PAIN WAR­RIOR

Fol­low­ing a sports in­jury, Wil­liam McLough­lin was left with chronic pain. His goal, he tells Joy Or­pen, was to find nat­u­ral ways of over­com­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of pain, so he could lead a nor­mal life again

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - HEALTH CASE STUDY -

Wil­liam McLough­lin is an amus­ing, well­man­nered, ar­tic­u­late young bar­ris­ter on the rise. But scratch be­neath the sur­face and you will dis­cover that he has en­dured much in his 36 years on this Earth. You will also come to the con­clu­sion that his great in­ner strength has helped him to over­come many of those is­sues.

The first sup­po­si­tion to put to him is that he must have been a very bright lad at school, to end up as a bar­ris­ter. “Not so,” he says, “I was pretty medi­ocre.” So what then drove him to the law? It emerges, af­ter some prob­ing, that Wil­liam has had per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of in­jus­tice; at school and later in life. So he has cho­sen to de­fend those who can­not de­fend them­selves, and to pros­e­cute those who seek to wreck the lives of oth­ers. “It’s mostly about em­pow­er­ing people,” he ex­plains. “I do be­lieve in equal­ity and hu­man rights.”

Wil­liam’s first de­gree was in busi­ness and mar­ket­ing. But, some years later, he en­rolled at King’s Inns to do a higher diploma, re­sult­ing in a bar­ris­ter-at-law de­gree. Along the way, he has been ac­tive in a num­ber or or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the Free Le­gal Ad­vice Cen­tre (Flac), Pub­lic In­ter­est Law Al­liance (Pila) and the Irish So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals (ISPCA).

He also played rugby, fairly se­ri­ously. And it’s thanks to this some­times bru­tal sport that Wil­liam was forced to dig deep into his sup­ply of in­ner re­sources. It hap­pened at ex­actly 8.30pm on May 21, 2011, when he was train­ing with the Emer­ald War­riors RFC. “Dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion, our coach di­vided us into groups of five,” Wil­liam ex­plains. “At a cer­tain point, I was tack­led and fell; my foot got caught in a hole in the ground, and I hit my head on some de­bris. I went com­pletely numb, but play con­tin­ued on around me.”

Wil­liam says he im­me­di­ately ex­pe­ri­enced a shift in per­cep­tion; he could hear people call­ing his name, but that fact didn’t re­ally reg­is­ter. At the time of the ac­ci­dent, he was wear­ing full safety gear, in­clud­ing a scrum hel­met, an ar­moured vest and lum­bar sup­port. Even­tu­ally, play stopped and he got to his feet. A short while later it was sug­gested he join the other for­wards in a line-out; this oc­curs when a ball is thrown, and play­ers lift a team mem­ber into the air to catch it. “They wanted me to do the lift­ing, but I knew in­stinc­tively, that wouldn’t be right. I was com­pletely numb, both emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally,” he says.

Wil­liam then joined a group of backs who were run­ning. But he still didn’t feel com­fort­able, so he went home. That night he show­ered, had a bite to eat and was in bed by 11pm. But at 1.30am he was wo­ken by pain of night­mar­ish pro­por­tions. “It was in­de­scrib­able,” he says. “It was like be­ing elec­tro­cuted over and over again. I knew I needed help, but I could hardly move.”

Wil­liam thought he had left his mo­bile phone in the bath­room just a few feet away, so he set his sights on that. But as he tried to inch his way there, he kept pass­ing out, be­cause of the ex­treme pain. It took him two hours just to get to the bath­room, only to find the phone wasn’t there. His next best hope was to get to the front door. But his mus­cles locked tight be­cause of in­tense pain. Again, it was a case of one ex­cru­ci­at­ing step at a time. At 11am, he fi­nally got to the door, where he found his phone and called an am­bu­lance. The crew as­sessed his pain as level 10 — the worst kind. At the hos­pi­tal, he was put in a wheel­chair, and there he stayed, in the wait­ing room, with­out drugs, for over two hours. “I was in a pub­lic place sob­bing and plead­ing for painkillers, while kids stared at me,” he says. “It was ab­so­lutely de­grad­ing and hu­mil­i­at­ing.”

Even­tu­ally he was X-rayed and fi­nally given pain-re­lief med­i­ca­tion. For­tu­nately, his back wasn’t bro­ken, so he was able to go home and there he re­mained, house­bound, for the next three months. His pain meant he had no other op­tion. When it didn’t get bet­ter, he went to see an em­i­nent sur­geon who dis­cov­ered a her­ni­ated (dam­aged) disc press­ing against nerves in his spine. He op­er­ated on Wil­liam the fol­low­ing week. “I did feel bet­ter im­me­di­ately af­ter the surgery,” he says. “But over time, the pain re­turned. It tran­spired there was nerve dam­age.”

About six months later, Wil­liam be­gan to feel re­ally edgy, and that’s when he dis­cov­ered he was suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress disorder (PTSD) as a re­sult of the ac­ci­dent. So he had ther­apy for that. He says deal­ing with it was cru­cial, but it also brought up some other im­mensely sig­nif­i­cant is­sues from the past, in­clud­ing some that oc­curred dur­ing his school days. But he stuck with the talk ther­apy and it even­tu­ally yielded pos­i­tive re­sults. He also went to see a pain man­age­ment spe­cial­ist, who rec­om­mended ther­a­peu­tic ex­er­cises and phys­io­ther­apy.

“I was told I needed to build up my core mus­cle strength, and that I had to learn how to do sim­ple things, with­out putting too much weight on the wrong mus­cles. It was like try­ing to write with the other hand; it was awk­ward at first; but you do learn in the end. It’s about pac­ing your­self, and devel­op­ing spa­tial aware­ness. It’s about how to op­er­ate with­out hurt­ing your­self any fur­ther.”

Wil­liam says the whole process took a long time and much ef­fort, but was well worth the trou­ble He felt he needed to at­tend to his var­i­ous prob­lems in a holis­tic way, be­cause he didn’t want to keep tak­ing painkillers, and he didn’t

‘It was like be­ing elec­tro­cuted over and over again. I knew I needed help, but I could hardly move’

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