Our Legal Director Mick Laffey, from our Medical Negligence and Serious Injury Team, continues his story of spinal injury and how at the age of 19 he was diagnosed with a rare condition called AVM and had to begin using a wheelchair.
Mick has written eight blogs in total and this is Part 5. He’s sharing his emotional journey, as well as his practical journey, in the hope that it might be of help to those just starting to manage their own life with a spinal injury.
In this instalment we join Mick as he’s discharged from hospital…
As I may have mentioned before, being in hospital following a long-term injury is boring.
I mean really boring.
Apart from physio twice a day and visitors in the evenings, normally coinciding with a trip to the Torch club, there really wasn’t much to do apart from watch TV once, you’d found out what had happened to everyone else on the ward and they’d found out what had happened to you.
As time went on I asked people not to come out most evenings, as I’d see them at the weekends and I didn’t want to be a burden. It was an hour away by car from my hometown to Hexham and longer if you had to use public transport – which was difficult and involved buses, metros and a train journey.
I looked for something to occupy myself and saw an advert in the local paper for disgruntled Newcastle fans, like me, who wished to complain about the poor way we perceived the club was being run, to do something about it. The organisation was called “United Supporters for Change” and it became known for its catchphrase of “Sack the Board”. A few phone calls later I became South Tyneside area rep for said organisation – despite being in hospital through the week in Hexham – and so I occupied myself with that.
Thankfully by this time I’d improved so much that they had decided that a few months of intensive physio had got me back to such a state that I could be discharged.
I wasn’t fixed by any means, but I was on that road. I remember my final sessions of physio. They had me proving I could walk up a small wooden flight of steps they had in the department. Then they opened the external doors into the area between physio and one of the wards and asked if I fancied showing them I could walk outside.
I remember the surface was covered in gravelly stones and was very uneven. This looked like a challenge to me – which it very much was - but I did it and slowly moved around with a plastic foot splint on each foot wedged into my trainers and held on by my anti-embolism stockings. I was also wearing metal braces on each knee, to stop my knees snapping back as I walked. Not the greatest look but needs must. Obviously I was also still using two elbow crutches and round I walked. I felt as though I resembled an AT-AT from Star Wars.
When I got back into the gym, and whilst feeling very proud of myself, they asked me to get onto one of the podium type beds they used. I had to lay on my front and I was asked to “bring your right foot up to over your knee”.
I couldn’t do it. All of the improvements I had had, but I couldn’t use the required group of muscles. I remember literally lying there and thinking “this will be easy”, trying to move my leg back – and nothing happened. It was as if this area had been forgotten when they’d been rehabbing me.
Perhaps to prove I was still capable of discharge I walked on sticks through the hospital corridors all the way back to ward – which was several hundred metres away.
Eventually the day came to discharge me from Hexham. I’d been there for only two months and, when you consider I’d spent a month at Atkinson Morley’s in Wimbledon, that meant I was only 3 months post injury and walking out (admittedly on crutches) of the (then) regional neuro unit.
Getting out meant I was free to go where I wanted. And so I did, and the additional movement led to further improvements. It very much accelerated my recovery.
I went down to where the lads were playing five-a-side football in Jarrow Community Centre one day. I hobbled onto the pitch and announced that I was “playing up front, on my own” and hovered just in front of the D of a goal.
The game continued and one of the lads took a shot, which was coming right for me. I moved slightly but enough to deflect the shot he’d taken from one side of the goal to the other. And it went in. It was pure luck and circumstance but the lads thought it was funny as I scored my first post injury goal. Obviously I milked it as if it was the cup final winner. “Class is permanent!” I said to torrents of abuse.
At some point over one of the weekends I was home, whilst still being an inpatient though the week, I remember sitting in the living room when the local priest turned up. My Nana was very religious and had kept him up to date with my plight. When he’d heard of my return he decided he’d come over and provide moral support. He was pleased to see my progress and invited me to Church on Sunday to do the offertory procession. I couldn’t say no as my nana would not have been happy.
Sunday rolled around and my nana and I waited at the back of church. My younger brother was there too as he’d been roped in as the third person in the team. He was worse for the effects of alcohol the night before and looked a bit green to say the least. I found it funny as when we walked down the aisle he looked in more difficulty than me.
The priest explained that today’s offertory was being carried by a lad who had been told he may never walk again just a few months earlier.
Afterwards people came over to congratulate – my brother. He’d obviously walked down the aisle that badly and looked that ill from “the drink” that they thought he was “the ill one”. I still remind him of that.
I was getting better and better – I felt as though getting back to normality would be possible. The doctors said it was possible – but warned me that I had a problem, and that it could, and probably would, return. That was the way of AVM’s. Once you had one you’d never get rid of it.
I was determined to live life to the full in the meantime.