CRIPPLED IN A SECOND; Challenges: Proud Parents Tim and Penny with Daughter Rosalie
Byline: TIM RUSHBY-SMITH
WHERE to begin? Well, thats easy. I am lying on the roof of an oldgarage at the bottom of a clients garden. I am under a tree, looking up at thebranches and I am confused at to what has just happened.
A few moments ago, I was working in the tree, six metres up and attached byrope and harness, preparing to come down after 45 minutes of pruning. Now I amon my back and I cant feel my legs.
I shout out to my wife, Penny, also a landscape gardener, who is in the gardencalling to me and trying to get through a tangle of shrubs to see me.
She is five months pregnant. She has just seen me fall and, until hearing myvoice, had presumed I was dead. It is April 1, 2005, I am 36 years old.
Now whats weird here is that I remember saying it hurts, but somehow I have norecollection of the pain.
I remember thinking it was going to hurt any minute and I also remember howlinglike a bansheeso it must have been painfulbut all I can recall is my legs feeling as if they are tucked under my bottom,and I am unable to move them. Im sure I can feel them, but they refuse torespond.
Penny is terrified that I will lose consciousness, so she keeps up a constantline of inane conversation. Within 20 minutes we are joined by a paramedic,whom Penny has called.
As I dive in and out of consciousness, I am put onto a backboard and someonetells me that they have to move me and it is going to hurt. I hear a voiceinside my head telling me to scream, so I do, but it feels as if I am doing somerely to keep up appearances rather than because of any pain.
I lose consciousness and wake up in a hospital bed with a neck brace on.
Less than four hours after my fall, the neck brace is removed and a youngdoctor comes in for the give it to me straight, doc routine. Hes very good,tells me I wont walk again and pats me self-consciously on the shoulder. I feelsorry for him. It must be the large amounts of morphine but I feel as if I amplaying this part in a film.
I make upbeat comments to friends and family about life in a wheelchair as ifthe adjustment will be effortless. I cry some, but even this seems as if I ammoved by the plight of someone else.
A few days later, a titanium fixationbasically screws and rodsare inserted into my vertebrae to stabilise my spine. It takes around six hoursand is described as having gone pretty well.
Im still wacked out on morphine several days later for the journey to thehospital. Penny travels with me in the ambulance and we both feel that the moveto the spinal unit is a positive step, although the prospect of being milesaway from home is difficult to face, especially as we arent sure how muchlonger Penny will be able to cope with all the travelling as her bump growsever larger.
At the hospital, I have an assessment by a physiotherapist to determine thefull extent of my paralysis. The result is a confirmation that I am whats knownin medical circles as T12 completemeaning the last level of sensation I have is in the nerves that leave my spineat the level of my 12th thoracic vertebrae (the ones with the ribs on).
The complete does not mean that my spinal cord has been completely severed, butrather that I have no pockets of sensation below the T12 level.
The higher up the spinal cord any damage goes, the more of your body is likelyto be impaired. Yet I find little comfort in the knowledge that other peoplewith these injuries have had their lives even more soundly messed up than mine.
FORTUNATELY, I have the presence of mind to ask to see someone from thepsychology team as I feel that I am sliding out of control. I feel as if I canavoid all the hurt and panic as long as I dont move or speak or think.
Dianne, the hospital psychologist, arrives to see me and the first thing shehas to deal with is my utter panic, which is causing me to hyperventilate.
She explains how important it is for me to consciously take control of mybreathing in order to combat the fight or flight response that a panic attackinduces. By slowing the breathing down, the body sends a message back to thebrain to say that there is no imminent danger, and I can begin to wrest backcontrol.
Once I have stopped huffing and puffing like a demented wolf, I pour forthlists. A list of all the things that I will never be able to do again, things Iwill never be able to do for the first time, things I will now be unable to dowith my child.
Dont, says Dianne. Its too big for you to deal with now, while youre stillunwell, and so recently injured.
Theres a cod
psychology phrase that actually holds some truth in situations like yours.
Fake it until you can make itmeaning, if you pretend something will be all right, youll feel if it will be.
This totally wrong-foots me, as the message seems to be denial is good. But ithelps and it is true. Lying on your back staring at the ceiling for two weeksis far too much of the wrong kind of time to come to terms with anything, letalone a huge life-changing event.
So I dont. I fill my head with white noise. Listen to music, read a book watchTV.
Psychologically, however its very difficult to go from a lifestyle that wasphysical to a sudden stop.
AMONTH later, Ive had plenty of time to reflect all of the things I would notbe able to do again. I think of walking down a country lane, playing sport andreacting instinctively to a game of football. And Im going to be a dad. Ill beon wheels but Ill still be a dad, and the nipper just going to know me as I amnow.
I am introduced to my wheelchair four weeks after the accident.
mount it, I have to be lifted out of bed by two nurses and a hoist. Rememberthose old Ivanhoe-type knights-movies? Thats me being loaded onto the horse forthe joust. But if feels exciting just to be leaving the bed behind.
When a friend, Gabby, drives up the hospital to see us for lunch, she bringsalong her son Billy who is not quite a year old. I find it quite scary watchinghim barrelling around, and realise how much work is involved just keeping upwith kids once they on the move.
On another occasion, some friends come up for a visit with their two youngdaughters and we head out to a small playground nearby. As one of the girlsclimbs the climbing frame, she gets scared and her father comes over and plucksher from the top.
I feel a huge rush of melancholy as watch another one of my parenthood rolesdisappear. I decide there and then that I shall avoid playgrounds whereverpossible.
Jackie, the first person in a wheelchair that I spoke to after my accident, isjust the voice of reason I need as she talks about her experiences ofparenthood.
She works for a spinal injuries support group and was injured when she was 17after climbing a wall. Since then, she got married, had two children, raisedthem and got divorced.
When my two were babies, they knew instinctively to stay still on my lap, shetells me. I only realised this was unusual when I looked after my niece and shewriggled all over the place because she wasnt used to my injury.
The biggest problem actually comes when they get a bit older and they want toplay with your wheelchair while youre sitting on the sofa, which is fine untilthey leave it out in the hall and off and play with something else!
Jackies openness and patient assurances leave me feeling much more confidentthat I can overcome the challenges of rehabilitation and be real parent oncethe baby is born.
Penny smiles. It helps to reminded that we wont be the first going throughthis, she says.
On July 28, 2005, three months after the accident, Pennys contractions begin.Around 32 hours later, in the maternity unit, she still hasnt given birth andis exhausted. She opts for epidural.
Much of the maternity unit is wheelchair accessible and I am with Penny and hermother when the obstetrician delivers our baby.
With a loud cry of Push now! the obstetrician rummages around and emerges witha tiny girl. She has her eyes open, a full head of dark hair and looks somewhatstartled.
She whisked away briefly for a quick check over, and then presented to Penny,and hold hands and I cry
and cry as if all the pain and fear and frustration of the past few months ispouring out of me, and I feel like Ill never stop.
Thankfully, I doeventually. Rosalie Kate is in her mothers arms. I dont recognise her, althoughI was expecting to, somehow. As much as she is a part of Penny and me, she isnow herself and I have to get to know her. Her life stretched out ahead of us.
Penny and Rosalie stay in hospital for a couple of days while I have beendischarged to a flat nearby, which will be our home for a while, as we wait forenough money to come through from the council for our flat to be adapted.Friends, family and even strangers have been so kind to help us financially sofar.
It feels so strange, awaiting the arrival of a new person who will take centrestage in my life. I hope she likes me.
One day, while Im wheeling through the streets, I pass a group of threechildren playing while their mothers look on. One of the children stops towatch, and then she points at me and proudly announces. My dads got one ofthose! Maybe Im not the first father in a wheelchair, then.
My mother-in-law Ginny and I pick up Penny and Rosalie from the hospital and wetry to establish a routine at home. At this stage there is little I can doother than to have Rosalie asleep on my chest while I recline on the sofa,which is a tough job but, hey, we all have to make sacrifices.
But a few days into it, I manage to change a nappyat last I am usefuland Penny and Ginny go into town, leaving me at home alone with Rosalie. Iwedge her on the sofa among various cushions and rush into the other room for arattle. On my way back, I stop to pick something else up from the hall floorand slip forwards out of my wheelchair and onto my knees.
I feel a surge of panic. Rosalie is happily burbling on the couch and I amstranded. After a few seconds I get a grip and manage to transfer myself fromthe floor back to the chair, but afterwards I get on the sofa with Rosalie anddecide not to move until the others have returned.
That evening I feel down, as the events of the day have highlighted thelimitations of my situation, and I feel as if I have just seen another group ofmental images of parenthood wink out of existence. Just days before Christmas,we receive an early present with news from the local council that we have beenawarded the full disabled facilities grant, which means were halfway to gettingthe money together to adapt our old flat.
Planning permission has been granted and work can begin in earnest. We alsomanaged to find a small studio space in a warehouse just off the bottom of ourstreet and we take it on to use first as temporary storage while we get sorted,then as painting space (Penny and I both paint.)
The prospect of getting back to something creative, something other thanfinding ways of doing everyday things from a wheelchair fills me withexcitement.
Rosalie is turning into a little girl at an alarming rate. Her languagecontinues to develop. She pulls herself up into a standing position quiteoften, but then gets a bit apprehensive about how to get back down to theground. I wonder if I am in part to blame for not giving her a more positiverole model in the field of walking.
But once shes up, the only thing that is hard to deal with is not being able tohold her hand through that first period of instability.
NOW it becomes a shared learning experience. I find it difficult watching herrunning around sometimes, as I can see trips and stumbles and grazed knees longbefore they happen, but Im unable to move quickly enough.
Most of these certain accidents dont actually happen at all, but its difficultto accept that I am worrying unduly. Then again, I think every parent goesthrough this process.
As Rosalie grows up, I find myself spending more and more time out of mywheelchair, sitting on the floor playing with wooden train sets and beingclimbed on.
Together, we have found ways of playing that enable us to have fun despite mychanged circumstances. We even manage the odd game of hide and seek, althoughonce concealed behind the curtains or in the wardrobe, I have to push mywheelchair away so that it does-nt reveal my location.
It is slightly unsettling as I worry that one day Rosalie and Penny will forgetand go out, leaving me hiding for hours.
When were out and about, Rosalie knows that she has to be on my lap when wereon a busy road as I cant hold her hand as she walks, and going out is easiernow that shes able to get in and out of the car unaided.
I have remained very active since my accident, playing basketball with otherwheelchair users and more recently tennis, as well as going to the gym.
My main reason for working on my fitness and strength is so that I can pickRosalie up, and generally be as physically involved as possible in parenting.
I have the same attitude to most things now. First, Ill find a way of doingsomething, then well decide whether its worth the effort. As time goes on, Ibecome more confident that I can be a good dad, and that I can play a full andactive role as my daughter grows up.
I do miss being able to run around with Rosalie, and as she gets older and moreadventurous, then I think my sense of detachment from the landscape around mewill be a painful thing to accept.
Before my accident, I always felt that there was nowhere I couldnt explore, andboth Penny and I share a passion for the great outdoors. But Im sure well findways of getting out there, and if I cant, then Ill just have to learn to acceptthose boundaries.
* LOOKING UP by Tim Rushby-Smith is published by Virgin on April 10.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: CRIPPLED IN A SECOND; Challenges: Proud Parents Tim and Penny with Daughter Rosalie. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: April 1, 2008. Page number: 44. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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