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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Spinal Taps, Quacks and Back Slaps - 1985

Despite the sick note ordering me to stay on light duties, I had to take part in exercises that came up and as the driver of an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC or Panzer in squaddie lingo), in the main, I managed to avoid too much heavy lifting.  Bridge Gallops were the order of the day in early spring 1985, whereby a squadron would prep, lay and lift a bridge (Medium Girder) a number of times over a period of days and nights, with at least two bridges built one after the other and sometimes three. This was knackering work for the guys, and my role was to stand guard (just in case zee Russians or zee East Germans attacked), cook a meal for my Panzer team (usually a curry), operate the radio, brew up and generally stay out of the way.  I was also driving between locations (rivers) whilst the team slept in the back.

My back was giving me less trouble and spotting me carrying two 5 Gallon jerry cans of water the SSM kept this in mind for use at a later date.  That date duly came whilst on exercise, when a Log Run was included just to keep us all fit and happy.  The log (or telegraph pole) was heavy and when wet, even heavier.  Despite my protestations, I was ordered by the SSM (or a kicking would ensue no doubt) to man the pole, with three others, heave it onto our shoulders and to set off at a gallop, followed closely by the rest of the troop (30 odd guys).  I do not know whether this was done purposely or not but as we reached change over, (whereby our replacements would fall in step closely behind us and under the log, take the weight then we would move away), my replacement and that of my partner running to my right, did not take the weight of the log and my partner moved away, leaving me carrying the log on my own.  Mind you, this was not for long as my back “popped” quite spectacularly and I and the log fell to the ground.

After a quick inspection as everyone was very worried about this sudden halt to proceedings and gathered around the possibly badly injured patient, “the log” was deemed well enough to carry on and was hoisted onto new shoulders.  I was considered good for fuck all and was picked up by a land rover and whipped off to the nearest barracks with a medical centre for bed rest.  Not to be outdone, once the exercise was complete, I was collected from my sick bed by a troop of guys in an amphibious vehicle called a Stalwart.

The wheels as you can see are almost 3ft high and I was expected to clamber up the outside and find space in the back.  I supposedly had a slipped disc, but he ho, who cared.  I clambered up and sat on the deck.
Once back at our Barracks, I reported straight to the Doctor, who on hearing what had happened, rang the SSM and called him a few choice names, told him I was on permanent light duties and confined to bed, until my appointment at the BMH (British Military Hospital) Hannover.  I made the most of this by playing WHAM! Records on my roommates record player (remember them?), with the windows open, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go! blasting across the parade square, which was directly outside my window.  In fact I was intent on becoming more and more annoying in as many ways possible.  I had had enough of the Army, I was sure it had had its fill of me to, so investigated the possibilities of buying my way out.  Our Squadron Corporal had to visit me in my room to discuss the buyout, and made no bones about how much he disliked me.  I would remark that I had probably slipped my disc knobbing all the German girls I could find, as opposed to him, who had hurt his back falling off a bar stool in the squadron bar, whilst singing songs with the boys, who he spent so much time with.  “Was he jealous of that fact?” “Did he enjoy spending his nights in the company of big butch men?”

That was my problem, mouthy, a gobshite.  I hated the green brains, the blokes who were army all the way through and they hated me.  The few mates I had were split between wanting to fit in with the green brains and wanting to go to Hannover and Wunstorf on the pull.  None were prepared to sleep out all weekend; scared they would be associated to closely with someone who was more civilian than squaddie.  I look back and to them I was a grade one arsehole.  I was a womaniser and a tyrant when it came to letting girls down.  I moved on quicker than an express train, I did not want closeness, relationships and all that bollocks; I was twenty years old and a walking phallus.  I was tolerated by most of the blokes but I was making it clear that I wanted out.

The x-rays I had at the BMH were inconclusive and so another appointment was made, this time for a Myelogram or Lumbar Puncture.   This was carried out by a rather grumpy Colonel and I was attended to by 2 rather attractive nurses, so I was rather relaxed as I entered the room and sat in a hospital gown on the operating table.  A small local anaesthetic injection was made to the centre of my back and then a larger anaesthetic injection went in rather deeper.  The idea being to inject a contrast medium into the spinal column, move me about a bit to ensure the liquid travelled the length and breadth of my spine and then take x-rays to identify the location of the problem.

First of all though a sample of Cerebrospinal fluid  (spinal cord fluid) was to be drawn out for testing, so I was sat, knees under my chin and a nurse holding each hand (very nice).  The needle went in and the Colonel started moaning and grumping about “getting a bloody tap”, so he had to go in again slightly higher.  In he went and again started complaining about a bloody tap, wherein blood rather than clear spinal fluid comes into the needle and syringe.  “Right” he said, “this is no good” (it felt like he was blaming me), “I will freeze up another area and we will start again”.  I must admit I was felling quite sick and told him, “nonsense” was his sympathetic reply along with a rather sharp “and sit still for god’s sake!”, even though I was sure I had not moved.

Hastily re-frozen we started again, and as he inserted the needle, my whole body jerked and my left foot kicked out, catching Nurse “No1” in the groin, she shot backwards and I had Nurse “No2” trying valiantly to hold me up as I was sick all over her top.  “STOP MOVING” came the gentle voice of the Colonel, “you moved and I hit a nerve, now SIT STILL!”  I mentioned that I felt rather unwell, the nurses were cleaning each other of my vomit, so he decided “right, lay him on his side; we will do it that way”.  I lay down, knees still under my chin and in he went again “another bloody, bloody tap” he shouted, “right, this is pointless, we will diagnose with x-rays, and you can go”.  By this time, I was laid out on my side, legs straight now and the nurses we round the back of me with the old shit.  I turned to look at him and his clothes were covered in blood, my blood, and he had a nurse holding her finger to the hole in my back.

“What’s all that blood doing” I asked, “you moved and it came out, I can’t get any fluid out and I cannot inject the contrast either, so that’s it, x-rays will be taken again and we will look at them”.  I was cleaned up, dressed and out of the BMH Hannover within the hour and on my way back to Neinburg-Weser.  There are a reasons why a bloody tap occurs and they are:
·        Increased white blood cells in the CSF may be a sign of meningitis, acute infection, beginning of a chronic illness, tumor, abscess, stroke, or demyelinating disease (such as multiple sclerosis).
·        Red blood cells in the CSF sample may be a sign of bleeding into the spinal fluid or the result of a traumatic lumbar puncture.
I was not told any of this, nor was the bloody tap ever mentioned again, until 1993.  Back in camp, I was given more bed rest, genuine friends showed concern by now and even the Sgt’s who had previously given me shit looked in on me, as did Lynsey Horten, who was concerned about me.  I was surprised about his concern, but pleased as he was a real “soldier’s”, soldier and his recognition that I was not well meant a great deal.  He also cheered me up by picking up and throwing out of the second storey window of our wash room, another bloke’s tumble drier, as the noise was pissing him off.  If nothing else, Lynsey was not to be fucked around and had a habit of pointing that out!
Mark Cameron was also becoming very disillusioned with military life and was told he was going back to the Falkland Islands for another 6 months, so he started looking at buying his way out of the Army as well.  In July 1985 I was seen by Major MacDonald (an orthopaedic surgeon) at the BMH Hannover and after reviewing my x-rays he said I had Spondylolisthesis.  This is a condition in which a bone (vertebra) in the lower part of the spine slips out of the proper position onto the bone below it.  His idea to solve this problem (which was found to be non-existent some years later), would be to fuse the two vertebrae together.   So I was driven down to Iserlohn and admitted to the BMH, into a ward with seven other squaddies, each suffering from some form of orthopaedic problem.  As walking wounded I was able to leave the hospital grounds and wander around town and discovered much to me and my new roommate’s pleasure, that there was a beer festival underway. 
So most days, once we had been “inspected” (yep, bed spaces had to be tidy and clean even in hospital) we’d sign out and hit the beers.  After a week of fun and various additional x-rays, Major Macdonald appeared one morning for his rounds.  Everyone was made to stand at our bedsides and he commenced a rant about how serious he took his work, how he was not prepared to operate on people who then left the army and therefore; the army would not benefit from “his work”.  He was almost apoplectic as his voice raised even higher saying that civilian life would not see benefits from military doctor’s work and then pointed at me and said, “I want to see you in my office now”.
I followed him out of the ward and we went into his office.  I had to stand at his desk whilst he sat there and continued his rant, eventually arriving at the point where he said he knew I had explored the possibilities of buying my way out, as he had spoken to the Squadron office back in Neinburg.  He was under no circumstances prepared to operate if I was to leave the Army, so offered me two options; either I have the operation to fuse my spine or he would allow me a Medical Discharge.  This would come with a Service and War Pension.  I could then have the surgery later in life as a civilian.  I took less than ten seconds to accept his offer of a Medical Discharge and he said he would progress the paperwork that day.  I left with his words ringing in my ears that “it was a profound cheek to accept medical surgery from the Army, only to then leave within months”.  What a guy he was, as little did I know that I would come to thank him for that offer and for the fact that he did not perform that operation as my neurosurgeon later told me in 1993 that I would have been paralysed by that Quack!

So, back to Neinburg I went, meeting up with Mark Cameron and we celebrated with all the joy that came with the knowledge that I was about to leave the Army.  I was also guaranteed a small lump sum payment, some of which I lent to Mark and he used it to buy his ticket out of the Army a few months later.  I prepared to leave the Army, my mates and the wonderful Frauleins.  Sgt Davis, a usually nasty piece of work, as far as I was treated by him, actually told me to not accept anything from the Army and to get a lawyer as soon as I could! 

My final week involved handing in my uniform, (as a Medical discharge I did not keep it for Reserve service) and filling in form after form.  I was given air tickets to fly to Gatwick from Hannover and after a night of final beers and tears, I flew back to the UK, with a small trip to Chatham (the home of the Royal Engineers) to collect my discharge papers, hand in my ID Card, Rail Card and any sense of being a soldier I had left in me.  I walked out of those gates strangely emotional, I was leaving a family that had nurtured me, put up with me, developed me, made me mature (finally) and had paid me whilst doing so.  I had made friendships that last to this day, had skills (trained Painter and Decorator), a pension and a limp, some sciatic pain and nagging low back pain.

But I had a life to come that was about to offer more adventure, women, fights and friendships than before,  that would bring pain, pleasure, and run the gamut of emotions we probably have all experienced at some point.  If you have stuck with this Blog until now, thank you, it’s about to get better (I hope) and rather more raucous!!

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