This is a story that some of you may know, however I haven’t revisited this in detail, in a long time.
I want to talk about how I went from not being able to walk to travelling the world. It’s obviously a very personal subject for me, but also one that I believe can help other people overcome fears and experiences that are holding them back. I want to discuss how to go backpacking after a traumatic accident. I want more people to feel able to travel and explore the world and I hope by telling you my story, it might inspire you to also have the confidence to travel to new destinations.
So let’s begin…I have had the travel bug my entire life. I was very lucky as a child to be taken on wonderful holidays all over the world. I went to school and then spent my summers having fun in the sun and exploring the world with my family. I would say I was just a ‘normal’ girl living the ‘normal’ life of a teenager.
Things didn’t stay this way unfortunately.
At the age of 15 I was in a horrific car accident and left unable to walk.
I was hanging around with my friends in cars and my boyfriend was 17 at the time. Our car went head on into another car, which turned my world upside down. I was the front seat passenger and took the brunt of the impact. I was unconscious and my body had gone into shock, due to the severity of the break to my right femur (thigh bone). When your body goes into shock, it is extremely dangerous and could have meant I lost my life.
This type of break is called a compound (open) femur fracture. Your femur bone is the longest and strongest bone in your body. Fracturing your femur can only occur in extremely high impact situations, like a car accident.
At this point as you can imagine, my family were dealing with the stress of the situation and trying to wrap their heads around what the awful outcome could have been.
Luckily my friends acted fast and called for an ambulance immediately. This is something I will be eternally grateful for, as they probably saved my life. A huge thanks to them.
My leg at this point was in roughly 20 pieces and I had to be rushed in for emergency surgery. Over the next few days I had three major operations that ultimately saved my leg. I thank the NHS for the work they did during those critical hours.
After having traction (I will let you read about what that is here, to save you the gory details) I had surgery to insert a intramedullary nail and screws into my femur to hold it all together. Those docs are so clever!
I remember very little from this time, apart from feeling very scared and unsure of what I would be able to do in the future. I didn’t think I would be able to go backpacking after a traumatic accident. I definitely didn’t think I would have spent the last 7 years travelling the world.
The mental health side effects of what had happened, were something that would change my life forever. However at this time, there was so much happening with surgery and my physical state, that there was no time to think about what effect this was having on my psychological state.
It was a very difficult time, not only my life but my friends and family’s as well. It was overwhelming how many people came to visit me during those months in hospital and at home when I was recovering. The support I had, was incredible.
After leaving hospital I was nursed by my mum at home. She was there for me day and night by my side, through the ups and downs of my treatment and hospital visits. No amount of thanks is enough for the help she gave me and continues to give me every day.
After one year on crutches non weight baring (I was unable to put any weight on my leg) my consultant told me the bone just wouldn’t grow back. The damage was too severe and the gap between one part of the bone was too large for it to meet in the middle. I had lost bone on the road during the crash. Although the NHS had been great up until this point, they just didn’t have the funds for the type of surgery I needed to fix my leg.
They suggested that they take out the nail and let the leg compress to make the bone fuse together. I would have to wear a shoe lift for the rest of my life. With the difference of length being over an inch it would have caused me pain and suffering for the rest of my life. Not to mention how unkind teenagers can be with anything out of the norm.
Luckily for me, my parents had private medical insurance that paid for me to get the assistance of a Mr Graham Groom. Mr Groom is a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and a specialist in the surgery that I needed. He had also treated a family friend with fantastic results, so I knew I was in the right place.
Mr Groom, performed bone grafting (took bone from my pelvis and placed it strategically in my right femur) which allowed my bone to start knitting itself back together! It was incredible, the work that he did changed my life. This meant I would be able to eventually walk normally again.
I can honestly say I have true respect for people who are not as blessed as me to have the surgery to correct this…it must be very hard for you.
Eventually after 18 months of not being able to walk, I was able to start putting weight on my leg again and had to learn to walk again! After feeling like my life was over and having waited so long for this, the moment was finally here. I could walk, I could start to live my life again!
I had further surgery to finally remove the nail around a year later and by this point I could walk and had started running!
This is when I started to think, could I really go backpacking after a traumatic accident?
Living my life again
By the time I was 21 I could go skiing!!! I could not believe Mr Groom when he said it would be fine for me to ski. I will always remember going to see him and asking him that question. Hearing him say I was now able to do any activity I wanted, brought tears to my eyes. I still struggle now with some activities, but I try to continue to do exercises to combat this. I have found that yoga, really helps to relieve pain and stiffness in my leg.
I just kept and keep thinking, I am the luckiest person alive!
This was the most awful and miserable time of my life to date and left me with both physical and psychological scars. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) shortly after the accident and have been through a lot of counselling to deal with this. Having flashbacks after the accident and suffering with intense anxiety and depression was really the most awful part of the whole experience. I felt as though something bad would happen to me if I left the house, my face was constantly tense and my jaw in pain. My mum couldn’t leave my side.
The effects of the car accident didn’t just affect my fear of cars, it extended to many other fears. I was extremely scared of flying, I felt very claustrophobic and I was scared to leave the house.
Like I said earlier, I definitely didn’t think I would be jetting off around the world.
However, little did I know that travelling the world would be the thing to help me overcome my fears. By travelling the world, I have changed as a person. Backpacking after a traumatic accident can really help with the healing process. I learnt to see the good in the world and how many options there are for each and every one of us. You can do anything you put your mind to.
I’m not saying I’m completely back on track now, as I’m sure with anyone we all have our problems and life isn’t always easy. It has been 13 years now and I can honestly say the car accident is the best thing that ever happened to me (sounds strange? I know).
Don’t wait for something awful to happen to you, to open your eyes to the world.
It has given me a true appreciation for life and I’m grateful for each day. This car accident led me to see the world and experience things many people wouldn’t feel able to do. I would never have had this lust for life and motivation to get up and do what I love if this hadn’t happened.
Overcoming my fears
It wasn’t easy at first. I struggled with overcoming my fear of flying. I tried everything, hypnotherapy, meditation, sleeping tablets. I struggled with being on my own in a strange place and not knowing how I was going to make new friends. This is always made more difficult when you are struggling with anxiety. I used to have a lot of coping mechanisms and still do to be honest.
I know this sounds cheesy but life it too short to sit back, living in a mundane life and being miserable.
I promise you, you can achieve great things and if seeing the world is your dream, you just need the tools to make it happen.
I also dealt with leaving my mum and how this would affect her. This experience didn’t just affect me, it had a huge impact on the lives of people around me.
My mum was worried for me, as you can imagine and the idea of me heading off into the unknown was a scary thought for her. What if something terrible happened to me? Especially being a solo, female traveller. This only made the worry worse for my parents and friends.
But…this was something I had to do, to get to where I am now. I had to overcome these fears and issues with anxiety in order to become a more rounded and adaptable person in the world.
I came up with ways to overcome these fears and fight my anxiety head on. I wanted to be able to travel the world and not be stuck in the house. I thought of ways to make sure that my parents and friends were comforted while I was away, to put their minds at ease.
Backpacking after a traumatic accident
I’ve been to some of the most amazing, beautiful corners of the world. I have worked in Australia, Africa and Vietnam. I have learnt how to book cheap accommodation and flights, find the best travel deals, travel on a budget, make money abroad (and firstly find and get those jobs), live frugally and continue to grow my knowledge of this beautiful world.
Please feel free to share your stories in the comments below, I would love to hear from you. We all have a story and can help others to overcome their problems.
As the saying goes – A problem shared, is a problem halved.
If I can help just one person to have the confidence to travel, this will all be worth it.