This was me, 1 year ago….after 3 years of watching and filming aerial sports I decided it was time to take to the air. 24 hours later and my short, but sweet paragliding career was over. Spiral, compound fracture in multiple pieces to tibia and fibular, fractured sesamoid, severely damaged peroneal and archilles tendons in both legs. F**K!
So what went wrong? Second of 8 students to take off from Plateau d’Assy, I followed the path of the student in front, on approach to the landing, I was too high and advised to make another turn; towards the waterfall. Taking this literally, I initiated a full 180, away from the landing and towards the mountain.
Lesson 1: NEVER TURN YOUR BACK TO THE LANDING!
Altitude disappeared quickly and as the world started to move in slow motion, I navigated around power lines, a barn, and into the carpark of an apartment building. Out of site of my instructor and with no hope of guidance, I made the decision to swing up in my harness and take the full impact through my legs, in to the side of a van.
A friend once told me that when faced with a dangerous situation, we problem solve, rather than panic, so I’d like to think I made a choice. Better the legs than the back, hip or brain!
Sliding to the ground, my canopy deflating into an apartment balcony above my legs were numb. My left foot hit the drivers side door, cushioned by the door flex, it seemed OK. The right hit the solid steel strut between the front and back door and I remember watching, as my big toe concertinaed towards my knee. I lifted my leg and it flopped unnaturally to the side.
I NEED HELP!
Grabbing my walkie talkie and told the instructor my leg was broken, then sent a location pin to Toby with a very pleasant message saying ‘Please come to Passy, I might have hurt myself.’ Then panic set in….I NEED HELP!
After that, everything was a blur. I remember a student arriving and trying to pull my canopy off the balcony, the pompiers taking one look up my trouser leg, then covering it with a white cloth, Toby arriving and telling me ‘well you did that wrong’ and the long, 40 minute wait for the ambulance and pain relief to arrive.
At hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness, I woke up alone, in a dark room, excruciating pain in my leg from the tourniquet and Toby’s phone number written on my hand. The Dr arrived wearing rainbow framed glasses and wheeled me in to surgery.
They couldn’t give me general anaesthetic, so with a local to numb the pain, a screen erected and headphones on (playing uptown funk) the surgeon went to work on repairing my leg. I imagined the screen was going to be removed and I would have one of those big mental frames around the outside – thankfully it was just a Harry Potter’esk scar and a Dr who was very proud of his artwork.
After 5 days in hospital with the nurses nicknaming me gonflé pied (bigfoot), I felt pretty confident, thanks to a mechanical bed and the poop chair. When they asked if I wanted to go home, I said yes. This was when the true test began.
Wheelchair bound for 10 weeks in our little house in Les Bossons; for the first 5 days I couldn’t even get myself to the toilet, showering was a hose in the garden and I couldn’t even make myself a drink.
Losing your independence, surrendering and asking for help, even from someone you love, is SO hard and I spent many days crying in frustration. I now realise how important it is to ask for help and trust the people around you.
With our wedding was fast approaching, I was determined to fit in to my dress and walk down the aisle. I followed every piece of advice I could find – rest A LOT, relax, ice, elevation, daily exercise/rehab, eat lots of protein, drink lots of water and definitely no coffee, sugar or alcohol.
Injuries are mentally and physically exhausting so I spent a lot of time listening to meditation and relaxation tapes.
This website was a massive help: http://www.mybrokenleg.com/tips.html
Number 1: Patience. In the time I spent on the couch I learnt to relax, I built this website and had time to do the little things in life that I always took for granted – like reading! Recovering from a major accident takes a really long time and getting stressed about it doesn’t help. I listened to a lot of Tibetan meditation tapes on YouTube which distracted me from pain and helped me dream away.
Number 2: Rehab sucks! Its long, boring and never ends but is essential to your recovery. I was really good up until our wedding but afterwards lapsed into a period of laziness and it not only stopped my recovery but took me backwards. Do a little every day and never stop!
Number 3: Life is short, appreciate every moment. I was very lucky, my accident could have been a lot worse. I still have a long way to go but I should be able to return to all the things I did before and will do so with a much greater appreciation. Say yes, get off the couch, avoid social media!
Number 4: Gratitude. Especially for Toby who was my full time carer for 3 months and also all my friends and family who helped, visited, sent care packages, walked dogs, helped me in and out of boats!! Without their friendship and support it would have been so much harder so THANK YOU!
Number 5: EMPATHY! Maybe this one should be number 1. Being in a wheelchair for 10 weeks, I realised that being disabled is a daily challenge. The world is not really set up for anyone with a disability, which really sucks. As if life isn’t tough enough.
My biggest pet peeve was locked disabled toilets where the key was 200m away up a ramp (Lauterbrunnen train station, I’m looking at you!). I really admire anyone who suffers from a long term disability and yet manages to smile each day. So all I can say is be kind, offer a hand. Even if its refused, its appreciated.
Next month I get my plate removed and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting some more feeling and movement back in my ankles. I have a new appreciation for life and everything in it – we only have one chance so lets live it!