Friday, August 23, 2013

Broken Back

I had a brilliant trip to Spazzacaldeira with John Topping. We were both moving well on the long granite routes which all involved multiple abs to get off. Any kind of error on the descent would have been fatal. A few days later, back in Aviemore, I did something stupid while abseiling to retrieve some gear and fell 3M onto my back. Don’t ask me what I did wrong, I’m sick of telling the story. Suffice to say it was one of the most common errors.

Moving well. John Topping at Spazzacaldeira

I knew immediately that I’d properly hurt myself. It's all still a bit raw to talk about but I managed to write a log once I'd been stabalised in hospital. Here are the first few days:

Tuesday 23rd

Hit the ground hard. Immediate pain in lower back. Tried to stand and get harness off but only managed to undo main buckle. Eddie goes to road to get a phone signal while I'm hyperventilating with the pain and swearing a lot. Try to drink but can't get water to my mouth between breaths. Worrying spell where my arms went completely numb but eventually regained some feeling. Calmed down a bit and seemed to be controlling the pain with stomach breathing.

The ambulance guys arrive with gas and air which doesn't help much.  They get a line in and inject morphine which also has a fairly disappointing effect. They check my spine and can't find any breaks or direct pain by pressing on vertebrae. Eventually get me in neck brace and back board. More morphine and a carry out directly down through the woods to the road. Much swearing from me. More morphine in the ambulance before we set off which is starting to have  discernible effect. Trying to work out how close we are to Inverness by looking at passing tree tops.

Get into casualty and they try to work out the problem. They do the same check on vertebrae and get an X-ray. Can't see any breaks so try to get me walking.  Pat arrives.

Trying to stand or move is agony. A few comments like 'come on you can do it'. They think I'm not trying hard enough. More drugs and muscle relaxants. Try again and eventually managed to stand and sit down on a chair. Hot sweat and nauseous.  They check blood pressure which is in the red at 77 over something. Obviously a bit worried I might have bleeding. Sent for MRI scan "just as a belt and braces check".  Short wait before being told I have broken back.

 Got to a ward around 10.30pm after being in causality for several hours. Lots of IV morphine and IV paracetamol. 

Don't be such a whimp. Get up and walk!

Wednesday 24th

Spent most of the day in Inverness while they worked out what to do with me. Consultants sounded fairly pessimistic at first but eventually contacted Aberdeen who said they could fix it. Procrastination about how I was going to get there. Weather too bad for air ambulance so eventually went by road cocooned in a full body inflatable support. Fully doped up with morphine and slept most of way (3 hours).

Thursday 25th

Assessed by consultants in morning who said they would operate that day. By lunch time they decided to scan again to see if there was enough ligament to support the fracture without an operation. By evening they decided not to operate (yet) and try for natural healing and a brace.

Friday 26th

Bad night in ward not knowing where I was and slightly delirious. Had a wash and shave in morning and started to feel better. Consultant visited and asked physios to try and get me walking. Managed to end of ward and back. Got moved into single room. Had all IV lines out and catheter. Quite a lot of positive stuff happened that day after the uncertainty of the last couple of days. 

First Steps

Saturday 27th

Slept much better in a single room and on my right side which was a relief from being permanently on my back. Felt annoyed and pissed off in the middle of the day then a bit weepy later on. The big ticks for the day were one, having a shower and two, having shit; the first since the accident. Watched Gladiator on TV.

Sunday 28th

Must have been moving around too much in the night  cos felt soar in the morning. Hard work getting a shower again. Managed to move 1M from bed to a sink but when I tried it again later ended up in agony. All the pain seems to be on the left side and shoots down front of left leg. No big ticks today, probably a step back in reality because I now know how painful it will be if I get it wrong, especially with no bed to fall back on.

They kicked me out of Aberdeen after ten days with a brace and a bladder infection. I had to have the catheter back in after my bladder had expanded to an unfeasible size but once the antibiotics started to work things improved fairly rapidly.

I could walk down to the pub, but something very strange had happened to my taste for trad beer. In the words of the Aviemore locals I denounced it as ‘Mingin’. Only lager seems to do the trick these days; I wonder what was in those Aberdeen IV lines?

Craigellachie, a BIG tick!

Sitting at a desk is painful but I’m managing to walk a bit further every day. Walking up Craigellachie today was a bit of a mile stone.

I don’t know when I’ll be climbing again but I’m in no hurry. Most people seem horrified by my enforced lay-off but actually I’m feeling remarkably positive about life in general. Obviously the accident could have been much worse and it looks like I’ll make a full recovery; quite a few of my friends have not been so lucky.

This is the first time in 40 years of climbing that haven’t felt compelled to head out into the hills at every available opportunity and its strangely calming to not have the rat continually gnawing for a change.