On 2nd December 2014, almost two years ago, my wife Rohan had a horrible cycling accident. That day, as she was cycling home, she was hit, and then run over, by a van [On Church Road, Greyhares, February 12, 2015]. After two months and ten operations the fractures of her pelvis had knitted, the skin grafts on her left leg had taken and she was allowed to leave the hospital. Her homecoming brought rejoicing and relief. It also heralded months of hard work which has paid off. Since her discharge, the progress she has made has been extraordinary.
During her first days at home she was immobile and dependent, incapable of taking a single step without pain and without help. Apart from general weakness and difficulty in coordination, the joints in her legs, particularly her left knee, were stiff and difficult to bend, while the grafted skin that covered almost the length of her left leg was tender and painful and needed daily dressing and bandaging. To get back to her former fit self was going to be a struggle but nothing was going to stop her.
There was much celebration on the first day she walked from her bed to the dinner table using a Zimmer frame, rather than a wheelchair. There was the triumph of climbing unaided down a single stair and, soon after, up and down a whole flight. Then, there was the first time that she managed to negotiate the loo. Some months later the wheelchair was returned to the hire firm, then it was goodbye to the walking frame, and finally, to the walking stick. The improvement has continued and now she goes on eight-to-ten kilometre walks with her friends, as of old. Her left leg still aches, even hurts, but usually that is confined to the background.
Despite all this improvement, for a long time she remained vulnerable and self-conscious. It was a an emotional struggle to stand up in court some fifteen months later to give evidence at the trial of the van driver. Few, apart from me, would have known of her concerns, and as I sat in the visitors’ gallery listening I was filled with pride. And there was more to come.
Walking is one thing; swimming, which Rohan adores and is again doing everyday, is altogether more challenging. Yes, physically, both are equally demanding; emotionally however they are of a different order. Changing, showering and wearing a swimming costume inevitably meant exposing her leg. Grafts being grafts, are obvious. Although the extensive grafting had saved her leg, and possibly her life, with its discolouration and its uneven contour – the new skin sits directly on bone – it is unmissable and attracts stares, comments and gestures all of which hurt. Being treated as a misshapen object devoid of feeling is demeaning.
Rohan’s solution has been robust. Initially she bore these insults in silence, but gradually her feelings have been voiced and three weeks ago, while we were still on holiday, she hatched ways of dealing with comments. One approach, suggested by our son Oliver, was to wear a t-shirt saying, “You should have seen what I did to the shark!” and this became her plan. Merely by considering such an assertion, a bubble had been burst. Through time and hard work she could now distance herself so far from the accident that she could poke fun at her position and, with this change, regain dignity. For me this openness was an extraordinary moment in her healing and one that filled me with admiration. In many ways the awful past was over.
People respond very differently to harm and hurt, some collapse whilst others fight to recover; as Shakespeare put it – “sweet are the uses of adversity”. Rohan’s recovery is sweet indeed.
And, by the way, the jury at the Crown Court found the driver guilty of causing serious bodily harm. He fled the country before the hearing but, should he try to return, he will be arrested.