Christopher's story

I still to this day cannot remember the first time I woke up in ICU (Intensive Care Unit). If you ask me what my first distinctive memory was after I woke up, it would take me a further month down the line to what I now see to be an inspirational pep talk from the ward nurse. It involved a strict telling off about bucking up if I wanted to be out of hospital before Christmas. I spent three months behind the walls of the (old) Royal London Hospital, three weeks of which were spent in an induced coma and a further month with weakened coherence from the medication I was on. But how did I get here?

To call me a keen cyclist would have been an understatement. Cycling was my life, a passion which grew from the challenge, convenience and endorphin rush that it gave me. My purpose for going out for a cycle on the 22nd June 2010 is still unclear and my memories of that morning remain hazy. I do recall the London Bikeathon being close, an event I had entered in my bid to raise some money for the Lymphoma and Leukaemia cancer charity. So naturally I assume I was using this last cycle as an excuse to continue training.

I had made it as far as the Cross Way Boulevard, a ring road that circulates Bluewater shopping centre, when all of a sudden I was having that very pep talk with this nurse. Weeks of my life vanished at the blink of an eye. I had been involved in a cycling road traffic incident. Whilst pedalling along a carriageway on my two wheeled steed, a car in excess of 50mph had lost control from behind and threw me 30ft into the next lane, only for me to then be centimetres from a second collision from a following car. I was undoubtedly in a bad shape and it had taken two months in hospital to finally come to terms and get a true appreciation of my injuries.

My immediate threat was the internal bleeding. Witness statements suggested I responded at the scene of the accident, only to sit up and collapse through a vast amount of blood loss and the sustained head injury. The Kent Air Ambulance flew out to my aid and I was anaesthetised on scene to control the pain and symptoms of swelling. I required 96 pints of blood over the next 48 hours of my recovery. A process I have only the blood donators to thank. The blood loss came as a result of multiple external and internal lacerations. Among the many I imagine it was the 14 to 16 inch gash across my lower back that led to 12 minutes of cardiac arrest. A wound whose scar is one of countless that act as constant reminders of my ordeal.

The first operation was to stabilise my body and was one of many times that my parents were asked to bid me farewell. I was not expected to survive this operation and by short of a miracle I have the pleasure of writing this today.

The next operation was in an attempt to fix my spine. The impact from the car had fractured and broken three vertebrae in the Lumbar and Thoracic regions. Metal rods and pins were inserted to support and aid the healing of bone. They were implanted with such precision and skill that I can be grateful not only for the successful repair, but also for the delicate incision marks made to my skin through the wonders of keyhole surgery. However, this did not make mobility any easier and was further worsened still by the two significant fractures to my pelvis. Physiotherapy was going to be a struggle and it was a bridge I was a long way from crossing.

Having metal in your back is nothing special, but it was always a good conversation starter. I assumed it would be in there until I (officially) kicked the bucket and yet to my surprise it only lasted about a year. The moment I learnt that I had broken the spinal metalwork should never have really been a surprise, given I started to feel a crunching sensation beneath the skin whenever I would twist my back. Despite the seriousness of this situation, the way this information was broken to me was lighthearted at its very best. Upon going for an emergency X-ray, the consultant came out to the waiting area and addressed me with the following words:

“Mr Woodhams? [yes] Do you know you have metal in your back?”

Imagine his reaction if I had said no?

“Well it is broken”. Not quite the news I wanted to hear. Safe to say it wasn’t long before I was back in the operating theatre and the metal was removed.

Of all the injuries it was the head that posed the greatest of concerns, and rightly so, for it was going to dictate the quality of life I was to lead. Even if I was to survive, the question still lingered as to whether I would be able to speak, think for myself and live the normal life I previously had.

The odds were against me if you were to take into account that I had been out cold for three weeks. Two hours prior to awakening my parents and family were warned that if I ever woke up from my coma they could expect my paralysis from the waist down and that I may no longer recognise them. By far short of another miracle, my father and aunt witnessed the first promising signs of life. I twitched my foot in response to a command and recognised a 90’s classic, ‘Push it’ by ‘Salt-n-Pepa’ that my father was humming; I was awake.

As with any recovery progress, there will be the ‘ups and downs’. Just when my relatives and medical staff had hope of my coherence and had taken me off various antibiotics, my health plummeted. I was now blurring my speech and ripping my cannulas out in my delirious state. It was clear that something had gone terribly wrong. Medical staff immediate pointed the finger towards my head injury, but my family were not accepting this. Further tests quickly identified the cause to be my left Gluteus Maximus having gone septic. My body was poisoning itself from the inside.

Immediate surgery saved my leg and my life, but my left bottom cheek fell behind. It took 48 hours of dialysis and the right dose of antibiotics to put me back on the climb to recovery again. Among the internal damages, one in particular had slipped through the net. Providing the circumstances of my condition I cannot blame medical staff for negligence. The impact of the car had ruptured my bladder neck and as to quote my surgeon, my bladder was consequently “pissing out all over the place”. Once again I had found myself with another toxin threatening my body.

It was this very injury that still causes problems to this day. I am 24 at the time of writing this (20 at the time of the accident) and suffer from Stress Urinary Incontinence; I wet myself during the day with weakened urinary control. I now live a life in threat from potential embarrassment and a urine bag attached to my leg. It is far from dignified and I have to be careful of what I participate in, but at least I am alive.

I count my blessings and owe a great debt of gratitude to the National Health Service, the Kent Air Ambulance, physiotherapists, district nurses, friends and family for getting me back on my feet. If it wasn’t for this gifted bunch I could have been in a far worse position that what I am now.
Incontinence is a pain, but it is such a small price to pay.

Do I regret going out cycling that day? Of course not. I was doing something I loved and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there is any message I can convey from my accident it would be not to take life for granted and I would pass my newly found understanding that none of us are invincible. I fell victim to a false perception that I was, and now I potentially have a rough medical life ahead. This does not mean I will not enjoy myself and live life to the fullest, but it has opened my eyes to the dangers and realisation that sometimes the risks we all may all come to face are sometimes best avoided.

If you ever find yourself in such a position as mine, my advice is to keep strong minded, determined and set yourself goals. I truly believe that even with the support and medical skill that one may receive, it is motivation and self-confidence that will get your life, or at least most of it, back again. Take care.

Watch Chris's video here: