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Mar 23, 2014
Jan 21, 2014

Newyddion y Clwb

Aug 21, 2011

The day my life changed forever

Please, to every person who reads this article I ask that you donate a small amount to the Air Ambulance who without I wouldn't be here today.

Thanks, Kevin Hamilton

Saturday March 15th 2009 is probably now the most significant day in my life  – certainly it was the day I came closest to losing my life. There was a fleeting moment when I wished I had lost my life. A very brief moment. Now, two years on, I can look back at that day and feel gratitude to the people that saved my life, rather than anger towards the driver whose carelessness almost cost me my life.

Triathlon has been a huge part of my life for many years. Having competed for Wales in Home Nations events and Great Britain in World Age-groups, I was looking for my next challenge – obvious really, Ironman UK 2009. My entry was in, and the training going well – the goal was to finish in as close to 12.5 hours as possible. I’ve always swum with confidence and enjoyed my swimming, and running came easily too. Perfecting my cycling was eternally my biggest challenge, as there would be the need for an increase in road miles, getting away from the turbo trainer and the comfort of indoor cycle training.

Bike training in mid-Wales isn’t easy – we have the advantage of less traffic than most other places in the UK, and certainly more hills to build strength on, but the roads tend to be narrow and twisty, and the Summer visitors towing caravans can make for some interesting cycling experiences!

Friends have always played an important role in my life too. I have been married to my wife, Christine for 26 years , and together we have brought up two sons of whom we are very proud. Ours is a close-knit community with relatives and friends living alongside each other; something that I took, like many others, for granted before the events of March 15th 2009. The contents of the diary I kept from the day I was airlifted to hospital, and continue to keep, show how important my friends and family are to me, and how I possibly wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for their will for me to pull through.

The extent of my injuries was frightening. Perhaps surprisingly, I was fully conscious during the accident and immediately afterwards and can recall the ambulance and even the faces of the paramedics and those who arrived on the scene – I have seen them often since around the area and have been able to thank them for what they did. I remember clearly the air ambulance and the short flight to Shrewsbury where the doctors in A & E cut off my cycling kit to reveal the extent of the damage and the frightening blood loss...  Strangely, I can even remember the impact of the trailer as it hit me - most people expected my subconscious to have blocked that. Shutting my eyes for the first few days brought that image back to me and prevented me from sleeping. However the gruesome details are not what this is about – positive thinking and my road to recovery can serve as inspiration to some; dwelling on the shattered bones and missing flesh will only appeal to those with ghoulish tendencies!

I decided to keep my diary from the very start after a nurse in the High Dependency Unit/Intensive Care suggested it could be a help. Some days were bleaker and blacker than others, and the entries to the diary confirm this. Some days’ entries are confused, but my mind was confused so that’s to be expected. I haven’t altered any of the entries to the diary since my discharge from hospital – that ring-bound Reporters Notepad records my deepest self during the most challenging months of my life.

When chatting with the doctors one day early on in my recovery, I mentioned that my club, Cerist Tri, had a Sprint Triathlon in June. The doctor thought for a while and replied that it wouldn’t be a problem – 15 months would be long enough to get me home and rehabilitated enough to cope with “helping out” at such an event. His face changed when I told him that the event was June 2009 not next year. I got the feeling that he thought I was joking – but I most certainly wasn’t – and yes, one of the earliest, proudest moments of my rehabilitation was not just being present at the event, but taking an active role – I may not have completed the whole distance, but I did cross the finish line on my motorised scooter from 100 metres away to the delight of all there. It was the perfect opportunity to speak in public to my friends, after presenting the awards to the prizewinners, to thank them for their love and support. We also raised money that day for the Wales Air Ambulance, without whom I certainly wouldn’t have survived.

But it isn’t all down to the love and support of my family; my friends and family say I am one of the most single-minded determined people you could meet, and positive thoughts and goals have helped me through. From learning to walk again to planning on competing in the Worlds in 2016 whether it is as an able-bodied athlete or a paratriathlete athlete. My diary shows my determination and my desire to recover.

The bleak days appear randomly throughout the diary. They certainly don’t just appear in the first week or so after the accident. In fact, there are some surprisingly positive thoughts during those first few days. The entries when I was feeling down are quite scary at times – perhaps the cocktail of painkillers and anaesthetics for the weekly routine operations made my dreams and my thoughts more colourful...

Decoding my diary for the first time, you soon realise that first and foremost in my thoughts during good and bad times is my beloved wife, Chris. On that afternoon when I had been so badly injured and was crying out for help, I didn’t want Chris – I needed her. I needed her so much. Thoughts of wanting to die were intermingle with the desire to be with Chris. My diary entry on the day following the accident is poignant – “Woke up in HDU – drowsy – CHRIS THERE”. Says it all really, and very succinctly.

That was a bleak day, the day following the accident. The pain was excruciating, life was a blur. Monday wasn’t much different except the drugs were beginning to take effect. While the physical pain was being relieved, they played games with my mind, and I was scared to close my eyes for fear of the images that appeared, and for fear of not waking up.

My diary for the next week is taken up with sketches and attempts to recount the images in my consciousness. The first images I recorded were inexplicable – two white umbrellas floating around me, with faces on them. The faces are impossible to identify, except for one – the face of a fellow triathlete who had accompanied me on the ride prior to my accident. He went on to complete the Ironman 2009 and nothing gave me more pleasure than being there with him, handing over the Welsh flag as he came down the finishing straight.

I have spent many hours puzzling over the umbrella images but cannot understand their significance or provenance. My recovery from the events of March 15th 2009 is due not only to my and Chris’ determination and obstinance, but to the skill and expertise of the staff at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, the district nurses and medical proffesionals,  without whom I wouldn’t be here today to tell my story. I cannot thank them enough for their care, patience and treatment of me. The mere fact that I could think positively so early on was due to the positive attitude which these angels on ward 28 of Royal Shrewsbury Hospital exuded. Major reconstruction, it was immediately apparent, was going to form a huge part of the coming months. This was frightening, a treadmill I knew I’d have to go on, but didn’t want to embark as there would be no turning back. The first operation I underwent to reconstruct my wrecked body was on the Thursday following the accident. Not surprisingly my diary entry is limited that day as nerves and anaesthetics took over. The disturbing images in my head returned following the operation, and I tried to record them in my diary, but I now cannot decipher what they are nor can I get any closer to understanding them.

As the weeks went on, suddenly things began to change, slowly and most of the time for the better. The images were still there confounding me, and my moods were bleak at times, but sleep was gradually becoming something I could finally accept and I was able to manage a few hours during the night. The images were still there, and unnerving me, but I turned a corner; I took control of the images and tried using them to my advantage – to help me convalesce and understand the trauma I was going through. This newly discovered control and confidence manifested itself in several ways – my attitude, my relationships and the decrease in my dependence on morphine. However, the control I was feeling allowed me to discover the emotions that were coursing through my veins, and I felt angry for the first time. Unfortunately for my beloved family, this anger appeared just at the time when they were acepting what had happened to me and were focussing on the future and ensuring my recovery! I lost sleep due to anger and frustration, but music helped me to relax and I began to read during the day.

Relentlessly I tried to deal with my anger. Sometimes this was easy to do – concentrating hard on positive thoughts and the small steps I was taking on my road to recovery. At other times my anger was directed at the people whose fault I believed it to be that I was in this condition. My anger and predicament was taking its toll on Chris; even in the sorry state I was in I could see that she needed to take care of herself. She had been in shock in the immediate aftermath of the accident, but even within a fortnight I could see that she was struggling, and this lead to the added emotion of guilt over what I was putting her through.  However it is recorded in my diary on numerous occasions and in many different ways that the times when Chris was able to stay with me all day were the best. She managed to put a smile on my face when I needed it most.

Visitors were more frequent now as news of the accident spread, and friends and relatives were aware that I was open to visits. It was lovely to have different people visit me and to have so many emails and messages from friends who weren’t able to make the journey to Shrewsbury. One evening a colleague came to visit and  brought in cards from work. We talked about work all evening and when I opened the cards they made me, well, the word “emotional” doesn’t really come anywhere near describing how I felt.

I underwent countless operations in the weeks after the accident. Some became routine despite their invasive, serious nature. Others even at an early stage were reconstructive, and these usually left me feeling positive as further advances were being made in my recovery. Early on in April I had a major operation on my broken arm which was a success, and the post-op talk of physio made me feel unequivocally certain that I was going to make a satisfactory recovery from all of my injuries and that I would be able to enjoy life again. At this moment in time I still hadn’t seen the extent of the damage to my right leg.

There was constant talk about the reconstruction of my leg, but there was usually a reason for delaying the process. I hadn’t realised how close I had been to losing my leg in the immediate hours after the accident. It was alarming to hear that “it needs 2 more months to heal before surgery would be possible” and much later “it still needs time”. In the midst of this uncertainty of what would happen next, two events happened that brightened my mood. The first was the removal of the pin in my foot, which had been there to keep my leg in traction, aiding the skin graft and hip joint. The second event was my birthday – not the venue I had envisaged – but the visitors and the cake helped ease the pain of an uncomfortable operation and played havoc with my emotions! Good times and bad once again sat side by side on my long journey of recovery. The look on the nurses faces when they saw me lying there with a nine inch carving knife ready to cut the cake, to this day, makes me smile.

By mid-May I felt exasperated most of the time. Other patients began to annoy me when they disturbed my sleep, and later on just by being there. I had hoped by now that the pain would be easing, and the fact that it wasn’t really got me down. This added to my guilt, as they, like myself had not chosen to be there, it was circumstance that brought us together. Visitors still came to see me, some regularly, others calling in as and when they could, and bringing me good news and updates from home. And then, suddenly, on the 18th May the doctor expressed his pleasure at the progress I was making – and mentioned that I could be going home in a couple of weeks time. This news was the best. I was beginning to walk around slowly and tentatively on my crutches and this was the news I needed to get me walking and mending quickly to prove the doctor right.

Two days after the doctor talked of going home, I brought up the subject of the triathlon on June 21st in Machynlleth. My dream was to be part of a relay team, and this dream helped me progress rapidly over the next few days. I slept well at night for the first time, trips to theatre seemed to have better results than ever, and the consultants and medical staff were really happy with my progress. I saw part of the thigh wound for the first time, and surprisingly thought it better than I expected! I managed for the first time since the accident to lie on my right side. I was feeling good.

Saturday May 23rd was a notable day as I saw the outside world again for the first time for an awfully long time. I went outside with Chris into the hospital grounds, and being in the fresh air felt strange. I was told by the staff that I was putting weight back on finally, which I thought was great, but also knew I’d have to watch it! Three days after my epic trip outside I was allowed to walk without aids as my hip and pelvis were improving, and I managed to shuffle to the lift and back. My daily jaunts around the Hospital became a regular occurance and on one particular day I went into the Hospital Chapel, sat down on my own and had, what can only be described as a trully amazing conversation with my late father. I have never thought of myself as a religous person, but something on that day drew me into that room.

May drew to a close and I just wanted to go home. I was walking daily in the grounds using my crutches. It was slow and steady, but at least it was progress. When the doctors wouldn’t give me a definite date to go home I was angry and more determined than ever to prove to them how ready I was.
My diary entry for June 4th was the penultimate entry. A short trip to theatre at lunchtime for a dressing change, and then I was told I could go home. I was very emotional at this point – YES!!!!!!!
Friday 5/6/09 my diary says it all – “THIS IS IT – GOING HOME.”

Sincere thanks to my friend Jane Thorogood for desyferring my scribbled notes, collating the information and  presenting my thoughts and feelings for those three months spent in Hospital.