My lessons from rehabilitation

One grey and dank morning back in November 2020 I broke my hip coming off my bike avoiding a head on collision with a car. I was in a lot of pain, in shock and afraid. I was riding alone, but quickly joined by supportive cyclists and the driver of the car who I had narrowly avoided.

My ambulance and hospital experiences were made all the more terrifying by Covid – my husband wasn’t able to be with me and it was hard to make contact with the carers behind the PPE. I distinctly remember the lovely female ambulance driver holding my hand reassuringly (outside of a glove which I am sure wasn’t allowed)  before she left me in A&E, uncertain to the extent of my injury.

After an x- ray I was told I had fractured my hip. Unusual for someone of my age (38) – normally this injury is reserved for the female octogenarians with low bone density who fall on ice on the front step. It was a bad fracture – high on the neck of the femur and displaced. I was lucky to be operated on within hours and fitted with a Dynamic Hip Screw – two 12cm long metal rods, a plate and a number of pins to hold it all in place.

I spent 36 hours in hospital, then six weeks at home in a wheelchair and on crutches with no weight on my right leg. I have spent three months progressing my weight bearing and now four months in learning how to walk again.

I didn’t want this blog to be all gory details of my injury, rather a useful resource for others who may be experiencing injury at whatever level.

LESSON ONE – GATHER YOUR TEAM

In the beginning I was in specialist care of the Orthopaedic surgeon and his team. Their main focus was on making sure the bone healed and to prepare me for weight bearing again. The physios came next with the focus on soft tissue and preparing the muscles to be ready to take the load and allow me to walk again.

My husband, family, friends, neighbours and the running community did so much for me, especially in the early days when I was pretty much sofa bound. They helped care for our young children, took them to school, fed us hot meals and gave emotional support.

I found my ‘injury friend’ through the local cyclist’s network. He had a year earlier experienced the same injury as me and it was helpful to hear his experience as a young, fit cyclist rather than the more common accounts of Granny’s with hip replacements.

LESSON TWO – THINK ABOUT LANGUAGE

Early on a Buddhist friend and teacher spoke with me about the experience. She brought back the reality to me that I was lucky to be alive. Full stop.

Yes, on one hand I was unlucky to have met a vehicle on that stretch of road in poor conditions and broken my hip. But at least it was only one injury. She also enlightened me on the idea that Buddhists don’t believe there are accidents in life, that everything happens for a reason. Perhaps I needed to slow down and be outside of the competitive running environment?  

What I did know, was that the word ‘accident’ wasn’t a helpful way of me describing what had happened,  where I was blaming myself. Instead when people ask me what happened I give the facts ‘I broke my hip falling off my bike’.

LESSON THREE – FIND JOY IN OTHER ACTIVITIES

In my period of recovery, I rekindled painting which was something I had enjoyed as a teenager and whilst I was pregnant (another time in life where stillness was needed). I ate breakfast with my young family as opposed to getting out on an early run or strength session. I learnt how to meditate and journal – tools and skills that have helped me process and develop a positive mindset.

LESSON FOUR – GAIN INSIGHT

Being in a wheelchair gave me an important insight into how disabled people experience our two footed world. Curbs that I had previously whizzed over became mountains and navigating public toilets a logistical nightmare! The wheelchair brought me closer to my maternal grandmother, who I had never met, but whom suffered a degenerative disease that left her in a wheelchair for decades.

LESSON FIVE – PUT THE HOURS IN

From day one, I did the exercises the physio set, desperately fighting the inevitable tide of atrophy. In the beginning these were merely ankle pumps – moving my ankle backwards and forwards, now these are the squats and planks you may expect.

After two months with my withered right leg, I could get on the static bike, 10 mins only to begin with and I am now doing longer more intense sessions. The irony that I can’t walk, but I can cycle is not lost on me. Some days I have cried through the sessions – the pain, frustration and sadness gets too much – but I always carry on. I know that for the three months I wasn’t fully weight bearing will mean nine months where I am building my strength back up, I am in this for the long haul.

I am also training my brain through mindfulness and meditation. There is evidence that mindset and ‘thinking yourself better’ plays an important role in rehabilitation. Of course, I have had dark days, bleak weeks and I imagine there are more to come. Acknowledging that I am experiencing a major injury and that there is a sadness to that is important, however I recognise that long term negative thinking is toxic to my recovery.

LESSON SIX – THE NATURE OF PROGRESS

Five months after emergency surgery I was told by the Doctors that the reason I wasn’t making progress was that the DHS they had fitted wasn’t working and the bone was dying. The only solution was to have a full hip replacement. This involved removing the dead bone and inserting a ceramic head and ball in its place. I was crushed by this news having spent many long months trying to rehabilitate. Now 11 months on after surgery I am cycling (soft landings on trail) and starting to see if I can run again.

LESSON SEVEN – YOU MAY BE DIFFERENT – BUT THAT’S NOT BAD

Lying in A & E waiting for what felt like an eternity to find out the extent of my injury, I concluded that I would be happy with merely being able to walk (our future) dog. I put my running aspirations to bed and got comfortable with my past achievements in running:

I’d run a sub 3 marathon

Achieved a sub 18 min 5km

Won a race (only one ever)!

Coming to terms with the fact that competitive running may not continue to be part of my identity is hard, but at least as a Coach I am very much still in the community and can take joy from helping others.