A young woman who devoted herself to helping those needing end of life care is now appealing for donations to her medical costs after chronic pain landed her in a wheelchair and forced her to survive on benefits.
Thriving in her role as a hospital healthcare assistant, Georgy Hibbert’s life changed “virtually overnight” after experiencing a persistent pain in her lower back in March 2020 that she thought was a simple pulled muscle, but which swiftly accelerated and became “unbearable”.
Eventually, in April 2022, in such agony she felt unable to wait for her NHS referral, and after seeing a spinal specialist privately and having MRI scans and tests, Georgy, 28, was told 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 Britons, according to the British Pain Society – Georgy, who now lives on benefits and disability allowances of £700 a month in Epsom, Surrey, with her partner, gardener Charlotte Fealy, 29, 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.”
When Georgy’s back first started hurting in March 2020, she assumed she had pulled something in the line of duty, as she worked long shifts and her role could be quite physical – tending to the fragile patients in her care.
Signed off from working for a week by her GP, she hoped 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, she was prescribed morphine and anti-inflammatory steroid injections to address her pain.
Then, continued treatment included X-rays of her hips in September 2020, which were clear.
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.”
She added: “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 to her lower back in February 2021 showed a broad-based disc bulge.
But, Georgy says her desperation grew, as the pandemic made her appointments more sketchy.
Doctors had established that her spine was the problem and in September 2021 she received a sacroiliac joint injection, used to treat lower back pain coming from the sacroiliac joint where the spine connects to the pelvis, before in March 2022 being 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.”
She added: “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.”
She added: “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.”
She added: “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.”
Dr Alan Fayaz, speaking on behalf of The British Pain Society, said: “The British Pain Society recognises that chronic pain is somewhat of a ‘silent epidemic’, affecting between 1/3 and 1/2 of the adult population, of the United Kingdom, with around 10-15% reporting moderate severely disabling pain.
“Pain can have a profound effect on physical and mental well-being, and so it is vitally important to invest in multi-disciplinary approaches to managing pain, in order to continue supporting patients living with chronic pain – on who’s behalf the society advocates.”
You can donate to Georgy’s fundraiser here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/private-treatment-rehabilitation-and-physio