This true life story has so many lessons, from goal setting to dealing with failure, to mental toughness and most of all the attitude of keeping going no matter how tough things are. It was featured in the June edition of Men’s Fitness.
“19th September 2011, 6AM, the stage was set, it was test day which came around every month, I felt awesome, and the first exercise was max pull ups in two minutes. I knew my previous best was going to be smashed out of the ball park. My target was simple, I wanted 50 and I would get them………and then suddenly at 6:10……BANG, a BANG like I’ve never experienced before, a bang that seemed to stop time. A bang that left me motionless on the floor looking up at the roof not able to move in anyway. Shock, fear, disbelief, call it what you want, I fell into it. The only part of my body that seemed to work at the time were my eyes as I could see my training partners standing over me but I was unable to speak to convey the feeling of numbness that surrounded my body. This was it, I was screwed, life would never be the same, I was paralyzed, I would never hold my kids again!
The expert assistance of my training partners saw an ambulance team arrive some 20 minutes later, that 20 minutes was the longest of my life…I thought. It did however prove to be an interesting timeframe of pain, frustration and total confusion that un be known to me I would face on numerous occasions over the coming days, weeks and months. I was carried down 5 flights of stairs strapped to a stretcher to be placed in the back of the ambulance. This is where things went from bad to worse. As my long time friend and coach sat in the ambulance he recalls the ride.
“When he initially fell from the top of the pull up bars I went over and managed to figure out that he had totally lost movement throughout his body. Very quickly his lips started to change color and his hands went freezing cold. By the time we got him in the ambulance he was having increasing problems breathing and very soon into the ride he looked at me and mumbled: “I think I am going to die…..I can’t breathe, my chest is getting tighter and tighter.”
On arrival at A&E the medical teams carried out some basics scans on me, all the while refusing to give me any pain killers or anything to alleviate my discomfort. When the final scan was done my wife and Marcus sat with the emergency room doctor who went through the scans and explained that I would be ok. I think we all knew otherwise. It was probably the persistence (from my wife and Marcus and the other guys who had turned up to help out) which finally persuaded the A&E staff to carry out further scans.
At 4:30pm that same day September 19th 2011 after numerous MRI & CT scans I was admitted to the trauma ward at Rashid hospital, still not really knowing what was wrong with me or what my future held. My wife later told me; “It was horrific when we arrived, the ward was small and open plan so you could see the severity of a number of different injuries and the look of pain and desperation in the faces of so many.”
Finally my test results were in. I had suffered a Cervical Cord Contusion/bleed Injury to my spine at C1 Level as a result of the blow to my head, neck and back. My body had shut down and gone into ‘standby’ I had a complete weakness in all limbs and total numbness. I didn’t know it at the time but the reason I couldn’t breathe in the ambulance was because the muscles in my diaphragm were temporarily and partially paralyzed.
The next 5 days were some of my hardest, unable to move, unable to sleep, unable to breath freely, unable in so many ways but my mind was still alert, I felt like I was a prisoner in my own body. Everything remained numb and I was totally dependent on the nurses and my wife and friends to care for me. Doctors continued to visit me frequently and the nurses administered me medication as often as they could. During that first week we started physiotherapy and occupational therapy and as my condition slowly began to improve I was transferred to Ward 19 to start an intensive rehabilitation program, this would be my home for the next two weeks.
On admission to Ward 19 a focused physical examination was performed to establish the level and severity of my injury. I was just barely able to stand unassisted, I had a walking deficit and required continuous support for balance and weight. I required total to maximum assistance in a majority of daily activities and I had major spasticity in my fingers and toes in both hands and feet, sever head and neck trauma and soft tissue damage. I was a mess.
For the next two weeks we worked hard on balance, strength, mobility and practicing general everyday activities both physically and occupationally, anything and everything from trying to pour water without spilling to undoing a nut and bolt, holding a knife and fork or trying to fasten a button. The care of the Doctors, Nurses and Therapists was unbelievable and this coupled with the strength of my fellow patients and the support of my wife, Children and close friend Colin Philips provided the daily motivation to keep fighting and get home as fast as possible.
As the days went by I became more capable and with the help of my new team we had collectively agreed that it was time for me to checkout, it was a pretty emotional day when we finally convinced the Doctor I was ready to leave. On discharge my motor power had improved significantly in both upper and lower limbs. Speed and coordination was returning to my hands and fingers and my grip had strengthened twofold. I was able stand and walk on level ground but still required assistance on uneven surfaces and stairs. I also had complete or at least modified independency for most daily activities.
After 3 weeks home was my new rehab centre. My schedule was full attending The Osteopathic Health Centre 3-4 times a week for a multi-dimensional treatment protocol including gentle non manipulative cranio- sacral osteopathy, neuro- physiotherapy, clinical Pilates and hydrotherapy as well as attending the City Hospital for sessions with the occupational therapist to work on my fine motor skills. This was to be my life for foreseeable future, it was tedious and frustrating like being a baby again but it was necessary and it was slowly working.
As the mind does mine started to play tricks on me even as I was going through the rehab, the questions kept on coming back round. Would I ever lead a normal life again? At this point in time I was pretty sure I would never have much of a gym life again, never mind do a pull up. Eight months later and after over 100+ physio, occupational and Bikram yoga sessions, countless hours of discomfort and sleeplessness due to pain and wandering what sort of physical capacity I may one day get back, I called Marcus to talk about getting back into the gym and back into InnerFight. At that stage I felt I had done all I could through my other forms of rehab and Marcus confirmed this telling me “You need to change your environment, you have to stop living the life of a patient and get back to living the life you deserve.” Somewhat easier said than done but his message was as always, straight to the point and simple to understand.
Eight months on from the accident as I entered the gym for the first time since I had left on a stretcher my feelings were mixed, I hated being there but I knew it was the right thing. I wanted to be doing what the others in the class were doing but in my mind at that time I would never do it again. We went through a thorough rehab program starting from ground zero, things were faster than they had been in the previous 8 months but they were still painfully slow as the thought of WHY kept coming into my mind. Why am I doing this? Why did this happen? Why me? Then I realized why not me? Maybe this happened for reason; maybe it was me because I was strong enough to take it.
I knew all the answers but my demons kept stalking me as they do. Physical injury like the one I suffered is a funny thing. The bottom line is simple, it makes you realize how truly blessed we are with the skills we have and the things we can do with our bodies. During my road back to fitness I realized so many things that I guess I used to take for granted, that eats away at you. Progress is progress and even a small amount is better than nothing. When we sat down to set goals things like an additional push up per week were seen as a huge bonus, to be able to push my own bodyweight off the floor was impossible for a very long time. We set big goals, medium goals, small goals and micro goals to get me back to where I wanted to be. That was the initial goal. However over that long drawn out period of dedication I already had it in my head to go bigger, I knew my 40th birthday loomed 16 months after my accident and I knew I could be in the shape of my life if I wanted it bad enough and if I kept on working hard, but only if my body would allow it.
20 months to the day I have achieved my initial goals. Back to training at InnerFight daily. fitter, faster stronger and wiser than before the injury. The amazing support I have received from my family, friends and training partners has been the real driving force. I would like to thank and praise the amazing Doctors & Nurses at Rashid Hospital and City Hospital. Malcolm Gregory, Renata Von Kouh and Bassam Hussain at the Osteopathic Health Center and Marcus Smith of InnerFight. It has been a long road and continues to be so, my body is a different vehicle now and always will be as certain injuries cannot repair but I am truly blessed to be able to train and live a normal life again. I got LUCKY, too many people don’t get as luck as I did and I will always respect and admire anybody who lives life to the full who has a spinal injury of any degree.