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  • Writer's pictureDavid Woods

Accidents and Arias - Part 3

Updated: Aug 1, 2021

After the worst time of my life, the new year 2021 started to feel like it was on the up… for 4 days. The lockdown from January 4th was tough to take, but thankfully Bryony was with me and Mum during this time which was really nice, she has really helped to keep me going and been there to listen to me when I’ve been feeling rotten at 3am night after night.

As both RNCM and Trinity were closed during this time, we liked to think of what were doing as music college from home and we planned our days to try and be as organised as we could with practice slots worked out and we accompanied each other during our practice to help each other out. I played for a few of Bryony’s singing lessons and coachings, and even a masterclass with Sandra Dugdale.

My leg was improving during this time. I was able to walk on just one crutch and starting to find it easier to put weight on, and it was finally, finally getting to a point where my leg wasn’t hurting every moment of the day. It was still stiff and weak and I was taking paracetamol, but no longer the constant morphine and dihydrocodeine which meant I was more alert and able to focus more easily on my lessons and lectures. Despite this, my dreams of falling hadn’t stopped, although they were getting less frequent, and I was still waking up with a start occasionally covered in sweat and then finding it difficult to fall asleep again.

Up until now I had been feeling very behind with my university work as I just couldn’t apply all my attention to it and I was starting to get quite stressed about everything I had missed. Still, with encouragement from Bryony and my Mum I pressed on and managed to keep just about on top of it.

The x-rays I was having during this time all said that the bone in my leg hadn’t healed properly and it was looking increasingly likely that I would need a second operation but frustratingly they would just say “see you in two months for another x-ray” rather than establish for sure when or even if I needed the operation. As a result, my physio stalled. They couldn’t allow me to apply any weight if the bone hadn’t healed and every session just felt like repeating the same exercises until I had this operation.

I finally made it!

By March we were allowed into to the RNCM in person and I went to stay in the flat I had been paying rent for since September for the very first time, and into the RNCM for only the third time. My flat was on the top floor of a 4 storey block which was a massive effort to climb. Lessons, coaching and stagecraft sessions were in person while other lectures remained online only. Weirdly, over the next few weeks my good knee started to really hurt. I couldn’t figure out why it was hurting so much but just hoped it would get better, but during a stage combat session, it started to become unbearable and I just couldn’t stand even with my crutch. I had to leave early and got a taxi back home and rang 111 which recommended I go to A&E. After a typically long wait at A&E they gave me an x-ray and concluded I had developed tendinitis from overcompensating for my bad leg, especially up and down stairs and I was told to put no weight on it. This was yet another blow just as I was feeling more mobile, and meant that I was back on two crutches, moving as little as possible and taking painkillers again. I went to see a physio in Manchester about my tendinitis as well as multiple issues that had come up as a result of using crutches for so long, such as an achey back, stiff neck and shoulders, and poor posture.

I went for a consultation with my surgeon in April for the first time since my last operation and he decided that the time had come to decide on a date for the operation. As the bone hadn’t healed, the danger was the metal rod could press down on my knee too much and the small screws could break which could shatter my knee cap, or it could heal in a twisted angle, and I needed bone marrow to be taken from my hip, attached to protein strips and pressed into the gap and then a 15cm metal plate nailed to the side of the bone for stability. This would mean at least another month or so off my feet while I recovered and could be even longer. He gave me the option to either leave it and see if the bone grew back on its own, wait until the end of Summer to have the operation then or have it done as soon as possible, but that a date would be dependent on availability and, of course, could change even at the last minute if someone else suddenly broke their leg falling down a cliff…

I opted to have it done as soon as possible as I had some performance work at Opera Holland Park coming up in the summer and I hoped I would be at least mostly better by then. After the first date we had arranged was cancelled the day before it was meant to happen, we were able to settle on May 17th at the Leeds General Infirmary with the same surgeon as my previous operation, a rare luxury. As the date drew closer I began to get very nervous and anxious that I hadn’t fully considered the consequences of a second operation. I had felt so miserable after my first one and had made so much progress since, albeit not as much as I had hoped as I was still on crutches, and with several assignments, a first year performance assessment and a summer contract coming up I became worried that I wouldn’t be better in time for any of these. This wasn’t quite as extreme an operation as my first, but it was still pretty major by anyone’s standard and I would be in hospital for another week with no visitors before I could leave followed by several more weeks of strong painkillers, blood thinners and bedrest.

I arrived at the LGI at 7am for my operation on May 17th and had to take several tests for Covid and other infections. They weighed me and congratulated me on losing 15kg as I had apparently weighed 103kg back in August and now weighed 88kg - this had to be nonsense because, if anything, I had gained weight since August. Still, I acted like I had made a miraculous weight loss and enjoyed pretending I had achieved something.

Immediately after the second operation

Thankfully I was put under a general anaesthetic this time, and I awoke several hours later in the same ward as August feeling like I was suffering the worst hangover I had ever had, and was dosed up on my good friends morphine, dihydrocodeine and blood thinning injections. Oh how I hadn’t missed them. The operation had taken almost 3 hours, longer than my last one, and I felt tired, thirsty and sick. I tried to have some dinner in the hospital but was immediately sick after the first mouthful, so that wasn’t happening. The surgeon came in, followed by his entourage as surgeons always are, and told me that the operation had been a success, but that at one point he had accidentally lost a screw inside me and removing it would have involved removing my bone to get it, so they decided to just leave it. Probably a wise decision.

My leg x-rayed on 2 June with the new metal plate

This operation left me feeling like I’d gone back to square one. The pain wasn’t quite as extreme as it had been in August but it was comparable, and once again I couldn’t move my leg, was hooked up to a morphine drip, taking pills of dihydrocodeine and having blood thinners injected into my tummy which, once again, were causing it to become bruised and swollen. I started to feel like maybe I had made a mistake and I should have left it to see if the bone would start to grow back by itself. I couldn’t have visitors which meant my week in hospital was very boring, but I made lots of phone calls and was very grateful to my friends and family for getting in touch. In particular, a good friend from university of mine Tom Hazell rang each day to see how I was getting on. Tom has had his own leg drama over recent years with multiple operations and complications and it was so great to chat to someone who actually understood this and to share stories about surgeons, operations and recovery. He really kept me going and I owe him a big one for everything he did for me.

My swollen leg after I got home

By day 3 in hospital I was able to stand, albeit nearly fainting again as per usual. It was strange going through the same motions as last time, but, with 9 months of weariness and fatigue having set in, the novelty had well and truly worn off and I was getting frustrated with myself and the physios. Worryingly, my leg started to swell up over the next few days and get incredibly painful and on the day I was meant to leave, it got so swollen they were concerned I might have a blood clot in my leg. I was taken for an ultrasound scan to check and thankfully I didn’t have a blood clot, but there was a build up of excess fluid and there was some talk that I might have to be held back for a few more days and be attached to a pump to drain the leg before I left. Instead, they decided it was safe to send me home but I was instructed to kept a close eye on it and that if it got any worse to come straight back.

Once again, I was back at home bedridden, taking morphine, with my Mum helping me to use the loo, wash and generally to look after myself. After gradually getting better over the last several months, this felt like a major step back and I could feel myself feeling low and unmotivated once again except this time I had university deadlines looming. I managed to get extensions but I was still worried I wasn’t in a fit state to do the assignments properly. My bad dreams about falling came back with a vengeance too, although they’d never fully gone away, and I was sleeping terribly.

Despite this, my progress was much quicker than it had been in the autumn. Within a week of coming home I was moving about on crutches and, as I was now allowed to put weight on my newly reinforced leg, I could press on with my physio harder than before. By June I had stopped taking the morphine and I went back for an x-ray and progress looked good, so now was the time to push on with regaining the muscle that had completely withered away. I made walking my absolute priority as I had to be able to move around on stage by summer, and was constantly attempting to take steps and exercise my leg as much as I could. I also decided to finally seek therapy and was diagnosed with PTSD. Small things would trigger me like seeing someone up a ladder, and then that night I would have a dream about falling off a ladder. Part of my therapy was to recognise this and register my response.

By mid-June I arrived back in Manchester and had to crack on with my university assignments as I had deadlines which were fast approaching. I kept going with my physio as I had to be able to walk for rehearsals for The Pirates of Penzance in July which I was doing at Opera Holland Park. I was pretty nervous that I wasn’t going to quite get my leg back in time, so I bought an exercise bike and regularly saw a physio in Manchester.

Despite a brief setback where the wound got infected and required antibiotics, by July, I was finally, finally confident enough to walk to the shops without my crutches. It’s hard to say what the feeling was like when I did this. Even though I had reached a point where I could walk around the house, actually leaving the house without things to grab hold of for support was a major milestone and, as I walked along the street looking at people walking by, I was elated to think I didn’t have to have these massive metal claws assisting me, that I could just do it on my own. My leg, having been through so much, was finally working.

Bryony and I went on holiday to Berkshire together in mid-July and, after such an awful year, we were finally able to celebrate some good news as we got engaged! I think we both deserved it after the time we’ve had and I was actually able to get down on one knee - something I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to do. I took my crutch on this holiday, having used it sporadically until then, but I never took it out the car and finally put it to rest. Goodbye my faithful companion, I won’t miss you.

The rehearsals for The Pirates of Penzance have been a personal triumph as well. I have just about been able to keep up with the jumping, dancing and dashing about on stage enough to hide the fact I’m still a bit wobbly on my feet. The director has had to occasionally make sure I’m not the one at front when running around but otherwise I’ve not been the major inconvenience I was worried I’d be. When I think about how far I’ve come, I am so proud to be a part of this, my first show since the accident, and to be able to perform when I genuinely thought for a time I would never be able to perform on stage again.

Having said all this, there is a heck of a long way to go. The leg is still very stiff and I can’t run yet or lower myself down on it. It will still be another year until it is fully back to normal, two full years after the accident, but I am so thankful to be able to step outside and walk on my own. I have never felt as challenged as I have done over this last year, mentally and physically. I am still having therapy for PTSD which will be a long term thing, but I am feeling much better about my leg and my life than I did a few months ago. These last 12 months have been the worst of my life but I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped me get through it. To my Mum, my fiancée (!!!) Bryony, my sister Ellen, my Dad, my brother Rob, my friend Tom Hazell and everyone who has been there and supported me when I’ve been so low. Thank you.

David xx


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