get professional help. The new website for people with chronic pain - mypainfeelslike.ie - is designed to help you describe your pain and communicate it to your doctor, something I wish I had done much earlier.

The website contains a pain questionnaire that is a route map to help you describe, in detail, what your pain feels like - such as, stabbing, electric shock or burning - before meeting with your GP or consultant.

When you have something as delicate as the spine and nervous system, you only have once chance, so dealing with it early is critical.

While the long-term prospects aren't good for my back, I have adjusted my life to live with my pain. My message to others is don't ignore your pain and don't suffer in silence.

* See mypainfeelslike.ie for more information

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