How I recovered from my near fatal accident

'Ever tried. Ever failed. Never mind.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

Worstward Ho (1983) by Samuel Beckett. 

Samuel Beckett, Nobel Prize winning Irish playwright, poet and writer, would no doubt, look askance at the way in which these two lines have taken on the rallying cry for valiant effort. I think a knowing wink exists in these lines.

A wink that seems to say, “Go on, try if you will.”

When asked how I recovered from my near fatal accident. How I returned to work within six months and have gone on to enjoy rock climbing, horse riding, martial arts, sailing, trail running, among other things. Well, my simple answer often begins with my willingness to try, even if that meant I experienced discomfort, pain and other challenges.

I realised early on that no matter how much I tried I wouldn't be able to do some activities. Nor could I sustain an activity if it proved too difficult or inaccessible. For instance, I tried snowboarding very soon after getting my first prosthesis with the support of my brother. Although I had enjoyed skateboarding and surfing, both comparable skills, prior to my accident, when I tried snowboarding I found the pain in my injured knees and hips unbearable.

Eight years later with my girlfriend, who loves snow-sports, I joined Disability Snowsport UK (DSUK) to give snowboarding another go. However, I soon began to suffer the same difficulties I had experienced before. I had to accept that perhaps, for me, snowboarding would prove too big a task. 

That didn’t rule out a sit-ski though. DSUK have a number of people who use sit-ski's. Both mono or single ski and dual or bi-ski types. I've only had a couple of goes in a mono sit ski but I feel that this could well prove the solution for me. The challenge of a new skill but no more pain in my knees and hips. It feels very like riding a motorbike too.

In the same way with snowboarding I have found a return to cycling very painful. I had enjoyed mountain biking before my accident and hoped to make a return to this outdoor activity. Cycling of all kinds can be one of the easiest activities for lower limb amputees to get back into with some adaptions. It offers a low impact form of exercise, doesn’t have to be expensive and gets you out of the house. Unfortunately for me it has proved almost impossible to sustain, again due to pain in my knees and hips 

You see, everyone has different challenges as a consequence of surviving significant trauma. I often joke that my amputation is the least of my problems. I lost my leg to an accident in my thirties. I had family, friends and colleagues to draw upon for support. I had enjoyed a career, various leisure activities and had a high level of fitness at the time. All important elements that helped my survival and recovery.

When sitting in the waiting area of my local prosthetics centre where so much advice and information gets exchanged between the diverse range of folk you find in waiting rooms, I recognised that my needs and circumstances differed from others. As a man who survived a near fatal accident and limb-loss I have a different experience from that of a man of similar age born with a congenital condition that led to limb-loss early in life. We may share a similar level of limb-loss but we will have different experiences and expectations as a consequence of how we lost our limbs.

I think it important to realise that although we may all get lumped together under the umbrella term of amputee. We all have a unique experience of limb-loss. How it happened, when it happened, and who we had and have around to support us.

As a professional therapist I knew the emotional impact of my accident and injuries would prove one of my more difficult challenges. While still in hospital I self-referred myself for therapy sessions with a clinical psychologist who specialised in people’s experience of trauma. I made sure to involve my family and friends in my emotional journey too. I realised they would also feel the impact of my accident and trauma and have to change as well. In other words, we would all need to dig deep in our own ways to travel this journey together.

I have over the course of thirteen years learnt much. Perhaps the most from more experienced people in the travails of life after trauma. The shared stories and tips swapped while sat in the communal fitting room at my local NHS Prosthetic Service. My online research and participation on forums and social media have helped answer questions that it seems only another person with lived experience of serious trauma can know.

I sought out a life-coach to help me explore my new sense of identity and help me focus on what I could do rather than on what I couldn't. I began to try things with a renewed sense of exploration to discover the possible as opposed to the impossible.

I'm feel lucky in one sense in that innovation in prosthetic feet and knees have over the past decade revolutionised the activity levels of lower-limb amputees. If you aspire to climb a mountain, if you want to go to work and play with your children in the park, you can find a foot and knee unit that will enable you to do that. You'll have to work hard, no doubt about it, but the kit to do it can be had.

I remember when I first began to learn to run. I spent nine months on the tracks and trails of the Yorkshire Dales running on a foot designed for walking. I tracked my progress with a smartphone app and would show my prosthetist my progress. Those previous nine months served as an important foundation to build not just my physical strength but also bolster my mental resilience for when I received my blade prosthesis.

A comfortable socket proves one of the biggest barriers to active participation in work and leisure activities for people with limb-loss. I have said at conferences, with a little jest, that if I had to choose between a comfortable socket and liner I can wear all day or have the latest bionic feet, then I would choose the socket, even if I had to carve a leg out of a table leg to fit to it.

I have spent more time and effort on getting a perfect socket with my various prosthetists than on anything else. It takes time and emotional energy to try different socket interfaces and suspension systems. It requires both the prosthetist and patient to work together in a solution focused manner and persist until the goal is achieved.

Perhaps as a consequence of my role as a professional facilitator and mentor I find it easy to develop a conversational approach with healthcare professionals. Along with my own research I find this has helped me become an expert patient in my particular needs. It has also supported my ability to explain to healthcare professionals exactly what I need in relation to my wishes, needs and aspirations for the future which helps my prosthetist, for instance, provide the most clinically appropriate prosthesis for my activities.

These questions, about my hopes, ideas, concerns and expectations have helped me through the difficult transition of wearing a prosthetic leg. I have spoken to numerous health care professionals, including prosthetists, at conferences about the importance of these quality of life questions. How they can help them and their patients aim for the possible despite the impairment left behind from the injuries of significant trauma. To help the health care professional remember that we have our individual aspirations to live a life meaningful to us, even if we have to accept that some of those activities we once enjoyed may need to change or perhaps let go.

For the rest of my life I know that I am dependent to a certain extent on my NHS Prosthetics Centre, my GP and other healthcare professionals. Perhaps interdependent might describe things better. I know I must try to keep myself fit and active with the activities I like to do and can do. I must try to keep up to date with the advances and innovations in prosthesis technology so I can speak knowledgably with my prosthetist.

This added effort and energy to try came as a new experience to me as a once fit able man who took his physical activity somewhat for granted. Now I must juggle the balance of energy I expend with the benefit I get in return and make smart decisions about what's best for me. I can't do that by myself. I have an extended network of people who want to support me, my family, friends and colleagues, and a team of health professionals involved in my long term care.

My ongoing health has become a partnership, and my life as a consequence, has become richer for it.


Philip Sheridan


 Philip works at the Leeds Institute of Medical Education (LIME), University of Leeds, as a tutor and facilitator. Before that he worked for two decades in the public sector as a therapist, team leader, practice educator, trainer and manager supporting children and families.

He published his first collection of poetry, Heart on the Mountain, in 2012, facilitates poetry workshops, and will publish his second collection, River As Blood, this year in 2016.

In 2014/15 he wrote, produced, directed and edited, Voices of a Patient, a poem and short film featuring Dr Kate Granger MBE, founder of the Hello, my name is... campaign, and members of the Patient | Carer Community at the LIME, University of Leeds.

Contributor to the Royal College of Physicians report, Integrated Care - Taking Specialist Medical Care Beyond the Hospital Walls. 29th January 2016

He is Patron to VX Global - a new dynamic and inclusive sport with an aim on the Olympics.



Twitter: @madeofbeauty




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