Almost ten years ago my whole world was turned upside down when I had a life-changing accident whilst my husband was 2 weeks into a deployment on Op Herrick 7.
I was working as a groom on Exmoor and one day whilst out riding I fell off the horse. A fall which resulted in a broken back, L1 vertebrae to be exact! I was air lifted to North Devon District Hospital by the Devon Air Ambulance, flat on a spinal board not knowing what had happened. Needless to say, my whole world fell apart! Over and over in my head I was thinking, what damage had I’d done, and would I walk again. It was so frightening and all I wanted was my husband by my side.
As soon as they knew what had happened, 40CDO and RMB Chivenor Welfare Team couldn’t have arrived any quicker. They were an amazing support to me at what was probably the lowest point I have ever been in my life.
I lay in hospital waiting to be stable enough to have an operation, but it wasn’t to be as on my third day as an inpatient I picked up a bug – just to put a cherry on top of the whole situation! This meant that I couldn’t be moved and was placed in a band B grade for spinal injuries which basically categorised me as ‘don’t know if she’ll walk again’.
As soon as the doctors told us this the welfare team put a plan in place to get my husband home as soon as possible. No mean feat when he’s on active duty hundreds of miles away.
He was working in Recce Troop at the time and was out beyond the front line. The first he knew of my accident was when a Chinook landed and gave him a ten-minute warning to pack his kit, get on board and start the journey home. He got the next flight out of Bastion Airbase and a driver was waiting for him at Brize Norton to drive him home to change and then bring him to see me in hospital. Both 40CDO and Chivenor welfare teams spoke with him to update him on what had happened before he saw me. It was then you realise that in a crisis situation the military welfare machine really comes into its own and will do everything they can to support you.
By this point both welfare teams had visited me every day in hospital and helped keep me sane! I knew them all very well and had come to rely on them.
By this time, I was ready for my op and the worst journey ever, 2.5 hrs by road ambulance to Exeter on a spinal board, closely followed by my husband in his car. We were met by the welfare team at the hospital supporting us both every step of the way. Two weeks after the accident I finally went to theatre for an operation. I’ll never forget the fear I felt at the thought of ‘what if it all goes wrong’? In my head I was thinking, what if the worst happens? I can’t put my husband through being married to a woman who can’t walk.
The operation was 5 hours long and the amazing surgeons made me the ‘bionic woman’. They removed a rib on my left side, put it in a titanium cage and then fixed it to my L1, L2 and T12 vertebrae to hopefully then fuse them all together. I woke from the operation very groggy but in good spirits and determined to face any challenges with a smile and ‘I can do this’.
The guys from welfare continued to make daily visits whilst I was in hospital recovering and in rehab which we really appreciated. They were in the midst of supporting families left behind whilst their husbands and partners were on a full operational tour, so we knew just how much they were trying to juggle.
When I was ready to leave hospital welfare also arranged for various items to help me with the simplest tasks too. Like a tool for getting my socks on and a raised loo! They became our voice and fought for everything for us. Most importantly for my husband to stay with me until I could do basic daily tasks too. Simple things like negotiating the stairs unaided.
Two months after the accident the time came for my husband to go back on to Afghanistan. The support from Welfare stepped up a notch again and their visits were more frequent until I reached a point that I was on track to recovery and also in a better head space. They didn’t cut support completely and I still had regular calls and weekly visits right up until the end of the Tour and beyond.
My personal experience of the welfare system was amazing. The support that they gave me, and my family really was ‘above and beyond’ what anyone would expect. They gave me friendship and support at a time that was incredibly hard and when I needed it the most. When it works it works brilliantly!
Ten years on, I’m pleased to say I’m fighting fit and have gone on to have two beautiful boys.