The day after my accident, the specialist stood by my hospital bed, explained the extent of my injuries and told me I was to lie on my back for a month. I grasped his hand (the other was held by my daughter) and started to cry. There was nothing to be done other than what he said. But really it was the start of my journey towards recovery…
My first night in the hospital was excruciating. I was disorientated after extensive scans and examinations. I didn’t know what planet I was on let alone which Ward. They shovelled me onto the spinal bed using a patslide. I remember crying out in agony. The sound of a man screaming in pain was something I got used to when new patients arrived. More of that later.
I had a fitfull night. The cannula fed me mainly morphine which dulled the pain but stoked the imagination. Outside my tiny room with its high window, the corridor sounded like a shopping mall. I think I hallucinated most of the din.
My wife came to see me in the morning. She told me about all the people who had called to see how I was. More crying. We talked about how we would manage the next month. She would have a lot to cope with but her back was stronger than mine, then and now. I spoke to my boss at work. I felt useless, letting my pupils down. Cue another flood of tears. The huge juggernaut of realisation was at full tilt. It couldn’t get any worse could it? Well..
…I happened to ask a nurse who was pulling on my compression socks (for spinal patients) ‘How do I go to the toilet?’ She told me about using nappies. I would like to say that I didn’t take that news lying down but…
24 hours previously I was a healthy middle aged man and here I was depending on others for my basic needs and functions. Yet there was also hope in this abyss of broken bones. My family, the steady stream of visitors and the great hospital care I received were going to be my lifeline.
Gradually I began to acclimatise to life on my back. I organised my day around the hospital routine; breakfast, rounds, getting cleaned, lunch, temperature and blood pressure readings, visitors, dinner, visitors, side rolled to change my bedding, rest. All of this was punctuated with my iphone (music, twitter and emails). Most importantly I did as I was told by the hospital staff!
In between times, I lay in bed concentrating on my bones, willing them to heal.
I found that I could improve with little breakthroughs and tiny ecouragements. The first of these were two nurses who came to see me; Libby and Mary.They specialised in pain control. I told them about the morphine and how it made me hallucinate. They organised new meds for me. The change in my sense of well being was dramatic. I began to feel clear headed. At the same time I was told that in a couple of weeks I would be fitted with a thoracic brace. I had a goal.
By a simple twist of fate the mother of my daughter’s friend was in Ward 16 at the same time as I was admitted, also due to a serious cycling accident. Her husband was a specialist at the hospital. He told me ‘Believe it or not this is only a blip in your life.’ When she was discharged they popped in and filled my room up with daffodils, filled my room with hope.
Family and friends (armed with delicious home baking) made long journeys to come and see me as did some of my pupils. I was amazed at how Dumfriess CC came into its own when I was in hospital. I was used to seeing the guys on their bikes. They came every day and night to talk, to offer help if they could or sometimes just to listen. It seems a little thing but most mornings Davy Doherty would text me a photograph from wherever he was in his van. To a man who lived below the eye line and who couldn’t lift his head to look out of the window, these images of hills and lochs were little moments of wonder.
My old Audax buddy, Ian was a regular visitor as were Daniel, Alastair and a long list of cyclists who gave up their time to see me. Some guys obviously found it hard to come to a hospital and look at someone crippled on a bed but they made an effort. One of the patients beside me in the Ward said once. ‘I don’t know much about you but you have got an incredible amount of visitors’. More tears.
Being moved into a Ward with other patients was another tiny step forward. Sharing pain and progress with fellow patients helped the healing and with the time. By day we would laugh and talk and share. By night we would lie awake in our broken bodies listening to the sounds of the Ward, the screams, the shouting, the nurses.
I saw a lot of men with broken bones come and go. It started with the patslide and they would groan in pain. Then the morphine would kick in. Then they would gradually improve, become coherent. As I was a long stay patient I grew used to the routine and in witnessing the process I saw that I too was part of it. I was envious and happy when their family came to take them home. I always found Saturday mornings a little sadder than most days. I thought then about rolling my bike out of the garage.
The day of my brace fitting arrived. It was like fastening medieval armour. The consultant said my bed was to be raised. What a great day. To see my fellow patients. To look out of the window. I could just about see the Long Wood (two weeks previous I’d asked fellow patient, Jocky to describe it for me).
Before I was to stand up there was the issue of taking out my catheter. I was talking sheepishly to one of the nightshift nurses about it. She was an amazing character who kept all the men in line. She turned to me and said in her Brummie accent. ‘I tell you what Stephen, I’m going to come in here at 6am tomorrow and me and your catheter are going to have a little conversation.’ The boys in the ward were laughing with glee at the prospect.
The physios said they were going to get me to stand up beside my bed. They warned me it would be difficult. The consultant told me I need to recirculate so many pints of blood away from my heart, to stand. What did these people know? I cycled 135 miles, ran half marathons..
I stood up and saw my legs or what my legs had become, puny things. The physio looked at me. I could tell by her face that I was struggling. My blood pressure plummeted. ‘We’re going to lie you down, Stephen’. I argued with her, started pleading ‘Don’t lie me down, don’t leave me, let me try again.’
They promised to return. When they did I stood up. They stepped back. I was up and away. My first great trek was to the window. Then I walked to the corridor. Then I slept for a while. The joy of walking was great. My two nurse friends came to see me. I thanked them for putting me on the right track. Libby looked at some of my poetic scribblings which I’d tacked up behind me. ‘Oh dear, Stephen, they’re pish.’ Tears of laughter this time!
And so a month after my crash, fitted with my brace, clutching my meds, I hugged the staff and waved goodbye to my fellow patients. My wife drove me home. It was her birthday. I stood in my garden for while. Home but still a long way to go.
End of Part 2