I still remember the sensation leaving my legs as I waited for an ambulance that night. I had woken up at 3am on 22nd August 2019 with an immense and strange pain in my back. Within 24 hours I had visited one hospital and been transferred to a second. I had emergency surgery to remove a hematoma, which had been caused by a spontaneous bleed and was restricting the movement of my spinal cord.
After the surgery, I was told I had been left paraplegic and the doctors could not tell me if I would ever regain any movement or sensation below my injury level…
This, as you can imagine, was a lot to take in – especially at just 26 years old. Not knowing what would happen, or whether I’d ever walk again made the future just as scary as the injury itself, but I knew I had to be positive and work as hard as I could to get home and see what I could achieve. I finally went home on 7th December after almost four months in hospital, I vividly remember seeing rain for the first time again, it seemed so astonishing, so significant.
Since leaving the spinal rehabilitation centre at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, I have been helped by a charity called the Matt Hampson Foundation with physiotherapy and personal training. I had been visiting their centre three or four times a week, as well as visiting the local hospital for NHS physiotherapy once a week. I had also started trying to get back to doing things like spending time with friends and family, going out for meals and spending as much time as I could around animals, particularly horses and dogs (as you can imagine horses and wheelchairs aren’t always the best combination).
Before my life changed, I was a passionate horse rider, and had been riding only a few days before. As the lockdown measures ease, I hope to start horse riding again at a local Riding For The Disabled (RDA) centre which has all the equipment needed to get me back in the saddle, something I am very excited about!
The initial spread of COVID19 meant that all my physiotherapy and fitness training had to be cancelled because the human contact was not safe. This is what I had spent all my time doing since I was discharged from hospital, it had given me focus and hope and so I felt lost without it. Throughout the first lockdown, I had digital support through calls and home workouts such as pilates sessions and stretches by video, but as you can imagine, this is nothing like a face-to-face session.
Apart from having way too much time to watch Netflix, the cancellation of my treatment as a result of lockdown left me filling my time feeling anxious.
The problem with stopping my regular physiotherapy, has been more of a psychological one for me, reeling about what effect this may have had on my progress has been occupying my mind as the world locks down. It is so frustrating for me, that I will never know what I could have achieved in the last four months. Particularly given that the time after the injury is the most important for recovery, and the further time moves on, the less likely I am to see improvements.
Luckily though, I was given some equipment to make it easier for me to continue with these important exercises, this has been a big help to me as I do think exercise massively helps your mental health as well as your physical condition in situations like this.
*As the restrictions eased, and it became safe for Liv to meet face-to-face with her physiotherapists again, she slowly but surely began to make progress once again. Posting on the 8th November on her Instagram, Liv shares a video of a ‘very slow walk’, explaining that, “for those who wonder, the reason it is so slow is that I am now learning piece by piece how to walk again, it no longer comes naturally so I physically have to concentrate on each part of the movement individually. So although I am not lifting or swinging through my foot, I am now standing on my own legs, transferring my weight from one to the other and asking my own knees to bend, as well as constantly fighting the strength of my quads, which want to do the opposite, push my knees back and stop my foot lifting.”*
Daily outdoor exercise in my new wheelchair was also a huge help for me during the early stages of lockdown. I am lucky enough to live in a village where there are lots of quieter lanes where I could go for long pushes to get plenty of fresh air, with my family and partner Tom who has been my rock.
That being said, I have always ‘dealt’ with my disability and kept my positive attitude by keeping busy. Though, as that has been much trickier to do throughout lockdown, remaining positive, with a brave face has been a struggle for me at times and I have definitely had a lot of emotional days over the past few months.
After spending almost four months in hospital the feeling of being in lockdown and isolated from the rest of society felt all too familiar to me at times. It had only been just over three months between my discharge from hospital and lockdown beginning, so I had spent more time in lockdown than not, since being discharged. This at times has made it hard to ignore negative thoughts, taking me back to darker days, as if I was going back to the start of my journey.
Part of me does also think that having spent so much time in hospital, and only just finding my feet at home may have made it easier for me to adjust to life in lockdown. I think in a strange way that this situation may now give a lot of able bodied people a taste of what life can be like for so many disabled people, who struggle to go out and are alone. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have perhaps given it much thought, until I found myself part of their community… It has given me an entirely different perspective on life, but also on what life is like for others, many of whom aren’t as fortunate to have the love and support I cherish around me. With that said, I feel extremely blessed to have always had company throughout lockdown.
Tom and I are in the middle of adapting our new home to suit my needs, we have been living with my parents since I came home in December 2019, so I have spent the days with my mum, who has cheered me up no end with chocolate more times than I’d like to admit.
*Since writing this, Liv has relearned how to drive an adapted car and has her on wheels, meaning she is able to regain some of her much needed independence which has been lost since her injury. Posting on the 1st of January on her Instagram, Liv shares, “2020 was my first full year as a wheelchair user and when I look back at 01/01/20, I am so proud of how I have changed and the progress I have made, I have started driving, become more independent and seen changed month by month in my physio as well as mentally and physically tackling two lockdowns (now three). I can’t wait to see what I can do in 2021!” *
And neither can we Liv. We are behind you all the way and you are one seriously inspirational young woman!