Back in February, I had a skiing accident. I fell, landed on my head, hurt my neck, and – stupidly, not following my own advice – got back on my feet and continued skiing.
It wasn’t until I returned to London that I visited Chelsea and Westminster hospital to discover that I had fractured four vertebrae in my neck. Three months of rehab later, and I’m (almost) back to normal.
The process of sustaining and recovering from a serious injury reminded me of what it takes to recover well, and what we can do better to truly help people during the recovery process.
I’m a strong believer that everyone should stay as physically capable and independent as possible throughout their life. But I realised that, sometimes, despite your best efforts, the people around you can make that very difficult.
When I was recovering, and especially when I had a neck brace on, everyone would insist on helping me, “Let me get that for you…don’t get up…stay there…you relax…”
They were being kind, of course, and it’s something we would all do in their position, but every time I didn’t have to do something that I usually would, I was depriving my body of a bit of movement and load that it needs to stay healthy.
My experience of this was short-lived, but it made me think of all the times I’ve seen people (myself included) become overprotective towards injured or elderly relatives.
The intention is pure, but we need to make sure the injured and elderly people we care for remain active. The best way we can show compassion and respect is to help them stay strong, not wrap them in cotton wool
I can’t pretend that luck didn’t play a huge role in my recovery. Had I landed slightly differently, I could have been in a wheelchair. I was very lucky that, from the shoulders down, I was still able to move throughout my rehabilitation.
So, with luck acknowledged, what else contributes towards successful rehabilitation?
To find my answer, I looked to all the inspiring patients that I’ve helped over the years. In an interesting role reversal, it was my time to learn from them.
The most successful patients I’ve treated are the ones who approach rehab with complete discipline and determination. For them, exercise isn’t something that can be pushed around in the diary; it has a set time and neither work or socialising will move it.
They also had a goal that they want to achieve, something taken from them by the injury that they want to return to, which, for them, represented their health.
For me, it was basketball, while for others it may be riding a bike or something as simple as being able to walk unassisted. Keeping a goal in mind pushed me further than I might have if my only criteria for being healthy was not being dead.
Finally, they used the injury as an opportunity to improve themselves rather than only see it as a setback.
This is something that I’ve wanted to achieve at West London Physio from the start: in the process of rehabilitation, why not encourage further opportunities for improving physical health?
Someone who leaves rehabilitation stronger than they were before is less likely to be injured in the future and more able to live life to the full.
And that’s exactly what I intend to do now. I’ve scheduled exercise in the diary, and ensured that it doesn’t get moved. My expectation is that I’ll be stronger next year than I was last year, and will be fully prepared to return to skiing – where I hope for better luck next year.