Stan Meeling
  • Location Norfolk
  • Type of Arthritis Osteoarthritis

I had been in the pub game for about 14 years when I started experiencing back pain. At the time, I was lifting barrels in the pub’s cellar, and it was becoming too much. I went to see my doctor and was then sent to a surgeon. I was told that I needed back surgery to release a trapped sciatic nerve. My back continued to deteriorate and I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my early 40s.

Early retirement

I was told I couldn’t do my job anymore, so this meant early retirement for me. I had been a busy publican and suddenly everything came to an abrupt stop. I found myself wondering what I was going to do for the rest of my life.

I had grown up playing sport and being active. I was used to working seven days a week in our pubs, from opening to closing time, at around midnight. For 14 years, we had been busy running a pub. The first Christmas after retiring was strange. We had always been busy over Christmas and now we were sitting there thinking: “what are we going to do?”

Having arthritis also meant my wife and I had to find somewhere new to live, so we moved to Trunch near North Walsham in Norfolk.

Surgery and medication

I have arthritis in my back, spine, shoulder, knees and, more recently, my foot. After we moved to Trunch, I needed to have knee replacement surgery. I ended up having three knee operations, because it kept getting infected. The third time it got infected, the surgeon said I had two options: either to take out my knee joint for six weeks or be on antibiotics for the rest of my life. I was not prepared to undergo surgery again and be at risk of another infection.

During this time period, I also had a second operation on my back. I was almost confined to a wheelchair, due to the deterioration of my spine, which had been caused by arthritis.

To manage my condition, I took painkillers (codeine) - like most people do when they are first diagnosed. I didn’t feel it was working, so I went to my GP to ask about other treatment options. I was then referred to a pain clinic, where the doctor suggested I try tradamol with paracetamol. The pain clinic doctor recommended that I take tramadol, but I was hesitant as it can be addictive.

About three to four years ago, I was rushed to hospital due to an infection. They did scans on my stomach and I was pumped full of antibiotics. After that, I have been careful about the medication I take, because of the effect it has on the body. I asked my GP to put me on ibuprofen tablets to which she said no because it can be harsh on the stomach. But my GP did put me on ibuprofen gel.

I now use ibuprofen gel, which seems to be working well. I do exercises every day to relieve my pain and I use information found in Arthritis Care’s Exercise and Arthritis booklet, plus exercises that physiotherapists have given me.

My wife Carol was very concerned, because having to retire early affected me quite badly. I was depressed. As a publican, I was used to people always wanting to speak to me. I had so many roles as a publican – a policeman, a sympathetic ear for people’s trouble, and a trainer for other pub managers. Now I was at home with nothing to do.

Learning to self-manage

So my wife found a six-week course for me to participate in, called the Expert Patient Programme (EPP), which is for anyone with a long-term health condition. During the course, I realised that something needed to come from within me. EPP taught me how to self-manage my condition. It also helped me come to terms with my arthritis and how to problem solve.

The course instructor approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming an EPP tutor. He said they were looking for someone like me who was a good communicator and good at listening to people. Soon I was running courses across Norfolk. I used open-ended questions to help people manage their long-term health conditions. But it came to an end after funding was cut. Again, I found myself at home with nothing to do.

Volunteering for Arthritis Care

Around the same time, Carol found an Arthritis Care advert asking for volunteers to run Challenging Arthritis courses in Norfolk. I applied to become a volunteer and, because of my experience as an EPP tutor, was told I was a good fit for the role. I attended a three-day residential training session and then started volunteering with Arthritis Care. I ran courses for about five years, then they came to an end.

When the Challenging Arthritis course finished, I joined the local Arthritis Care Branch in North Walsham. My wife joined later. The Chairman asked me to become a Branch Committee member and to take on the role of Treasurer. I was supposed to do the Treasurer role until the next AGM, but no one else put their hand up to volunteer for the role, so I’m still the Treasurer now.

By volunteering, I am able to help other people. I like being able to understand what others are going through. I am able to relate to the frustration, anger and pain they feel because of their arthritis. Volunteering also helps me, because it takes my mind off my own pain and I focus on helping others.

If it weren’t for Arthritis Care, a lot of people would not get the help they need.

I am concerned about getting older, because my body will continue to deteriorate. I have to live day to day. I know that it will only get worse, but that is why I do what I do. If it weren’t for Arthritis Care, a lot of people would not get the help they need.

I would tell people who have been newly diagnosed with arthritis to ask their doctor about the type of arthritis they have. So many people I come across at Living Well with Arthritis drop-in sessions don’t know enough about their condition. I would also encourage people to ask their GP to refer them to a specialist, who can provide them with more information about their arthritis and the appropriate treatment. 

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