17
Aug 2004

One year ago today…

… I broke my back. It was definitely the worst event in my life so far, saved only by the fact that it could have been much, much worse.

First there was pure terror, which I’ve never experience before or since, of thinking I might not be able to walk, the pain of the accident – it was much, much more painful than you can imagine, then the pain of waking up from the operation (not as bad, but not a million miles off – I woke up after six hours on the sugery table with 13 nurses/anaesthetists and two surgeons standing over me. Four large, strong male nurses were pinning me down while I screamedOH YA FUCKING CUUUUNTTHIS FUCKING HURTS!”. The immediately put me as at ease as they could have, I think and gave me loads of morphine. It did help the pain, but me me feel dreadfully sick. For the next four or five hours, every time I threw up I involuntarily sat up a bit, which was intensely painful and made me scream “CUUUUNT!” again.

After three and a half weeks of constipation I was walking about reasonably, with my new back brace and my catheters had been removed. I wasn’t allowed to leave the Spiral Unit until they could confirm that I could piss, wank and shit – I didn’t do it that order and the shit was last (it took an enema and was the first time I laughed properly since the accident – I spent 2 and a half hours pooing and giggling the whole time). The nurses called in after a while because they were worried about the noise I was making: “Are you OK there (sounding worried)?”. “Yeah man – this is totally brilliant!”

Then I got out of hospital and I started on a long recovery period, which is far from finished yet. It was a grim situation, there’s no denying that. However, for a reason I cannot figure out, I sometimes look back at my time in hospital and the early recovery period afterwards with fond memories. Perhaps it just reminds me of how lucky I really was and of how much worse it all could have turned out. I don’t ever want to forget my thoughts and emotions at the time, part of the reason I’m trying to write some of them down here. I really don’t want to forget just how painful and scary it was. My thoughts still go out to some of the people I met at the Spinal Unit, especially Joey, the lad from Arbroath who was involved in another kiting accident just a few weeks before me – he was the first person to break his back kiting in Scotland. He was not as fortunate as me.

A few months ago my flatmate asked me if I thought any good had come from me breaking my back. I was quick to answer “no”, but on reflection I’ve been trying to draw as many positives from the experience as possible. The whole thing was very grounding as my life was quickly shoved into perspective. Kiting and all the little things that I had focused so much energy on suddenly didn’t matter. I realised how trivial it all was and how I had taken so many important things in my life for granted. In hospital and the months afterwards I had plenty time to think about family, friends and myself. Over the winter I stayed at home in Haddington with my parents while I started to recover and I now feel even closer to them than before. I appreciate how how great they really are and how much they’ve helped me, not just in the last year. They really are brilliant people.

Cheesy as it sounds, I also found out a lot about myself. In hospital, it dawned on me how selfish it can be to just do sport to the exclusion of a lot of other things. After I had started to recover a reasonable amount, I started to live a relatively normal (read: not into sport) life. It was really interesting to suddenly have lots of time, with nothing to be overly passionate about, much like many other people appear to me to live. Things are changing back again now, but it was good to have a completely different perspective on things for a while. Does this mean I’m going to take a different approach to things like sport? On the outside I doubt it will appear like I have, but I feel it has matured me a little.

I’ve also found out a lot more about how I deal with injuries, both physically and mentally. I’m certain that I can cope better with them now than in the past, but is this because I’m more mature or just because I’m more experienced at getting injured? The recovery has been a much slower and harder process that I imagined. Although I have broken a few bones before, I wasn’t really prepared for how much the injury was to take out of me. It’s not just back pain that you need to content with – your entire body gets pounded and your general strength and fitness take a real beating. I’ve been finding it particularly hard not to do too much too soon (I’ve been having some troubles with my knee from over-cycling). However, my fitness is starting to come together again, albeit pretty slowly. I’m looking forward to getting out biking more and more over the winter, starting kitesurfing again and improving at surfing once the autumn swells start to kick in.

Kiting, in particular, will be interesting – will I remember what to do? Will I get scared? Will I have calmed down at all? In answer to the last question – almost certainly. After all, with hindsight it was obvious one of us was going to get hurt sooner or later! Of course, the flip-side of this is that it’s the perfect opportunity to think up something new and take a different approach to the whole thing and I’m really excited about that.

Last week I had my final appointment with the hospital and was discharged from the Spinal Unit out-patients. My bones have more or less healed fully now (although they will still get stronger over the next year), and I’m feeling better than I have for a long, long time. Now, if someone can just arrange some sunshine, wind and waves for every day that I’m off work, everything will be all good!

8 comments

  1. Mate,

    Was good to see you in the arena again.

    (Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
    And NEVER mix up your right foot with your left?!)

    All the best.

    Dee

  2. “Cheesy as it sounds, I also found out a lot about myself.”

    everybody else already knew.

    Glad to hear you are well

  3. hi.. i got in a car accident on july 20 04 i have a broken back.. my car was totalled .. a cute little yellow bug.. i miss my car.. i miss alot of things.. but mostly my old self.. its time to find a new beginning and i am moving forward now.. the doctor tells me that the bone will not heal.. compressed fracture.. does any one know of any one in sandiego that can help me.. a specialist a chyropractor that can help relieve pain… will the pain around the broken area aventually go away?? i still have to have a brace on after about 3 hours.. every day is different.. but it seems i can last about 3 hours till having to brace for awhile… isnt funny how life just has different twists and turns.. i was a media makeup artist.. very involved in making people beautiful.. i was so busy no time for freinds and family .. i had to grow my business.. and now look.. its my friends and family that are what i most love and cherish.. it is family that is there for me.. it is family and friends that should be given the attention .. not materialistic nonsense.. i mean its fun to have great things… but your materialistic stuff and job that you feel defines you .. its not there when you are suffering… i know who is there for me now.. and who is not.. nothing like a tramatic situation in your life to show you who and what is important… wow………. thankyou for your comments and help … makeupsos7@aol.com

  4. after i fell of my swing onto my back it started to hurt alot when i run or jump is it broken or just bruised?

  5. “One year ago today….” (why does that sound familiar??) Today is my 1 year “anniversary” of the worst day of my life. I am not sure how I will mark this momentous occasion; however, I was thinking that I would think about how lucky I am to be alive and walking for starters.
    Mark, your blog has been such a great help in keeping my spirits up and reading everyone’s stories is surprisingly reassuring. One year ago, well, up until about 5 months ago, I didn’t think I would ever be “better” and back to “normal”. But it is and I am, as much as possible considering all the metal I am hauling around in my back.
    Thank you Mark and thank you to everyone for sharing. It really does help.

  6. Congratulations Meredith! Keep digging in there, the recovery keeps going for a while yet and life continues coming back to you. :)

    I still find thinking about the recovery amazing. I remember very well the pain and depression. It’s a long, slow road and you just don’t feel like you can get better, but you do. I’m glad your life is showing signs of getting back to normal. One milestone for me was when I realised that I hadn’t thought about my back for a whole day. That was the sign that things might get to the stage where it’s not my primary concern all the time.

    When I started writing about this, it didn’t even cross my mind that other people would find it useful, I was just bored and wanted to write about it. But people do seem to and it seems that the more stories people tell, the greater the snowball effect. A bit of a happy accident really and, strangely, it’s now probably one of the largest collections of broken back stories on the web!

  7. For Amber in San Diego, and any other sufferers of pain…I compress/blast fractured L1 snowboarding, had a 3 vertibra fusion and 5 vertibra support rods (which are coming out in 6mos!!!) My stiffness and pain has been helped tremendously by acupuncture and herbs. There is Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in SD. Given all the bills that acru it is nice to have access to affordable treatments. The herbs help my muscles to relax, and relearn how to do that themselves..as opposed to becoming addicted to pharmaceutical muscle relaxers. I encourage all to look for alternative support. Some of which I’ve enjoyed are Feldencrais (for PT), Cranio-sacral (for reconnecting the spine/chord energy flow), and much nutritional support for anti-inflammation, calcium support, etc. SURGEONS DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!! They can be great at what they do but the rest is up to us..Good luck to all, Namaste.

  8. Hi Mark,
    Just want to say thanks’ it’s been really interesting hearing your story, as I have had a very similar accident myself. Almost a year and half ago now I broke my back skiing in Canada, I attempted a very large jump and landed very badly. I was rushed to hospital immediately; where I was soon told that I had a compression fracture to my L1 lumber. X-rays showed that it basically burst but the doctors in Canada thought it was fixable, as long as I wore this body brace” I assume similar to yours but I had Burton snow board bindings to tighten mine round my body”(I thought this was pretty cool at the time) and it was a real help made it very easy to tighten and loosen.
    After spending 2 weeks in hospital in Canada I was flown home first class (would have been a great experience if I wasn’t in so much pain that I couldn’t eat or even try to watch the films). Once I arrived in England I had to go to the Hospital, just for an x-ray check up. Once the doctors had received my results, I was informed that they had some not very good news. Part of the break had slipped towards my spinal cord and I had to be operate on immediately, I suddenly became really hot and faint, my mum says that’s what it feels like just before you faint ha-ha. Moments later I was shown to my hospital bed and told I was not allowed to walk around even with my brace on. Four days later they had a surgeon that could do my operation, to place two short metal rods and four screws in my back basically replacing the old Bashed up L1 lumber.
    They first informed me of the risks of having the surgery and told me there would possibly be a chance I could become paralyzed, after finding out that the odds where only like 11 percent of something I felt much more relieved. My surgery was 8 hours long and I was very close to having a blood transfusion after being in there so long. So when I came out of surgery I felt extremely weak but ok I was surprised it wasn’t that painful. Then I went to sleep and woke and unfortunately the morphine had worn off, and oh my god then the pain began. I wad immediately sick from then pain, it felt like I had been ripped to pieces and then sewn back together. My skin was very tender and sensitive it was quite hard to breath and a bitch to cough.
    I may have made it all sound very painful then, but it really was. However it was an extremely quick recovery just 2 days later I was able to put my brace on. This caused quite a bit discomfort as my newly placed bolts were being pushed against the back brace making it feel very uncomfortable to put on. I was worried that they would have to make me a new brace for my new bolt adjustments, however one day later I tried the brace again and it felt a bit better I continued trying this for the next few days.
    Whilst I was in hospital my girlfriend came to visit me from Sweden, as that was where she was currently living. It was great to see her and seemed to give me a whole lot of energy and I started to feel really positive, so I decided to get up and walk to her. The doctors said it was fine and encouraged it. I got up for about a minuets walked about 4 meters felt really dizzy and then had to lay back down again. The next day I tried this again and surprisingly I felt as if I could be up for as long as I want, but in reality it was only about 5 Minuits I was up for.
    A few days later I was discharged from the hospital, and found myself in my new home in a blown up bed with a hospital mattress on top in the middle of my living room, as I had not yet mustard steps this was the most sensible choice. I laid in that bed for about 2 months watching a hell of a lot of TV and trying to learn the guitar. I eventually became bored of the guitar as it was quite hard to learn when I couldn’t see the strings, so I just watched even more TV.
    During that month I had my girlfriend with me god knows what I would of done without her I couldn’t get up on my own I couldn’t stand up long enough to make food it was great having her around and I will be eternally grateful for this. After about 4 months I was regularly up and about, often tired and in discomfort from my brace but I was about and happy about that. After being in the brace for quite a few months, I started to become restless so I asked the doctors what exercises I could do. They recommended swimming and cycling, I saw several different doctors which I found very annoying as I didn’t feel they really knew much about me. One doctor said I could run but I felt I was not ready for this, so I second checked with another doctor and they highly recommended that I didn’t as I was still in a brace. After about 6 months I was told I could take my brace off this was extremely scary, I didn’t really believe the doctor as it felt so unnatural to sit up without the brace. However I got use to this but I found the brace made it much more comfortable for me to sit up but I thought it was best not to get to use to it.
    After my brace was removed it was a slow recovery, I gradually started jogging and kicking a football around. After a few months about 9 months after my surgery I was able to walk fine run a little and generally do almost everything I wanted I decided to go traveling with my girlfriend. This was about 10 months after my surgery, traveling was great for me I ran on the beach most days went swimming I even tried white water rafting but I went on a easy course as I felt that was safest. I even tried surfing a few times it felt great.
    About 14 months after my operation I came home from traveling, I had the opportunity to go skiing and I felt as if I was definitely able to do it. It was a little scary as that was how I did my injury but I was determined not to let it become something I was afraid of. Skiing felt great took me like a day and then I felt like I had never broke my back, I was doing jumps(little ones, but none the less jumps)Black diamond runs I felt confident and no pain what so ever with my back.
    After the ski trip I moved to Sweden with my girlfriend I haven’t done much the last 6 months activates wise. I have an office job and find it quite uncomfortable to sit at a desk all day and I haven’t really exercised much. Because of this I can really feel that I am not as strong or comfortable with my back as I was once before. So the last month of so I have been trying to get back to what I once was I am going skiing again in a couple of months and I really want to be fighting fit for that.
    One thing I can recommend that you will feel very stiff and sore in you back after exercising and that it’s not doing you much good, but you slowly get used to this and realize how much better it is for you. I’ve noticed a lot especially as I’ve hit a little low and not done much recently, I defiantly recommend working out (if possible). Regarding training and recovery I was told nothing my doctor recommended the obvious “go cycling, swimming” .I feel they tell you very little as it is very different for every patient, I think we all know our body a lot better then what we think. For example the twisting motion of golf, for me I find very uncomfortable I expect if I tried really hard I could exercise for this sport. So that I wouldn’t find it that painful, but as I am not that interested in golf I don’t mind not being able to do this sport in comfort.
    Basically I’m saying, those if something is clearly very painful maybe don’t do it, or train very slowly so this sport eventually becomes comfortable. I am now about a year and half after my surgery and I find it very hard to notice that I once broke my back. I occasionally have pain and stiffness, also I find my bolts stick out further then my spine, so I find this very uncomfortable when sitting on something hard or doing sit ups does anyone else have this problem?
    Considering how badly I broke it and that I have metal rods in my back, I am very grateful with how good of a job the surgeons have done and allowed me to carry on with my life as normal.
    I read before someone asked something about the cold affecting the metal. I now live in Sweden and it’s certainly not warm in the winter here and I have no problem with the metal and the cold.
    Once again just want to say thank you to mark its great to hear about other people with similar Storys and problems.

    Hope everyone is recovering well,
    Jordi

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