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February 06, 2020
We hear and see a lot about crashes, riders being hit by cars, accidents and recovery these days. Almost every week another report comes in of top riders being taken out in one way or another. Then we have Chris Froome smashing into a wall, Geraint Thomas riding the tour de France with fractures to his pelvis or Mark Cavendish seemingly walking away from yet another high-speed crash. But what does the recovery from a major crash really look like?
Someone we know very well had their own life/career-threatening accident, this is a diary of their recovery. I’m guessing but I think it’s pretty typical.
Saturday morning 10.50 two weeks before Christmas. A woman driving a 4x4 Range Rover pulls out of a side road without looking.
The 6 feet I allowed her wasn’t enough, she floored it from a near-standing start. I’m sent spinning into outer space coming down hard on my right side before bouncing onto my left in the middle of the opposite lane.
The first people to reach me can see I’m badly hurt even if I can’t. But being unable to move tells me to do as I’m told and lay still and wait for the ambulance.
Once in the ambulance, they offer me paracetamol, gas and air, or morphine. I start with the paracetamol but within minutes I’m on the morphine, maximum dose. Will stay that way for the next month at least. Despite the morphine, I have entered into a world of pain.
For the first week just moving my toes sends me through the roof, daily bedsheet changes require a delicate ballet of movements to circumvent the right leg and hip. Getting the nurses onside is key, otherwise, your life isn’t worth living.
I talked to a guy who had a triple heart transplant, I said that must have hurt. Surprisingly it didn’t, he was in and out of the hospital in a couple of weeks including 4 days in intensive care. Bones are different, bones hurt, a lot.
Diagnosis is multiple fractures to hip and pelvis all of which will need plating and bolting back into place. 3 to 6 months minimum time out of circulation. The first week in a regional hospital before transfer to a specialist unit at Kings College London. Pelvic damage is especially difficult to operate on, you really need to know what you’re doing, fortunately, at Kings they do, fingers crossed.
The operation is 6 hours plus another 5 hours in recovery, and a nightmare that seems to go on forever. In reality, the nightmare is probably confined to the last few minutes as you slowly regain consciousness but the pain you wake up to is very real.
I have a wound across my lower abdomen that looks like I’ve been cut in half. I feel like a victim of a ‘saw the body in half' magic act that went badly wrong. The right leg and hip are completely numb until I try to move it, then numb it ain’t, and the recovery road ahead stretches way out beyond the horizon.
Christmas Day. The operation to plate everything back together has been done and the pain is under a certain amount of control. Impromptu Christmas carol concert by the ward staff puts a smile on everyone’s face. To anyone who’s spent time in a hospital bed and understands the term ‘opening your bowels’ today, I gave birth to a monster, one day short of the ward record. Merry Christmas.
Finally exiting the world of pain inhabited for the last weeks, but there’s a price to pay for floating along on all that morphine. Concentration levels make doing the simplest of tasks a gargantuan effort. Stood up for the first time since early December, didn’t go anywhere just stood beside the bed. This is so hard, the road back to normality is clear enough and plenty of others have done it, but it’s still so hard to do. I take my hat off to all who have travelled this road.
My body has its own ideas about what’s going to happen here. When you’re this badly injured the brain no longer dictates schedules and time frames, the body takes over. Learning to listen is imperative, do not fight it, even if I could. When body time says you’re going to sleep, you’re going to sleep, at the bottom of a deep dark well. Waking is as hard as climbing out of the well.
Walked, or to be precise, hopped, today for the first time with a frame since the accident. Length of the ward and back. Would like to do more but body time says no. Hopefully will be able to walk normally again sometime in the next few months
Does anyone get out of here alive?
Hospital time moves differently from time outside. Hospital time has it’s own rhythm and pace. Hospital time happens when someone else says it going to happen. Food, drink, X-ray, scan, visits, drugs, monitoring, slowly but with purpose. Hospital time moves in time to the rhythm of life and death with no regard to a commercial imperative or financial reward. You must give into it, get used to it, some get to like it, some don’t ever seem to leave.
5 weeks in hospital and finally released back into the wild. Minimum of 3/4 months of rehab to come but relived to survive such a challenging time. Sometimes it’s not about what you achieve more how many bullets you can dodge. Think the Matrix. Minimum of another 4 weeks before I’m allowed to touch the ground with my right toe. This is how I now must measure my life. Hospital appointments and rehab targets map the mountain I have to climb.
Unexpectedly difficult and bumpy detour on the recovery road, back in the hospital for a procedure which took 24 hours and left me drained of any life force. Never felt anything like it. 2 days in bed with some kind of mental turmoil before starting to feel semi-human again.
Still getting very tired 💤 just doing the basics, wash, sleep, eat, repeat. But progress is being made, lots of vitamins and supplements swallowed along with massage with oils for a concerted effort to improve my leg movement. All the major muscles are still in various stages of trauma. One day at a time.
These are the dog days of recovery, the slog when nothing seems to change, no light at the end of the tunnel. Can only hope what I do now will stand me in good stead sometime in the summer. Heading for the first outpatient appointment with the surgical team to review the scans and X-rays and find out if I will walk again.
Some good news at last!
Most of the day spent back at Kings College Hospital for an X-ray and consultant appointment. The doctor tells me the X-rays look good, nothing to hold me back, they expect me to be off the crutches in six weeks. I tell him the leg and hip doesn’t feel nearly ready but he assures me it’s normal to feel that way.
I’ve spent the last eight weeks learning to walk on one leg and now I’m expected to start using two, what’s that all about?
Some serious habits need to be broken. A crisis such as this triggers a mental reaction, usually fight or flight. I’m good in a crisis it’s normality I have difficulty with. In a crisis, you are forced to focus on the here and now, concentrate only on the immediate task in hand with little thought to the bigger picture, whatever that may be. Over-reacting is a given, the danger appears to be everywhere. Nothing can be taken for granted or at face value. Motives must be challenged to ensure they are compatible with your survival imperative. There’s a need to be totally selfish, everything has to be about you and your wellbeing and nothing can be allowed to get in the way of that.
Taking these behaviours back into what’s loosely called normal life can be problematic. Then again, maybe that’s what I’ve been doing wrong.
Two months of damage limitation just looking after the injuries, slowly turning into being able to be pro-active and do something to improve the situation.
So now I have two legs I can use. So many people just walk around the place on two legs without giving it a second thought. Never realising two legs are so much greater than the sum of their parts.
One leg works, the other one doesn’t, so we enter exercise territory, what a relief. Somewhere recognisable, somewhere understandable, somewhere I can begin to have some control over my own life again. If all I have to do is follow the exercise routines to be able to walk again, then I have my light at the end of the tunnel. I have hope. Such a precious commodity.
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