The director of a medical cannabis clinic has revealed how she turned to the treatment after a vaccine injection left her with chronic nerve pain.
Eileen Fegan, the clinical director of healthcare at Solihull Healthcheck Clinic in Birmingham, turned to medical cannabis herself after a Covid-19 vaccine left her with nerve damage and chronic pain.
Originally a nurse, Eileen left the NHS after 26 years of practice, following her father’s missed diagnosis of cancer, having worked across a broad range of different services including intensive care and the prison system. She was later diagnosed with a tumour on her optic nerve which was found during an eye exam. Her early diagnosis saved her life.
This inspired Eileen to set up a private practice with an emphasis on early diagnosis. The clinic offers a range of different tests, screenings and check-ups and since the change of the law in 2018, has been offering medical cannabis.
“I’ve been working with Dr Elie Okirie in a brain injury unit as my background was in neurology. He told me that medical cannabis was due to be legalised and I had already been looking at setting up a clinic. That’s where the synergy happened with Dr Okirie coming to join Solihull.”
The clinic was the third in the UK to register to prescribe medical cannabis and now has hundreds of patients registered at their clinic. They have patients from all over the UK including Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man and even some from Europe too.
Covid injection and chronic pain
Eileen’s personal experience with cannabis came after her first Covid-19 vaccination. The clinic staff were offered the vaccine in January along with other frontline workers in the NHS.
But she knew instantly when she was injected, that something didn’t feel right.
“Instead of marking out the arm and putting the jab at the top of my arm, it was injected into my joints. I knew at the time that something didn’t feel right as it was a real struggle to get the needle through,” she explained.
“Within 20 days, I had lost the feeling in my arm. The pain was so traumatic that I just wanted to rip my arm off with a chainsaw. I contacted my GP screaming. I was totally out of control with pain.”
Eileen was told to immediately go to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. She was rushed through and placed on morphine, pregabalin and gabapentin before awaiting nerve conduction studies, ultrasounds and X-rays.
She was eventually diagnosed with a condition called neuritis, an inflammation of nerves caused by injury, infection or sometimes an autoimmune disease. Symptoms can include pain, tenderness, impaired sensation combined with numbness or hypersensitivity.
Eileen discovered that all the nerves in the back of her upper arm, down to her fingers had been damaged by the injection.
Stressing that it was the injection, not the actual vaccine that caused the damage, she said: “The procedure could have been any injection, to be honest as it was completely put in the wrong place. It’s wrong to say the vaccine hurt me when it was the procedure.”
Eileen was off work for weeks while she dealt with her pain levels adjusting to the new medication.
“I knew as soon as I was prescribed the painkillers that I was going to be wired to the moon, I don’t respond well to medication as I’m so sensitive to it,” she said.
“I was working with Dr Okirie and he could see I was really suffering. He suggested I needed an anti-inflammatory which would be medical cannabis.”
Dr Okirie suggested that Eileen start on a low dose, three times a day to see how it felt. After three months she had discovered the perfect dose for her pain levels.
“Within three days I was a new person. It was incredible, I was really happy with it,” she said.
“I’ve gotten to the stage where I don’t need it anymore. It hasn’t healed my arm, I don’t have all of the feeling back in my fingers and there is a floppy piece of skin where the muscle should be which will never come back, but there is no pain.
“I can work, I can drive and I’m fully functioning. I don’t think that would have been the case without medical cannabis.”
She remains frustrated that the NHS is not doing more for patients who could benefit from this too.
“It’s appalling we are not prescribing medical cannabis on the NHS,” said Eileen.
“It’s a plant, it helps hundreds of conditions and its non-addictive with no side effects.”
She continued: “There are so many people that would benefit from it including the two million people a year getting addicted to opioid medication.”
Third Covid vaccine
The government announced that a third vaccine may be available later this year approximately six months after a person’s last dose, with the Pfizer-BioNTech jab recommended. The first person in the UK, Margaret Keenan, originally from Co Fermanagh, became the first person to have the Covid-19 booster vaccination in September.
After such a negative experience with her first vaccine, Eileen admits she was reluctant to get a second dose.
“I didn’t want the second dose as I was petrified, I got it eventually but I waited until July,” she said.
I cried the whole way through and the office receptionist had to hold my hand. I don’t cry a lot but I sobbed the whole way through just remembering what happened in January.
“My children who are 13 and 14 don’t want to get it because of what I went through and how poorly I was. I have explained to them that it wasn’t actually the vaccine but the procedure.”
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