Yvonne Hunt now appears to be a normal, healthy, fit, and active person. However, a year ago - before starting hydrotherapy at St George’s - this was not the case. Yvonne suffers from fibromyalgia, a common but potentially debilitating condition, which is thought to affect as many as 1 in every 25 people according to Arthritis Research UK. Yvonne recently gave an inspirational speech at the Healthwatch AGM describing how hydrotherapy had enabled her to become fully fit again after being, at her worst, bedbound. Yvonne has generously agreed to share her story here in the hope it will encourage other sufferers to gain the same benefit that she has from hydrotherapy.
Yvonne’s problems started in 2010 while caring for her mother. At first, it was back and shoulder pain. X-rays, a course of physiotherapy and a prescription for painkillers followed but things did not improve. Then her knees became painful. Despite more X-rays, more physiotherapy and more appointments with a specialist, Yvonne’s health continued to deteriorate. She says, “None of the pain went away – it became worse! I was taking stronger painkillers while rapidly becoming less mobile and very stiff. Physiotherapy did not help; I was not strong enough to do it and in too much pain. I think it often made things worse.” If this were not enough, Yvonne’s feet then became painful, “I could not walk for more than five minutes.” There followed more X-rays and a referral to a podiatrist who referred Yvonne to a rheumatologist.
Yvonne says, “I was back and forwards between doctors and appointments. I must have cost the NHS a fortune.” And yet, “Still the pain continued - the list was growing...”
Finally, in 2012, the rheumatologist diagnosed fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes widespread pain. Yvonne describes it as, “Enhanced exaggerated pain - everything is sensitive, even your teeth.”
However, despite receiving a diagnosis and regularly attending hospital clinics, Yvonne says, “Nothing improved. I was living on strong painkillers – I slept a lot.”
Nevertheless, during this time Yvonne’s GP was “… wonderful, she sat patiently listening to me crying as I felt my world getting smaller. She offered me antidepressants, but I did not want to give up. I was constantly sitting in her office, telling her I could not go on like this.”
It was after a particularly long session of tears in clinic that Yvonne’s specialist referred her to a hospital physiotherapist. Yvonne says, “She was really helpful and advised me on how to cope. She gave me a strict exercise programme; walking only five minutes a day, adding 1 minute a week to my walk.” It was at the end Yvonne’s allotted sessions that her physio told her about St George’s hydrotherapy pool saying, “Try it, you’ve got nothing to lose.”
And the rest is history…
“Pat was my physio on that first day; I was tired before I went in the water from getting changed. She was wonderful; she encouraged me and helped me through my water phobia. From the very first session at the pool, I started to hurt less and I was not as stiff. I could do the exercise my body needed without injury and pain; I believe this tricked my body, into remembering that I was fit and strong once. I became stronger very quickly and my life gradually was given back to me. I could arrange to meet friends knowing I would be able to go - it turned my life around. I've started on my wish list: I've travelled to Cyprus to stay with friends; I'm running on my trampoline and now attend the aqua fitness sessions with Tara. I still have fibromyalgia but I'm strong now and haven't had an injury since I started at the pool. I go to the doctor every six months now for a check-up and I haven't needed any pain relief at all. However, if I can't go to the pool for more than two weeks, the stiffness, and aches and pains return. As soon as I get back to the pool, I'm fine again. I don't need to understand why the hydrotherapy works for me, I'm just so grateful that it does.”