Day 261

For me Christmas is a time for contemplation, appreciation and eating too many pigs in blankets. As i sat down to reflect on what has been an eventful year, the most important lesson to take from all of this became obvious…..

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Lucky number 8

There’s a number, there has always been a number. As long as I can remember this number has followed me everywhere. Not in a creepy stalker way, more like a guardian angel. Im sure you can relate to your own number, the one that you call ‘lucky’, the one that keeps popping up. I played number eight throughout my career. I met my fiancé on the 8th of January. Since I’ve left home i have lived at 8 Sutcliffe house, 8 Chesterton court and 8 Barnard Mews. I know its probably because Ive been looking for it, but either way the number 8 just seemed to be synonymous with everything good in my life. Every time it appeared it brought me comfort, it brought me hope.

So it came as no surprise to me that the 8th of April this year was a beautiful sunny day, the first proper cracker of the year. In true British form we grabbed our shorts and headed straight for the closest watering hole, which happened to be at our friends house. After lunch it was time to cool off. I got changed, headed down to the pool, dived in, and broke my neck….

I had misjudged the depth of the water and hit my head on the bottom… Now I know what you’re thinking… he’s got a pretty big head… I hope the pools ok…  Well I can reassure you that the pool was fine, however two vertebrae were not. The disk between them had exploded, they had dislocated and were now lodged firmly against my spinal cord rendering me paralysed from the neck down…..

As I stared up from the bottom of the pool hoping I could hold my breath long enough for someone to pull me to the surface, a thought popped into my head…. Maybe I should pick a new lucky number….. How could this have happened to me on the 8th of April of all days. Today was supposed to be a good day, its always been a good day. Well the rule book was out of the window, my life had been flipped upside down. From professional sportsman to the exact opposite in a fraction of a second. Life’s a funny old thing.

Thankfully one of my friends and my dad who were already in the pool realised something was wrong and pulled me to the surface. 12 hours and a major operation later I woke up in intensive care at Southmead hospital. It’s funny, I can remember opening my eyes…. At first I couldn’t remember why I was there, I just thought, I wonder what this tube up my nose is for…?, then the realisation set in. I was scared to try and move. What if I couldn’t? what if this was it? Well there was only one way to find out… Right concentrate… left foot… nothing… right foot…. nothing… hands… nothing… All I could move or feel was my face.

The first few days were a bit of a blur. A constant stream of nurses, doctors, friends and family rotated around my bedside as I tried to put on a brave face and take everything in. One thing that did stand out was the overwhelming amount of edible gifts that visitors were bringing for me. Almost everyone who came brought food, food that unfortunately I couldn’t fit up the feeding tube in my nose. Now realistically it would have only taken about a week before we were all barricaded in the ward behind a wall of consumables, however the majority of my friends weigh over 18 stone and are permanently hungry so funnily enough that wall didn’t materialise. After a while I think word had spread about the free delicatessen that had opened in room 11b, as some of my mates were just turning up with knives and forks. I lay there and watched as home made scotch eggs and warm chocolate brownies were recycled right in front of me. But I didn’t care. I just cared that they were there. Besides a pork pie up the nose isn’t that appealing.

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I suppose you take your support network for granted until its called into action, and its hard to describe the difference mine was making. From Lois and my family being there day in, day out, to the lengths my friends were going to, it didn’t take me long to realise how lucky I was to have this circle of people around me. I wasn’t in this alone, far from it, and I was going to do everything I could to get better, not just for me but for all of them….

Now the consultants weren’t giving much away, positivity isn’t their strong suit as naturally they don’t want to offer false hope. Going on their initial reactions and feedback, anyone would have been forgiven for thinking that I would be at the very best in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. And to be fair, I have since learnt from my medical records that my official prognosis didn’t account for me to regain proper use of my arms either.

Luckily when it comes to information I had a few Jokers up my sleeve….

1. My dad is a retired GP, and therefore was expert in decoding medical jargon and prying more information from the consultants than we may have been given in the first place. In fact out of everyone I think my dad was the one person actually enjoying himself. Half the time I’m pretty sure he would come in just to pretend he was a doctor again and gawk over the state-of-the-art gadgetry deployed in my room. ‘Wow look at that, wish we had one of them in my day.’ At one point he even started answering the staff phone and had to be reminded that he didn’t actually work there. All jokes aside, in a situation like this having a doctor in the family was proving invaluable. Something that a certain someone who found themselves in a similar predicament a few years ago would back me up on.

2. Which brings me on to joker number two. I knew the Widowsons. Those of you who know Jacks story will know how incredible it is, and naturally his parents having lived the journey with him are now experts in spinal injury. His dad on the medical front, and his mum on the practical (how not to lose you’re head in hospital) front. The impartial advice and information that they could give me was worth its weight in gold but more than anything it was Jacks story that was invaluable. There was an example that this could be done, there was hope.

Information is one thing but motivation is another. It’s a very unnerving experience staring at a body part, telling it to move, and nothing happening. However unnerving it might have been, it was all I was doing, every waking hour just staring at my feet and moving them in my head. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t talk to my toes. It would often involve some words of gentle encouragement, followed by a stream of abuse and then occasionally an apology. Some of the nurses definitely thought I was a few pickles short of sandwich but guess what… it worked.

Im not sure how many times in history a wiggling toe has reduced a room of adults to tears but you can add one more to the Tally. There it was, the life line, right there on the end of my foot, looking back at me waving. It was all I needed, it was my ticket out of there. Bit by bit, piece by piece, with time, luck and a lot of hard work, my body had started coming back to me.

At 5 weeks I was able to sit up.

At 7 weeks I made it into a wheelchair.

8 weeks I stood for the first time.

10 weeks a step.

After 3 months I was allowed home.

4 months my first stepS plural.

5 months the wheelchair was gone.

6 months my first walk without crutches.

7 months my first mile.

8 months I stood on top of a hill

9 months the first Christmas of the rest of my life

The reason Im back on my feet, the reason I’m winning this fight isn’t because of physical fitness or determination. Sure they played their part, but the real reason is because lying in that hospital bed in intensive care, having thought I had lost everything, I realised how lucky I was. I was lucky that I didn’t drown in that pool, I was lucky that I had an incomplete injury, I was lucky that I was only 12 miles from one of the leading trauma centres in the country, but most of all I was lucky that I wasn’t in this alone. My support network is my strength, I have an amazing family, fiancé and group of friends. Ok I couldn’t play the sport I loved again, I may never be able to run around or kick a football again but that doesn’t matter, everything I needed, every excuse to motivate me to get better was already there. And since that day, since I realised how lucky I am, I have had a whole new layer of colour added to my life. Its not until you think that you may have lost everything that you realise how much you already really have.

This Christmas cherish what you have, don’t want for what you haven’t. Lifes about your friends and your family, its about moments not things. So if you don’t get what you want under the tree on Monday, just take time to step back and have a think, because you might find you already have everything you need.

Merry Christmas xxx

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