My surgeon thought someone had made a mistake he did not believe that injuries that bad could have been caused by a simple jogging trip !
Ive always been accident-prone spilling coffee down white blouses or smashing glasses all the time. But what happened on that May morning in 2016 went far beyond my usual clumsiness. It was a devastating accident that, at 25 years old, would change my life for ever.
That day, my sister Althea and I had decided to go jogging along the canal near the flat we shared in London. Five minutes from home, I tripped over my own feet. I fell on the gravel path, a searing pain ripping through my right leg. Id twisted it and the knee had dislocated, my foot bent at an alarming angle. I assumed it was a fracture. I couldnt move, but felt strangely calm, the adrenaline acting as a painkiller.
Neither of us had brought our phones, so we had to wait for a passerby to call an ambulance; it felt like hours. By now, I was fighting unconsciousness and in agony. A man came along and made the call, then disappeared, telling us he had a train to catch. All we could do was wait. I heard a siren draw nearer before fading away. Eventually, a girl appeared. She phoned another ambulance and waited with us, flagging it down from the road. I remember laughing with the paramedics, feeling positive, despite being on the maximum dose of morphine. They showed no sign of panic; I thought Id be home that night.
But within a few hours, I was in intensive care. There was no pulse in my right foot. The severity of my injuries stunned everyone. My surgeon has since told me that when he was bleeped from A&E that morning, he thought someone had made a mistake he didnt believe that injuries that bad could have been caused by a trip. After I fell, the blood couldnt get through to my foot, leading to an excruciating condition called compartment syndrome, where a blockage to the arteries stops the circulation. After three lengthy operations to try to restart the blood flow, I was at risk of developing sepsis.
It hurts when I run. That’s what many orthopedic surgeons hear when runners and other athletes come into their offices. Sometimes people have obvious problems, such as strains or sprains. Other times these issues can be tricky to diagnose. The runner you’re about to meet had symptoms he thought were no big deal. But he ended up having a condition that required an operation. More on compartment syndrome from Mayo Clinic.
When I was told Id lose my leg, all I felt was fear. I remember the surgeons discussing whether to amputate above or below my knee, and watching as though it were happening to someone else. When they asked me what I thought, I blinked back tears. Please, I pleaded, Im 25. Just save as much of my leg as you can. I took a final look at my right foot; the toenails painted red, skin mottled blue. By that point, I was in so much pain I just wanted it to stop.
After six weeks in hospital, I moved back to my parents house in Kent. I spent four months in a wheelchair, waiting for my knee to heal before I could get a prosthetic leg. My psychological state deteriorated. I hated how others saw me, those pitying smiles to the girl in the wheelchair.
In October 2016, I was admitted to a specialist amputee rehabilitation centre, where I embarked on a programme of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and counselling. Getting my first prosthetic leg was the turning point. It was heavy and cumbersome, and I was terrified to begin with. But when I watch the video of my first shaky steps, the light in my eyes is unmistakable. There was something about the physicality of standing tall, of literally putting one foot in front of the other, that shifted my mindset.
Three months later, I moved back to London, gradually regained my independence and began a phased return to work as a journalist. Life had changed but perhaps not as drastically as Id feared. Getting around uses a huge amount of energy, and while I still have a busy social life, Ive learned to listen to my body; to slow down when I need to.
There are days when grief weighs heavy, but the positives mostly outweigh the negatives. Ive tried things I never thought I would: wild swimming, climbing the O2 arena and running on a blade, similar to those used by Paralympians. Ive bought a flat, found a boyfriend, and this month publish my first novel, Five Steps To Happy, about an amputees journey to recovery.
Every year, on the anniversary of the accident, I walk along the canal. I run there sometimes, too, but it feels especially poignant to stand in the spot where everything changed, and remind myself how lucky I am. My own path may have shifted direction, but the horizon is bright. Blade bouncing, heart pumping, Ive never felt more alive.
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