Accidental insights

Last year in March, I had an accident, the result of which was a fractured patella, wrist and damage to my calf muscle. The accident was entirely my fault – and while I don’t wish to dwell on it, the lesson from it is to navigate stairs with the lights on. I thought I would share my experiences of recovery from the accident. On reflection there were things that definitely helped.

1) A regular yoga and exercise practice definitely helped prevent it from being worse.

A regular yoga practice, or other forms of exercise definitely prevented the accident from being worse. If there was a ever a reason to do exercise – then avoiding the worst of an injury is definitely one. Of course, avoiding an accident in the first place is a must. Doing some kind of regular exercise, like yoga helped me for sure. In the A&E department the medics suggested that I could have been more seriously injured if I hadn’t been as flexible or as strong (relatively) as I was.

2) An exercise routine or yoga practice positioned me well to build in rehabilitation exercises from the outset.

Due to my injuries, I couldnt initially do much of a morning yoga practice or my usual exercise, but having that wired in to my psyche and as a habit definately made me feel ready to do anything that speeded up my recovery. It felt normal to do rehabilitation exercises because it was part of my normal daily life to do exercise. I didn’t have to think about it as something “different” or additional to my life. It was fairly integrated because I was doing a regular practice up to that point. For me this was another good reason to have a regular exercise or yoga practice.

3) The company and wisdom of like-minded people

Unless you have had an injury like a broken limb, (or mental health problems, or a long term condition), its quite hard to understand the nuances of losing your independence and sense of control. The technical details of the injury, treatment and recovery really benefit from the wisdom of others who have had a similar experience. So I joined a patella fracture support group on Facebook. It was a godsend. They were the best bunch of people I have connected with and really helped me recover through their humour, wisdom, compassion and experience. It was amazing how people who are in the same boat as you can help to put things in perspective and teach you tricks and techniques to cope and get by on. If you can connect with people who have had the same experience as you – do it – you’ll be pleasantly surprised and it will help your recovery.

4) Keep moving, keep mobile, and move more

You won’t be surprised to learn that moving and keeping mobile is top of my list for recovery. I found that keeping mobile, and moving more really helped. Even when I couldn’t move much, I found that movement, no matter how small was a good measure of progress and equipped me with a sense of “the possible” and “the probable”. These things are not to be underestimated. Somewhere, there is a formula for “hope” and what is possible and probable are part of that formula. If I couldn’t walk, moving while seated was enough. So I rotated my ankles and gradually moved to leg raises. I did arm exercises. If I could walk with crutches and a brace, even a little, then I did it. Gradually I extended the time and distance. I removed props. I added obstacles. All in all – simply moving more was a real motivation and a real achievement.

5) Celebrate achievements

When I was most immobile, I was grateful I hadn’t been paralysed. That was gratitude, but it also gave me a sense of achievement. When I could walk on crutches a little way it was a major celebration, when I ditched one crutch, then the other it felt like a massive milestone. And then I ditched the brace, and it was like a massive move to independence. Having a shower without any help was a major celebration. Getting up the stairs, and sleeping in my own bed, felt like firework night. Making a cup of tea, cooking a meal, going for walk outside. Running small errands for others. Gradually returning to cook the meals for my family. These were all small matters in the scheme of things, but nevertheless I savored and celebrated them. All too often we don’t celebrate and we forget a sense of gratitude. So, be grateful for progress and achievement no matter how small, and celebrate every small achievement as an incremental step of progress. Each achievement is a dot that you can join to another which over time becomes a trajectory of achievement and recovery. Looking back at this I am struck by how easy it is to deny or forget these incremental progressions and yet individually and over time they powerfully show the benefit of achievements, no matter how small, or short, and how these can accumulate to something more grander and transformative.

6) Slow and steady really does “win the race”

I realised just how impatient I am and I also realised the value of taking things slowly and steadily. It became a mantra – slow and steady for everything. It helped me recalibrate my expectations and in doing so, it lowered the bar on them, and took pressure off. Slow and steady movement or effort, helped me rewire my “normal” movements. I am convinced that if I rushed i would have set back my recovery. Bizarrely, my recovery was faster and easier for taking it slow and steady. I was able to build my confidence, strengthen my body and rewire my system. Don’t rush, and take your time. During my recovery, I listened to a wonderful song by Of Monsters and Men – called “Slow and Steady” which became my anthem for this sense that slow and steady is the way to go. It still is. I can also hear my grandfather saying “more haste, less speed” which is another way of saying, take it slowly, take it steadily.

7) Humour is incredibly useful

It was incredibly useful when those around me took the mickey of me and didn’t take me seriously. It enabled me to relax and lowered my expectations. I spent some time watching comedy too. Laughing definitely helped me to relax and took my mind off my initial predicament and later recovery. Being able to laugh at myself was useful too. When I felt sorry for myself (which sadly I did), I was able to laugh and that helped me to build my confidence. Humour puts things in perspective and laughing enabled me to tap into a different sort of, and more positive energy. That definitely helped me. Laughter and giggling seem to help one’s energy levels and they also give the body a bit of a work out too.

8) Harness the power of the experts

I’ve already mentioned the power of those who are expert by experience. My patella fracture colleagues on Facebook, all had immense expertise that I was able to tap into and that definitely helped me. The professionals I worked with, also had immense expertise, the power of which we can harness. I’m not anti-expert. I love that I can talk to the physiotherapist, nurse, orthopaedic surgeon, GP and they can provide me with evidence based information that will definitely help. I trust that the orthopaedic surgeon will have seen hundreds of people who have had a similar fracture to mine. That means they have a good idea of what works, and how the recovery will pan out. So its worth listening to them. At the same time – I expect to be in a partnership with a health professional and as such, appreciate dialogue and a relationship of mutual respect. I love it when a professional listened to my observations and insights and helped me either deepen them or explore other explanations. I was fortunate that this happened for me, and I am very grateful for this. There are excellent health professionals around. And their support and encouragement can make a massive difference.

There are other experts out there who I found so supportive and insightful. I learned so much from so many. Again social media played a role in this – my interactions with Debbie Hampton, Beth Frates and Lori Shemek were all incredibly inspiring. The power of expertise online – provided valid and reliable evidence was a continual source of support.

9) That diet thing has a role to play but, yeah its personal…

Eat well and healthily, and keep hydrated. Beyond that its really down to your own personal dietary choices. I’m plant-powered so I made sure I ate lots of calcium rich, leafy veg, but importantly took supplementation to support this. The key here is to eat well and eat healthily and keep hydrated, that’s it really.

10) The simple things really do matter

I was amazed how after days festering in a funk of bluergh, feeling the sun on my skin, the wind in my hair, and the pleasure of a hot shower were so welcome and so delightful. Stuck in a chair looking out the window, I enjoyed the flight and cawing of the crows in the trees outside. When I got outside it was Spring, and I delighted in seeing lambs skipping in the field, and the immense colour cacophony of daffodils and tulips which suddenly appeared. Hearing a piece of music transported me, tasting a piece of chocolate was delicious. In the hurly-burly of our busy daily lives we tend to miss these unless we are exceptionally mindful.

My accident gave me a chance to stop and really savor things. The simple things really do matter. This was a lesson that has continued since I recovered. Stop and drop everything and savor the here and now – its going to pass so enjoy it. Every little bit of it.

11) I can be a pain in the arse but my nearest and dearest are amazing

My nearest and dearest were amazing. That’s family, like my wife and kids, my extended family, and my friends. I hated losing my independence and control. But crikey, I am clearly a control freak. I didn’t think I was but there is something quite shocking about losing control and independence. So much so that I think I was an absolute pain in the arse. I hated relying on people, and I hated having to ask for things that I previously didn’t have to request. Anyone who has been in this situation will understand this. Although everyone was kind and supportive, it felt so “needy” to be seeking help all the time that I become self-obsessed in a “got to recover” kind of way. My loved ones took the brunt of this. They put up with my low points as well as my celebrations. I know now that I am a pain in the arse to them. But they put up with it, and played a significant role in helping me recover. Tap in to your family, friends and colleagues if you can. People actually like to be helpful and supportive so appreciate the help, and gradually work out how you can move gently to more independence when you can.

12) What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger

I realised just how quickly my life changed. One minute I was a fully functioning individual, with a to do list and a set of aspirations and objectives. The next I was being patched and repaired because in the dark,I missed my footing and fell down the stairs. The obvious thing to say about this, is be careful all the time. Turn on lights in the dark, and watch your footing and others around you. However the big lesson for me was that these experiences, can help you grow as a person. I learned to be a bit more humble, and have a bit more gratitude. I found out more about how others cope and as a result I learned about things like neuro-plasticity and stoicism. On reflection, the time I took to recover was reasonably quick according to my physio, but it still gave me time to learn more about who I am, and how I respond to events like these. I learned a lot more than I bargained for, but on balance this has enriched my life, rather than diminished it.

Oh, and by the way, remember to turn the lights on if you are going up or down the stairs.

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