For the first few months after breaking my neck I was on bed rest, flat on my back with weights hanging down over the top of the bed attached to a halo that had been bolted to 4 points in my head.
At about 6am the ward would come alive, some patients were taken to the bathroom while others were washed and got out of bed. It was almost a military operation, a great flurry of activity and depending on how much help you needed and how far into your rehab you were, you would be surrounded by a number of nurses. They would go from bed to bed getting everybody up that had physio or an appointment, then slowly get around to seeing to the people on bed rest who had nowhere to go.
I was, obviously, one of those that had nowhere to go. My days were one long repeated routine. At set times I would be turned over to relieve the pressure on one side of my body. The cleaners came around mid-morning and we would have a brief chat, and after that I had 20 minutes of physio. Later on you would get a cup of tea, which we all quickly learnt to down in one go via a straw – sipping it was out of the question when the nurses were so busy. You just hoped it was your lucky day and that it was your turn while the tea was warm, not boiling or cold!
Lunchtime brought with it some gourmet delight that I chose the day before but rarely wanted. Flat on my back as I was, I could never see what was coming next on the fork; I remember once getting a huge mouthful of cottage cheese! It certainly is not the nurses’ fault, but just one of the downsides of being in that situation – you eat what you’re given when you’re given it.
The afternoon would drag along, usually with some TV on in the background and more physio visits. Of course it was nice when I had visitors but that wasn’t always possible, being in a hospital 200 miles away from my home town.
While lying there I had so much going on in my head, I had so much time to think about my accident and my future and the kind of life that would now await a previously very active young man. I would look into the mirrors above my head that were carefully placed so I could see the TV next to the bed as well as the nurses around their station. This also gave me a glimpse of my future, as there were always patients around who were slightly further on in their recovery, wheeling around or receiving physiotherapy. I remember asking my primary nurse what level of injury many of them had, so that I could judge what I might be capable of once I got up.
At one point I met a guy called Richard, he stayed for a few days in the bed next to me. Richard had the same level of injury as I did, but his accident was 20 years ago. My TV started changing channels by itself, and after calling the nurse several times we came to the conclusion that it was Richard winding me up! This made my day and really brightened my mood, because Richard had the same injury as me, but was sat up in bed and able to use the TV remote. I remember thinking how much better my life was going to be than I’d initially thought, as if he was able to do that then eventually I would be too.
Little things like changing the channel gave me a glimpse of life to look forward to. Because I had the ability to look beyond what I couldn’t do and focus on the things I would be able to manage once I was able to sit up, get up, and eventually go home, it kept my spirits up and made me sure that life was still worth living. I had massive dreams, but I was incredibly aware how it would have to be one step at a time from now on.
Whenever we want something we tend to look way too far into the future, and that gives us the feeling that the distance between here and there makes it an almost impossible destination to get to. In contrast to that, the thought of my very next step was what kept me going: sitting up another 15° on the bed, being able to hold a piece of toast and eat it by myself, changing the TV channel.
Many people wonder how I’ve done so well, or how other people do something incredibly amazing when the odds are stacked against them. The truth is that they do it one step at a time, they have direction, and they don’t lose focus when some things don’t work out.
You can achieve anything. You just need to take that step! Dream big, but remember that success is a journey and not something that can happen overnight.