Home Just One More Mile Logo
About Us Routes Equipment Blogs Gallery The Good Life Links

Eastern Europe Trip

A year of adventure and misfortune - the story of our Eastern Europe trip, the accident and subsequent recovery, and our lives up until September 2008... For the latest blog, click on Blogs in the header...

Thursday, 28 August 2008


One Year On...

Last weekend saw not only Tracy’s birthday, but also the anniversary of the events in Slovakia that put paid to our Round-the-World aspirations, and left Tracy with lasting injuries that will probably prevent her from ever riding a motorcycle again. Whilst I don’t want to revisit what happened at just past 3 o’clock on 23rd August last year, I do think it’s worth reflecting on events since. So, taking a deep breath, and trying to stop my hands from shaking (which makes typing difficult!), here goes…

In the aftermath of the accident Tracy and I were briefly separated as she was rushed to hospital whilst I was interviewed by police before my own ambulance ride. That separation, which lasted only about 19 hours, was the worst part of the whole experience for me. I was unsure what injuries Tracy had, although the doctor had confirmed she had a broken back “but this time she is lucky, she will walk again” were his exact words. I knew she was in a lot of pain, and whilst they kept reassuring me that she was “sedated, she sleeps now”, I could imagine her waking from the anaesthetic in a blind panic as she tried to make herself understood and find out what had happened to me. I slept fitfully that night, and the enormous sense of relief when she was finally wheeled into the room I had been moved to will remain with me forever. For me, that was the turning point. From then I knew she’d be OK, and that my job was to get her home and look after her. I didn’t know the true extent of her injuries, or have any idea about how long it would take for her to recover, but I knew the accident, for me, was over. The small matter of my broken knee didn’t bother me at all, it would heal and it was a sign that I’d been involved too. In some strange way, I was glad I’d been hurt too. If I hadn’t been, my guilt would have been overwhelming. As it was, I still felt responsible for what happened. I still do, despite endless reassurances from the police, Tracy and the Slovakian courts, who proclaimed the truck driver entirely to blame and banned him from driving and gave him a suspended sentence. It was my decision to overtake, and Tracy was my responsibility. I felt is was safe to do so – clearly, otherwise I’d have held back – but as it turned out, it wasn’t. Pure and simple. I’ve increased my safety margin as a result, but never for one minute did I think I’d not get back on a bike again. I can’t imagine life without riding, although I now have to accept that Tracy won’t ride again, and probably won’t ride pillion either. Her scars are very deep.

Whilst my accident ended on that morning, Tracy’s didn’t. She has had to undergo the most painful of recoveries. She suffered a lot in Slovakia as a result of very poor pain management, and the language barrier which made dealing with the multiple injuries even more difficult. The boost when the German flying doctor turned up was probably the only high point of the whole experience for her, as that was the first time she was given proper pain relief and could converse with her medical carers in English. But it was a short-lived respite, as she was soon back in hospital, this time in England, but where the treatment could start in earnest. The first day was taken up with endless tests, scans and transfers from the relative comfort of her hospital bed to a hospital trolley via a flat, hard, back board. I watched the pain in her eyes as she was carefully transferred from one to the other over and over again. Each time I had visions of them slipping and her broken vertebrae moving and severing her spine. I blocked out these images, naturally, hoping that Tracy would not recognise the concern in my eyes – or at least put it down to me just being concerned about her pain. Her bravery during the early days impressed me immensely. I’ve always known she was a brave person, strong willed and determined, but in those early days, as she dealt with the pain of 8 broken ribs, 3 broken vertebrae, her de-gloved arm and all the other fractures, her strength amazed me. I did what I could to encourage her, of course, but there can be no doubt her inner strength got her through it.

After the draconian treatment given to her arm when the specialists realised that the attempt to re-attach her muscles and skin to her forearm had failed, the skin-graft came as something of a relief. The pain was still intense, but without the vacuum dressing that they had put on after removing the dead tissue, it was pain of recovery, rather than of “destruction before the rebuild”. She was on the mend. And shortly after, she was home again, albeit wearing a back brace and entirely dependant on me for everything. Looking after my sick wife was not quite what I had been looking forward to in the first few months of our marriage, but it seemed perfectly natural, and I just did what was needed. Good job I’m not squeamish. It still didn’t feel like I’d got my wife back, though, and we struggled to try and find a balance in our lives again. Fortunately I had excellent support from work, and when it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to work from home whilst caring for Tracy as planned, I was given unpaid leave until Christmas. And so my focus was on Tracy exclusively, and we formed a routine around her needs and the visits from the District Nurses who came to change the dressings on her arm. In the weeks after the skin graft progress was very spasmodic. Some days we were convinced the arm was healing really well and would be fully healed by the following week. Other days, we’d spot the degradation and have to face the reality that healing would take a while longer… if only we’d know then that even now it wouldn’t be healed, we’d have given up in despair!

Gradually life took on a sense of “normality” and we prepared for our first Christmas as husband and wife. Then, on the morning of 17th December, it all went badly wrong. Tracy woke up in pain – there was nothing unusual about that, as most mornings she did – but also desperate for the loo. I put on her back brace as normal, but she was unable to move her right leg. She was very frightened, and so was I. I’m sure we were both convinced something really bad had happened and that she would be paralysed. But I wouldn’t let her dwell on that – and she wouldn’t let me either, as she was desperate for the loo! I helped her onto the commode and then to stand again. It became clear she was in much more pain than usual, and that her leg wasn’t going to start working on its own. I put her back to bed and called for an ambulance to take her back to Hope and the spinal unit she’d been discharged from a couple of months earlier. The journey to the hospital was simply the worst moments since the impact of the truck. Flat on a back board and unable to have pain relief so she could be effectively examined on admission, Tracy was in complete agony. Every bump on every road on the way to the hospital would have her screaming. All I could do was hold her hand and try not to cry. My feeble words of encouragement seemed wholly inadequate, and I felt completely useless. Shortly after arrival she was given some pain relief and the scans showed no further nerve damage. The rollercoaster was back on its way up again, and the relief that she’d not done anything permanent was like being given a shot of pure happiness. But by now, we’d been on the rollercoaster for so long we were waiting for the downturn. For the moment we’d be screaming in fear again.

But it wasn’t screaming in fear that followed. It was yet more pain for Tracy. The operation to fuse her spine was conducted on Christmas Eve, meaning I’d now given her the worst birthday and worst Christmas presents she’s ever had – in our first year of marriage, too. The operation was a complete success, but it’s such a severe operation that it would take months before her pain levels receded. As it was, it took until March before she would regain sufficient control over her legs and her hand to be discharged from the rehab unit and allowed home.

The first few days and weeks she was home were fantastic. We had our belated Christmas, followed a week later by Easter. We went out together, visiting Yorvik Viking centre in York, and generally got on with our lives. I’d returned to work in January, as Tracy was in hospital, and continued to work and live what for me was a “normal” life. But inside Tracy was facing another battle. Whilst her back was healing and she was able to continue physio on her hand – and with the usual dressing changes, endless anti-biotics to tackle yet another infection in her wound – her mind was slowly starting to recoil from the mental effects of the trauma. Whilst in hospital she had suffered from severe nightmares and flashbacks of the accident. These had been so severe the nursing staff had frequently sat up with her most of the night. On the rehab unit she had taken to trying to stay awake all night rather than face them. These nightmares were symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a condition that affects those who have been through a severely disturbing, traumatic, event. Usually one in which the sufferer is convinced they are about to die. Tracy had been through that during the accident, when she had clear visions of the truck crushing her. I hadn’t. As they say, anyone who has not been in that type of situation can’t really begin to understand the effect PTSD has. The nightmares and flashbacks are only a part of it. There’s severe depression too. So whilst my life was back into a ‘normal’ pattern, Tracy’s was far from it. She continued to see her neuropsychologist, Russell, and now the nightmares are less frequent.

And so to the present. A full year since the accident and Tracy’s arm has still not quite healed from the skin-grafts, although we’re once again optimistic it will do soon. The patch of unhealed skin is now smaller than it’s ever been (today it’s about the size of 2 5p pieces). Her elbow, shoulder and wrist still have very limited movement, and probably always will. Her right hand has good movement, but little strength. Her back has healed, but also lacks strength and is frequently very painful, especially if she sits in one place for any length of time. She’s still battling the effects of PTSD, but is showing clear signs she’s winning the war.

This week we picked up her new car – a brand new Mini under the motability scheme. She’s “back on the road again” and her smile has returned, big style. The icing on the cake is the personalised number plate I bought her for her birthday. She’s mobile again, and that’s doing her the power of good.

Tracy picks up her new Mini...

And best of all, tomorrow we’re flying off to Las Vegas to start a short 2-week tour of the area – from Zion National Park via Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon and back via Phoenix. I’ll update the blog and post a few pictures when I get chance…

The journey continues, and now it’s heading back in the right direction, and we’re making “good progress”…. Life is Good…

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home


August 2007   September 2007   October 2007   November 2007   December 2007   January 2008   February 2008   March 2008   April 2008   May 2008   June 2008   July 2008   August 2008   September 2008  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]

© 2007 All text and images appearing on this site are Copyright Paul and Tracy Beattie and must not be reproduced in any form without prior written permission