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Back to full fitness - how Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital changed my quality of life

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An NHS nurse for 40 years, Margaret Berry has devoted her life to caring for others. From chief nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital to being head of public health leadership at the Department of Health, she was awarded an OBE for services to nursing and healthcare. Always active and almost never the patient, Margaret came a standstill with excruciating back pain. She shares her first experience of private healthcare at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital.

Margaret Berry OBE, former chief nurse at Addenbrooke’s, shares her first experience of private healthcare at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital. Picture: Margaret Berry
Margaret Berry OBE, former chief nurse at Addenbrooke’s, shares her first experience of private healthcare at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital. Picture: Margaret Berry

I began nursing at 18 years old and worked during an era when we would physically lift patients to where they needed to be, so I’ve always been fit and strong, and I’ve never had a back injury.

However, many years of wear and tear had taken their toll and I retired at 55 but was still able to live a full life and continued to do valuable work in semi-retirement. Both my full-time job and running my limited company required a huge amount of driving, and when I started to get lower back pain I carried on, taking a regular concoction of pain relief to numb the constant daily discomfort.

Over the following five years the pain became progressively worse and I was set on an unrelenting routine of GP appointments, hospital scans and physiotherapy referrals, in a bid to discover the problem and help manage the pain. By the end of this time, I could only really walk 50 yards and it was affecting almost everything I did. How had I gone from someone who enjoyed sport, especially golf, to not being able to bend down or go to the shops? All scans to this point had suggested arthritic degenerative changes at the base of my spine, so I thought that was it! There was nothing more that could be done for me.

By the age of 60 I was facing a rapid deterioration of my life. I couldn’t perform everyday functions and the pain, which had now advanced to my left leg, became so agonising that it would take me hours to get ready for the day. I couldn’t shower standing up and had to take the stairs on my hands and knees, I felt completely isolated.

When you’re used to living life at a million miles an hour it’s incredibly debilitating and very depressing to accept a degenerative condition, it felt as though I had no choice, but I couldn’t face the prospect of living like this, so I requested the opinion of a leading neurosurgeon.

Consultant neurosurgeon Mr Rod Laing. Picture: Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital
Consultant neurosurgeon Mr Rod Laing. Picture: Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital

This is when I met consultant neurosurgeon Mr Rod Laing. Although I had no expectation that he could do anything for me, I was still terrified of speaking to him as I didn’t know what he might find and felt sure we’d have to discuss life-limiting choices. In short, Mr Laing was truly amazing, he took one look at my MRI scan and immediately said, I can make you better! I simply couldn’t believe what I was hearing, it’s just one small sentence but this was a life-changing moment for me.

Mr Laing diagnosed spinal stenosis, a narrowing of spaces between my spine which puts pressure on the nerves running through the spinal canal. When he showed me the scan I was stunned; how had this been missed so many times before? However, I was too elated to be concerned with past diagnosis, now it was time to get the treatment I needed and consider where I would have surgery. My long NHS history made Addenbrooke’s Hospital the first choice, but the pandemic and vast waiting lists meant it wasn’t the right option. I started to look at private healthcare and if I could afford to have the operation done privately.

The Nuffield Hospital in Cambridge is Mr Laing’s hospital of preference, so I took his trusted advice and found the cost was much lower than I’d expected, and that self-pay is such an easy process. Mr Laing’s fantastic secretary helped make arrangements and a date was set for the end of March 2021 with just an overnight stay, it could have been a day case, but I chose this option as I live on my own. Mr Laing always kept updated on how I was and what to expect, and the wonderful Dr Silvia Karcheva rang me to talk through health questions – all of which really put my mind at rest. By this time, I had lost 10kg in readiness for my op and was feeling positively motivated about life again.

I had my operation on a Friday morning, and after three hours of surgery was gently reassured by the most caring staff that someone would be on hand to monitor me throughout the night. They were all there when I woke up, and within an hour of being back on the ward I was standing up and touching my toes – unbelievable! Following a wonderful post-op chat with Mr Laing I was happily back at home by Saturday afternoon.

Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital (55932842)
Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital (55932842)

My experience at the Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital was my first ever exposure to private healthcare and I’ve been overwhelmed by the exemplary level of care, kindness and capability from every single member off staff. I know what good care and bad care looks like, and I’ve just received the most incredible healthcare!

They are a tremendous hospital team and I watched their clinical duties with an eagle eye, everything I saw was excellence at every level. As a very private person, I think what also astounded me was the absolute consideration of care each step of the way, they talked to me about everything, protected my dignity, calmed my fears and performed surgery that has changed my quality of life.

I am back to full fitness, feel as fit as a flea, and playing the best golf of my life! I walk a mile every day and work with a private physio to strengthen my leg muscles. Now a full-time potter and artist, I can also sit and comfortably create without pain and I’m loving my life again, rather than dreading the future. The nursing staff at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital are remarkable and I have nothing but praise to offer in return for the outstanding care I received.

I am sharing my story to reassure others in the same situation, because this has changed my quality of life, I will happily chat patient to patient with anyone who would like to know more.

For more information, visit nuffieldhealth.com/hospitals/cambridge, call 01223 370922 or email cambridge.enquiries@nuffieldhealth.com.

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