10 years ago today, I was hit by a car and broke both my legs. I usually tell people this and they assume that I was walking and was run over, but I was actually driving. I’ve found that people tended to judge me a little bit when I told them I was driving, like it was my fault. Or I would jump to that conclusion and insist very early on in the conversation that it wasn’t my fault and then be annoyed at myself for attempting to justify my situation. Especially a few years after when I was still in the mid-twenties, the older generation, in particular, would assume that I was driving recklessly. As such, I developed the habit of telling people I was ‘hit by a car’- which I was!
Sparing the gory details, we were both driving at 60mph and he happened to be on the wrong side of the road on a bend in the road. I was in my teacher training year and was driving home from a parent’s evening. I know little about him as he never contacted me to apologise or help, and I only saw him once in court when he was fined £200 but said he only had 65p to his name and therefore couldn’t pay. I was helicoptered to hospital as I had cut open an artery in my thigh and was losing a substantial amount of blood; I was in and out of consciousness and my heart paused a few times as well! I was placed in a medically induced coma and operated on 12 times, all on my legs. Once I came to, I found out I had compound fractures (where the bone splits so that it protrudes through the skin) in my right femur, left knee and left tibia; breaks in my left hip, right knee and right femur, and my right foot was ‘mushy jelly’, as my surgeon described it. Pretty impressive for a 23 year old!
To be fair, my legs had saved my life, as on impact, I had raised them upward and scrunched myself into a ball, which ultimately meant that I had absolutely no injuries above my pelvis (apart from a few cuts and bruises). My legs took the brunt and pushed the steering wheel through the roof. Well done legs! Down side was that I was told I probably wouldn’t ever walk again. So a month was spent in hospital, making new friends with the other patients and nurses. I had a few more operations every so often and came to look forward to them. I enjoyed the sleepy feeling and found that I always had an excellent night’s sleep the night after, which is rare in hospital.
After I was able to start using a wheelchair, my parents were able to look after me at home and they moved my bed into a downstairs room so I didn’t have to be in hospital for longer. I took my first steps in the hydro-therapy pool, which was pretty emotional, and afterwards, I persuaded my Dad to help me try and walk around the garden using a walking frame. Eventually, he let me and it took 16 minutes to do a lap. (Our garden really wasn’t that big!) We did this more and more until I was able to use crutches, and then one crutch, and then eventually nothing.
I accidentally got drunk on sloe-gin once with my best friend who had come to visit. We were aiming for a bottle of rose but my Dad had put his homemade brew in to the bottle and hadn’t labelled it. Those were the days when drinking a whole bottle of rose wine wouldn’t affect us that much! For some reason, we apparently couldn’t tell the difference between rose wine and Dad’s homemade sloe-gin, and soon found ourselves booking flights to Venice for July. I’m pretty sure it was May and I was still in a wheelchair at the time. However ambitious it was, it worked and gave me a target to be able to walk confidently by. Bless Sam, though, who spent much of the time either waiting for me to catch up, or having to carry my luggage up and down stairs! We definitely didn’t pick the easiest of places to travel to!
I was able to go back to my teacher-training course in September, and completely off the pain-killers and walking without sticks by December, 9 months after the accident. Once I had received my Newly Qualified Teacher status, I took a year off to travel around South America, Australasia, and Asia. I very much had good and bad days; it took a long time for me to get my legs out without leggings or tights; took a while to get used to the staring looks or glances in the summer or when I was limping; I have stage 4 arthritis in my left knee and right foot that are prone to flare ups and I was told I would probably have to have a full knee replacement within 5 years time.
However, the momentous occasions have been many. The first time I swam breast-stroke without an awkward leg position; the first time I was able to sleep on my stomach; being able to fit in to skinny jeans because my left knee wasn’t so swollen; getting a tattoo over one of my scars; walking without a limp; dancing; and probably the best one- running my first kilometre. This was epic and it changed everything. I realised that I mainly had arthritic flare-ups when I was anxious about something, and running, or exercise in general, helped control that. I now only have a flare-up maybe once a year and the last time it was severe enough for me not to attend work was three years ago.
When my husband and I moved to Vienna from Hong Kong, I wanted to keep up the exercise so I managed to persuade a few new and naive friends to sign up to do a 5km Spartan race with me. We all trained (a bit) and we did it as a group. The one thing I can’t still do is jump or land from a height as the impact is too much for my knee. As such, I needed the girls’ help to lift me down from all the walls we had to climb over. We managed to do this within our target of under two hours and it really was one of the most special things I ever accomplished. I’m now 5 months pregnant and before, I would always get a bit worried about the possibility of having children, partly because gaining weight is basically the worst thing you can do with arthritis, and the prospect of constantly bending down and crouching scared me quite a bit, especially as the furthest I can bend my knee is 90 degrees. However, I haven’t suffered too much from knee pain so far (touch wood) and I’ve been practising my (small) squats in preparation.
I have no hate or bitterness and only appreciation and gratefulness for my family and friends who kept my mind healthy. My legs may look a bit strange; my toes stick out at funny angles, my left knee is twice as big (if not bigger at times) than my other knee, I have a rather large dent in my right thigh that could be mistaken for an enormous random piece of cellulite, and you could make a road map of my scars. But it’s all good- I don’t have to paint my fourth toe nail as it’s always hidden underneath my third toe, I get impressive looks at the gym when I’m shorts and people spy my fat knee, my ‘hole’ is often mistaken for a gun-shot wound when I’m on my travels, which always makes me feel more hard-core than I actually am, and, let's be honest, scars are cool and they are my war wounds.