I was thinking how I could best sum up my last few weeks at Oaksey House, so, I thought I’d use a few words that truly describe it to start us off — no limits, breakthroughs and an utterly incredible feeling.
I have had an extremely full-on three weeks at Oaksey House, and even though I am starting to become quite shattered, I get excited about the start of every day and what’s next on the list to achieve or what the physio’s have in store for me in terms of different ideas and goals to reach in the future.
Since I had my accident in July 2012, I have either been in hospital or living with my parents in Cornwall, so my time up at Oaksey recently has been my longest spell away from them. I am very grateful for everything they have done for me through some horrendous times, but I am so proud to be coming out the other side and gaining my independence and life back.
The only thing that is slightly debatable has got to be my skills in the kitchen! I’m a liability and shouldn’t be allowed in there — end of. On my first night back at Oaksey I went to cook my speciality ‘pesto pasta’ but yet again the hob caused me grief. The next day I had a kind but very smug Rob Treviss fix it for me, and needless to say my ‘Hobby’ nickname still stands.
When my good friend Beth came for supper, I have to say the majority of the ingredients I used were out of date (apart from the chicken). Thankfully there were no ill effects. Needless to say, news of my cooking obviously soon spread throughout the Reading area and by the time another friend Katie came for supper, she opted for going out for a meal. Good choice.
On the Sunday before I started at Oaksey again, I was involved with helping my brother (Jamie Hext) run a ‘Tall Ships viewing car park’ from St Mawes, overlooking where the Tall Ships race started. It had a spectacular view and it was a stunning day. I was helping out with directing and parking cars for the day (pictured above right). I had some seriously good signalling skills going on with my crutches which caused a lot of comments and smiles all-round.
More major milestones smashed
I am in complete shock at the amount that I have managed to achieve in such a relatively short period of time at Oaksey House. They really do make you feel like anything is possible, and I believe them. I don’t think I was so convinced at the beginning, but having seen my progress I think if you want some thing badly enough you can strive to achieve some pretty exceptional goals.
At the forefront of my achievements would definitely have to be swimming for the first time since my accident (pictured below left). It was such an incredible feeling, and it opens so many doors in terms of helping me therapeutically plus it’s great for my overall fitness.
I found it extremely difficult to trust that the rest of my body could just swim, no matter what my left leg was doing to start with. Once I had broken down this barrier in my head, I was away. I had a ‘woggle float’ around me, and Nadia (a neurological physio) behind me for a while. I then realised she had let go of me half-way across the pool without me noticing. I looked back and she just said ‘keep swimming’. This was just the start, by the end I had no float around me and I was doing lengths of the pool!
My birthday was last week and the best present I could ask for was the staggering improvements I am making. Granted, a lot of what I do looks slightly unconventional at the moment, but my God have I come a long way. It felt great to enjoy my birthday out of hospital and off the opiates. Just to clarify to everyone, I have decided I’m only 24-years-old (I am in fact 26) as the last two years don’t count! I had an incredible evening and was spoilt rotten by my friends Beth Robertson and Becky Brookes. Cake, fajitas, party hats, balloons and enjoying the feeling of being so well.
I had hydro-therapy on my birthday, and we continued with improving my swimming and controlling my spasms. Front crawl is the best stroke for me, and back-stroke has to be the worst as it sends my spasms into a complete turmoil. I had Nadia holding me up and two floats and it was still very ‘interesting’. I even managed to do a birthday somersault in the pool, and before you ask, it was totally intentional.
I felt like I was in a proper swimming session with Andy (another of the physios) when we did pyramid training sets. I was very surprised how well my body coped with it and I loved it. We also did walking in the pool, with me holding Andy’s hands and going from side to side. My next aim is to get my tumble turns sorted and then I’ll be away.
Making headway with my walking
My interesting style of walking has come on leaps and bounds (that’s probably not the best pun to use). My foot placement is still a huge issue, as the foot ends up on its side the majority of the time. This is due to the spasms and the fact that I can’t lift the front of my foot to place it.
The last few weeks have been full of trying out new pieces of equipment to aid with my foot placement and general walking pattern. I have even been on the treadmill, not only walking forwards, but backwards as well. I do find this a bit un-nerving but I can now actually walk backwards better than forwards. The idea is to get a bit of a rhythm up and focus on the placement. I sometimes need some help from the physios with initiating that foot placement.
The incredible bionic leg has been back in use again. This time I have been using it to try and learn to walk in it. I managed to get some fantastic steps and some great foot placement. The latest gadget that we are using to help my foot placement is FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation). This is extremely exciting for the future as it will be a tool I can use to help me walk most of the time. The FES has a foot switch in the right shoe and that initiates the left foot to pick up and stop me dragging my foot on its side. So, not only does Rob electrocute me daily, I now have Nadia electrocuting me when I am walking. I suppose it is one way to fire it all into action!
I really feel like my body is beginning to get a lot stronger physically. This is from the combination of physio, gym work, strength and conditioning with Mike Peacock and FES Bike and massage with Rob. I am certainly beginning to get used to the FES Bike and the feeling of being electrocuted. I find this extremely beneficial and I am making some slow improvements.
Is it goodbye to getting on from the lift?
I’m hoping I may have mastered a way of getting on a horse without needing the lift. I have been practicing on the Equicizer, and I can balance through my left leg — it just need a helping hand getting it into the stirrup and then I can get on. I am hoping this all goes according to plan on an actual horse. I can also get on the wrong side, if all else fails.
I can’t wait to put this into practice when I get back to Lakefield with Mark and Becky. I am desperate to be back in the saddle again.
Weekends out and social
My weekends have been great fun and I was very lucky to be able to stay at Lucy Dickenson and Jordon Riley’s again for both weekends. The highlight of my first weekend had to be spending the day at a Pony Club Show at Rectory Farm watching Saffi Aiuto competing. She certainly had a successful day and came home with a heap of rosettes. We all had a massive picnic, and it felt like old times (pictured right). Lots of laughing and possibly too much at times, so my leg spasms joined in and kicked someone in the leg!
My second weekend was filled with a trip to Blenheim International Horse Trials. It was such a fantastic day and I managed to catch up with a lot of friends. The pinnacle of my day was finally meeting Claire Lomas face to face (pictured below left). She’s been my inspiration the whole way through my accident, she just never gives up and the work she is doing for the Nicholls Spinal Injury Foundation is phenomenal. I am going to help out with the Pogo night on 24 January, and I’m already looking forward to it.
I nearly didn’t make it back to the shuttle bus which took you back to the car park, as my legs were so tired. I was getting some very strange looks. I think people thought I was drunk on my crutches looking at the different directions my legs were going in!
I’d just like to say a massive ‘thank-you’ to everyone that has helped me get this far. Whether it’s been supporting me emotionally, physically or financially, you know who you are. I couldn’t have got here without all of you.
I am definitely going to miss not being an in-patient at Oaksey House. It’s such a fantastic atmosphere and a great group of people to be around. I will be heading back to Oaksey at the beginning of October but as an out-patient, and I will fit it in around being back working at B&W Equine Vets.