After many years of chatting online with our Have Wheelchair Will Travel community, I am conscious of how life can change suddenly through an accident. I also have many friends that have sustained a spinal cord injury, so when I recently had an accident, I was well aware of the possible consequences. It’s taken me a few months to write about the incident because to be honest, it was a bit scary. If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I don’t just share our family’s highlight reel. So, here’s a personal story about how a freak accident on a trip left me with an unplanned visit to hospital and resulted in three spinal fractures
My hospital visit & spinal fractures
A few months ago we were on a trip and the first activity we had booked was a horse ride. It has become a bit of tradition for us to do a special mother-daughter activity when we travel and it is often horse riding. Unfortunately, on this occasion things didn’t go to plan.
I cannot stress enough how tame and slow the horse ride was. In fact, the owner of the business was walking in front of the horses, chatting to us while we rode. I couldn’t have felt more relaxed. Out of nowhere a bird flew out from some long grass and spooked my horse. The horse took off sharply to one side and headed for the stables. In doing so it threw me off and I landed directly on my upper back. The force left me feeling shocked and winded. Unbeknown to me at the time, Amelia’s horse was also spooked by the bird but thankfully Amelia managed to hang on, her only injury was a bruise. The business owner was horrified and tried to help me up. I asked to take a while as I felt shaky and if I’m honest I was worried as I was so sore. Eventually I stood up and walked back to the stable. Hubby was shocked to see my horse returning with an empty saddle and when I told him what had happened he logically told me I was probably just bruised and that’s why I was so sore. It made sense after landing directly on my back. Fortunately we were wearing helmets and padded vests.
We had a full day’s itinerary ahead of us and we were meeting up with a photographer and a tourism representative. Not wanting to let anyone down I took some Panadol, accepted a heat pack and carried on with the day. Throughout the day my back was really sore and by the late afternoon I felt I should go to hospital to have it checked. Arriving at the hospital in the evening I was shocked to see waiting patients spilling out onto the street outside the Emergency Department. We went to the triage nurse expecting to take a number and join the crowd. I’ll add that I was busting for the bathroom but thought I’d be efficient and get my number and then go. As soon as I told the nurse I’d been thrown from a horse the questions were rapid-fire “how many hands high was the horse?” she asked, “Ummm, high” was my meek response. Next thing I had a hospital ID bracelet around my wrist, I was being shown through to a bed and told to lie flat and under no circumstances was I to move. I immediately felt stupid. What was I thinking carrying on doing buggy rides and walking around all day. What if I’d made everything worse?
I waited with no buzzer looking at the fluorescent light above me for what seemed like forever. The only distraction was the conversations I could hear around me. A doctor eventually came and suggested pain medication and ordered a CT of my spine.. There was still more waiting. I was lying there wishing so hard that I had gone to the bathroom before going to triage. Eventually all the drinks of the day could be held no longer so I requested a pan. As I was a suspected spinal injury it required several nurses to assist with a log roll to put it under me and roll me back onto it. I’ll never put off going to the toilet again after that. I’m sharing this for a reason. When I was finished the nurse came back and asked if I was okay to lift my butt so she could remove the pan because she was finding it hard to find staff to assist her. I said, “I’m fine to do that but given I’m being treated as a spinal patient I don’t think it is wise!” She agreed and rallied the troops. My message to everyone out there is, don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. A nurse should have known better but a seemingly understaffed emergency department left her looking to take short cuts.
The CT scan showed three spinal fractures from T4-T6 and a fracture in my neck. A c-collar was placed around my neck and more scans were ordered. At this point the scare factor was high. Our accommodation was an hour from hospital and it was approaching midnight and it seemed I was in for a wait so I sent Hubby and Braeden back to the hotel and kept Amelia with me. Being unable to move left me feeling quite vulnerable so I wanted Amelia there to assist if needed. The next CT scan showed that there wasn’t a fracture in my neck. I had one more x-ray and a wait for the doctor. Strong pain medication finally arrived after several hours. The doctor advised I could expect pain for around two months and niggly pain for up to six months.
Once we had our instructions, I was keen to leave but the doctor decided we should stay in the “quiet short-term” ward for the night. We got to bed about 2am but I was extremely relieved and grateful to be able to move around freely again. I made myself a cup of tea and headed to bed. Poor Amelia had a hard plastic chair as her bed for the night but as always she provided me with good company and after the tension earlier in the night we had a few laughs. The “quiet ward” was not so quiet with a loud snorer over the curtain on one side and an elderly lady with dementia calling out at the other end. The staff would tell the lady very kindly to “shhh” which only made her yell louder, “don’t you shhhh me!”
The next morning I asked about having a shower and naively asked if there was any shampoo. I was advised that “Queensland Health doesn’t extend to providing shampoo” so I paddled into the bathroom with a towel and my dirty clothes to have a shower. Having had drummed into me from a kid that public showers cause plantar warts I decided the only course of action was to put gloves on my feet. Yep, ridiculous but I didn’t need any more souvenirs of a medical kind from my trip.
When it was a decent hour in the morning I phoned Hubby, who was still asleep, and gave him instructions on the clothes to bring to us so we could continue with our itinerary. He was shocked, assuming I’d cancel everything. It’s not in my nature to cancel without good reason and that day was special being Braeden’s birthday, giving me extra motivation to keep going. We had an exciting day planned including a helicopter flight and barbecue boat. I didn’t want anything spoiling the day. As it turned out we had a wonderful day and didn’t miss anything on our trip due to my injury. I will admit to having one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had that night though.
When anything happens to me my first thought is that I don’t have time to be out of action. Caring for Braeden and my parents I am so conscious that if I am out of service it means that Hubby and Amelia need to pick up the pieces. I felt terrible that Hubby and Amelia had to do so many extra jobs because I wasn’t allowed to carry anything heavy and couldn’t manage Braeden on my own. It also gave me a tiny insight into how people with a hidden disability must struggle to feel justified in asking for assistance. At our local green grocer I always carry my own groceries to the car but instead while my back was bad I had to ask for assistance and then felt obliged to let them know that I had spinal fractures and wasn’t allowed to carry heavy bags. Everyone was lovely about it and it was a lesson in giving in and just accepting that I needed the help.
On our return to Sydney I had pain as expected but I was grateful it hadn’t been worse. A follow up CT scan a few months later showed the fractures were stable. I still get twinges but I know I am a lucky gal.
Lessons I’d like to pass on from my experience are as follows –
Always wear a helmet for any activity where it is recommended. In the hospital they told me I was the only one of three people to come into emergency that day to be wearing a helmet when needed.
If you’ve had a serious fall or trauma seek medical attention and don’t feel you need to soldier on.
Speak up if you think something a nurse or doctor is doing isn’t right.
Keep a family member with you to advocate for you. Emergency departments are usually in a state of overwhelm and it helps to have someone there to follow up on medication or to call for assistance. Not to mention it’s a great distraction.
Have travel insurance. If my accident had happened overseas, the cost of the CT scans, doctors etc would have been staggering without the assistance of travel insurance.
I’d love to say this was our only experience with a hospital stay when travelling but unfortunately on a trip to the Northern Territory Braeden ended up in hospital. We wrote about that experience, and why travel insurance was important, in this story – When good holidays turn bad.