Helen


I had been travelling in Chile for 2 weeks and was staying in a little town, a tourist gateway to the Atacama Desert, San Pedro de Atacama. I had walked on salt plains, and seen wild flamingos flying overhead whilst I swam in natural hot springs, and visited volcanic geysers giving off their sulphuric gases. On my last day I was on a tour driving out to some salt plains. It had rained the night before which had made the unsealed roads very dangerous. However, as we were behind schedule the minibus driver decided to go way too fast and he lost control of the van. I remember looking up through the window as the rear end of the bus slid round and the road ahead disappeared. Last thing I remember was the motion of the minibus tipping over and putting out an arm to catch myself.

I came to on the ground having been thrown from the vehicle. My neck was resting on the edge of the window frame.  My entire body felt tingly, with pins and needles. I could not get up, I could not move.

Initially, I was treated in The ITU in a hospital in Antofagasta, Chile.  Whilst I was there they operated on my neck putting in a fixation at C4/5, and kept me intubated on a ventilator to help me breathe.  I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move. I vaguely knew where I was but nobody at home, none of my family, knew where I was. It was only through Facebook and Missing Persons that I was eventually tracked down.

Eventually when I did get back to Southport spinal unit, I was in quite a mess but I felt so happy, so relieved to be surrounded by such a good team of people – and they spoke English!  I was given a tracheotomy, and vented for a further 3 or 4 months before I was finally weaned off it. I know I was pretty out of it for a long while, I was on so many meds. I was fed through a nose tube, and was finally introduced to life with double incontinence.  I was in such shock that it took me months and months to begin to even start processing what had happened.

My parents were at last able to visit me. They had not seen each other for over 15 years having divorced when I was a teenager. When I woke up In Southport for the first time, and saw them standing there side-by-side looking down at me…   I will never forget how grey and awful that moment was.

They were both incredibly supportive, far more than I will ever really know or understand. I was incredibly lucky to have them visit me whenever they could (which was fairly frequently), and wider family and friends stunned me with how much care and support they gave.

SIA also provided support to me in many ways.  Their Peer Support Officer would come around the unit every week.  She would make sure to stop by and would let me say whatever I needed to say, or ask questions or simply just sit with me and let me know I wasn’t alone in this. For me personally knowing other people had lived through it, and were carrying on with their lives was so important.

Since leaving the unit almost 8 years ago now, I have moved house, live independently, have a dog that I adore, and returned to work as a teacher. I think perhaps the biggest achievement for me was going back to university to study for my masters which I have nearly completed.

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