Rozalyn’s Accident (2008/06)

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      This is not intended as a load of parental guff, but as account that could provide useful guidelines if you or your family are unfortunate to be involved in an accident. To preclude either myself or SAM of being accused of anything slanderous or libellous or contravening Health & Safety it is of course all fictional, and if you place your tongue in your cheek that will be purely coincidental. Rozalyn is into dinghy sailing and competes at the highest levels. She has been British Champion, European Champion twice, and came third in the World Championships in Sydney, all of which she has done by herself with no financial help at all in representing her country. (cue Grumpy Old Git or Ranting Rider). I mention this so that you will have an idea of how incredibly fit she was at the time of the accident. She would run ten miles after work and before dinner just to fill the odd hour. 
It was a beautiful evening at the end of May last year and she was riding her Suzuki Bandit at about 60mph down the road to Lymington when a van driver coming from the opposite direction decided to turn right across her path with no indication. No time at all to react, but she does remember thinking whilst airborne “This is not going to be good” and she did manage to turn to land on her back. The body went into auto at that point, and she felt no pain but instinctively knew that she shouldn’t move. 
Cue Wendy with her First on Scene. Nobody knew what to do except two men going home, one was a lifeboatman and the other was a fireman, both volunteers and both went into auto working together looking after her and the crash scene. In her words “They were magnificent”, and both quietly left the scene without giving their names. At this point she asked someone to call me, and I could hear the sirens of approaching emergency vehicles, but the only information I got was “Rozalyn has had a motorbike  accident on the Cadnum to Lyndhurst road, but she is alive” Jill and I had just come out of the supermarket and she knew from the tone of my voice that something serious was afoot, and it’s not really surprising that she went rather quiet. That’s right, Jill stopped talking. 
For a traffic accident is it really sensible to send an ambulance staffed by two women medics (nothing against women medics) when one of them is so petite that she is not big enough or strong enough to lift her end of the stretcher into the ambulance? On a similar theme, did you know that there are now so few police cars on our roads that if they are working on one side of the county it can take them 45 minutes to reach an incident on the other side even with the sirens howling. That’s a long time if you are in pain. 
Back home to start doing some research. Tried to phone the local police station to get the right number to call at Lyndhurst or Southampton, but they had closed for the day and didn’t answer. Tried looking it up on the internet, I’m sure it’s there somewhere. In the end said B******** and dialled 999, although it wasn’t a true emergency. They put me through to the Hampshire control room who started with “Accident, what accident?” Eventually, and it was eventually, we ascertained that she had been carted off in an ambulance “to which hospital?” “I couldn’t tell you, probably Southampton General” (Cue GOG on the joined up efficiency of public bodies) This is where we get to the kernel of this article, the accident victim needs someone close for support, someone who can take over all other functions and direct the behind the scenes activities whilst the victim concentrates on recovery. By the time we eventually found that she was in Southampton General, and found the hospital, and then found A&E it was some two hours or more since the accident. I was greeted by “Where the F*** have you been? It took you F****** long enough to get here”
This was the shock talking and as soon as she saw me and said that she started to shake all over because she then knew she didn’t have to ‘hold it all together’ any longer. Rozalyn was obviously very distressed and wanted both Jill and I with her (bear in mind that she is a mature woman, not a teenager) and we were able to soothe her whilst the nurses and doctors examined her and explained her injuries and the immediate treatment to get her through the night. Her pelvis was broken in three places and her wrist was smashed, and she was subsequently assessed as Factor 7 if Factor 1 is alive and 10 is dead.  The medical staff were lovely, but when a bumptious little woman told us for the third time only one person could be by the bed and that they couldn’t be with her when the doctor was present I quietly took her to one side and told her her fortune. We never saw her again, but her attitude was reflected all down the line for months to come. There is very little notice taken of patient needs, the hospitals are run for the benefit of the staff according to procedures administered by staff and patient treatment is a coincidental by-product.
Sorry all you doctors and nurses, we know you are only trying to meet targets and you get frustrated as well. (Cue Ranting Rider on keeping the objectives in mind, cue GOG on government spending of our money). The next morning I contacted Rider Support. Basically they are a no win no fee firm of solicitors, but they specialise in looking after bikers and came to me highly recommended. Their advice was to write down everything that is said, everything that is seen, everything that is heard, and how true and necessary that became. At the time when it was most needed Rozalyn’s wrist was in plaster so she couldn’t have written anything even if she hadn’t been drugged to the eyeballs with morphine. Without making any comment on the medical aspects, in the two weeks that followed the accident Rozalyn was told on an almost daily basis we are going to decide tomorrow whether or not to operate on you. This was unsettling to Rozalyn as a patient because nobody likes the idea of being taken to the theatre and one gets “psyched up” for it, but each day nothing happened and no explanation was given. In addition the doctors had neither the courtesy to introduce themselves nor to talk directly to Rozalyn, she was just “the body in the bed”. It later transpired that there were several doctors and surgeons in the hierarchy with different ones for wrist and pelvis, and one of the surgeons making the decision “tomorrow” was actually on holiday, but the medical staff on the ward hadn’t been told. 
The sailing world is well spread but the news flashed round like wildfire and within a couple of days I’d had to set up an email bush telegraph, I’d relay the news to the immediate circle of thirty or so and they would hit the Forward buttons to the next level. We also had our first physiotherapist, let’s call her the Post-Op Physio because there are more to come. She was in Scotland and strangely enough worked a lot with old folks, thus she saw a lot of replacement knees and hips. Her email listed the drugs that we needed to get (not offered by the NHS, too useful and too cheap) with this one to reduce the bruising, that one to aid bone knitting, another to help control the pain, and all available over the internet from a pill poppers paradise. Interesting point, the advice was not to be a martyr to the pain but to use drugs to control it rather than to suddenly need huge doses to get you off the ceiling. Comments Wendy? 
The supermarkets also saw a huge blip in sales of prunes. Hospital food and inactivity can have awful effects and the prunes really do help, apart from being a tasty snack and healthier than sweets. Grandma knew what she talking about. But there are always the funny aspects, and it’s not just the men who pick up a female urine bottle and peer closely at it from all angles before asking what it is, and some of the guesswork caused a lot of pain with screams of “Don’t make me laugh”. (It’s shaped like a shoe). The next thing was that Rozalyn and I had to be taught how to get her out of bed, remember that she can feel the broken pelvis grinding together which obviously causes pain, and in theory she could fall apart in the middle and end up with her hips round her ears as the rest of her slips down the middle. When we started it took fifteen minutes to get from prone to sitting on the edge of the bed before the big lift to upright. At this stage we are starting to think about how to get her out before the hospital kills her with a superbug, but more of that later.
The criteria is that she must be able to do four stairs with crutches, but crutches don’t appear until you start to make a nuisance of yourself by asking everyone in sight where have they left your crutches, could have done with Ranting Rider. We are now about two weeks after the accident and all the leg muscles have atrophied, a process that starts within hours, and all that running is now just a memory. The first trip to the loo, front to back of the Club room?, was too much for her and she had to be wheeled back to bed.  It’s not just the physical aspects that have to be considered, but the emotional ones as well. The hormones have been shot to hell, and then the sensibilities are bombarded by the frustration of not being able to do simple tasks so do you sulk, shout, swear, sweat, simper, or just save the decision until Dad arrives and then hit him with every emotion you have. Then offer him a prune. 
The medical staff had advised us that to have her at home (I swear that girl is on a bungee, I kick her out and a few years later ….) we would need specialist equipment, starting with a full sized all singing all dancing electric hospital bed costing £3000. But the hospital couldn’t supply this to us because they were in Southampton and we were in Portsmouth (National? Health Service). What they could do however was send a priority request to Portsmouth. I heard nothing so I called the Portsmouth equipment suppliers, and after the phone had rung for ten minutes the receiver was lifted and dropped. It became apparent that their policy was to let it ring because then the caller would get fed up and go away. Anyway, start again. When I asked what was happening I was given the stock answer of three to five working days if we have it in stock. When I pointed out that they had received a priority request several hours earlier I was told “if it came in this morning we wouldn’t have looked at that yet”. Excrement was applied to a high speed fan.
It’s all a matter of perseverance. Deliberately phone the wrong department, oh dear, I’m so sorry, I was given this number for the Head of Whatever, can you tell me what extension I should have please. Then you phone the right number and the secretary says I’m afraid Mrs Chutzpa isn’t available, so now you have the name to go with the number. Then call the helpline and ask for the email address of anyone and that will give you the format for their system. Now you can call in a voice exuding authority and casually ask Can I speak with Debbie please?  I spoke quietly, Debbie listened quietly, and then said “I’ll call you back”. An hour later she called me and it was all sorted, maybe not according to the regulations and procedures in place but it was sorted. Debbie was truly a professional manager, and if we had a few more of her we’d have a National Health Service, and you can put the emphasis on any of those three words.  She told me that she had spoken with the medical staff and the physios and that was the end of the need for a bed, we could use an electric back lifter that would be more than adequate and a lot more adaptable.
Also arranged was a raised toilet seat. a frame that would help Rozalyn roll over, crutches, and an ambulance to bring her home. All I had to do was to get a large car over to the hospital to collect the equipment and the ward staff would have it waiting for me. I don’t think anyone ever actually cancelled the bed from Portsmouth, but one never turned up anyway. If she could research the requirements, find the kit, and solve the problem in an hour just think what a whole hospital with a working  system could have done. But now we get to the silly bit. We have a lady with a broken body and a very active mind. At this point she can just about do four steps to the loo and four steps back so if she wants a little relief from the bed she will need a wheelchair. The hospitals don’t do wheelchairs. For those you have to go to the Red Cross, but the hospital gave me a list of the phone numbers of the various Red Cross outlets in Hampshire, what a pity it turned out to be at least four years out of date. So I started to phone the Red Cross offices and, bearing in mind that it is a charity staffed by unpaid volunteers, you don’t expect it to be super efficient. Neither do you expect it to have been almost annihilated by Head Office imposing silly rules with quotas and targets. The one that sticks in my mind the most is the phone that was answered by an Old Dear. No, she didn’t have a chair; she and her sister used to run their little Red Cross office from home and hold two chairs which they kept in the hall. But the bean counters decreed that they were not cost effective (what cost?) and efficient so they took the chairs away. How long does it take to say “Have you got a chair please?” and for her to reply “Not any more”.
Well, half an hour later it was very evident that running this little operation had been a major part of her life, it gave her a reason for living, it enabled her to meet people, she had telephone interaction with friends and colleagues, she was a sympathetic shoulder, and she asked for nothing. Now, that was exactly what she had – NOTHING.  But I did eventually find a wheelchair on Hayling, so off I went in the car to collect it, having been warned that the entrance was in the car park and the traffic warden was a zealot even if you were on a mission of mercy. Inside the Red Cross hut they had loads of commodes and hundreds of crutches, do you want to know why? The hospitals won’t accept them back because they are not sterile. It’s true, the hospitals will only give you crutches straight from the sterile polythene bag. No, I don’t know how much they cost, but it would be a lot more environmentally friendly to just tear up banknotes. Anyone got any ideas how to recycle crutches, fancy motorbike jousting? And it was probably the last available chair in Hampshire because the NHS won’t pay for new ones and the Red Cross already struggles to find money because so much goes on Compliance Statements. Am I starting to vent my feelings? By the evening I was knackered, nearly on my knees having driven almost from one side of the county to the other chasing and collecting bits, so I collapsed in the chair to see a Paramedic at the window asking if he could deliver a daughter. We were glad to see her, even on a stretcher, because that morning a patient had arrived on the hospital ward for an operation.
The surgeon came to see her and explained that they had had to cancel the operation but if she stayed on the ward she would be first in line for when they could do the op, probably in about a week, or she could go home and she would go back onto the waiting list. Whilst she was weighing up the pros and cons the surgeon advised her to go home, at least at home she wouldn’t catch any nasty bugs and she would still be alive in six weeks time. She packed and Rozalyn yelled for her crutches. Fills you with confidence, doesn’t it? Because I work from home it was decided that Jill would continue with her normal routine because I was more able to adapt to looking after Rozalyn. She was determined to try a little walk each day but the stairs were giving her a lot of pain. We called the local surgery to see when the doctor would call for a post hospital visit because she was discharged with only the drugs from the evening rounds and no prescription. It was just as well we did call because in three weeks nobody had told the surgery that she was in hospital and nobody had told them that she was being discharged and would need post operative care.  Just a repeat of previous lessons, if you want anything get on and organise it because those that should do it are too busy avoiding it so that they have time to fill in forms showing targets achieved. At this point we also organised the second physio, the Recovery Physio, and Vicki was absolutely brilliant.
She arrived the next morning, told Rozalyn to go down the stairs and then back up, and then went ballistic because the hospital physios hadn’t shown Rozalyn how to walk with crutches. Remember that she is just hanging together in the middle, the muscles have atrophied, and she can’t feel her pelvis. Her brain, her muscles, and her bones have gone out of sync and aren’t talking to each other. Vicki showed her how to keep her hips in the correct position and the pain magically disappeared, as simple as that, it took five minutes and without drugs. The hospital cure was another set of pills. Vicki then came three times a week with a variety of equipment, and some of those exercises were killers. I know because I got roped in for moral support, straight out of bed, quick warm-up, tie a 2kg weight to each ankle, and from a sitting position raise the each leg in turn to the horizontal and lower in a controlled manner. Then do it another nineteen times. Go on, actually try it. We’ll do the difficult and strenuous ones later. It was six weeks after Rozalyn came home that the hospital phoned to offer her a 30 minute physio appointment once a week if she attended their clinic. Just about ten times too little nine weeks late. By that time Rozalyn was doing five hours a day of physio, and way beyond my capabilities. By this time I was also a ‘carer’ so we decided to investigate getting Carer’s Allowances. These are available from the government and open up a whole raft of support options. Don’t bother! You have to have already been doing it for at least three months and already receiving a disability benefit etc etc. Not a chance unless you happen to be in Dover without a passport. 
We had some funny moments and we had of course the ups and downs. There was the highlight of the first walk outside, still with crutches, and we went all the way to the lamppost. And then straight back to bed to recover. We had to go to Queen Alexandra in Portsmouth for the cast to be removed from her wrist, and the fracture clinic there has had a reputation ever since I can remember for taking a long time. I phoned the consultant’s secretary explaining that we would be coming in but that with a broken pelvis Rozalyn could only stand with crutches for a very short time and that she couldn’t sit in an upright chair at all (at home she sat on the settee supported by cushions and pillows on both sides, behind her back, and under her feet). I followed this with a letter confirming our conversation, and again confirmed with the secretary that the letter had been received. What was the first thing they said when we arrived? “Take a seat over there” My turn to go ballistic. Next problem; they said we’ll have to take X-rays. Remember now that getting her in and out of bed is still a two person job so an X-ray slab is not a happy prospect. “Why” I enquired “can’t you access the X-rays and the scans at Southampton, because they told us that it could be done from anywhere in the country” “Oh” was the reply “It can be done, but we still use the old system and the two systems are not compatible”. Silly question, I suppose. 
It was a true day to remember when we went off in her car to a big empty car park, and I got out of the driver’s seat and she got in. We figured that if she could do an emergency stop she could drive again, but even in a car she was very nervous for quite some time. It did mean though that we could get bungee girl out of our house and back to her flat, and Jill and I could go on holiday. Over the forthcoming months Rozalyn gradually recovered physically, but to get fit she was spending a minimum of an hour and a half in the gym after work each day. The physiotherapist was changed again to one specialising in sports injuries and she worked in conjunction with a sports personal trainer. It all sounds over the top and to look at Rozalyn you wouldn’t think anything was wrong, but to put it into perspective it was nine months after the accident before she could even attempt a gentle jog, and that was on a trampoline. It was almost a year to the day when I received a phone call from her with a very excited voice screaming at me “I felt my pelvis tonight”, it had taken a year for the brain and pelvis to re-establish a connection. It is now over a year since the accident and running is now a very gentle affair, no pounding the pavements, and she still cannot sit on a cycle. The injury that still concerns us the most is the continuing back pain and that will need further investigation.
The most serious aspects of that are that she cannot wear high heels for long and she cannot stand at the bar for more than fifteen minutes, both very high on the requirements list. Nine months after the accident she saw a Consultant for our insurers, who said “I’ll see you again in a year” and after twelve months she saw a Consultant for the third party’s insurers. This one is going to run and run. So what are the lessons we should learn before having an accident?  It definitely helps to be fit and well before being broken. Have someone to hand to fight your corner for you. Your only job should be to recover, but you will get nothing if you don’t ask for it and insist on getting it, but you just won’t have the strength to bother. Get a Dad. Get a decent physiotherapist as soon as possible. Everybody thinks of them as people in blue uniforms that stop you falling over, and perhaps many are, but good ones are worth their weight. The surgeon knows how to repair the body but the physio knows how to make it work again. Get decent legal support, not the local solicitor but someone who knows his specialist subject and can get you interim help to keep going. Why the last bit? Because the first year after the accident has cost £20,000.  That is not compensation, not my time nor any of my costs, just Rozalyn’s loss of earnings and treatment costs. 
For us, the story continues as we start year two.

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