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Broken back – friends to the rescue

February 20, 2016
Compression fracture T12

Compression fracture T12

In Part 3 of a series on my experiences of breaking my back in a surfing accident, I had a bit going on for me on top of the T12 compression fracture but friends saved me. Read parts 1 and 2 by clicking on the links below.

The moment the accident happened my life left its path. I careered (definition: move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way) away from what I’d been planning. I didn’t want to accept that. A minute after my back snapped on the Burleigh sandbank I considered paddling out for another wave. I surrendered and paddled in, but I wanted to paddle back out. As the ambulance physically took me away from my life – my surfboard, my car, my keys, home, my sick mother, friends, research, laptop and phone – I fought in my mind. I was going to hospital but I wanted to go home. I’ll get back to work. I will be back to what I’d been planning this afternoon. It’s just a quick detour. The paramedics asked me for next of kin – but I didn’t want them to worry my family while my elderly mum was back in hospital.

In Emergency I schemed. Maybe it’s just a bruised kidney. I’ll work on my thesis in hospital. I have to contact work. I need to get my car back home. I need to contact my supervisor. I need to contact my students. I can manage the pain with painkillers. I’ll be back in the surf by March.

Practical support

My neighbour Gary came Sunday the day after the accident. I was in denial of the seriousness of my broken back, dosed up on opiates. Grateful for his coming. He’d picked up my car and surf board from the surf club. He brought my books, research, phone, laptop, some dvds, clothes. He saw a man badly injured in pain. I wanted to keep doing what I’d been doing. Grateful for my books

Problems began the moment I got my phone. My phone credit was finished. A usually small problems to fix. Difficult. Drop the phone. Call the nurse. Solving that annoyance was a victory. Getting credit was a miracle. My sisters came down from Brisbane to clean my flat. A clean flat to return to. I texted people what had happened.

Midweek I realised I couldn’t organise the world from my hospital bed. It was nonsense. The most vital thing was to heal. After a few days I found myself crying. I couldn’t read without falling asleep because of the pain killers. I could only type a few words on the laptop one handed. I was like a blue tongue on its back, useless. My sister told me out aunty died. I cried for my mum, aunty, me.

Emotional support

Friends visited me. Neighbourhood friends, work friends, coffee shop friends, friends I didn’t expect. They sat. Saw a different me to before and to what I saw. Asked what had happened and listened. All of them said I was lucky. Brought hard drives full of movies and series. I didn’t feel lucky but they were right. I could walk. No matter what happened I was ahead. The nurse in emergency, the one who’d been initiated into his Aboriginal tribe, had said the right attitude is important. A friend or two came everyday. They gave me perspective and encouragement. The pain in my vertebrae was exhausting. I watched the complete Broken Bad and Game of Thrones both for a second time. Or I watched the ceiling.

Regular obs and pain relief 24 hours a day, an occasional scan.

A nurse offered to arrange a psychologist. No thanks. A few hours later – actually yes I will see the psych if that’s possible. It could be a help. The psych was wise for doe eyed girl in her mid 20s. I spoke about the road I’d been on when the wave broke my back. My confirmation due for my thesis. The crisis happening in my family? You’re goal driven. You need to change your goals to healing goals.

The brace came on Thursday night. The brace-maker fitted it to me on the bed. No I couldn’t get up. I needed the physio team to get up. They’d be here tomorrow. You’ll be dizzy. You’ll be weak. You’ve been on your back for a week. You need more than one person to walk with you in case you start to fall. Rod – a funny name for a back brace maker – was a warm hearted man with busy hands. The fingers moved quickly tightening and adjusting. He spoke with his eyes sharing his knowledge, preparing me. I wanted to go to work on Monday. ‘See how you go. But you’ll feel more able to at the two week mark.’ He was right. The medical support was great. Great care was taken to avoid pneumonia as I had fluid on my lungs

  1. Gina permalink

    I’m not surprised that you have the courage to write about this, I know you have the determination and tenacity to endure it.

  2. Lesley permalink

    A story so powerful, it provokes an array of responses, each one connecting us closer to our own humanity .

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