CRIPPLED IN A SECOND; Proud Parents Tim and Penny with Daughter Rosalie

Article excerpt

WHERE to begin? Well, that's easy. I am lying on the roof of an oldgarage at the bottom of a client's 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 am on my back and I can't 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 what's weird here is that I remember saying 'it hurts', but somehow I haveno recollection 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. I'm 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 at the Royal London inWhitechapel 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. He's very good,tells me I won't walk again and pats me self-con- sciously on the shoulder. Ifeel sorry for him. It must be the large amounts of morphine but I feel as if Iam playing 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 hours and is described as having gone 'pretty well'.

I'm still wacked out on morphine several days later for the journey to StokeMandeville hospital, or more accurately, the National Spinal Injuries Centre.

Penny travels with me in the ambulance and we both feel that the move to thespinal unit is a positive step, although the prospect of being 40 miles awayfrom home in Hackney is difficult to face, especially as we aren't sure howmuch longer Penny will be able to cope with all the travelling as her bumpgrows ever larger.

At Stoke Mandeville, I have an assessment by a physiotherapist to determine thefull extent of my paralysis. The result is a confirmation that I am what'sknown in 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,but rather 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.F ORTUNATELY, I have the presence of mind to ask to see someone from thepschology 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 don't 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. …