Last year an infection generated from a dog bite resulted in the amputation of my left leg after which I was lucky enough to meet with a number of injured soldiers who have inspired me to raise funds to help those injured in the line of duty.
It all started in 1991. For a year I had been experiencing increasing amounts of pain in my left leg, finally reaching the point where putting my foot on the ground was too much. Luckily we shared the school run with an orthopaedic consultant who made me an appointment to investigate the pain further. The day of my appointment was my father's birthday and one we will never forget.
My parents were both away that day and my aunt agreed to take me, I cannot imagine what it must have been like for her to sit there knowing that I was potentially on the verge of death and having to keep a brave face on it. After a couple of x-rays and an examination I was sent to the waiting room while the consultant spoke to my aunt. He told her he suspected I had cancer and would arrange for me to go to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital Birmingham. It was not till later that evening they decided there was no time to loose and I must go into hospital the next day.
The moment we arrived the tears started. It was terrifying. The ward was lined with pale faced children, the majority without hair, attached to machines by an inconceivable amount of wires. My life then became a blur of x-rays, blood tests, examinations and constant questioning. I had no idea what was wrong with me but there was little doubt it was very serious. Immediately it was arranged for me to have a biopsy where they remove a section of the tumorous lump and test it for cancer. That was the last time I walked on two normal legs. The results came back positive. The overriding emotion in my memory from this point was total and utter confusion and despondency.
It was decided that I would have a course of chemotherapy that consisted of six sessions with a two week break in between to regain some sort of strength. The treatment was hell on earth. Before it started the doctor told me my hair was going to fall out, I thought he was joking. I was attached to a drip, the sound of which still haunts me, and flushed through with a saline solution before the hard core cancer killing drugs were put in. I felt so ill and the drugs felt like they were killing me at the same time as the cancer. For three days I was sick twenty four hours a day and turning over in bed took every single ounce of strength. I vaguely remember people coming in and out of my room but I was so consumed by the overriding feeling of nausea I hardly noticed.
After three days I was sent home to recuperate. The journey was a long and painful one having to stop the car every five minutes for me to be sick again. Two weeks later and I was back in hospital to go through the same routine. I thought it might have got easier but it got worse each session leaving me feeling more ragged than the last and physically and emotionally torn apart. Following my third treatment we went away for a change of scene. After a couple of days it became apparent something was very wrong. My temperature was rising by the second and I was struggling to stay conscious. My parents rushed me home as I refused to go back into hospital but by two in the morning they had no choice but to return to Birmingham. On arrival I remember the doctors struggling to attach me to a drip. My veins had gone into hibernation following the chemo and it took two hours to get me attached.
I remember nothing of the next week but know that it was very touch and go as to whether I would survive. When I eventually came round my brother was sitting on the edge of my bed eating a Big Mac, he got the shock of his life when I asked if I could have a bite. Later on it was discovered that my age was wrong on the original chemotherapy form and in three sessions I had had more than double what I should have had in six. Not surprisingly my body said no more and gave up. At the time this was horrendous but at the end of the day it is what saved me. My cancer was incredibly far advanced when they caught it and the blasting it got from this overdose made sure it went away.
Unable to have anymore chemo the doctors decided to do the big operation in which they removed my knee and shin bone and replaced it with a metal prosthesis. There is no doubt that this time in my life was characterised by extremes of the most unpleasant of feelings. When I woke up I was in more pain than I had ever been in in my entire life. My leg throbbed incessantly and the pain was all consuming taking over every part of my being.
My memories of the following few weeks are clouded by pain and a constant dread of the physios arriving on the ward. I had little choice but to get on with it though until I was eventually allowed home to start re-building my life. In the years that followed I have had three more operations to replace the prosthesis in my leg, usually broken from riding horses, but apart from that and being a bit slow not a huge amount had changed. That was until last year.
In December 2006 I was bitten by a dog on the back of my right hand. One night in January I was woken up by the most torturous amount of pain in my left knee. I had no water in the glass next to my bed but could not put my foot on the floor to get to the bathroom so had to crawl. The next morning, having somehow endured the rest of the night, I went to Birmingham. Tests were done and they found I had an acute infection in my knee.
Again this was a time characterised by the most intense feeling off illness and discomfort. I was incredibly weak. The pain was constant and took over every thought every movement. The doctors tried to get rid of the infection by removing the prosthesis from my leg and cleaning it out. I was attached to a drip and filled with industrial strength antibiotics that, rather like the chemo, seemed to work by making me feel horrendous at the same time. After three weeks of this it was crunch time. My consultant came to talk me through the options of what they could do next but in my mind I had already decided I wanted him to amputate. He was pretty reluctant but my mind was made up and two days later I was back in theatre having my left leg removed above the knee.
I woke up feeling fine and very cheerful. I didn't believe they had operated as I could still feel my leg. However at 8 that evening the pain started to kick in and slowly built up to a level that was unbearable. A doctor was called but it took an hour or more to get them to come and see me, an hour in which I was writhing in agony and wanting to get out of my body and away from the pain. They eventually turned up and filled me up with morphine sending me to sleep. The next night the same thing happened. The doctor was very intolerant and told me that I had an epidural and was fine. The only problem was the epidural was not actually attached. Again they filled me up with morphine and left me to sleep. Over the next few days the pain gradually lessened and my time was consumed by trying to adjust to the fact I was now very lopsided.
A week after the operation I went home. Still weak but feeling a lot better than I had done for a while I started to rebuild my life. I was pretty restricted in what I could do but slowly and surely learnt to adapt. The first time I had a bath it took me two hours to work out how to get in and then out again but I could not ask for help as I was going to have to do it like this for the rest of my life. My rehabilitation started at Selly Oak in Birmingham where I was put on a femeret, which is basically a bucket with a piece of metal and shoe on the end that gets you used to having pressure on the stump. I could finally see a light at the end of the tunnel but this was short lived.
On a trip to the local garage I put my crutch down a drainage grate and landed smack on the end of my stump. The immediate pain was pretty intense but when it did not ease I began to worry. The rehabilitation unit x-rayed me and decided I had broken the stump and would need to have a few weeks off for it to mend. Two months on and the pain had not changed, if anything it had got worse. I went back to see my consultant who decided the only course of action was to go in and investigate. So in September last year I was back on the ward again getting ready for another operation.
They removed another couple of inches off the bone and re-set the muscles which had gone walkabout and then sent me home. Since then the pain has not really abated but I have got used to it and am sure that some day it will improve. Till then I just have to keep myself busy.
It was around this point that a friend asked me to visit some of his soldiers who had been injured in a blast in Afghanistan. Their injuries were very recent and he felt talking to someone who had been through the same thing would help. The moment I walked onto their ward in Selly Oak I was hit by the incredibly positive atmosphere. These guys had been injured in the worst possible circumstances and had some of the worst injuries but were still laughing and joking. I am not sure how much my being there helped them, but they certainly left me feeling inspired and wanting to conquer the world. Their positivity in the face of such adversity was amazing and such a contrast to the people on my ward.
On my ward I got the impression that people almost enjoyed feeling ill, and rather than accepting the fact that they are not well and getting on with life they revel in it. The soldiers attitude could not be more different. Not letting the fact they have lost an arm or leg get them down, more upset by the fact that they cannot be out with their friends fighting. Their army training undoubtedly plays a large role in their way of coping. I was so struck by this attitude that I decided to write a book profiling ten soldiers with ten different injuries and looking at how they coped when their lives have been so suddenly and inexplicably blown to pieces.
We are all guilty of losing perspective at some point in our lives, becoming obsessed with things we cannot change. I feel that through these men and their incredible experiences many people will be able to see how unpredictable life is and that the only way to cope is to accept the negatives and get on with it. At Headley Court the soldiers undergo an intense rehabilitation programme that helps them back to their physical peak but their minds and attitude are what play the biggest part in their recovery.
The ball and writing my book are currently my focus. I am as yet without a leg but am sure at some point that will change. I would not alter anything that has happened in my past. Something good always comes out of something bad we just have to be willing to look for it. If my experiences can help others then that is a good enough reason for me.