A 28-year-old NHS worker has told how she thought she had pulled a muscle – only to discover her back has ‘the wear and tear of a pensioner’.
Now Georgy Hibbert is in daily agony after chronic pain landed her in a wheelchair and surviving on benefits.
Previously thriving in her role as a hospital healthcare assistant, her life changed virtually overnight after initially suffering from a sore back.
But what she thought was a pulled muscle swiftly accelerated, leaving her in “unbearable” pain.
Now she has now launched a GoFundMe to raise £5K towards the cost of her private treatment in a bid to get her life back.
It wasn’t until April 2022 that Georgy found out was wrong, after visiting a spinal specialist privately instead of waiting for her NHS referral.
After an MRI scan and tests, Georgy was shocked to learn her back “has the wear and tear of a pensioner,” caused by a degenerative disc herniation – a problem with the soft, rubbery cushion between the discs.
Keen to turn the spotlight on chronic pain – which affects almost 10 million Brits – Georgy, who now lives on benefits and disability allowances of £700 a month in Epsom, Surrey, with her girlfriend Charlotte Fealy, 29, has spoken out.
She said: “The daily pain is killing me. I couldn’t wait to see a specialist. I went privately as I felt like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
“I want my independence back and I want my dream job working in end of life care back.”
Georgy initially presumed she had pulled a muscle at work, as she worked long shifts and her role could be quite physical – tending to the fragile patients in her care.
Signed off for seven days by her GP, she expected to bounce back but was given further time off when her pain intensified and was referred to see an orthopaedic specialist.
Given a hospital appointment in May, Georgy was initially prescribed morphine and anti-inflammatory steroid injections to address her pain.
But by December 2020, still signed off from her hospital role, she says her pain had become so bad she was deemed medically unfit to work by her orthopaedic specialist and had to start using a wheelchair.
She said: “At this point, the pain was going down my legs, they were shaking and they had given way a few times which was absolutely terrifying.
“To this day, I feel like I’m recovering from a terrible car accident. I can’t believe I’m in this level of pain when I haven’t had an injury.
“Before this, I had a really active life. I went to the gym and enjoyed long hikes. Now I can’t do any of that. I am in so much pain.”
Further MRI scans of her lower back in February 2021 showed a broad-based disc bulge.
By September 2021, doctors had established that her spine was the problem she received a sacroiliac joint injection, used to treat lower back pain coming from the sacroiliac joint where the spine connects to the pelvis.
Then in March 2022 she was referred to see a spinal specialist.
She said: “The NHS was wonderful, but my specialist appointment would not have been until September and I was in too much pain to wait that long, so I decided to go privately.”
Further MRI scans led to a diagnosis of degenerative disc herniation, a condition in which pain is caused by a disc wearing down, which is most commonly found in the lower back or the neck and in Georgy’s case is causing chronic pain.
She said: “I was healthy and young when this all started to happen. My life has been turned upside down.
“I don’t even remember the last time I woke up and wasn’t in pain, I can’t remember being pain free. It’s been a constant living nightmare.
“The dream is for me to get the pain well managed enough for me to return to work, to the role I love – helping other people, instead of needing constant help myself.”
Georgy has now launched a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise £5K towards the cost of her private treatment, involving a rigorous physiotherapy programme, which includes rehab and strength training.
The one good thing that has happened to relieve Georgy’s nightmare has been meeting her girlfriend Charlotte on Tinder at around the time her pain began.
She said: “I have been with my girlfriend for two years and I got ill around the time we met
“We had maybe two weeks of normal dating before she became my carer.
“She washes me, she feeds me, she takes me to appointments.
“I would understand if it was too much and she wanted to walk away. But she’s just been wonderful.
“She’s incredible, her love and care have been carrying me through.”
Fitted with a back brace in June this year, that she needs to wear for six weeks, Georgy will start her rehab later this month.
Now she is keen to raise awareness of chronic pain and how it can change a sufferer’s life overnight.
She said: “Chronic pain is invisible to others, but when you experience it, it’s like being tasered every moment you are awake.
“I couldn’t even lift a kettle up to make a cup of tea whenever I have a flare up of pain.
“Even a bath is no longer a pleasant experience, it’s just agony to climb in and out and even just laying inside is painful.
“There have been times where I have been stuck in the flat for a week, unable to bring my legs up without shaking.
“This whole thing is mental. My life changed overnight.
“Living with chronic pain takes a massive mental toll, too, and people might not realise it.
“You have to learn how to live again, which is like a full-time job.”
Now feeling optimistic that her new treatment plan could see her making progress, Georgy hopes to go on holiday “somewhere warm” if she improves.
She said: “I dream of a date night or a holiday with my girlfriend, some place warm with a beach.
“I’m hopeful for the future, and I have goals I want to reach.”
Georgy is hoping to raise awareness about her “invisible illness”. She said: “You can’t see chronic pain, but so many people suffer from it with so little support.”