Formerly of Chertsey, Surrey but now emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand.
8th January 1980 was a rainy dark evening, I was riding my Yammie RD200 home from work about 4.30. I’d been 21 less than a month. I still only remember the journey up to about 200 yards before the accident, it was pretty slow, loadsa traffic, I was never one for zippin up the outside of the traffic so I was toodlin along about 25 most of the time. I found out (in court….it was funny when they said ‘Take the Bible in your right hand…… ) that a lorry driver came round some roadworks onto my side of the road and hit my right arm. The road wasn’t wide enough for me to avoid him. I ended up 10 feet behind it, I flew about 30 feet, I don’t know how! Until I went to court for the police prosecution of the driver I had no idea if the accident was my own fault or not, he pleaded not guilty. He got banned from driving and a big fine. I don’t feel any animosity towards him, he didn’t set out to cripple anyone, he just made a mistake.
I woke up face down on the road, my first feeling was immediate panic and several helpful peeps held me down to stop me moving, panicking me more. I could see their feet all around me. I had no idea why I was there, couldn’t even remember bein on my bike. It’s pretty claustrophobic face down in a full face helmet on a wet road at night. An ambulance came within 8 minutes and after asking lots of seemingly pointless questions they asked me to try and move my legs then my arms. Legs fine, tried to move my right arm…….@#%$ unbelievable pain. Once I’d tried that the pain just kept on and if I remember I made quite a lot of fuss as they got me onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. I laid there watching the lights flashing and listening to the siren, and screaming every time they took the mask off my face to see if I was OK…got to the hossie in about 10 mins and don’t emember much about the A&E stuff, except the extreme pain of having my clothes removed (t shirt, shirt, wooly jumper, leather jacket and a waxed jacket too….it was January in England remember). Apparently I told them several times every address I’d ever lived at, I was coached as a child to do this in case I got hurt away from Mummy and Daddy and I just kept on doing it. My parents had arrived and Mum says they saw me being wheeled down to x ray looking completely dead, except my eyes were open. She noticed the Horner’s immediately and started questioning medics.
I don’t remember anything else for about 3 days. I used to think I was unconscious for this time but I realise now it was the morphine. I thought I was dead and remember all I could see was white, with a big white pillar stretching up to the sky and a big white light in the middle. I felt no fear, emotion or pain during this time which seemed to be an eternity, so I concluded dispassionately that I was in fact dead and that after all, death was ok, if boring.
They must have reduced the morphine dose coz one day I worked out that the big white pillar was in fact my plastered right arm held up on pullies. I also started feeling the pain again. I drifted in and out of morphine induced phsychedelic dreams (I remember one involving belly buttons, loads of em, all colours, swirling around…..) and ignored my visitors. As the dose kept reducing, so I came back into the real world and I didn’t like it much, either.
My arm had been broken in six places and all my fingers smashed. The swelling was amazing, my lil arm was as big as a man’s thigh and as the swelling went down they had to recast the arm, almost daily. During one of these sessions I casually asked when I would be able to move my arm again, I’d never broken a bone before and thought the lack of movement was normal. The nurse said, ‘Oh, you probably won’t. It’s paralysed.’ WHAT THE F**K?? I can’t describe how devastated I was. After that replastering, I had been wheeled outside into the waiting area for a porter to come and take me back to the ward. I just laid there with tears pouring down my face and into my ears, like a river. The poor members of the public sitting there waiting for their turn became very agitated by this and some took their kids away. At least it got me a porter very quickly, good old NHS eh?
Back on the ward they told me about bpi, and said that although some nerves are stretched etc and might recover, the force of my accident meant they didn’t think it was very likely in my case. None of this really sank in, I just laid around thinking my life was over. I cried constantly, when I saw adverts on TV with mums holding their babies, people riding horses, in fact people doing all the things you take for granted with two arms, I thought I would be a useless cripple for ever. My family were great (they already knew about the bpi, that Horner’s set my mum on them like a terrier til she got the info). I tried to write with my left hand and it looked like crap, I was lying there crying about that and my mum said, ‘Can you still draw?’ I picked up the pencil and drew a horse, it was perfect straight away….weird. Drawing isn’t the same as writing then….hope dawned a bit. My mates were great too, in fact that’s when the crip jokes started, and yes, they did make me laugh even then. The constant stream of leather clad bikers (including my parents) scared the cr@p out of the old ladies in the ward (it was an ortho ward, I was the youngest in there by about 50 years) and as many of you will know, many NHS staff are less than enthusiastic about biking and bikers, they see a lot of us….
The next big shock for me was seeing myself in a mirror, my Horner’s was really bad at that time and I looked really odd, one tiny pupil and one big one, with a half closed eyelid too, that caused another few days of tears. I am not by any means a wettie, but I defy anyone to go through this and not be completely devastated at the beginning. Overnight, you are suddenly a whole other person, there is no area of your life that isn’t affected by such an injury. It’s a lot to take on board, specialy when you’re off your trolley on pain meds.
The bones were healing ok so they let me home after 3 weeks. I spent a month at my parents (crying over getting the lid off the Marmite, then crying over getting it on the toast til I had the great idea of wedging it in a corner of the kitchen to keep it still….crying over putting deodorant on the good armpit and the bpi armpit….) then took hold of myself and thought I should go back to my own flat or I was going to be a snivelling wreck for ever. It’s very easy to get dependent on those who love you, and I was starting to feel like a cripple. I guess that’s when my recovery really started. I also got back pillion on a bike, it was my then boyfriends only transport, so I had to do it and I’m glad I did.
Once I’d moved out again I was much better. I was off work 3 months and in that time worked out how to do a lot of things with one hand, realised I WAS still the same person and that I could do anything if I tried. Some things such as shoelaces eluded me for a long time, some things I’ve never mastered to this day, as far as I’m concerned not peeling potatoes, ever, is one of the major bonuses of a bpi. Funny things happened too, I once caught a punk rocker picking HIS nose with MY hand in the pub….! Then I went back to work in a bank, they wanted to put me in a telephone centre with other disabled peeps, I asked for a chance to prove I could still do my job (at that time computer input, reconciliation of books etc) with one hand. They gave me 6 months, and within that time my writing and everything else was as good with the left as it had been with my dominant right. Even my signature was identical. I have realised since that if I hadn’t gone back to work my compensation would have been a lot more, but I still think it was the right decision, those few weeks of feeling like a cripple were just so destructive, I hated myself for being a whiny, dependent self pitying wreck, altho I can see now it was a normal part of the process, I’m glad I was tough on myself. It felt great to have confidence again, something no amount of money can provide.
I was booked for an EMG but when I got there and saw the needles I said….’Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll wait to find out what nerves are avulsed by my recovery.’ Cowardly? Well, yes, but sod it, why not….I saw a Consultant and surgery was discussed, made harder for him with no EMG of course! He said from all the indications my injury was severe and might get no recovery at all, or might get a bit. He said surgery might help but in really severe cases would not offer much more than biceps. I was only interested in hand movement, and even without an EMG it was obvious that wasn’t going to happen. My forearm had already wasted away (it happened within 2 months) and I had had enough. He said there were experiments with reimplanting avulsed nerves going on, and that, worldwide, if I searched I would find someone who would offer a miracle. He warned me against making my arm too much of a focus and explained that recovery from such a life altering injury was about the whole self. Family and friends had persistently hassled me about surgery, I was more grateful than I can say to this guy for putting into words what I was already feeling….I wanted to get past and beyond the injury. I told my family no surgery could be done which shut them up! I truly respect anyone’s decision to have surgery and often more surgery if that is what they want to do, and nothing makes me happier than hearing it worked, but my choice felt right for me and 22 yrs later I’m still happy with it. I carried on intensive physio for 2 years, with a lifetime of a flail arm you need to keep the joints as supple as possible. My ROM is still pretty good. After the 2 years amputation was discussed, to avoid future problems and ‘because the arm is unsightly.’ Cheeky gits! I pointed out that one of the medical team present at the meeting had a dodgy eye, and that he should perhaps consider removing it, as it was a bit funny looking. That shut em up. After that they discharged me and I haven’t seen a Dr about my arm from that day to this.
Biceps came back if I remember after the 2 years, (after amputation had been discussed) altho weakly. So I could bend my elbow. It got a lot stronger after I had kids (first born 8 years post injury) through heaving them around but frankly is not much functional use. I can carry light stuff like clothes or even a book with it but not far and it hurts my back, so clearly there’s an element of ‘trick’ movement involved. I can shrug my shoulder too. I have no feeling in the skin of my lower arm or hand, and only in patches in the upper arm.
Oh, the pain….only a fellow bpi can understand this. I was on handfuls of painkillers at the start but decided to give them up when I went back to work about 3 months post injury, as I couldn’t function mentally on them. I found the pain actually lessened, whether it was because I was occupied or what I don’t know. The really crippling pain in long bouts lasted about 2 years and I do still get occasional bouts of what I call the nerve pain. I have read that pain from unresolved avulsions is the worst, I think that’s what I get. Then there’s the different more achy pain from cold or wet weather, plus severe pain sometimes in the sites where the bones were broken. If it gets unbearable I smoke cannabis which I actually found more effective than prescribed meds with less harmful side effects. I even used to climb out onto the flat roof of the bank where I woked and have a smoke if the pain was really bad….I was usually pretty generous with the overdrafts those days…Since emigrating it’s not so easy finding a reliable source so I have pretty much given it up now, I just put up with pain when it comes. If it is ever legalised here for medicinal use I would probably consider growing it, but I am surviving without it (which I thought I couldn’t) so I’ll hold off as long as I can.
I have 3 kids aged 14, 8 and 3 years. I do everything anyone else does (except peel potatoes!). I have given up work and have gone back to horse riding, something I did as a teenager, plus I walk in the hills and mountains, climb sometimes and swim. I really enjoy gardening, altho have stuck a fork in the bpi hand in the past….owch. The riding has been excellent therapy, I have a bad scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and the riding has helped immensely with my posture and flexibility. It also feeds that white knuckle monster lurking in all ex bikers…..
It sounds cr@p but I think the bpi has made me a more tolerant and stronger person. I tend not to regard ANYTHING as a setback nowadays, I know from my life experience that you can get over most things and there’s always a way to do things that seem impossible. My kids have benefitted from this too, they are as tenacious as me. I feel I am lucky to have survived the accident at all, I don’t feel disabled in the least and as far as I’m concerned my recovery is complete. I became aware of overuse symptoms in the last 2 years and initially worried that I might lose use of my good arm, but I’ve found that a) a huge proportion of peeps my age have similar probs, regardless of bpi, (something like two thirds of people over 50 have arthritis) it really isn’t helpful or healthy to blame everything on the bpi and I found doing it made me start feeling disabled again…and b) if you stop doing what hurts, the arm is ok. I don’t know what the future holds but I feel pretty confident that I can deal with it. Until I found the UBPN message board a couple of years ago, I never thought about my arm at all, except when it was hurting. People have worked with me for months without noticing it (my arm is pretty much flail, I have a claw hand and no muscles on the lower arm at all, yet noone notices) my boyfriends said they never gave it a thought and it didn’t affect how they felt about me at all, my kids are very proud of me and say they aren’t worried if something like this happens to them. I have a great life and I don’t regret anything I’ve done, including ride a bike…..meeting my first bpi was a blast (Hazey, who lived 15 miles from me and worked in my town!) and meeting others has been great too, it may be coincidence but they all seem like such great people.
To the newly injured….
I can still feel the desolation I felt at the beginning, it’s dimmed by time but such powerful emotions are always there in your memory. I am so thankful that all the things I worried I’d never be able to do became possible despite the poor prognosis and recovery prospects. I’m grateful the forward thinking consultant I saw regarded recovery as the ability to get on with life with or without the arm, and supported me in my version of recovery. I had actually felt guilty before that because I wasn’t making proactive moves to ‘get the arm fixed’ The misery is a part of the process, but it’s probably the hardest part to get through and often family and friends do not really understand. I read on a website that ‘an unresolved bpi will have a seriously debilitating effect on the sufferers life.’ This was, of course, written by someone without a bpi , it made me very angry to read that, if I’d read it when I was newly injured I’d probably have jumped under a bus….I did raise it as an issue and I think the wording was changed to ‘CAN have a seriously etc etc’ I still consider it a very unhelpful and untrue statement at best, stunningly insensitive and ignorant at worst. I have never spoken to any long termer who would agree with such a view.
If I can help any injured person or their family, whether newly injured or not, with anything at all, please email me. It would have been much easier for me talking to someone who’d been through it.