Lorna, a retired deputy head teacher, is 66 and lives in Edgware, North London. She’s had leg ulcers for the past eight years, with her most recent leg ulcer developing three years ago. Her story starts back in the 1950s when Lorna was just a small child:
“I was a happy, outgoing child. That all changed when I was sent away to a convalescent home to recover from TB when I was just four years old. I was away from home for three months and for the entire time I was there, I was sexually abused. When I got back from there, I was a completely different child to the child that went away.”
This deep trauma had a profound effect on Lorna’s emotional and physical health. She developed OCD at a very young age and had difficulty leaving the house. By the time she was 14, Lorna had found heroin and soon began injecting herself.
“I’d inject my legs. After a while, the skin around the site of the injection would become necrotic and turn black. That’s when I started to get ulcers. Three years ago, I fell on a bus and got a deep cut on my shin. The cut didn’t heal and it became an ulcer on the site of an ulcer that was already there”
The leg ulcers have had an all-consuming effect on Lorna’s life:
“You never stop thinking about it. When it’s bad you can’t sleep. I was ringing my doctor sobbing. Neuropathic pain is unbearable and nothing touches it. It’s just the worst pain and nobody talks about it.”
It’s not just the pain that Lorna has had to contend with but the social and emotional impact of leg ulcers:
“Nobody talks about the smell. I’d get in my friend’s car and they’d say “what’s that smell? It smells like a dead animal”. My daughters stopped inviting friends around to our house because of the smell. It’s huge. It just impinges on every aspect of your life.”
Eventually, Lorna was referred to hospital, where she began compression therapy. The effect was almost immediate:
“Compression therapy is like someone giving you a warm hug on your leg. It is incredible.”
“I walked in to the clinic at 8.30 that morning feeling like I was being eaten by a lion. I left the clinic without pain. It is that good. To get into treatment is life-changing. The nurses who work in compression and wound care are such special people. They are changing lives.”
Lorna is passionate about more people being able to access regular compression therapy:
“You need regular compression. If you leave a compression bandage on for too long, it starts to smell and the ulcer starts to ‘fizz’. The pain begins to return. It feels like you’re being stung by bees. But compression clinics are closing all of the time and it’s becoming harder and harder for people to access treatment. If I want the Legs Matter campaign to do one thing, it’s to make good compression treatment more widely available.”
Lorna is currently getting compression therapy twice a week, which is helping to keep her leg ulcer and the pain under control. It still has an impact on her life and she wants more people to understand the impact of leg ulcers:
“People don’t see leg ulcers. They think of an ulcer in your mouth. It’s like that, but about 100 times worse.
“I tell as many people as I can about it so they know what living with a leg ulcer is really like.”
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Accelerate Accelerate CIC is an independent specialist team who assess and manage people with chronic swelling or non-healing lower leg wounds or ulcers. We're based in London but can accept national referrals from your GP / specialist. For those further afield, please call to discuss possible options.
The Lindsay Leg Club Foundation Promoting and supporting community based treatment, health promotion, education and ongoing care for people who are experiencing leg-related problems - including leg ulcers and other wound care issues.
Find out more on the Lindsay Leg Club Foundation website
NHS Choices the official NHS website, which provides vital information and support about leg and foot signs and other symptoms.
Call 111 - for non-emergency medical advice
Find out more on the NHS Choices website
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