“Less pain is good enough for me”

Karl Rosenqvist 

Age: 44.  

Occupation: On disability benefit. Volunteers for various organisations when he has the energy.  

Diagnosis: Slipped disk, facet joint arthritis, segmental back pain. 

Bild på Karl Rosenqvist.
Karl Rosenqvist. Photo: Emelie Asplund.

I got a sore back when working in a bread factory as a 23-year-old. I drove fork-lift trucks and lifted boxes. On a normal day, I would lift between 10 and 20 tonnes of bread.  

My lumbar spine began to ache after a few years. So I went to see the occupational healthcare and primary healthcare services. An x-ray didn’t show anything abnormal. I got some exercises from a physiotherapist and was told that I should move around as normal, which in my case meant lifting 10 to 20 tonnes a day.  

The pain got worse and I took more and more sick leave. In the end, I resigned. I was then on long-term sick leave for anxiety and depression. But I think my psychological issues stemmed from not being able to see a way out of all the pain.  

I tried to report the back pain as an occupational injury, but nothing came of it. I was so worn out; I didn’t have the energy to pursue the matter.   

The back pain has never gone away. On a good day, I estimate my pain at a five on a ten-point scale. On those days, I can meet friends, shop, cook and be independent. On bad days, I’d put it at around eight or nine. Then I stagger around with my walking stick and can’t sleep. Those are awful days. Life doesn’t feel worth living. 

I’m angry about how my back problems started. My back pain wasn’t taken seriously enough. But it was serious – because of it I’m on disability benefits now – what used to be called disability pension. I needed to get some kind of help earlier.   

A few years ago, I contacted a new orthopaedist. An MRI showed a slipped disk and facet joint arthritis, and some vertebrae sliding towards each other. If I am offered arthrodesis, I will accept it.  

I want a life where I am more consistently at a five on the pain scale. Being completely pain-free is just not realistic.” 

As told to: Annika Lund, first published in Swedish in the magazine Medicinsk Vetenskap no 3/2021.