In the days and weeks directly after my accident I spent most of my time on the orthopaedic ward. It was a pleasant environment as far as can be said for a hospital and I was mostly surrounded by elderly people having hip or knee replacements. There was a certain comfort in that as they all rallied around me. Some would take their daily exercise to walk to my bed, have a chat and walk back. I was bed bound but seeing the warm expressions on their faces helped me to feel a little better about being there.
After about 3 weeks the doctors decided that I should be moved down to the plastics ward so that I could be closer to the specialists taking care of my soft tissue injuries. It was a much larger ward, 20 beds under the care of the same team compared to the 6 where I was. I was petrified. What would I see there? Other people with horrific injuries? I hadn’t even seen my own injuries to spare myself the horror how would I cope with seeing other people? I didn’t want to go. I begged my doctors not to take me down there. I implored my Mother – please do something, don’t let them take me there.
As much as we tried the powers that be wanted me to go, so for the first time in 3 weeks I was moved. As my bed was wheeled down the corridor, seeing the nurses who cared for me waving goodbye, I felt a sense of despair and fear. Seemingly it was irrational, there was no reason for my heightened sense of impending horror. But call it gut instinct because as I entered the ward, I knew I was right. Immediately I was confronted with the smell. There is no other way to describe it other than rotting skin. I closed my eyes too late, I saw things that to this day I can’t shake. And then the sounds, people in pain, suffering, with seemingly no relief. It was haunting. Thankfully I was taken to a bed at the end of the corridor where I requested the curtains pulled around my bed, so I was completely sheltered. I don’t think I stopped crying and shaking for the rest of the night.
I am not going to go into detail about what happened to me for the few days I was on this ward because it is too graphic, heart-breaking and may be too much for some readers. But I can tell you that no human should ever experience it. Especially not someone who was already traumatised, young, vulnerable and in pain. I couldn’t be left alone I was so distraught. Someone had to hold my hand 24 hours a day. My sister slept on the floor holding my hand through the night.
When people talk about a Mother’s instinct to protect, it’s primal. Like a lioness protecting her cubs, my Mother decided that she could not see me go through this any longer. My sister started researching other hospitals with specialists that could help me. And as luck would have it the leading hospital in the country was 10 minutes from my parent’s house. So, my Mother requested my transfer. First there was no answer, then refusal. Can’t you see my daughter is suffering? She is deteriorating here! My Mother was desperate to get me out. It started to feel like we might have to stage jail break. Looking back, it was almost comedic what happened next, but I will be forever grateful to my Mother for her perseverance and brazen need to do what was best for her daughter.
The hospital in Sussex were ready to accept me. The hospital in Cambridge refused to let me leave or provide an ambulance for me to be transferred. Fine my Mother said and hired a private ambulance for the 2 hour drive down. In marched the 2 paramedics, loaded me on their trolley and wheeled me out. “I will follow you” I heard my Mother say, “but there is one more thing I have to do”.
She needed my medical records. With nobody willing to help she found the room where my records were being kept. She explained the situation to the attendant there. Together (and against the rules) she took my files and ran. Literally ran out of the hospital like a fugitive.
The double doors opened, and a flash of light hit my eyes. I felt fresh air on my skin for the first time in a month. I couldn’t open my eyes as the light was so blinding having been inside all this time. I couldn’t appreciate the sky or things around me, but I felt the sunshine on my face. It felt like freedom, at least for now.
The journey down was tough. Painful, bumpy and felt like an eternity. I was in and out of consciousness but all I could think of was that those awful few days were gone. And as I entered the McIndoe Centre in West Sussex and lay down on this amazing water bed designed to ease my pain, I suddenly started to feel better. There was still a long road ahead, but this felt like I might just be over the worst. And it was true, at least for a little while.