Tired, frustrated and in constant pain, Dwayne Gittens is so near the end of his tether that he sometimes considers taking his own life.
However, still clinging on to hope, the 32-year-old Baxter’s Road, St Michael resident is pleading for financial assistance for a $40,000 surgery to relieve the chronic pain he has suffered since he was 15 years old.
Suffering from the growth disorder Blount’s disease, Gittens has spent 17 years of his life dealing with prolonged pain and discomfort as the untreated illness worsens daily. The disease is a result of a growth disorder of the shin bone, causing the lower limbs to angle inward, resembling a bow leg.
He has been on the surgical waiting list at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital since 2000. In the meantime, his condition worsens. He has developed chronic arthritis and now walks with a cane to ease the pain in his hips and back.
In an effort to cope, he takes codeine three times a day. However, the painkiller is becoming less effective as the discomfort persists.
“Most mornings I have a struggle to get out of bed, especially now that the rain falling, with the arthritis . . . so I’d say [the pain] is [on a scale of ] eight or nine out of ten. But on a normal day, it’s five or six so I could still do normal things, but I try not to do too much because then I have to deal with the effects of the pain,” Gittens told Barbados TODAY.
“I restrict myself because when I lift heavy stuff I get a lot of back pain and I try to minimize the walking because I have arthritis. Even if I walk from here [Baxter’s Road] to up town, sometimes I have to get a taxi and come back home.”
With his situation appearing to be hopeless, Gittens told Barbados TODAY he often entertains thoughts of suicide.
Still, deep inside he believes there will be a silver lining, so he abandons the idea whenever he thinks about it.
“I always look at suicide because it’s like you reach out to people and it’s like people don’t care. After living like this those thoughts do cross my mind.
“I always think that there has to be hope somewhere so I hold [on], but I guess at some point I will have to let go because I have been fighting for 16 years,” he said matter-of-factly.
As someone with Blount’s disease, Gittens has had to endure sarcastic stares, teasing and jeers from those who are unfamiliar with the disease and its impact.
It is for this reason that he has become somewhat of a recluse, preferring to remain indoors unless there are important reasons to go out.
“Truthfully, I went through years of people laughing at me, mocking me when I’m walking, so I try to restrict myself from being outside. So I only go out if I have to go out and that would be to doctor visits . . . but beyond that I may go outside with one or two friends and I may go as far as the bus stop. After a period of time, I get tired of people looking at me, staring, laughing, mocking me, and insulting me so I just restrict my movements.”
Gittens was first diagnosed at the age of 15 when, while a member of the Barbados Youth Service, he experienced pain in his legs and was promptly sent to the doctor.
What was up to then a normal life changed drastically as the pain worsened and his legs started to deform.
After the initial examination, he was directed to the QEH by his medical practitioner.
“I was examined again and put on the waiting list for the operation. I have been waiting and seven years have passed and I was referred again because it was getting worse.
“Following the same procedure, I was examined again and then I have been put on a waiting list since then and this is 2016 and I’m still waiting,” cried a dispirited Gittens.
As a result of his deformity, Gittens has been unable to work, receiving a cheque of $250 monthly from the Welfare Department as he was deemed medically unfit. The disease has also affected his ability to be self-sufficient, and he is forced to depend on his mother or friends for assistance with simple things like shopping.
“Taking care of someone that is sick is a major task, so I appreciate the help. But a lot more needs to be done if I want to go forward. I want to live a normal life, a life where I can go work on a morning walk and come back in . . . . That is proving to be impossible unless I can get this surgery done,” Gittens said.