When Carl Webster felt a pain in his back he knew something was wrong but he could not have imagined his life was about to change forever. But days later the 44-year-old from Caerphilly lost feeling in his legs and was told he might never walk again.
Around a month ago, Carl said he phoned the NHS on 111 for advice as he was unable to urinate and had a constant pain at the top and bottom of his spine. After he arrived at the accident and emergency department of The Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant, he said the pain continued to get “worse and worse”.
“At one point I nearly fell over in A&E because it was so intense,” Carl said. “They took a scan of my bladder which was completely full so they put a catheter in. Then later a doctor came to see me. I told him I could not pass urine and said I had this constant pain at the top and the bottom of my back. “
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Carl was sent for an MRI scan but within a few hours he could not feel his legs and was eventually moved to a hospital ward. He was told he needed an emergency operation. “They had found an abscess on the top of my spine,” he said.
“When I came around from the operation hours later I was told my blood supply had been cut off from my spinal cord and caused paralysis. I was just like, ‘wow’. I was so shocked – the shock was immense. I couldn ‘ t get it through my head.When they said the word ‘paralysis’, I thought,’ okay [the feeling in my legs and feet] will come back. “
A specialist then talked him through his prognosis.
“She said the longer it goes on for [with no feeling], the more likely it is that you’ll be paralyzed. I said, ‘give it to me straight, what are my chances?’, She said, ‘if you want my professional opinion I do not think you’re ever going to walk again.’ “
Not only does that mean Carl could lose the use of both his legs for the rest of his life, it also leaves him unable to work and potentially without a home when he eventually leaves hospital. He said he will remain at the Llantrisant hospital until a bed becomes available at Rookwood.
“I’m 44 years of age and I’m paralyzed,” he said. “When I leave hospital, I’ll probably be homeless as well. I was running Blackwood Golf Club. I’m still on the sick at the moment but looking at it there’s no way they can adapt it for me to be able to go back to work.
“My wife is running a social club in Abertridwr and in her contract it states she has to be living upstairs for her job, so it would not be advisable. There’s no way I could adapt that place to be able to live there.” A GoFundMe page has been set up for Carl to raise funds for his care when he leaves hospital. You can donate here.
Carl said he and his wife are in discussions with the council to help find them a suitably adapted bungalow for when he eventually leaves Rookwood. Despite the council’s efforts, which Carl praised, there is no guarantee a place will become available at the right time for him. He said: “There are people above us on the waiting list. The only thing I can think of [if a place doesn’t become available] is going to live with my parents but that’s not ideal – that’s really, really concerning. “
Carl has now been in hospital for around a month, but he said due to the strong medication, painkillers and stress he is not entirely sure what date he was admitted. He said the scale of his situation was still far from fully sinking in.
He said: “I do not think it’s hit me properly yet even though it’s been about four weeks. I’ve been in bed and have had a little cry because of the things going through my head. I’m never going to walk again, it’s a massive change in my life as well as losing my job, losing the place where I live and looking for another property that’s adapted for my special needs. Maybe I will now also need to use a hoist for the rest of my life to get in and out of bed. “
Carl said he is paralyzed from the chest down, meaning he has use of his arms, but cannot feel anything lower than his armpits. Not only has that completely affected his mobility, it also means he will likely need to use a catheter for the rest of his life to urinate and has no feeling in his bowels. Every morning he has to insert a suppository to stimulate bowel movement to prevent himself from soiling himself.
“For me to go from being able to go to the toilet on my own a couple of weeks ago, to [potentially dirtying myself]… I broke down. It’s hard for me because I’m a bloke and I’ve now got people wiping my backside for me. It’s embarrassing. I’m not used to people doing this for me.
“I’ve gone from being an active person who worked in a golf club, changing the barrels and constantly moving about to this. You realize you take things for granted.”
A serious darts player, Carl said he worries he’ll never be able to play to his usual standard ever again. He said: “I was playing for two leagues on a Monday and a Wednesday: the local league and the super league. To play super league you’ve got to be really good and I can not see me being as good again.”
But above all, what concerns Carl the most is what his injury will mean for his future. He said: “My concern now is how long have I got left being able to do things for myself. I’m 44 now, what am I going to be like at 55, 60? I might need full-time care. My mind is doing 100mph constantly That’s why it has not sunk in properly,
“I’m busy thinking about the future and haven’t got time to process what’s happening to me now. I should have been walking out of hospital.”
Carl said an investigation is being carried out by the health board to determine whether the abscess could have been spotted sooner and prevented his paralysis.
Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board has been approached for comment.