Some hours later we emerged in a slight daze into the afternoon sun. I’d gone in with two painful contorted shadow puppets and I came out with recognisable and functioning hands. We went and sat on a bench in a little park by the hospital, and I cried with relief after days of pain and pent up worry.
Since Boxing Day the muscles in my hands and wrists had been in a permanent and painful spasm. I hadn’t been able to use them at all and this was having a huge impact on my life. In addition to the physical pain, the emotional strain on me and all those who care for me, has been immense, something that’s only become fully apparent now it’s begun to lift.
The team treating me were wonderfully compassionate. They took a great deal of time to listen my questions, answer them and reassure me about what they were going to do. Surprisingly they injected the Botox nowhere near my hands or wrists but into the muscles in my forearms, which apparently control what happens lower down. While one doctor was injecting me another was manipulating my hands. I barely noticed the injections themselves but at times the manipulation was painful.
We waited outside for a bit to see how my hands responded before going back in for another round. This time they hooked my arms up to a machine that apparently measured muscle activity but to me looked more like a chaotic modern art painting with dense clusters of white lines darting across a black screen.
By the time we’d finished, everyone in the room was really pleased by what’d been achieved. One of the doctors said ‘We did something very good here today.’ I couldn’t have agreed more.
Things aren’t completely back to normal yet though. It’s been a very encouraging start, but three of the fingers on each hand continue to want to curl inwards and my hands feel very tired and achy. Over the next few days the Botox will begin to work properly and only then will we discover its full effect.
Why my hands locked up in the first place is still a mystery, but it may be that these injections will be enough to get my muscles back on track permanently. If they aren’t, and if the problem returns when the Botox wears off in four months, there shouldn’t be a problem with repeating the process.
Right now I’m going to concentrate on recovering physically and emotionally from the last couple of weeks, getting used to my new Botoxed hands, and working with a neurophysio to get them strong, flexible and responsive enough for me to get back to work and push my own wheelchair again.
This difficult time would have been immeasurably more distressing had it not been for the support of so many people and services: the NHS, my consultant and the amazing team at the National Hospital, social services and my unflappable carers, my boss and colleagues with their understanding and support, friends and strangers with their messages of encouragement, and my friends and family with their unwavering love, patience and wonderfulness. To you all, big thanks!
This morning I was desperate, in pain and struggling under the weight of huge uncertainty. By this afternoon the NHS had provided me with fast, effective, world-class treatment that gave me back my hands and lifted the strain. Tonight I can concentrate on recovering – without having to worry about how I’ll pay for it.
The NHS is incredibly precious, but at the moment it’s very vulnerable. If we want it to go on being able to help us, and those we care about, we must recognise what’s driving the attacks being made on it, and protect it. It’ll only survive the current attempts to carve it up and hand it over to private profit-making companies if we stay alert to what’s happening and do everything within our power to defend it.
Don’t be deceived by the rhetoric that competition drives up standards. I didn’t want a choice of doctor today, I wanted the expert, and that’s what I got. Wherever profits are made within the healthcare system it means resources are being sucked away from patients and poured into the pockets of CEOs.
No system as huge and complex as the NHS is flawless, but we must safeguard it, the expertise within it, and the principle that universal healthcare should be free at the point of need. Without the NHS I’d have remained handless, dependent, unable to work, and in agony. Because of it I can happily wave goodbye to the elephant, the swan, the killer whale and the rooster.