My life changing event happened on 9 October 2016. I was doing a garden job for a woman whom I didn’t particularly get on with. She said that she would be away for the week. Another job was cancelled and I had some time on my hands so I thought I’d go along and make a start. I cut down a tree, quite a dangerous thing to do on your own, but that was successful and then I climbed up on a raised bed about 1 m high to cut some ivy. I was cutting away and stepped back to admire my work, but stepped back into nothing and the next thing I found was that I was lying on my back on concrete paving stones. A few inches away were the tines of a rake.
There was a certain difficulty in breathing which was not surprising because my right lung had collapsed. I remember opening my eyes and seeing the tines of my rake just 2 or 3 inches away. There was no one around and no one within shouting distance so I had no choice but to immediately get up, collect my gardening possessions as best I could and get in the car. I sat there for a moment then decided I had to do something so I drove home, a distance of about 5 miles. I rang my wife from home telling Francoise to get back quickly and we went to the local hospital where I described what had happened. They had no x-ray apparatus or anything so I was given the proverbial pill and sent home.
About two hours later I was sitting on the settee watching TV and I realised that I could not get up. My whole body had frozen and I had to get Francoise to phone 999. There is nothing worse than the feeling that you want to do something but not being able to do it. The body was not able to obey my commands – frightening. Two cheerful ambulance people arrived within about 15 min. By coincidence they were near when we called. It took about 20 min to get me in to the ambulance due to pain and inability to move but we managed eventually. I arrived at the hospital in Bath about half an hour later and the rest was frankly a blur. I think I had an ECG x-ray or whatever it’s called. You have to lie down and lie completely still and you get slid in to this huge machine and then out again. It felt very claustrophobic.
I was taken by ambulance in an unconscious state to Southmead Hospital in Bristol because they have a Trauma centre and Bath could not deal with me adequately. I remember someone pushing a rubber tube into my right side to drain off liquid. The lung eventually reinflated and my oxygen level eventually went up to about 95 up from 50. The usual painkillers they give me, morphine etc, were only partially successful. I went to sleep in the triage unit and was dealt with by a lovely Chinese nurse who was so sorry about my pain and gave me painkillers at regular intervals.
I was in hospital for about a week. The main injuries were flailing of the ribs. I did things in style and broke eight posterior ribs on the right-hand side. I was told that breaking them in pieces was less complicated or less painful than cracking them. Since I had not experienced the latter, I was in no position to comment but laughing or coughing was excruciatingly painful and if I knew that I was about to cough or sneeze, I learned to hold a towel to my chest and hold on hard.
I did not move even within the bed for three days. My normal vital bodily functions stopped dead with the exception of urination and I ate very little. I felt as if my whole body was on standby. Basically the doctor said that this was one of the most painful things I could experience and there was nothing they could do. It would take up to 6 months to get better, and all I could do was to take the painkillers. Painkillers have their own set of problems, called side-effects, though I just call them effects. Tramadol is one of the worst. It dried my my mouth out completely so much that I could not speak. It must be terrible to run out of water in the middle of a desert. I can see why people drink their own urine or the water from their car radiator.
I decided to return home by taxi. I did not want Francoise to make a 40 mile round journey. It was expensive but I only take taxis about once a year and I thought this was enough of an occasion to justify the expenditure. For the next two months, I was not able to sleep in my bed because I cannot sleep on my front and when I tried to sleep on my back or my side, the weight of my body caused great pain in my ribs. My only choice was to sleep sitting up in the armchair in the living room. It was a question of finding the exact right inclination of the limbs that would minimize the pain. The problem is that with ribs you can’t get away from them. There is nowhere to go. It is like a big snake moving around inside you.
I think it was about the middle of December 2016 that I made my first attempt to sleep in a bed. The first time, it was for 20 min and then I’d had enough but the second time, with the aid of numerous hot water bottles, I was able to make it for an hour and then I finally made it for the whole night. In the early stages I was worried that my main source of income, gardening, would be denied to me for the rest of my life because I would no longer be able to work but here we are in the following April, lifting things around, operating a chainsaw, putting a row of potatoes in, doing everything I did before.
I must admit that I get tired a little quicker than before but when I look back I think I was extraordinarily lucky. I did not break any bones apart from the rib cage. There was no brain damage or neurological damage, I kept my sight and my hearing. I did however suffer some damage to my right jaw which moved out of alignment and which to this day causes difficulty in opening the mouth so I cannot for example open it sufficiently to accommodate a quarter of an apple.
The stress on Françoise my partner was if anything greater than mine because she didn’t know whether she was going to lose a functioning partner and although we can be independent if we need to, the thought of discontinuity even at the comparatively early age of early 70s, is not something to be contemplated with equanimity. Anyway I did not undergo any particular personality change apart from being more sensitive to movement and noise than I normally am and we didn’t have any major rows that I can remember and we certainly stuck together.
I dread to think what it would have been like if I’d had young family, or if I was on my own, or if I had no money to live on, or if I didn’t get on very well with a partner. I am blessed in all these departments I must admit that it could have been so much worse. It is a rather corny thing to say but I do give thanks for each day far more fervently than I did for every day of health prior to the fall. I did perhaps assume that I was not going to have an accident but that is somewhat arrogant since it’s not the things you know about that trip you up but the things and combinations of circumstance that you are not aware of.