This has been a difficult post to write, especially at this time of year.
I used to take a lot of things for granted. The ability to roll over in bed and hit ‘snooze’ when the alarm goes off in the morning. The ability to boil the kettle and make a cup of tea. The ability to stand under a hot shower and wash myself every morning. The ability to lift my phone and send a text to a friend. The ability to type my latest blog post. The ability to cook a tasty meal, sit at my dining table and feed myself. The ability to throw on some shoes and step outdoors. The ability to hug the people I love. The ability to wipe tears from my eyes.
A high level spinal cord injury could rob me of every one of these abilities. Disaster could strike when I’m least expecting it. I could be in a car accident. I could trip on my way downstairs to answer the doorbell.
I could fall out of a loft.
This is what happened to my friend and former colleague, Iain Clark, on 7th July 2016. He fell out of his loft, hit his head on the concrete floor below and lay there, conscious, for four hours waiting to be discovered. Less than a week before he was due to move to France to begin a new life with his partner, Emma, Iain ended up in the back of an ambulance. The destination? The National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow; ‘home’ for the next six months. The diagnosis? The fracture and dislocation of the C3 vertebrae; a high level spinal cord injury. The result? Paralysis below the shoulders. No use of the hands, arms, legs or feet. A halo brace screwed into the skull for several weeks to prevent movement of the neck. Respiratory problems caused by poorer diaphragm control and the inability to cough. Pneumonia. A collapsed lung. 12 days of sedation and ventilation. A tracheostomy (an opening at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe). No voice for two weeks. Bowel and bladder problems. Pressure sores. The ever present risk of high blood pressure and stroke. The inability to regulate body temperature. Constant discomfort and neurological pain.
In amongst this catalogue of medical problems, there is one silver lining. Iain wasn’t brain damaged. He is still Iain; one of the most cheerful, positive people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve known Iain for eight years and, despite racking my brain, I literally cannot recall a single memory of him being even remotely grumpy, uptight or not smiling.
Iain is due to be discharged from hospital on 4th January 2017. He faces a long and uncertain journey ahead and a long list of adaptations, from a voice-activated mobile phone, to a wheelchair (which I assume will be controlled by the chin or mouth), to a modified car and adaptations to his parents’ house, as opposed to Iain’s top floor flat in Edinburgh.
There is still hope that Iain will one day make a full recovery thanks to the scientific and medical advances which are currently in development. In the meantime, Iain’s family, many friends and complete strangers touched by his story have come together to run 100 miles today, Saturday 17th December, to increase awareness of spinal cord injury and to raise funds for the care Iain needs to help him enjoy some level of independence and fulfillment in the months and years ahead.
Team Iain’s aim this morning was to run laps of the Meadows, a park on the south side of central Edinburgh, until 100 miles was reached, wearing bright clothes in honour of Iain’s love of colourful t-shirts! I’m keen to hear how it went. I physically couldn’t get to Edinburgh today, the morning after my Inverness office Christmas party, but have gladly committed to doing my own short run here on the Black Isle this evening. I’m tired after two back-to-back Christmas parties. It might hurt but at least I’ll be able to feel my lungs and my muscles working hard and, if I’m lucky, I’ll feel an adrenaline rush too.
Today is Iain’s 163rd day in hospital. Every time I cast my mind back to July and the heart-breaking news in my inbox, I can’t help but think of all the things I’ve done over the last five months and wonder what Iain would have done with that time in France. This Christmas when I’m unwrapping my gifts, pulling a Christmas cracker, baking mince pies, lifting a glass of mulled wine to my lips, or hitting ‘snooze’ on the alarm clock and rolling over for a few more minutes under the duvet, I’ll spare a thought for Iain and all the mental and physical challenges he is facing this Christmas. Life can be unbearably cruel but together we can do something positive by taking a few moments out from the festive celebrations to show our support to Iain.
Please consider making a donation on the Team Iain: 100 Mile Challenge Go Fund Me page by clicking this link.