It was 2002 and I was on a skiing trip with friends in Utah. I had somehow lost everyone on the mountain and was skiing home on my own on a typically glorious winter’s day.
The sun was low and while skiing down the final groomed slope to home I had failed to see an unmarked ten-ft drop in the middle of the piste (it was the base of a spectator’s stand that had not been cleared away or marked!).
I hit the hard-packed snow face down and slid forward. I saw stars but never blacked out and was immediately aware that I was unable to move any of my limbs. As a doctor I knew immediately that I had sustained a spinal cord injury.
“As I lay there face down in the snow, unable to move my legs or arms, I knew I had damaged my spinal cord and that my life would change forever.
After being helicoptered to hospital, scans and a neurological examination showed that I had not broken my neck but had ‘bruised’ the spinal cord itself resulting in an incomplete spinal cord injury. This meant that I could not move a single muscle below my neck but I could breathe and talk. The total lack of movement was due to a condition known as ‘spinal shock’ and not because the spinal cord had been cut in two. This was good news since it meant that there was room for recovery given good treatment and rehabilitation.
After three days in intensive care I was transferred to a specialist rehabilitation ward that was well staffed with trained nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists. Here was a model ‘American’ unit where all thoughts and actions were positive and nothing was impossible. Just the environment that is needed (and totally different from my subsequent experience of the NHS after repatriation).
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