Who remembers that song, from the title of this blog? It is one of my favourites. In my case, it was not broken wings, but broken legs! I wouldn't say I am disabled as such, not now anyway, but I know what it is like to be completely incapacitated. A few years ago, back in 2006, I had a terrible car crash, in which I broke both my legs, as well as several bones in my upper body, e.g. several ribs and my sternum (breastbone). So right after the accident I was completely helpless in a hospital bed, I could only sit up and just about use my arms, with great difficulty.
The pain all over my body was phenomenal, especially in my legs, but also in my chest, and I was on very large doses of morphine for the first few weeks, so I was “out of it” quite a lot of the time! I still remember how painful it was though, despite the morphine; it didn't take the pain away completely, just took the edge off it, so it was more bearable. It was not just the physical pain that was horrible, but also being so helpless and dependent on other people in that way; I could just about feed myself, and brush my hair, etc., but apart from that I needed help with everything. I had to be washed and dressed, and had a catheter in my bladder, and other bodily functions...well, I won't give all the details, but it was extremely degrading, to say the least! (Fortunately that phase was only for the first couple of weeks, before I was able to move about a bit more).
My chest bones were able to heal themselves, but I needed to have at least two operations on my legs to reset the bones. The X-rays (see accompanying pic) showed that both of my femurs (thigh-bones) were broken, and also the knee of my left leg. They were very bad fractures too, in one leg the bones were completely shattered, so the surgeons had quite a job to piece them back together. They inserted metal rods in both my thighs, which acted as internal splints, while the bones were healing themselves. My knee was also pinned together internally. The rods and pins have stayed in place since then, so I still have a lot of metal in my body. I thought that this meant I would automatically set off the security scanners at airports, for example, but so far this has not happened!
I was in a wheelchair for the first 3 months after the accident, and stayed in hospital for this period. The wheelchair was a purely manual one, which meant I turned the wheels with my hands, and although it was very basic and labour-intensive, I was really glad to have it, as it meant I was able to get out of bed and move around (and that was something, even though it was only round the hospital). I was not allowed to stand up or put any weight on my legs during this period, in case I bust the metalwork that was holding them together. My arms became strong very quickly on operating the wheels, and I used to whizz round the hospital corridors, which was my main form of excitement, during that bleak period! The sense of motion was exhilarating after several weeks in bed.
After the first 3 months I had more X-rays and the orthopaedic consultant advised that the bones were healing well, and that I could progress onto crutches, although I still had to be very careful. I found it very elating actually being able to stand up and walk, albeit very painfully and slowly at first, “baby steps”, in both senses of the phrase. The physiotherapists at the hospital coached me in walking with crutches, and that did take some getting used to. I was in a huge amount of pain with my legs at the beginning, and exhaustion set in quickly, I couldn't walk far. But gradually, day by day, I got stronger and adapted, and after a few months I was able to use just one crutch, and eventually, nearly a year after the accident, I was able to dispense with them completely. It has taken a long time for my legs to heal though, as the consultants said it would; even after ditching the crutches I was still in quite a lot of pain and still walked with a limp for a while. They said it would take around 3 years for the bones to completely build up again, and they were absolutely right.
The accident was around 6 years ago now, and I am very lucky that I have made an (almost) full recovery. I can live a normal life, but my legs are still not quite as strong as they were before, and if I am on my feet for a long period of time, they can still get very painful. Equally going up flights of stairs is sometimes a problem, and I often have to cling on to the banisters. However, I know I have been very lucky, all things considered, as it was a very bad crash, and I could have been killed or much more seriously injured (i.e. a fractured skull or broken back or neck).
One thing that was really borne home to me was the sense of helplessness and the lack of dignity that there can be in being incapacitated. I understand this now as I have been temporarily disabled, and sometimes these things happen for a reason, they help to build character; I have become more patient since this event, as I had to wait so long for my legs to heal! The whole experience has definitely given me a strong insight into the lives and problems of disabled people, so I hope I have become more understanding of that as a result.
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Picture courtesy of www.aaos.org (The images look very similar to my X-ray pics – I have them on a CD from the hospital, but I was unable to use them to illustrate this blog, sadly!)