Lower back pain–an update


On Saturday 24 September, over two weeks ago, I did something to my back that left me barely able to stand let alone walk. I am still on the mend.

Folks who follow me on Twitter and Facebook will know a little of what I’ve been going through for the last couple of weeks but this is a longer post with more details.

What happened

I suspect that a number of factors contributed to the intense back spasms that left me immobile that day, including sleeping badly in the spare room bed while on Isaac-watch, carrying both toddlers at the same time, an increase in the amount of cycling I’ve been doing and cutting the grass at the back of the house, that fateful Saturday afternoon, was probably the erm… straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.

With the grass cut Isaac came out to sit on on a rug in the middle of the lawn at watch me while I pottered around finishing off tidying up the edges and trimming a couple of bushes; Reuben and Joshua both insisted on ‘helping’ me with the secateurs. Those were a nervous few minutes while I encouraged them to not accidentally chop their own fingers off.

Within a couple of minutes the boys had ran off to help Jane round the front of the house where she was now cutting the grass. I sat down on the rug and chatted with Isaac for a moment.

When I got up: I couldn’t.

Stubbornly, I put the garden tools away in the shed using the Dutch hoe as a support. I ate dinner and then, encouraged by Jane, went to lie down in bed to rest my back.

I’ve had back twinges before which have gradually eased over the course of the week with applications of a heat rub ointment, a little massage, a hot-water bottle over the stiff area and painkillers. So at that point I wasn’t overly concerned.

NHS 24

After a short sleep I got up to go to the loo. Only I couldn’t move; at all. My lower back went into the most excruciating spasms, whenever I tried, that felt like my back was trying to snap me in two.

It then took me the next 25-30 minutes to literally crawl to the en suite bathroom. A distance of about six metres.

Jane phoned NHS 24 (0845 4 24 24 24), Scotland’s health information and self-care advice line, for advice. Their advisers were busy but would phone us back within three hours; it was about 19:45 at this point.

At 11:15 they phoned back, and said that they would send out a doctor to my bedside straight away.

The doctor arrived at 01:15. Five-and-a-half hours after we’d phoned; that’s quite a long time to be lying, immobile in pain. The doctor apologised saying that the message had only been passed on from NHS 24 to the St Andrews Community Hospital shortly after midnight.

Voltarol and morphine

I have to say that the doctor was lovely. I’d seen him before at the out of hours service, that time for what turned out to be a chronic prostate infection. He listened, was gentle, sympathetic and gave me a whacking great injection of Voltarol in my bottom to address both the pain and inflammation.

When he left I drifted off into a drug- and exhaustion-induced sleep.

Only to wake about two hours later; I was desperately needing another wee. This time though I only managed to get as far as standing next to my bed. I couldn’t move any further without inducing the most horrific pain. I ended up weeing into a bucket that Jane kindly balanced on my bedside chair!

With me back in bed she called NHS 24 again, around 03:15. The same on-call GP, Dr Bird, turned up around 05:15 and this time gave me a shot of morphine into my bottom.

It didn’t really touch the pain but it did allow me to relax enough to fall into a longer sleep. I came to around 10:00 on Sunday morning. Thankfully I wasn’t scheduled to conduct any services.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday

On Sunday afternoon, one of Jane’s friends who is an osteopath visited and spent around two hours with my back, gently converting me from a plank of wood into an old man.

Over the next few days I rested, alternately applied ice packs and hot-water bottles to my lower back, stumbled around and generally tried to follow the advice I’d been given by the doctor and osteopath.

I obviously over did it on Wednesday because by 17:00 I was lying on my bed once again screaming in pain as my back went into spasms.

I was screaming so loudly that Jane had to close our bedroom window in case passers-by or neighbours thought that I was being murdered! I was also aware that I was frightening Reuben and Joshua who, bless them, despite their fear wanted to stay around and “help daddy”.

Jane phoned NHS 24—with me screaming in the background! They said that they would call back within three hours.

I couldn’t wait that long.

“Help me!” I pleaded with Jane. Knowing, actually, that there was little she could do to instantly relieve me of this pain.

Jane grabbed an ice pack from the freezer, and that coupled with an electric, ‘buzzy’ back massager that Jane had bought for my Christmas years before brought the spasms under control.

Jane called NHS 24 back, nearly two hours after calling them, to cancel the request to phone us back.


I got an emergency appointment on Thursday (29 September) morning with one of the practice GPs; I rarely get to see my own these days.

He offered me Tramadol. I gently declined as it gives me hallucinations; and not the happy kind.

I walked away with a prescription for Co-codamol 30 mg/500 mg (that’s codeine and paracetamol) and Diazepam 2 mg (1 or 2 to be taken three times a day), and the advice that. despite my kidney condition, I could also take Ibuprofen for a short period if I needed it.

They’re not called patients for nothing…

And so I wait.

No lifting, no bending, no stretching, no sitting for extended periods of time. I just need to find a balance between rest and activity and gently allow my back to heal.

Jane’s osteopath friend returned on Thursday (6 October) and spent about an hour with me, which again really helped.

I do feel my back getting slightly stronger each day but the slow progress is frustrating.

I want to get back to work but I’m still feeling quite spaced out from the Diazepam and when I tried to do a full day yesterday, Sunday, getting up around 07:30 and not returning to bed for a rest until after 18:00 I was absolutely exhausted. I fell asleep on the sofa around 19:00!

I just need to be a patient patient.

Wallpapers of the month

Desktop wallpaper
Hicks Design and The Dark Side of the Dark Side

Every couple of months I change my desktop wallpaper; this is what I currently have.

On the left a favourite of mine by designer extraordinaire Jon Hicks: “Design is just making things line up”. I’ve tweaked it a little from the original, to make it better fit my non-widescreen, 1280 x 1024 resolution desktop.

On the right… I can’t remember where I got that image (sorry, if it’s yours then let me know and I’ll credit you). It is, of course, a mash-up of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the moon album cover and the second Death Star from Return of the Jedi.

Passion pens

Jane needed Reuben and Joshua to be distracted for 15 minutes on the run up to dinner this evening; they were tired and fractious and needed something to focus on.

So I invited them to sit on my desk and help me work out which pens in my desk drawer worked and which didn’t. And it all went very well. Reuben had a pile of pens and a pad of scrap paper to scribble on, and Joshua had the same.

I was helping Reuben sort out a few pens when I picked up a biro-wannabe, not a proper Bic, but a cheap imitation.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, “I hate these pens with a passion!”

Reuben tested it, it worked and so he added it to the pile of tested-and-working pens.

“I’ve got one of these,” said Joshua looking back at his pile of pens. “I’ve got a passion pen… and another… and here’s another passion pen. I’ve got lots of passion pens.”

I didn’t have the heart to throw them out after that.

Comparison of my work PC, home PC and laptop

For a while I’ve thought that my PC at work (which I acquired in February 2008) was flagging a little. An upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 certainly helped but subjectively I felt that compared with my home PC and my laptop it wasn’t running particularly quickly, as I was waiting quite a while for files to open or applications to start.

So I used the AusLogics BenchTown benchmarking application to put all three computers to the test:

  1. Work (Dell Precision 690, Xeon 5120 @ 1.86 GHz, 4GB RAM, 64-bit OS)
  2. Home (Cube 24/7, Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 @ 2.40GHz, 4GB RAM, 32-bit OS)
  3. Laptop (Acer Aspire 5630, Intel Core 2 T5500 @ 1.67 GHz, 2GB RAM, 32-bit OS)

Now, I’m not particularly familiar with the various benchmarking applications available, or which one is better than the next but I felt it important simply to use the same application on all three computers so that it gave me a fair comparison.

These were the results, and compared with fastest results submitted to the BenchTown website, from some seriously overclocked, high-spec machines:

Work Home Laptop Fastest
CPU 840 2179 786 10073
Memory 346 494 551 2130
HDD 365 625 311 5161
Graphics 2D 168 272 131 804
Graphics 3D 202 1253 98 4504
Overall 325 645 255 2619


As you can see my suspicions were justified: my work PC isn’t that much faster than my laptop.

I got a phone call on Thursday to say that I’m getting a new PC ordered for me at work.