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Teacher Was Paralysed By Rugby Ball

July 17, 2015

From today’s Guardian:


I couldn’t have been more pleased when I got the job as head of design and technology at a local secondary school. It was my first senior teaching role and I loved it immediately. But five months into the role, on a February morning in 2008, everything changed.

I was walking down the corridor to a lesson. Two or three boys were swinging or kicking a bag with a rugby ball inside, and let go by accident. The ball flew through the air and hit me smack in the middle of my forehead, causing me to fall backwards and knock my head on a door frame. I can’t remember anything more about it.

Someone at the school called an ambulance, but apparently I told the paramedic that I didn’t need to go to hospital, so my husband Si picked me up and took me home.

The next day I vomited, so Si took me to hospital, but doctors said it was probably just concussion. Over the next few days, I mostly slept. When I did walk, it was as if I was drunk, and I struggled with my short-term memory. I also had terrible headaches. This time, Si took me to our GP’s surgery, where the locum still blamed concussion.

My first clear memory is a week after the accident. I still hadn’t been back to work. I was lying in bed and heard a knock at the door. It was my dad, who reminded me that it was my sister’s wedding the next day. But although I went along, I have very little recollection of it and only snippets of the weeks afterwards.

The headaches got worse. Sometimes, it felt as though my head was shut in a vice. I also used to fall asleep instantly, even at the dinner table, and I constantly felt dizzy. As for my memory, I couldn’t remember things I’d only just read. Si became increasingly worried and took me back to the GP – my own one this time – and she referred me to the neurology department of our local hospital, where I was told I’d suffered a brain injury.

I felt relieved to have a diagnosis. But even the simplest of exercises – like nodding my head – made me throw up, and the cognitive exercises exhausted me. I remained determined and optimistic, and even tried to go back to work three months after the accident. But I’d be there for half an hour and need to sleep for three hours afterwards. After a few weeks, I gave up.

Shortly afterwards, an MRI scan revealed I had a spinal injury, in addition to the brain damage, and before long I was in a wheelchair, barely able to walk.

I focused on the positives, hoping that surgery would help. But when I came round after the operation in November, I couldn’t feel anything from my neck downwards, which was terrifying. Although doctors reassured me it was probably only temporary, it took weeks for me to be able to pick up even a raisin, and my hands and arms remain very weak; the feeling never came back in my right leg at all.

By the middle of the following year, it was confirmed that I’d be in a wheelchair for ever and that the problems with my fine motor skills, memory and fatigue were also likely to remain permanent. For months, I felt angry, miserable and agoraphobic, overwhelmed with regret that I wouldn’t reach my ultimate goal of returning to teaching, although helped by the support from my husband and sons.

After a few months, I started a course in ceramics at the National Star College in Cheltenham, a specialist further education college for people with disabilities. I’d never thought of myself as an artist, but the course boosted my confidence no end. Recently, I’ve been helping one of the art tutors with teaching, as well as exploring how I might be able to use my experience to be an emotional support to others.

I’ve never held a grudge against the boys who had the rugby ball – it was a freak accident. I obviously wish the accident hadn’t happened, but I now find myself focusing on the positives it has brought to my life, in particular discovering skills I never knew I had. My husband and I are even closer than we already were. I never knew just how much I am capable of.

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