My Journey Back to Fitness and Recovery- Lucy Conlon
They say no fitness journey is linear and I can certainly testify to that. I was in my peak physical fitness, smashing probably around 6 gym sessions a week ranging from heavy lifting to running 5k until I was in a terrible accident that temporarily changed everything.
On 9th September, while on holiday in the South of France I fell off the side of an infinity pool, falling around 15 feet to land on concrete below. I don’t remember the accident at all, but I’m told it happened while trying to mount a giant inflatable unicorn (I promise it wasn’t for the gram). My boyfriend saw me fall and rushed down to find me unconscious, bleeding out my eyes, ear and nose with my knee completely split open to reveal bone and muscle
An ambulance was called, and I was rushed to hospital where my family were told I had a fractured eye socket, fractured hip and internal brain haemorrhage. After regaining consciousness, I was kept in intensive care for two weeks under careful monitoring before being moved to the neurology ward for a further week. The weeks spent in hospital are all a bit of a blur to be honest, my brain injury meant I mostly just slept, sometimes for 15 hours a day.
When I was finally released I wasn’t allowed to fly back to the UK due to the brain bleed, and was told to stay in France for at least a further 2/3 weeks. Also the nature of my hip fracture meant that I had to lay flat for 2 weeks until another scan showed the bone had healed enough for me to be in a wheelchair for the remainder of my recovery.
Luckily (if you can call any of this lucky) my parents had a house in France (where the accident happened), so they rented me a hospital bed and we set up shop to stay a little longer.
During this time I had a nurse visit daily to clean my wounds and inject my legs with heparin to prevent a blood clot (given I was bed bound and immobile I was a big risk for DVT). I had to go to the toilet in a bedpan (excuse the overshare), my mum cooked all my food and washed me daily with a bucket of soapy water and a flannel, I couldn’t do anything for myself! It was an incredibly frustrating time for me, being used to being so independent and so active and suddenly bed bound relying on my mum for everything. Everyone around me kept waiting for me to crash and become depressed but that moment never came. No matter how frustrated I felt, another feeling trumped that completely. I was so grateful that the injuries I sustained seemed weren’t life changing, although I couldn’t walk now, I would be able to again. And most importantly I was thankful to be alive.
So I focused on the positives, I focused on resting, recuperating, eating as much food as humanly possible (I hadn’t eaten the whole time I was in hospital so I had a lot to catch up on) and spending quality time with my mum, who stayed with me in France from the day of the accident until the day I came home.
Two weeks in and my recovery was going well, I had a scan booked for my hip and we were so confident I would get the all clear to be in a wheelchair that we even booked our flights back to England. But later that evening I woke up with excruciating chest pains and I couldn’t breathe, I was terrified. We called an ambulance and I was rushed back into hospital. 7 hours in A&E and numerous tests later I was told I had a pulmonary embolism and I was being admitted back into intensive care. This is basically where a clot has spread to the lungs, and the consequences can be fatal!
I spent another week in intensive care before being released. But again I was asked to remain in the country for at least another week before I could travel.
I finally came back to the UK at the end of October, we had to get the train back because due to the embolism I wasn’t cleared to fly. As soon as I got back I booked appointments to see a neurologist, haematologist and hip specialist and I finally began my road to recovery.
I had my initial consultation and an x-ray with the hip specialist and he booked me in for two MRIs (of my hip and knee) to make sure there was nothing more sinister wrong. He told me after my x-ray that he was confident I could begin to walk again but I wasn’t allowed to do any impact work (running, jumping, spinning etc) until I had my second consultation in 6 weeks time. I ditched the crutches as soon as I could, using them for support as my legs were very weak due to not being used for such a long time.
Next up was the neurologist who examined my medical notes and existing CT scans from France. He advised me against working, exercising, or doing anything that would over exert my brain. He sent me for an MRI scan to determine if I had done any long-lasting damage. The results came back and the bleed had gone (thank god) but I did have something called a countercoup injury, a bruising of the brain that occurred on the opposite side to the area that was hit. I was told this would take 6-12 months to recover.
Then was the haematologist, who after my initial consultation referred me to a chest specialist as my clot was in the lungs. I had an echocardiogram and countless blood tests and was told that everything seemed to be fine. I was (and still am) on blood thinners for the clot, and have to take these until April, 6 months after the clot was found.
Everyone keeps telling me how lucky I am and how remarkable my recovery has been, one specialist even told me it should have taken 6 months to where I got to in 6 weeks! I can probably attribute the quick recovery to how fit and healthy I was before the accident. Here are my top 5 tips for recovery:
1. The biggest and most important of these is to stay positive. It’s so easy when life deals you a bad card to wallow in self-pity, become depressed and think why me. I tried my best throughout to remain as positive as I could. Sure, I had some down days, particularly when I got admitted into hospital the second time, but I always tried to focus on the positives – how lucky I was that they caught my embolism when they did, how lucky was to be alive again, how supportive and loving my friend and family were.
- Fight your fears head on. It would’ve been easy after everything I went through to be terrified of doing pretty much anything, and trust me I was! But I decided to deal with this by facing anything I was afraid of head on. Before I left France I even forced myself to go back in the pool so that next time I was there I wouldn’t have built it up in my head to be something it’s not.
I was scared to go into central London and meet friends because of crowds, so I would pick somewhere I knew wouldn’t be as busy and I would drag myself onto the train to get there. I made sure to tell my friends anytime I was feeling nervous so they could support and reassure me.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I wanted to get back to exercising as soon as I could but obviously I was scared to cause any further injury or impede my recovery. So made sure I asked for help, I went to classes and told the instructors at the beginning I had an injury so they could modify the workout for me, and I got a personal trainer so I could work on my mobility and safely start building up my strength on my lower body again.
4. Listen to your body. Although I was out there fighting my fears head on and pushing myself to get back to exercising, I made sure I listened to my body. As my neurologist said the body is a very clever thing, it will tell you when you’ve done too much. So if I tried something and it hurt, made me tired or didn’t feel right I would stop immediately and I wouldn’t do it again. Listening to your body is so important as you don’t want to end up causing any further issues.
5. Be patient. Results don’t happen overnight, and the time you spent injured is just a drop in the ocean of your life. Don’t rush it, be patient and respect your body. You will get there.
It’s been a whirlwind few months that in a strange way I feel lucky to have had. A wise lady I know said to me that when you go through a big trauma like this you develop something called post-traumatic growth and I think that’s really true. I developed a new appreciation for life, for all the amazing things that my body does everyday that I took for granted before. And I appreciate all the amazing friends and family I have in my life that supported me through it, through the well-wishes, the care packages and the visits.
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