Spinal rap: A brief look at my surgical recovery (so far) – Part 2

I was taken to the operating theatre at about 8.30am. My surgery lasted about three hours and at about midday I woke up in the recovery room. The nurse asked me if I felt OK and after realising my surgery was over, I told her I was OK. I then realised I could speak. I could also wiggle my fingers and toes so I also knew I wasn’t paralysed. My very first thought was “If I can talk and I can type, I still have a job”. Within an hour I had drunk water and ate a sandwich and could do both without difficulty or being in pain. However, it became very clear very quickly that I wasn’t in full control of my own hands as well as being unable to walk at all (my right leg could do very little – wiggling my toes was about the limit of my movement). I was also catheterised for the first time in my life. 

After eight hours in the recovery room (I should have only been there 1-2 hours but there were no ward beds available) I was moved into a ward just after 8pm with some very serious cases (mostly with individuals who had gone through major brain surgery). All of us on the ward had to have our ‘obs’ (observations – blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, blood sugar, etc.) taken hourly right through the night (so I got no sleep at all). I also had horrendous spasms in both my legs (over 1000 a night for the first week). I was put onto a drug called Baclofen (which I’m still on now).

The day after my operation was not the best. Because of COVID-19 no patients could have visitors. I briefly spoke to my partner on the phone. That was the day’s only highlight. I realised that I couldn’t do basic things with my hands like eat with a knife and fork or hold a pen. The latter really upset me. I keep a very detailed hand-written diary so not being able to write in it was very upsetting for me. I was also unable to give myself a wash so for the next few days I was given a daily body wash by the hospital staff. I couldn’t even hold a toothbrush properly to brush my teeth. I found the whole experience demoralising and degrading. Not being able to shower was horrible. Anyone who knows me will tell you how important showering is to me and my mental health. I shower a minimum twice a day. Not being able to shower felt like an abuse of my human rights. I never felt clean after a body wash. On the day after my operation, it became clear I wouldn’t be going home that day and it soon became apparent that I would be in hospital at least a week.

After a few days, some of my hand functionality began to return. I could just about use a knife and fork and I could pick up a flannel to wash my own face. However, holding a pen and writing with a pen was impossible. Unlike the other patients on the ward (a couple of who were sedated almost 24 hours a day), once I had awoken, I spent the whole day out of bed sat in a chair. I had my iPod so listened to a lot of music but did little else. Couldn’t hold a book or magazine long enough with my hands to read.

On Tuesday (April 20) I had my catheter removed. That seemed like a huge step forward. My partner also dropped my laptop off. I was unable to see her but at least it meant I could Skype her and my children. I also realised that typing was something I could so with my hands relatively easily. Writing a few emails was also good therapy for my fingers and I had a link to the outside world (I don’t have a smartphone, gave up using one in 2019). The hospital physiotherapists had given me hand and leg exercises to do and I spent a lot of time using the ward rotunda as a mini-gym. No-one else was capable of using it (as they were all confined to bed) so I had it 24/7. I was moved to another ward which I was told was “good news” as it meant I needed less specialist care. On Wednesday (April 21) I begged the doctor to allow me to shower. He said I could have one as long as I didn’t get my post-surgery dressing wet. Had to shower in a wheelchair (surreal to say the least) but despite this, it was heavenly to wash my hair and feel clean after six days of humiliating body washes. My dressing was drenched but I didn’t care. I felt clean and alive. I felt co-operative and communicative. 

Just after the shower, I had an unexpected visitor. A doctor visited me and told me that I would be leaving Queen’s Medical Centre and would be moving to another hospital (City Hospital) to a specialist rehabilitation unit (Linden Lodge). She said she would try to get me a bed there for that weekend and that I would probably be there for 4-6 weeks. My emotions were mixed. I was glad to be moving to a place with dedicated and specialist care, but was surprised to hear that I would be in hospital for another 4-6 weeks.

At lunchtime that day, I got the unexpected news that there was a bed at Linden Lodge that evening and I was told to pack up all my stuff (not that I had much to pack). At 7pm I was transported by ambulance (first time I had ever been in one) over to my new temporary home. I was given my own room (which was great) and I unpacked the few things I had. My partner had dropped off clothes at the unit but again I was unable to see her due to the COVID-19 visiting restrictions. At one point in the evening, I decided to sit on the floor rather than the bed to get undressed for bed (I found it easier than being on the bed). When the nurse came in and found me sitting on the floor, she thought I had fallen (I hadn’t) but recorded in her notes that I had fallen. 

On the Thursday morning (April 22, one week after my operation) I began life in Linden Lodge. I wasn’t allowed to shower until I had been “assessed” by an occupational therapist. I finally managed to have an unsupervised shower (in a wheelchair) early afternoon even though I was not “assessed”. I also moved room nearer the nursing staff because I was deemed as someone who needed to be watched more closely because they thought I had fallen on the floor the first night I was in here. The more I protested the less they believed me. It was even written up outside my room that I was susceptible to falls (which was true prior to my operation but not something I had done in hospital).

Since then, things have gone slowly. I was told after my initial assessments that I would likely be here for three months (i.e., until August). However, I left hospital on June 22 (after 67 days in hospital). The hardest thing I had to deal with was (until about 40 days into my stay) the ‘no visitors’ policy. I did see my partner a couple of times outside the unit through the iron bars (which felt a bit like being in prison). Over the past 12 weeks, a lot of my hand functionality has returned although I still have some difficulties. There are things that I now consider easy (typing, eating with a knife and fork, sponging myself in the shower), some that I can do but have to focus (writing with a pen, putting socks on, washing my hair, brushing my teeth, doing a crossword), and some things which are very difficult but I can do (e.g., shaving, tying shoelaces).

The first Sunday I was in the unit, I found a sentence that had all letters of the alphabet (“Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs”) and spent hours trying to write it out in upper and lower case letters with a pen. Very difficult and very time consuming (but I did it). Over the next few weeks, I started to write my diary again. I began by writing the days events in bullet points in capital letters (writing in upper case capitals was easier than writing in lower case letters). I then progressed to writing the whole day’s events but all in capital letters. On May 19, I started writing my diary “normally” again (i.e., in sentence case rather than in capital letters). I use the word “normally” advisedly. I’m still very slow writing with a pen and it’s not the most legible, but any activity I do with my hands I still call “therapy”. As I type this, I still do not have full functionality in either of my hands and I have resigned myself to the fact that I never will.

You can read Part 1 of this blog here.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on July 27, 2021, in Addiction, Case Studies, Pain, Psychology, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience so candidly. It sounds like a terrible ordeal for such
    a super-productive individual especially with the Covid restrictions limiting your ability to see your loved ones. Stay strong and keep going. My colleagues and I look forward to your further academic contributions!

  2. Here is my story: “I am Nabeel Kashan Syed, most in the scientific community know me from my studies with Prof Mark (Splly the Syed & Griffiths, 2020 study). I am a novice in the field of research and I am forever indebted to Prof. Mark for providing nobody’s like me a chance to find their feet in research.


    When the pandemic began like all people initially I was scared to death of the new virus that already had created so much havoc world-wide and didn’t know much how to react. My family and I stayed indoors for most parts of the initial days, only venturing out for essentials and groceries. Most of the time, I was either taking online classes or during my free time watching Netflix series after series. I did not do anything constructive as I did not know better. After spending a good 2 months or so following the same schedule the summer vacation started in June. I realized I had nothing else to do except to watch TV all day. Initially, even though I enjoyed my free time I later on got so bored soon after as there was nothing new to watch.
    It was during such time that I discovered ResearchGate. It took a while for me to understand the minute intricacies and the nuances and how it works and how to upload your research and other basic stuff. It was during my initial wandering days on RG that I stumbled upon the profile of Professor Mark at which I looked and looked and looked on for eternity. Like everyone else I was also rendered speechless by the sheer magnitude of his research work and the different areas in which he had done extensive research. The total research interest generated, the citations, the number of publications and the total reads were surreal for me and I was dumbstruck. It was during that awestruck time, while going through his profile I found a phenomenon even though very new to me stuck in mind and so I decided to read it in detail. It was about “Exercise Addiction (EA)”, I mustered enough courage to write a message to this famous and world renowned Psychologist asking for the full text of this study. I did not know what to expect and how he would reply and hence I just waited. To my utter and the most pleasant surprise I was so very impressed by his promptness and his humility as I got a reply from this famous personality with the full text within a day. I remember that day very vividly as I called up my late father and told him that such a big name responded to a no body like me. I still was in a bit of a shock. Then after a day or two I came up with a research idea and proposed it in front of him and to my unreserved astonishment that he agreed. I don’t know how I did it but I was not only able to pitch my idea but also convince a person who is a pioneer in the field of behavioral addictions to supervise this study and I am grateful to the Lord Almighty and to Prof Mark for that. That was a very special day for me and I called the one person who is the most dearest to me, my late father, I remember he was so chuffed about it and was so so happy to hear about this. I myself was on cloud nine and was eternally grateful to the God Almighty to have given me this once in a life time chance to know this great personality and to work under him and to learn from him and only by the very grace of the God Almighty I continue to learn new things from him by the passing of each day.

    It is his sheer honesty to his work, his sheer diligence, dedication, devotion and his work-ethos that motivates and inspires me and touch wood they continue to do so even today. Every time I get a chance to interact with him, propose new ideas, get them rejected, refine those ideas and re-propose them or re-refine them to re-re-propose them, I only just count myself extremely lucky and thank the God Almighty for all of those provided opportunities.

    It was sometime early this year that Prof Mark told me about his headaches and then about his impending surgery. It was a especially painful day for my parents and I to know about the surgery and the pain he has been living through and the potential risks of the surgery. I did not know much what to say and how to react but one thing I can proudly say that my late father and I always prayed for his well-being and my family and I would always continue to do so. I can say that I connect with what he has written in his blog because I was fortunate that he trusted me and considered me close to him to speak to me about his pain and how he considered his work to be the best medicine to overcome his ubiquitous pain.
    I was extremely fortunate and count myself extremely very lucky that he often openly spoke to me about the dangers of the surgery. One thing I had always had was complete faith in the Almighty and I often did tell him that. He did so much to help other novices like me to make something of themselves in the field of research that, our heartfelt and our most sincere prayers would always be with him and God Almighty would always be his shepherd and his savior and surely he has been so.

    One thing that is so very special to me and something that is so very dear and so very close to my heart is the love and affection my late father had for Prof. Mark. He had the utmost respect and regard for him and he always was eternally chuffed about my work under him. I am sure he would have loved to meet him as well. Even though my late beloved father has moved to paradise I will do everything I can to one day meet someone who has been a Mentor to me and someone who was so so dear to my late father. April 15th will always be in our memories for infamy because it was the day when Prof Mark went for his spinal decompression surgery. My late father was in the mosque praying for him for the complete duration of the surgery and my mother and I fasted and prayed for the surgery to be a complete success without any serious ramifications. We were very anxious the whole day and our anxiety only abated when I got an email from Fiona Maam about the success of the operation. I again count myself extremely lucky and I cannot express my heartfelt gratitude to the God Almighty and to Prof Mark to add me to the selected list of his closest colleagues and friends. I excitedly called my late father to let him know about it and that by the very grace of the Lord Almighty and by the power of his prayers that Prof. Mark was doing Good.

    I write this message to let everyone know what Prof. Mark did for me and what his contributions mean to my life and what they meant to my late father and what his continued association mean to novices like me. We are all extremely lucky and unreservedly grateful to have someone like him to guide us in research. I write this to let him know that his pain resonated with my family and that his diligence and his dedication towards his work continue to motivate me great bits by the passing of every day.


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