In August 2005, Andrew Peters had his leg amputated as a result of a road traffic accident – see Talking to Andrew – the amputee chronicles.
Whilst in hospital Andrew built relationships with a variety of individuals, some of whom had been in the 7/7 tube bombings, but others with a diverse range of histories. The thing that they all had in common was that they had lost at least one limb and were struggling to come to terms with the new life which lay ahead of them. Through the journey they became close and developed a gallows sense of humour which helped overcome the pain of their transition to a life as a disabled person.
Whilst in hospital Andrew wrote a contemporaneous account of events detailing his journey from the accident to going home;this is serialised in five parts here on Glow, and gives a very personal slant to the moving story of becoming an amputee. I have the privilege of collating them for him.
Here, as Andrew continues his account he talks of disrupting wheelchair games, learning to walk again and about receiving some exciting news.
The Amputee Chronicles Part IV – A Personal Account of a Journey
On Friday morning we have wheelchair ‘games’ in the gym for an hour. We play a form of basketball with four wheelchairs per side. I become over-enthusiastic and, whilst reversing fast to mark an opposing player, I try to stop suddenly. The wheelchair instantly tips backwards and dumps me on the floor.
Later in the game, I’m chasing the ball and moving far too fast for safety. The ball runs under one side of the wheelchair and I’m catapulted forwards onto the floor, the chair on top of me. There’s no damage done but *Maggie is not pleased and halts the game.
Later, in the ward, I tell my wife about it when she telephones from home. I tell her I bumped my head on the floor but I’m OK. ”Wood on wood”, she says. Ten minutes later she calls back. She says I must do two things when I return to Walking School that afternoon.
Firstly, I must apologise to Maggie and secondly, I must tell Maggie that she can hit me if she wants.
*Chas, a friend and patient on the ward, suggests to us all that we try wheelchair football sometime for a change. He proposes three-a-side teams with myself (one leg), *Greg (one leg) and himself (one leg) as one team against *Mark (no legs), *Diane (no legs) and *Karen (no legs). And by the way we are not allowed to touch the ball with our hands, he adds. Do you think we’ll win, I ask.
Learning to use my new, ‘proper’, prosthetic leg, rather than the training leg I had previously used, I realise for the first time that walking is a technically difficult enterprise. There’s so much to remember. I correct one thing only to forget four other things. Maggie and *Marc, my physios, monitor me closely and tell me where I’m going wrong.
For every ten steps I take, I achieve only one that is ‘good’.
I feel low after the morning’s work and resolve to try harder in the afternoon. I persist and am helped by Marc who breaks down a step into its component parts and encourages me to practise them. Maggie unexpectedly brings me a walking stick and, later, a second one. I practise walking up and down between the bars with the two sticks.
In the closing minutes of what is really only my second day on the new leg I break out under supervision and achieve a lap of the gym, albeit with the walking sticks, with Maggie behind me monitoring my balance and the 6’2″ Marc walking backwards ahead of me, ready to support me if I fall.
I’ve walked outside of the bars on my new leg.
Some of the other patients applaud light-heartedly; I feel elated because this sets the scene for me to circumnavigate the gym unaided.
I receive a visit from PC Brooker of Essex Police. He is the officer who attended the accident scene and this is his first direct contact with me since the accident. He confirms that Essex police will prosecute the car driver. My first and last image of him is seeing his face hovering upside down about a foot above mine as he knelt at my head gingerly easing off my crash helmet. He does not need anything from me because there are sufficient eyewitnesses, including a passing off-duty policewoman, who have submitted statements.
However he will summarise my recollection of the accident in a report and include it in the file to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. He believes the case will not come to court until March or April next year.
On another note, Sir Trevor McDonald visits the ward to interview Diane as part of a programme about compensation for the victims of the tube bombings. Diane has become something of a champion for the cause. The programme is to be aired on the last day of October. The ITV crew do some filming of Diane walking on her training legs in the walking school gym.
The last Friday of the month is a big day for Mark, his family and friends, and for us, his fellow patients on the ward. He will stand for the first time since 7th July tube bombings. It will be a heavily emotional moment for everyone.
As the only patient comfortably over six feet tall I normally have exclusive use of the last set of walking bars in the gym, those adjusted to the highest setting. However this week I am displaced by Mark who has now been fitted with two training legs after standing up for the first time a few days ago. Mark is a victim of the Edgware Road tube bombing and was blown out of the train and onto the tracks, losing both legs in the process.
But giving up my place means that I can graduate to working outside of the twin bars. So I walk up and down beside Mark, hand on one bar and stick in the other. Soon, I’m away from the bars altogether and walking unsupervised around the gym – but still with two sticks. I’m determined to make as much progress as possible, especially since last week ended on something of a high when, with Maggie’s permission, Physio Marc led me out of the gym to the reception area and supervised my climbing and descending the two flights of stairs that lead to the first floor. Progress indeed.
The progress continues at the start of the new week because under Maggie’s supervision I am guided out of the Walking School gym into the open air and around the outside of the building, demonstrating my new perambulatory skills by negotiating steps, kerbs, uneven pavements, up-slopes and down-slopes. Maggie says I’ve done well.
So well, in fact, that at the end of the first week in the month and whilst performing my first walk of the day, Maggie stops me and tells me that I can take my leg home for the weekend and that, all being equal, I will be discharged next week. This news takes me completely by surprise and I suppress an involuntary sob whilst trying to respond to Maggie’s statement.
I walk on to recover my composure and then stop again to ask Maggie to repeat this important news. She tells me again. Do you mind if I kiss you, I ask her. Maggie laughs at me and sets me off on my first circumnavigation of the day of the walking school gym.
The concept of going home for the weekend with my leg and being able to walk is almost overwhelming.
I’ll be able to walk from the car into the house and I can walk around the house instead of using the wheelchair. I’ll even be able to go up and down the stairs. My wife and daughter won’t have to keep lifting the wheelchair in and out of the car all day. When we go to the supermarket I’ll be equal to all the other bipeds in the aisles and not be forced into hobnobbing with the only other moving items of my height – the baby carriages and the shopping trolleys.
I haven’t visited my mother for two weeks because to get into her house I have to bump backwards on my bottom along the hall floor like a gigantic insect and haul myself exhausted into a chair. On my last visit I told her that the next time I come in through the front door I’ll be walking. It looks as though I’ll be able to make it.
Diane, the Aldgate tube-bombing victim, was cast some time ago in mid-October and this week her ‘final’ legs arrived with the newly-made sockets attached. She has two C-Legs to my one. ”Perhaps we’ll start an exclusive ‘C-Leg owners club’”, she jokes. She has brand-new plastic feet clad in brand-new trainers. We ask her if the trainers are comfortable and she laughs at our silly joke.
She tries the legs on and the whole ward is thrilled to see her standing at her normal 5’3″ height instead of 4’6″ as she was on her ‘training’ pylon legs. We’ve only ever seen her in the training legs or in a wheelchair. The whole ward feels uplifted.
Just when I feel I can’t have any more good news I hear that Steve, my friend and colleague from work who suffered a fractured skull in a cycling accident, has been moved from the neurological hospital to a hospital nearer home and is showing positive signs of recovery.
*all patients’ names in the following account have been changed at Andrew’s request
Life is good.