Last month marked the passing of four years since the most major and serious incident of my life – being hit by a car as I was crossing the road one cold evening in February 2011 – an incident which could have radically altered the course of my life. Or ended it. I’ve been thinking about it recently, thinking how incredibly fortunate I am that I wasn’t left seriously crippled (or crippled at all) and that I’m able to practice the yoga I do in the way that I do.
The incident left me with a shattered right ankle (which required a steel plate – that’s my ankle in the picture accompanying this post, punctuated by screws that look like they’ve been bought from a local DIY store), a fractured left heel, a punctured lung and a fractured vertebra (L1) – a wedge fracture, meaning that the vertebra will always be compressed. Very miraculously I was back on my feet teaching yoga at a three week retreat Debbie and I had booked to teach just 8 weeks after the accident. I’m always gobsmacked myself whenever I say or write it. I attribute the recovery primarily three things: 1) to yoga – the yoga I’d done leading up to it meant my body was in a very healthy state to enter into healing mode pretty much instantly. At least that’s what it felt like. And the yoga I did after acted as my physio and psychotherapy; 2) to diet – I had hospital food only once in the two weeks I was hospitalized (more out of curiosity by that point) and had all manner of food brought in, from bone-healing ayurvedic curries that my mum made to all super food laden meals by then boyfriend brought in everyday; and 3) to being surrounded by such pure and genuine love and being made aware of the incredible people I had and have in my life who all seemed to create a bubble of utter warmth and care around my bed whenever I was visited. And maybe 4) to my iPhone on which I watched documentaries and movies and funny dog videos in those lonely hours outside visiting hours.
Ever since I left the UK in 2001 and went to live in Japan, I’ve written journals… I have stacks of scribbles in volumes of books that I’ve made over the years and for the last several have written electronically. As the accident had been on my mind recently, I went back and found the entries I made after the accident and am sharing a couple here for no reason other than to let readers into that difficult period of my life and to reiterate the extraordinary healing effects of yoga. Or maybe I just want to do something with these memoirs of mine. Read ahead if you want to…
Pedestrian vs Car (the imaginative name of my police file)
pedestrian vs car. happened now almost three weeks ago on the night of the 7th feb 2011… after a long day in a line of very long days and weeks even though it was a monday… another day of feeling like a hamster stuck on wheel that keeps on turning… every now and then managing to slow down the pace but the pace seeming to have a life all of its own despite me being at the helm. i remember thinking pretty much everyday that i just had to make it to april, to the yoga retreat in sri lanka… that things would be different after that, that i’d move to kentish town with andrew and create a life of simplicity and domestic bliss, perhaps unconsciously aware of my tendency to want to do 100% of all the things that stimulate and inspire me in life. all i had to do for now was keep running around, keep up the pace, drink those triple shot coffees, keep up the frantic energy levels and the lack of time. just. keep. going.
the evening of the 7th was another one of these long days… I was up at 5.15am to go practice, a full, two and half hour practice where I remember being worked particularly hard… a tube to work, ready for day one of a new group of our NEXT project, day 1 of 24 days ahead. i remember loving the morning, feeling excited at the latent potential of a new group of unknown individuals but somehow tipping over later on, getting frustrated and annoyed at how neurotic and needy people can be in the afternoon, looking forward to it ending and the bitch-fest that can sometimes substitute as a professional debrief depending on our needs.
i remember being called by laura who had just left work, saying farringdon tube had closed for no reason and that she thought i’d need to know for my trip to victoria to teach my evening class at the telegraph… so out i raced, a little later than i’d hoped, cursing yet again the useless london transport system, making huge great strides towards chancery lane and being one of those annoying londoners that aggressively barges through anyone that gets in the way. i got to victoria on time, set up the class and remember already looking forward to it being savasana, to when i could start thinking about winding down and switching off my brain for the day. that particular evening was the busiest it had ever been with people coming on debbie’s suggestion. i had to keep making space for people, then more space, then there was no space and people had to squeeze into places right near the front. mats almost overlapped, limbs banged walls and neighbours suffered slaps during sun salutations… it wasn’t one of my greatest classes (despite people saying how much they loved it afterwards) but boy was i glad when it was over…
i remember the tube ride home… listening to my ipod on shuffle as i didn’t have the brain capacity to decide on something i wanted to listen to, and was so exhausted i couldn’t even feel what kind of a mood i was in to be able to decide. all i wanted was to get home and have a large G&T. just one to really wipe the slate of the day clean, to be able to help me sleep and counteract the caffeine i’d consumed during the day, ready for the next onslaught of the hamster wheel the next day beginning at 5.15am. all i could think of was that cold, large gin waiting for me at the end of another slow journey home to george hudson tower in the arse end of east london .
i vaguely remember stepping through the tube barriers at bow road, still skipping forward songs on shuffle, waiting for something that felt even mildly suitable. there’d been a lot of skipping. a bad shuffle set. i remember stepping down the steps leading into the station, looking to see if any buses were on their way. none. no need for any dangerous runs through traffic for the sake of a bus as i’d done many a time before… and that was it. my last memory before the void that exists in my mind. i thought my last memory would be the bright headlights and the feeling of being a rabbit in said headlights. but no. it was as if my brain wanted to reduce the trauma as much as it could and rewound several more frames before cutting off my memory.
the next thing i know i’m on the tarmac… i remember the roughness and coldness of it against my face. and coming to so suddenly. it was way too much information for my brain to process in one go. i thought it was some kind of practical joke or prank, and remember thinking, i may even have said it, that i needed to get up and go home as i was tired and had a busy day tomorrow. i remember someone holding my head and forcefully telling me not to move. i remember people’s feet. the feel of my body stuck in a horribly awkward position and an inability to move it. no pain. just confusion. then utter panic.
i can’t remember when i realised what had happened, someone must have told me i was hit by a car but who? when? i vaguely remember the arrival of the paramedics, and being transferred to the ambulance, it being warmer in there. I remember my clothes being cut through with scissors and an ironically beautiful scene of white feathers falling like snow inside the ambulance as they cut through my down jacket. I remember a voice somewhere inside feeling upset as i loved that particular jacket.
the journey in the ambulance is a blur but i remember the doors opening and the stretcher sliding out into the hospital. my neck in a brace so i could only look up. my vision restricted to seeing lights pass overhead one by one as i was wheeled somewhere. again a blur. the blurs are strange. particularly now, almost three weeks later. how much of what i remember comes from me? or from the images i’ve been hit with over the years by popular media, shows like ER or casualty. how much is fabrication and embellishment on my part?
i was alone in a hospital, the light had a blue tinge to it which made everything feel that much more surreal and film like. i remember asking for morphine. then more morphine. then after asking again a nurse curtly saying that i’d had enough and would have more soon. i asked for my phone and was given it… and cursed apple for making a phone as smooth as a bar of soap as i dropped it a couple of times painfully on my sternum, fumbling with fingers covered in cuts and a body full of numbing morphine. i called mum. answerphone. Typical. called andrew. answerphone. called frankie. managed to get him. i played down what had happened to all of them… “i’ve been hit by a car… you don’t have to come… but it’d be nice if you did…”, my speech punctuated by sharp intakes of breath due to my collapsed lung.
i was so thirsty. my lips covered in dried blood. i have some recollection of being conscious when being sent for my scans and being told that ‘my friends’ had arrived. mum, andrew and frankie were there waiting for me. a great way for my mum and boyfriend to meet for the first time. but oh, the relief. i could now let go of needing to stay strong. i remember mum and andrew wiping my mouth, cleaning off the scabs of blood that had come from one of the many cuts on my face, or perhaps my nose, perhaps the cuts on my scalp. they were only allowed to put a few drops of water into my mouth to moisten it as i’d have choked on a mouthful, despite feeling like it was something i’d have paid thousands for at that point in time. i may have even said that it was like those films where people have been travelling through the desert for weeks and must savour those last few drops of water.
more morphine. cries for lipbalm to andrew. i was still being a demanding diva so things can’t have been all that different. andrew came with me to the ward. andy the nurse admitted me. it was dark in the ward. my brain was exhausted from trying to process all that had happened. all i wanted was to sleep.
it’s strange now to think of my time in the h arrison ward in the royal london hospital… the trauma unit… the overheated trauma unit. being totally bedbound for two weeks, not even able to lift my head for the first 4 or 5 days, only being allowed to tilt my whole bed very slightly to eat. dropping cornflakes down my top is something I remember. from then I realised it was better to ask for weetabix and let it solidify before attempting to eat it. I remember michael trying to feed me pea salad and not doing particularly well.
I was totally reliant on others for even my most basic of needs – pissing, shitting, cleaning, getting water. so much i had to give up. total surrender… a word that keeps coming up again and again in different forms, under different substances (like ayahuasca). something i cognitively understand but keep failing to grasp. so this is the kick up the arse i got, one so fucking hard i really have to get it now, or who knows what sign i might receive next. My mind drifts to the nurses on the ward – so caring, inspiring… thick skinned, having to deal with traumatised patients with their often angry families, people looking for someone to blame, people under stress and panic that i guess manifests itself as anger towards the staff.
there was emma, the black haired, fringe sporting, laid back scouser… angela, laura’s friend of a friend, a petite ex-dancer, so confident for someone who seemed so young and delicate, who also had the pleasure of pushing suppositories up my bum, taking away my bedpan and cleaning my arse… andy the older nurse, and the only person i ever saw getting stressed, getting too emotionally involved with the patients, and having a hissy fit that involved ripping off his plastic apron and throwing it on the floor during the breakfast round one morning. michael, a sweet guy but one that seemed a little too keen to help wash the male patients. lindsay, the sweet, blonde, ward manager nurse, who’d usually just have to give me a thumbs up and wait for one back to make sure i was ok… olu, the heavily accented west african who i initially thought should not be a nurse but who afterwards i grew to love in her complete nonchalance… steve, the older, rectangular shaped nurse, again seemingly unfazed by the work he had to do. miriam, the southern irish nurse who seemed to act a little above station… or maybe i just thought that as she was the only one who questioned my nightly dose of tremadol, zopiclone, and oral morphine… and minused the tremadol. cow.
it’s 6pm on a sunday night here in no man’s land… only a few clouds dot the skyline as I sit here on the 17th floor, some slightly glowing from the last rays of the setting sun… buildings lit up by copper flames momentarily… the feeling of my brace digging into my arm pit. it will have been 5 weeks since the accident tomorrow. that feels odd. like somehow i should be affected by how long it’s been. i feel stuck in some kind of weird limbo. time has less meaning to me now that i have nothing to particularly do each day… my main awareness of the passing time coming from the cycle of day and night. i’ve been out three times in the last three weeks… once to tesco on my first day of release… once on that cold, blanket covered trip to the GP where being pushed along the uneven pavement made it feel as though the screws in my bone were coming unstuck… and gorgeous mum’s day trip to the mecca of all waitrose stores in canary wharf, where i sat outside gap in my wheelchair waiting for her as she browsed a couple of things, watching people float by on their feet, an act that seemed so effortless to them and so far out of reach for me. it made me realised how we take such a ‘simple’ act for granted.
i’m getting up to nothing much in particular… i often feel frustrated at my being in a wheelchair and this painful brace of mine, the aches and pains and stiffness around my neck and shoulders only serving to exacerbate the melancholy of it all. every now and then i get a pang of yogic memories flooding through, images of all the things in yoga i was able to do… extreme yes but i’d worked my body towards them and my body by and large, could take them. it’s hard to imagine i’ll ever be able to do the things i was once able to when i can barely do 5 push ups now… i started yoga three weeks after the accident… each day i roll out my mat, lower myself down from my wheelchair on my knees and i move and breathe and feel my body. i’m still in a lot of pain and i feel my physical strength leaving me daily, seeing my muscles go down in size… seeing my belly go up in jelly. but i hold on to the fact that things could have been worse. much worse.
something deep within knows and feels that i need to move, despite doctors saying i should wait for it to be six weeks before i start physio. i ‘walk’ around the flat on my knees as much as i can (knee pads would really help!) to regain my sense of balance – it disappeared so fast. and i meditate at least once a day, focusing on my broken ankle, amazed that i actually feel it begin to tingle when i focus all of my concentration it. i find myself constantly thanking someone somewhere for all the vinyasas i’ve done as, despite losing some muscle mass, i’m still able to lift my body weight – on and off my wheelchair, into the bath, into bed.
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I only actually had those two diary entries despite having time at the time to write many more. The accident was, understandably, a major turning point in my life. Amongst many other things, it was the thing that really taught me how to BREATHE in my practice… everything else has fallen into place on top of the foundation of that breath.