“My spinal cord fibres would continue being eaten away until the disease reached my brain - then it could not be stopped. If untreated, this would occur within 6 months. My specialist informed me that, although my condition was serious, it was not immediately life threatening and was classed as elective surgery. There could be up to a 12 month wait… Luckily, because I had private health insurance with Police Health, the specialist could operate within one week.”
- Retired Police Officer, Steven Rix
“I’ve had over 80 operations since my motor bike accident in 1981. I was heading home after day shift when I was hit by another motorcycle, throwing me off and resulting in my bike landing on my back. Witnesses said the bike went up as high as the power lines.
The accident caused me significant pain in my right knee, but 3 doctors and 8 operations later, no one could find a reason for the pain (I was told it was all in my head). I was eventually pensioned off from the force due to stress.
Four years later, an MRI revealed that the bike had crushed approximately 5cm of my spinal cord to 1/3 its original size; doctors confirmed this was causing the referred pain in my right knee.
“A tumour had grown just above the crushed area between my shoulder blades, and a disease called syringomyelia (a disease which eats away at spinal cord fibres) was found in over 30 of my spinal cord fibres and had progressed into my neck.
I was informed that the tumour would eventually crush my spinal cord completely, resulting in the loss of kidneys, bowels, bladder and the use of my legs. My spinal cord fibres would continue being eaten away until the disease reached my brain - then it could not be stopped. If untreated, this would occur within 6 months.
This diagnosis was when I learnt how important it is to have private health cover. My specialist informed me that although my condition was serious, it was not immediately life threatening and was classed as elective surgery. There could be up to a 12 month wait.
Luckily, because I had private health insurance with Police Health, the specialist could operate within one week!
I was given a 50/50 chance of keeping the use of my legs and only a 10% chance of keeping control of my bowels, kidneys etc.
The operation to remove the tumour took over 10 hours. The only damage was the loss of feeling in my legs and a condition called tactile allodynia, which meant touching the skin was painful (and the lighter the touch, the more pain it caused).
But my troubles didn’t stop there.
In the last 25 years alone Steven has claimed almost $500,000 in benefits from his Police Health cover.
“I was recovering well from the operation, until 2 months later when someone hit me hard between the shoulder blades 'to see if the doctors fixed my back'. Over the next two years I was admitted to multiple hospitals and 4 different pain clinics.
Eventually a chiropractor found that the blow had been so hard that 4 ribs had been pushed forward and were not moving at all. After 6 weeks of chiropractic treatment the pain decreased by 80% and I could lead a reasonably normal life.
All went well until 2013 when an acquaintance decided he would be funny and greeted me with two hard punches in the spine, right between the shoulder blades. Again, I was back in hospital.
After two years of trying different treatments, a specialist suggested Botox for the cramping muscles at a cost of $580 for 3 months; the health insurance rebate was initially $20. But Police Health backed me. After speaking with them about my circumstances they agreed to pay $400 for each treatment. Unfortunately, the Botox treatment only worked for a few years before the pain returned.
In 2017 a specialist found that I still had a number of damaged spinal discs so inserted two titanium rods and 14 screws, then fused the damaged discs.
I was now in the least amount of pain since the accident, 36 years earlier – but this relief only lasted 10 short weeks. The physio I had been seeing for 6 years for my weekly massage “forgot” and gave me a “karate chop” style massage, starting on the right side of my back. I was readmitted to hospital that night.
Another surgeon implanted neuromodulators (like a TENS machine) into my buttock cheeks with wires inserted into the problem nerves. The trials went well but after the full insertion the pain kept coming back. After trying many different settings, 12 operations to change wire positions etc. I went back to the specialist who inserted the rods in my back to be told the spinal fusion had not taken and many of the screws were loose, which caused the wires to fray and leave metal shards distributed into my buttock area. This was the reason the neuromodulators had never worked. He also found that an additional two spinal discs were damaged and this was actually where the pain was coming from.
In November 2019 all the titanium rods and screws were replaced with firmer carbon fibre versions and fusions were completed on all my damaged spinal discs. After surgery, it was found that some of the pain was from swollen nerves that had had wires inserted and removed from them over 40 times. My doctor prescribed turmeric milk to help with the swelling – half an hour after I took it, the pain started to finally go down.
“I’m currently leading a reasonable life where the pain is bearable, and I have learned three valuable lessons:
1. Don’t hit anyone on the back – it’s not funny
2. Finding a good doctor is extremely important.
3. Being in Police Health is essential. I have never had any problems with them and it has resulted in being able to have operations and procedures A.S.A.P. If you don’t have private health insurance, you’re nuts!"