17th April 2023

Mick’s Story Part 3: A glass half full

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.

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. Here we join Mick when he’s having a rough few days…

I remember one day on the ward when I was feeling sorry for myself. Being in hospital is by its very nature depressing and recovering from a spinal injury is an extremely long and drawn-out process with no guarantee of “success”, whatever that means for you following your injury. Some people’s glasses are half empty but others are happy enough to recover the use of one arm given where they were in the immediate aftermath of their accident. It’s an awful predicament to be in, to be unable to move any part (or parts) of your body – believe me. When you’re a young lad with plans and reasonable prospects – then you’re stuck in a bed unable to move your legs because of what was described to me as a “birthmark on my spine” it’s really tough.

A few months after my injury I was sitting on my bed. I wasn’t my usual cheery self when asked how I was. They were always asking how everyone was. The nurses at the unit must have been used to seeing this in newly injured patients as without hesitation one of them said to me “Mick, will you help us out please – we’re a bit short staffed”.

“Sure” I said, “what can I do to help?”.

They asked if I’d feed the lad in the bed next to me.

“Are you sure?” I enquired.

“Yes, said the nurse – it would really help us out”.

So I shuffled to the side of my bed, transferred into my wheelchair, and wheeled over to my neighbour’s bed, just as the catering staff brought the trays of food around. My neighbour’s injuries were far worse than mine. He’d been involved in a serious road traffic accident and he was tetraplegic. I knew that meant that he couldn’t move his arms as well as his legs. They had him propped up in bed with his arms resting on cushions.

I asked what he wanted as I looked down at his plate, a knife and fork in my hands.

“Can I have some pie please?”

So I cut his pie up and carefully put it on a fork. I lifted it up to his mouth and he accepted it. He chewed for a minute and swallowed it. He then asked for more pie, this time with a few peas.

After a while I got used to it and fed him his meal. He thanked me and went back to reading the book he had propped up in front of him, but not before asking me to turn the page.

Every five minutes or so thereafter he’d ask me to turn the page of his book. And I did so happily.

I didn’t feel so depressed after this.

It was only a while later I realised what the nurses had done. They had shown me that even though I had a few problems I was luckier than many

I can still remember so many of them from so long ago. And it wasn’t the only time they’d used this type of psychology on me.

On another occasion I was in the physio department. I had to go there twice a day, every weekday, as they tried to get me moving again. Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, my progress was pretty good but it didn’t feel like it at the time.

They had me on a rowing machine one day – the same machine I’d been on earlier that day, and the day before, and the day before that. It was set to the easiest setting – with no resistance at all – but I still found it hard for obvious reasons.

Again, I was whinging on, complaining that it was hard and that I was tired. I was bored as I’d done this same exercise so many times with little improvement. I didn’t realise at the time that “little” improvement was better than “no” improvement and that I was actually doing quite well. The physio-terrorists (as we called them) could see this and that’s why they were pushing me and pushing me. I was pushing back and complaining as things were not going as well as I’d hoped.

I didn’t appreciate that, as I was complaining, another patient was right next to me. He was another of the tetraplegic lads, injured in an accident with a military vehicle whilst in the army.

They had him Velcro-ed to the wall to keep him upright. To be clear he was strapped to the wall of the gym and looking right down at me.

As I moaned on I simply heard him say…

“You, you useless B***, the use of one arm would do me”.

For the next five minutes I never rowed so fast in my life.

When I said earlier that some people’s expectations and needs are different, this chap is who I had in mind. When you have it all and have “it all” taken away from you it’s really hard to adjust physically and mentally.

It was important to me to receive the physical treatment I did, and the physios did indeed get me back on my feet after an incredibly short (they told me) three months of hell. I thank them all.

I didn’t even realise that the nurses were giving me ad hoc psychological treatment but that’s what it was. And the metaphorical kick up the backside from my comrade stuck to the wall, was a really important lesson I still remember. In fact I’ll never, ever, forget it.

That’s why it’s important to think outside of the box sometimes. And to look for every treatment option possible. Physical or mental recovery, however small, is recovery and each bit of recovery is a little victory.