Guttmann Gone………….

Sorry guys I know it has been over three months since my last blog!

Flying out to Barcelona I had visions of what was to come. I didn’t expect miracles or some greater power to fix me. I just thought if I worked hard, I mean very hard, everyday that something great might happen, the hard work would pay off and I would regain some sort of movement which would result in some independence. The lack of independence is probably the hardest part of the injury. I mean I would get over being confined to a wheel chair if I could still do all the everyday tasks without relying on someone to help me. If I just pushed myself every single day, surely it would pay off. I had to go, try something with more intensity. I wasn’t ready to go home. I didn’t feel like I had reached a condition that I was satisfied with.

It was tough. I had spent pretty much every night since June is a hospital. That is no place for a 24 year old, no place for anyone. Guttmann was physically demanding, the schedule required stamina and dedication, and once I got into a  routine it was just about keeping mentally sound. Mentally it challenged me the most. Up at 8.30, breakfast, motomed, lokomat, swim, electrical stimulation, OT, transfers/dressing practice/bed mobility, finish at 17.00, rest. Five and a half days a week for three months. The routine still plays over in my mind. It wasn’t necessarily that strict, I just made it that way. I was able to be there purely because of the generosity of thousands of people and the hard work that they had put in to raise funds so I could get out to Barcelona. I had to make it count. I had to give it all I had. I realised early on that this amount of intensity could not be maintained for a long period. It really was a once in a life time opportunity.

I found myself at a point where I was holding back tears as each bolt of electrical current tried to trigger a specific movement. It wasn’t necessarily painful, it was triggering a movement that I hadn’t done for so long. Although it was only a slight flick of the wrist, for me it was like moving a mountain. I was concentrating so hard, sending a signal down to do one movement, a movement that is so simple, right wrist, pause, left wrist, pause, and on like that, and I am wondering, why won’t you move? Then the shock fires and my wrist raises. Mentally I was shuck. Since then I have strengthened that movement, it is still not 100% but it will get there.

When I swam I threw my arms back over my head, the body wanted to stop. But I didn’t. For one hour each day I kept throwing those arms over, thrusting the water back. I kept my chin back and out of the water looking straight up at the ceiling. I just kept throwing those arms back, just keep pushing, don’t think about anything else. It’s simple, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming swimming swimming. I got to a point where I could swim without any floats or assistance.

On the lokomat it was about getting up out of the chair, having the legs do what they are supposed to do, sending signal to the legs and watching them pace. This was exhausting. Trying to tell my legs to take each step. That level of concentration was probably the most difficult. To see yourself walking brings up a variety of feelings. Yes I am walking, but no I actually am not.

When I became so fed up, to the point where I was going to stop and give up, throw in the towel, and I’m wondering why am I doing this, why am I here, I used to take myself back to the ICU in the Matter Hospital and try to remember the condition I was in then and where I am now. If I can take that progress and throw it forward it creates a better vision and then I don’t stop.

It was difficult being so far away from home, friends and family. Darren stayed with me for most of it, Aisling, Mom and Dad came when they could. Otherwise Aisling was working on getting everything set up for me at home, while Mom focused on my Dad’s cancer treatment and being with him. Although I did have a lot of visitors the lack of Irish humour each day was greatly missed. I think that over the 12 weeks I was there, only two weekends went by where someone didn’t fly out to visit me. Those visits obviously lifted my spirits as it created a distraction from the strenuous routine. We exchanged stories.

A young guy in the ward next to me, had a horrific accident where he lost both his feet. One day he came into my ward in his wheelchair. With his extremely limited English, “Nathan, Nathan, hola Nathan”.
“Well, what can I do?”
“Tablet, tablet”, he said pointing at the ipad. “Por favor”
“No problem”, and I pushed the ipad over to him. He took it eagerly and started tapping away. I left him at it. But after a few minutes was I curious as to what he was doing. So I looked over at the screen. He was on the Nike online shop looking at the latest air max shoes. This made me smile. A few weeks later I was in the gym, “Nathan, Nathan.”
I looked up and there he was pointing at his feet. His prosthetic legs were inside a cool pair of Nike Air Max. He gave me the thumbs up, smiled and walked off.

Another guy from Morocco, just 19, he had a higher injury than mine, used to sit opposite from me at OT. Unfortunately he seemed to be quite sad most of the time. He could just about move one arm slightly with no strength. He lacked motivation and when he was given exercises to do he would try once, maybe twice and then give up. He would just stare into space with no interest. I tried to interact with him but with our lack of a common language it was difficult. Every time a half good looking girl passed we would usually just say “chica guapa?” We would then either agree or disagree. He loved that! But he rarely moved his arm or took part in the exercise. One day as I sat next him he was staring into space so took up my weaker left arm and punched him in his arm. Well he didn’t like that all! I brought my body closer to him and encouraged him to punch me back. With all his might he picked up his arm and swung for me. He missed but he didn’t give up trying to hit me until his limp weak hand bounced off my left arm. He had no interest in pushing blocks across the table, he just wanted to punch something. Soon after I started squirting alcohol gel at him. He wasn’t long figuring out a way of getting me back. Then as my hand function got better I used to throw things at him. He would block missiles with his arm and even attempt to throw them back. We had made up our own OT exercises and in fairness the therapists found it entertaining.

Guttmann was great for me. It gave me the freedom to design my own programme (under their guidance) and to do the activities that were good for me, and most importantly good for my head. It provided a high level of intensity that brought me to place of satisfaction. I have been given this injury and I have done my very best to get as far as I could to give me the best start after rehab. Don’t get me wrong NRH was fantastic the quality of the actual physio was higher but it just didn’t give me enough active time during the day to justify being there 24/7.

VIDEOS: locomat swimming


Ski Trip

I wrote this after my ski trip to La Molina in Spain and somehow forgot to post it correctly. Better late than never I suppose.

We had an early start last Thursday morning. The bus was to begin loading 14 patients, and 15 or so family members and helpers aboard at 7 am. A massive 52-seater bus glided into the Guttmann Institute car park. But it was no ordinary bus. It was fully wheelchair-adapted. The mid-section completely opens up and a lift slides out from the hold below. A wide open space is left free inside where wheelchairs can be secured for the journey. One by one we were carried up in to the bus on the lift. Once we were all secured in position the bus left the gates and we were on a trip that would open so many opportunities for everyone on board.

La Molina was the destination. La Molina is the oldest ski resorts in Spain and it is one of the few fully adapted resorts in Europe which accommodates disabled skiing. It offers different types of adaptive skis which cater for all different types of disabilities, they can be positioned on all chair lifts with assistance, and experienced instructors are at hand to teach you the techniques involved and keep you safe while learning.

I had been skiing and snowboarding for many years before my injury. Last April I went to Mayrhofen in Austria to a ski/music festival called Snowbombing with some friends. Seven days of non stop skiing and parties. It was incredible! I think skiing was an activity that I knew I was going to miss and when I found out that a trip to the Alps was being organised I jumped at the opportunity to give it a go at least.

When we arrived at La Molina I was lucky enough to go first. I was placed into my ski-car and some adjustments were made. Some of the basic turning and stopping manoeuvres were explained and then we were away up the moving carpet. Once we got to the top the instructor reined up to my ski-car so as to make the experience safe, probably a bit too safe for my liking, but I suppose it was reassuring to know he was there. We slid down the slope taking mostly uncontrolled turns before reaching the bottom! We continued on this twice more improving and gaining more control and confidence before venturing further into the expansive mountain range where more fun was had. The lesson lasted two hours, we covered more ground than I thought we would.

It was great to get back out on the snow, be back in an outdoor environment that I had grown to love, and see all the breathtaking views that the Pyrenees have to offer. I guess when you suffer a serious injury and the basic everyday tasks become a challenge, you begin to think that extreme activities like skiing are unmanageable. But it is definitely manageable with the right support.

It was really good for me to get out of the gym and hospital and take on a more enjoyable activity. I even found that I used muscles further down my body that I didn’t realise I had access to. This has since helped to support my body and improve my balance a little.

Throughout the lesson my instructor David told me about his involvement with disabled patients and getting them skiing. He explained to me that although I now have limitations, most sports can be adapted to facilitate my needs. It is possible, and I believe him.