Accidents and Arias - Part 1
On August 30th 2020, I had an accident. I’ve decided to write a blog about it because the impact of it has affected me every day since then, physically, vocally and mentally, and I want to address it head on. A fair warning before you read any further however, this is going to be pretty graphic and fairly lengthy, but I want this to be the full account of my experience over the last few months. I’ve found this both incredibly painful but also therapeutic to write, I don’t think I’ve fully processed everything that’s happened yet, but with my (hopefully) final operation behind me, I think I’m now finally at the beginning of the end.
After the crazy summer of 2020, I met up with some old friends at an old quarry we often met up at to have a bonfire. I was moving to Manchester a week later to begin my vocal master’s course at the Royal Northern College of Music, and we sat round the fire and chatted for couple of hours, reflecting on what an insane time it had been since the pandemic began 5 months earlier. We decided to call it a night at 10pm because we were all pretty tired and had things to do in the morning.
To get back home, I needed to go down some stone steps down the quarry side, a route I have done on walks many times in my life, except this time it was dark. I used my phone light to guide me through the trees and I thought I’d spotted the steps. I put my foot onto what I thought was the first step, but it turned out to be a loose stone just a few feet away from the actual step. The memory of what happened next won’t ever leave me. The stone slid from under me and I fell onto my back into the mud and started to slide off the top of the quarry. I desperately scrambled to grab onto trees, roots, rocks, anything, but as everything was wet, dark, muddy and happening so quickly I just couldn’t grip anything. I slid off the top and fell into the dark. I was airborne for a few, surreal, terrifying seconds and then I crashed onto the hard ground 30 feet beneath me.
The moment I hit the ground, a lightning bolt of pain ripped through me. I was immediately thrown into a dream-like state and I screamed. I just screamed and screamed. I leant over in agony to grab the leg I had landed on, and as I tried to move it, I realised my entire right leg was bent across me at almost a right angle from the centre of my thigh. I couldn’t see a thing, but as I felt around in the dark, I found my thigh bone had torn out of my leg and ripped through my trousers, and I could feel blood pouring out. I was hyperventilating and panicking beyond anything I’d ever experienced before. I’d never known pain like it, I was so cold and so scared and the whole world seemed to be spinning around me. I could feel my eyes struggling to stay open, and I genuinely thought I was just going to bleed to death.
As chance would have it, I had landed on the concrete slabs in somebody’s back garden. As I lay there shouting and shouting, the owner of the house emerged and dashed over. I don’t remember talking to him at all, I was completely delirious and just screaming into the void, but I remember him on the phone to the emergency services, and in particular him saying to them: “oh yeah, there’s a lot of blood.” At this point, the friends I had been out with ran down after hearing me yelling and appeared around me. They had torches and lights and were all in various states of panic, Ed rang my mum to tell her what had just happened while Neil spoke to the owner of the house. I tried to move my toes and found that I couldn’t at all, and I started to think that I had broken my spine and would be paralysed for life.
The paramedics swept in after only 15 or so minutes, but they were the longest 15 minutes of my life. The first one to speak introduced herself as Jo, and told me that I might have also broken my neck, back, pelvis and damaged my internal organs, and was going to be taken immediately to the Leeds General Infirmary for scans and X-rays. I was then injected with morphine and ketamine and the next few hours are a complete blur. I vaguely remember loads of people gathering around while the paramedics got on with their job. The neighbourhood had woken up and were fascinated. A small crowd gathered, one lady was even offering cups of tea to observers! More ambulances arrived, and in the end it took an hour for 3 ambulances and 5 paramedics to push my broken thigh bone back in, strap me to a board, fit a neck brace and apply all the various injections needed.
My mum had arrived at the scene during this time, and she was told by the paramedics that ketamine might have the side effect of causing me to scream, but that this wasn’t a cry of pain, just a side effect of the drug. Instead of screaming however, I apparently just started singing Elton John’s I’m Still Standing at the top of my lungs non-stop whilst they picked me up and loaded me into the back of the ambulance. I still worry that the neighbourhood will judge my technique by this impromptu recital.
After a blue light run to the LGI, I was injected with dye and had a CT scan to assess the damage and it was concluded that I had only broken my femur and my ankle, albeit pretty spectacularly. The hours I spent lying in A&E are a complete blur, I was talking complete nonsense and my bed kept being wheeled off somewhere for X-rays and then wheeled somewhere else while a revolving cast of doctors and nurses checked over various things. After a few hours, the drugs began to wear off and the sheer agony I was in began to fully take hold. At about 6am I was taken to a room in the major trauma ward I was to spend the next week in, and the nurses tried to lift me from the bed I’d been taken in on and move me onto the proper bed.
As the shock my body was in and the extra strong pain killers I’d been given started to wear off, I started to become more aware of my surroundings, and the pain in my leg became unbearable. I just started wailing and crying in pain as they tried to move me from one bed to the other. I thrashed around like I was possessed and begged them to stop, but of course they couldn’t. My leg was in a huge splint and I had a tight strap at the top of my thigh to reduce the blood flow into the rest of my leg, but as my leg had become swollen, this strap had become incredibly tight and I begged them to loosen it. In a strange attempt to ease the pain I was in, I started yodelling to distract myself while they lifted me over. I have no idea why I chose yodelling exactly. This had the unfortunate side effect of making the team of nurses laugh so much that it actually slowed the whole process down. I didn’t notice this at the time, of course, and continued yodelling as loudly as I could while they got everything set up around me.
The pain I was in during this time is indescribable and I hope I never again experience anything even close to it again. I was attached to a morphine drip that gave me a shot straight into my veins every 5 minutes to ease the pain and, in theory, to help me sleep, but despite this I just lay there for the next few hours crying out endlessly. I was visited by a surgeon and an anaesthetist who told me I was going to be having a major operation during the day and that I’d need a metal rod hammered into my femur. At about midday on August 31st, I was wheeled into the operating theatre and, despite being reassured by the nurses that I’d be under a general anaesthetic, I was only given a spinal injection which meant that while my legs would be completely numb, I’d be awake during the operation. I watched in disbelief as they hammered a foot and a half long titanium rod into my hip and slowly worked it through my femur over the next two hours. I could see the progress on the x-ray and was continually given extra shots of morphine and gas and air to keep me calm and sedated. It was the strangest out of body experience I’ve ever known as I watched my completely numb leg get hammered into. Towards the end of the operation, the anaesthetic started to wear off and I gradually began to feel the work being done in my leg more and more, I turned to the anaesthetist and begged for another epidural, but she just gave me even more morphine, so I had to just try and bear it.
After the operation, I was moved back into the ward and I tried to sleep. My mum visited at about 5pm, I was only allowed one visitor per day for one hour each, and she brought my phone, my portable speaker, some spare clothes and some snacks for the next week in hospital. I was particularly grateful for the speaker, and I spent most of the next few days drifting on and off to Classic FM. I was so tired and drugged up I could barely speak, and lying in bed was so uncomfortable with this swollen, bandaged, heavy leg I couldn’t move. The days were ok, I could sit around and watch TV or Youtube on my phone and I got to know the nurses a little bit, but the nights were just awful. I had to wear an oxygen mask, and I had a morphine drip hooked up with a button that, whenever I pressed it, gave a shot of morphine straight into my veins, but despite this, I found it so difficult to sleep.
Every time I fell asleep, I would dream about the accident and viscerally relive it. Every half an hour or so I’d wake up panicking, in agony and covered in sweat, and I would be calling for the nurses, desperate for more painkillers. These flashbacks haven’t ever really stopped. After a few days and nights, I thought I was losing my mind; I couldn’t stay asleep or awake. Going to the toilet was grim too. I had to wee in carton bottles, but because I couldn’t angle myself in a way that allowed it to be easy, other than using the bed remote to make myself sit up, I was constantly spilling it all over myself and having to be cleaned up.
The physiotherapists came for the first time on September 1st, the day after my operation. The first exercise was to lift my leg. Impossible. They then tried to get me to bend my knee. Also impossible. Then they asked me to put my legs over the side of the bed and see if I could sit normally. This was incredibly hard and they had to carry my leg down for me as there was no way I could move it on its own, but I just about managed to perch on the end of the bed. After a pause to catch my breath, they attached a leg brace, gave me a zimmer frame and asked if I could stand up. I was pretty surprised they were asking me this so early, but nevertheless after a few deep breaths I pushed myself up and was immediately hit with feeling of dizziness and nausea and thought I was going to either pass out or vomit. I fell back on to the bed and grabbed a carton bucket to be sick into.
The days I spent in hospital all blur into each other when I think back to them. I was on such strong painkillers and had so little sleep that my memory is very hazy, but my mum came each day and my dad came up from London to see me on the Thursday too. The physios came each day to try and make me move my leg more, which I found a real struggle, and I was having such massive hot sweats every hour or so that they tested me for Covid-19 and MRSA several times. By the end of the week I still couldn’t lift my leg or bend my knee really at all, and I’d only been able to shuffle about a tiny bit on crutches, but the nurses had reduced my morphine intake slightly, so it was decided that I should be sent home to recover there.
Thank you for reading this far and for joining me as I get my story out into the world. I’m starting to realise what a profound impact this has had on every aspect of my life since, so I’m going to be releasing this in instalments. Stay tuned for part 2, where I can promise you singing, wheelchairs and commodes!