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Goals – recovery from compression fracture T12

March 3, 2016

Life can change so quickly. A minute before the surfing accident when I broke my back on a shallow sandbank at Burleigh, I had no idea what was coming.

I paddled against the sweep to get back to the point to catch another barrel. I passed a guy with long blonde hair on a short board on my right. We both smiled at each other with every cell in our body. One of those moments of connectness. No need or desire to talk.

My goal was to catch another two waves, go home and work on my confirmation paper.

A minute later my back was in half

My goal suddenly was to get to shore without doing anymore damage to my spinal cord. And a huge goal it was. My feet were working but tingling. I’d done some trauma to the spinal cord. After a discussion in my head I decided when I got to the beach I’d need hospital and an ambulance.

It was humbling. From that scene of me on the beach, broken, face-down surrounded by people in the shallows until now, I owe a large part of my recovery to the people, the community, the friends and family, the volunteers, medical staff and specialists who were there to help me. As much for the need for practical necessity as for respect for the help of countless people, my goals needed to become much simpler than had my T12 not been crushed. Smaller though they were, they were equally challenging.

Once in hospital relatively comfortable and safe, I needed to find out what damage I’d done, get into contact with someone to let them know what’d happened and sort out my phone, car, surfboard and flat if needed.

Then with the news of a week stay in hospital, I wanted to regroup, get my research materials and some clothes up to me. Getting back to work and getting on with my confirmation paper were goals at the forefront of my mind.

Finding out smaller details of my injury was a goal. I really wanted someone to tell me about the damage to my vertebral disks,

I asked a blonde senior specialist who’d brought in a group into my room on a ward tour. You’re very interested in your disks aren’t you… Well it’s my back… I’ll have a look at your scans and come back later…

You learn in hospital that when someone says they’ll come back later you’ll never see them again. Getting information from specialists in hospital is not a practical goal.

I had goals like spacing out the pain relief. Push the 10mg of Endone to every eight hours instead of four. Often it felt like seven hours but it was only three. Sometimes I called for a bed pan. Thanks to Endone I was filling up with the hospital food I was forking into my horizontal mouth. Dumping that gutful was a goal.

The back brace arrived after six sweaty days on my back on the plastic hospital bed and pillow covers. I wanted to get to my feet.

Mr Smith would you like to try to put the brace on yourself. Not at this stage thankyou Nurse. You do it.

To put the brace on the two nurses rolled me on my side and slid one edge of the rounded U shaped brace under my ribs. They scooped me into the white plastic then rolled me onto my back and fitted the front of the brace over the back half. Both nurses did the straps, pulling tightly, securing the front and back sections with velcro.

“Sit up slowly. You’re going to feel a bit dizzy.”

To sit up I lay on my side, brought my knees up and hung my feet over the side of the bed. I moved my left elbow under my body and reached my right arm over my head to press my hand on the bed. I pushed with my left elbow and right hand until I was halfway upright and rested. Vertigo struck. I fought a few seconds. Lay back down. I repeated it but made it to sitting upright on the edge of the bed. The room spun. I lay down. Did it again. Sat there for 10 minutes till the spinning stopped. With a nurse either side I stood and took a step. They wanted me to keep going but I said no. Lay down again.

Do you want to try the stairs. No.

They left. I sat up and had my first walk around the bed on my own. Each thing I could grip around the bed was a goal.

The next goal was getting home. I had a long discussion in my head about that. I decided to call a friend who lives nearby Karlene. I accepted her offer of caring for me for a week till I was more able.

The hospital released me to home, however I realised at Karlene’s I was too helpless to go home. The smallest tasks were impossible. I was just a skinny helpless body with a broken backbone. I couldn’t go home. I would have had to call the ambulance to go back to hospital.

My first shower for a week was wonderful. Though I’d had sponge baths from the nurse I smelled like a freshly fucked camel. That first shower was the best shower I’d had in my life. The water felt like a miracle landing on my skin.

I didn’t have to wear the brace in bed. For the first week out of hospital I spent a lot of time in bed. Getting into and out of the brace on my own was a goal. It hurt but I did it. The edge of the back section dug into my ribs as a rolled over it. Being able to get myself up on my own restored a huge amount of independence to me. It gave me self esteem. Gloves to fight with.

Making my own coffee was a goal. Having a shit was a goal. The nurses said once I was upright, shitting would happen. I believed them but it didn’t happen. I’d been out of bed a few days. My stomach was huge. Nine or ten days it was. Like lancing a boil. I’d been getting worried, I heard constipation could cause serious problems. I think shitting was better than the shower. Too much information. Aaaaaahhhh. I tightened the brace.

I had some work to do online. Doing that was meaningful for me. Sitting for a few seconds was painful.  The optimum position for my back was over extended, but in the sitting position I slouched forward slightly in the brace. It took grit to get an hour’s work done.

The times when I didn’t have the grit broke me. The emotional side of recovery was lonely. The thoughts of determination, defeat and the shame that came with looking at work and walking away wracked me on some days. Loss. The severing of continuity with my research. I’d already been sad before the accident because my mum was so ill. The new feeling of sadness didn’t run concurrent with the old, it added extra, and even made the first worse.

I wanted to go to work 10 days after the accident, but I assessed myself at eight days and I had a long discussion in my head about it. In the time between 10 days and 17 days when I did go back, I learned a lot about how work can support an employee to return with an injury. The freedom to wear comfortable clothes and thongs. That support from work is so great.

Getting off Endone was a goal. Panadol are you kidding. Aspirin no way. Despite relying on it’s pain relief, I stopped Endone during the day, unless I needed it. Overdoing it is easy with a broken back. An outing that goes too long. A drive that goes to far. A session on the laptop pushed too much. Endone was the go-to drug if I overdid things.

After a few days at Karlene’s I cut back to one Endone at night before bed. Soon I found I didn’t need it to go to sleep anymore. But I needed one when I woke with pain in the middle of the night. After a few nights I stopped doing that.

That next day, I had a runny nose and I just couldn’t lift my head I was that down. inconsolable I was useless, standing broken in the passage, halfway between the laptop and the bedroom. That night I woke up about 2am in pain and I took one. I never took another one. I went to work for the first time the next day.

Getting back to work was a victory. I asked a work mate to pick me up. Work arranged a flat couch in a colleague’s office. I lay down to take the load off my spine, half way through my work. Karlene picked me up after work.

Everything to that point since the accident had been about returning to work. I was pumped to have pulled it off. The next day I crashed. I was sore from the exertion, but more than that I was depressed.

I needed to make more goals.



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