THAT DAY I BROKE MY BACK!
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
The most EXTREME physical pain I ever suffered in my life was when I broke my back in March 2000 in a 3-wheeler accident, which as you can imagined, turned my fuckin' world upside down.
What started off as a day out at the beach with a few friends, for a bit of craic as we say here in Northern Ireland, turned into a fucking NIGHTMARE! After flying up the beach on the 3-wheeler (similar to the one pictured below) at high speed and hitting the side of a “driveway” that ran down onto Benone Beach on the North Coast, which I didn't realise was raised out of the sand on one side until it was too late, I flew over the handlebars and went spinning through the air about 50-60 yards up the beach (so I was told – I've no memory of spinning through the air, just the moment of impact with the 3-wheeler and the moment of impact when I hit the ground).
I suffered a burst fracture of my L2 vertebrae, snapped my upper left arm and badly broke my left wrist, requiring metal plates and rods to put me back to together again.
I can't even explain the pain that I suffered only that I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and that the only thing I could imagine that could be worse at the time, was be burning to death! I remember being too afraid to ask if I would be able to walk again, so in typical “me” fashion I didn't! (Like a lot of people, I've had a habit of suppressing shit and keeping all my pain inside my head and not telling or complaining to others).
I was given the choice of lying for 6 months in hospital to see if my back would heal naturally by itself OR get the operation to put the metal plate/rods in.
The biggest decision I'd ever had to make in my life, at 19 years old, and I was heavily under the influence of Morphine for the pain!
When I realised that if I lay for 6 months and my back didn't heal, that I would have to get the operation then anyway – my gut feeling immediately was to get it!
When I made the decision to go ahead with the op, which would be 3-4 days later, the consultant said to the nurses “I want him on his feet in 2 weeks time” which was music to my ears.
I had no idea what recovery would like like, or how well I would recover, but I ruled never being able to walk again out of the equation when I heard that. Several days later I went through 7 and a half hours of surgery to put metal fixations in my lower back, left arm and left wrist and received a blood transfusion – the operation was a success.
The recovery would now begin. My memory is a bit hazy due to the shock of everything, being in extreme pain and out of it on morphine, but the most of the first 2 weeks was spent lying in bed looking at the ceiling.
Sure enough though after 2 weeks I got out of bed. It was a major struggle and took 2 nurses to help me up and sit me down on the chair next to it but it was a major step forward.
Just sitting in that chair was so hard and I could only sit for about 2-3 minutes before they had to put me back in bed but each day going forward I sat for longer and gradually started walking.
The first day I took a few steps with the physiotherapists helping me was fucking emotional – it was so strange to be feeling so happy that I could do something that we all take for granted every day!
I started making a lot of progress and they let me out of hospital after just 3 weeks when I was able to walk about 20 yards and able to go up a few stairs.
I was always naturally slim but not having eaten a full meal in 3 weeks I was stick thin, weighed 10 stone (140lbs) and was definitely not the picture of health but I was so happy to be going home and ready to REALLY start recovering. It was a surreal experience in there! Although I was in a fracture ward, it seemed more like a fuckin' insane asylum at times with some of the characters who were in there with me. They all had their own problems but when you're trying to recover from something like breaking your back, a little peace is extremely valuable.
On one side of me there was an old man who was butt-naked and kept fucking throwing the bed clothes off, as well as hitting the nurses with a water jug and making up shit about 1 of the other patients about kidnapping people in a van.
On the other side was a guy who had stolen a car in Belfast which had a gun in it, was then kidnapped and interrogated for 9 hours by the IRA before being shot in both ankles (punishment beatings and shootings were common back then by Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries in NI). I heard him telling his mates who came into visit him.
This guy was then replaced by another old man who decided to shit the bed on 1 of the first days when I was sitting out on the chair between both our beds, but not able to walk yet or even get up.
You can imagine the smell! I had my head turned away, put the oxygen mask on and started ringing the buzzer for a nurse to come rescue me.
On top of that, he started wiping his ass with the pillow saying “Somebody spilled chocolate on the bed!” and threatening to throw it, which was met with a nice reply from the dude across from me who threatened that he'd beat the fuck out of him with his crutch if he threw the pillow (the same guy would often sing “We built this city on rock and roll loudly and out of tune wearing his headphones!)
Thankfully a nurse came over at that point rescued me and sorted the old man out. That was a close call! I can laugh at it all now looking back but it was NOT fucking funny at the time! I seen first hand what nurses have to deal with on a daily basis and I have such respect of them – they really don't get paid anywhere near enough!
So, back to my recovery.
The struggle wasn't over by a long shot, but at least now that I was home I could start to recover in peace. However being stuck in the house in the same room every day and unable to do things for myself really started to weigh down on me.
When I was in hospital, like I mentioned earlier, it seemed so surreal and it wasn't really until I got home that the realisation of what I went through REALLY hit me hard.
The physical pain was fucking brutal but it was the mental struggle that accompanied it that was the worst. At 19 years old it did not feel good needing your mum to help get you out of bed in the morning, help to dress you, tie your shoe laces and even cut your food up.
I was just about able to manage going to the toilet myself thankfully, though it was a struggle.
Something else that also hit me really hard was that after the first couple of weeks, almost all of my friends stop calling or visiting. Nobody owes anyone anything really but I have to say I did feel a little abandoned and despite my parents being great, felt really alone.
I don't know if they felt they would be imposing or intruding, just felt awkward and didn't know what they should do.
I was very much feeling sorry for myself at this point and in the victim mindset. I asked why the fuck this had to happen to me and what did I do to deserve this shit?! Understandable reactions no doubt but was this way of thinking of benefit to me? Of course not. You simply can't all yourself to play the victim and stay in that head space forever.
What snapped me out of this, was hearing the story of a man in a local bar not that far from me, who fell off a bar stool and reading the story of another in an NI newspaper who simply tripped and fell. Both broke their necks and were paralysed from the neck down!
THIS really woke me up and made me realise that I had a lot to be grateful for. I might have been worse off than most of those around me but there are always people a lot worse off.
My uncle Keith also supported me, was great to talk to and helped me put things in perspective. He was one of the most honest, kindest, most genuine people you could ever meet and the only one I knew who had any understanding of what I was going through as he too was badly hurt in an accident where a lorry reversed into him and crushed his back.
He was still able to walk but unfortunately suffered a lot of pain and discomfort for the rest of his life as surgeons were unable to operate on him for fear of paralysing him. Realising that there were others worse off than me, who no doubt would wish they had my problems, made me appreciate what I did have - hope. I could only walk a few yards in a lot of pain, but I could still walk. I knew my arm and wrist would heal up and I was making progress every week. I was now determined to do whatever I could to recover and adopted a more positive attitude. I walked as far as I could every day, extending it further and further and as the weeks went by I was seeing more and more progress and started cutting down on the painkillers.
One thing that was always there for me, and that really helped (along with the support of my parents) was music. I spend a lot of the days watching music videos and listening to heavy music.
Rock, metal and hardcore was what I lived for and has always got me through the hard times.
Listening to some of my favourite bands like Pantera, Machine Head, Biohazard, Slayer, Korn, Sick Of It All and seeing new bands like Slipknot explode onto the scene and the rise of Nu-metal fuelled my passion even further and I felt driven to get back on my feet, back to playing drums and writing music and dreamed of one day playing the music I love for a living! This gave me the fuel I needed. I was going to do whatever it takes to heal. My arm and wrist healed up first and I had physiotherapy which really helped and I started messing about playing bass guitar, then got the drumsticks back in my hand and playing on a pad daily and starting to come up with song ideas.
Although I was still wearing a body cast I was able to go out a little and socialise a bit with some friends again and after a few months started physio for my back.
I was getting a little better every week but the Physiotherapist who I went to for my back, who was a very experienced one, didn't seem to give a shit and didn't even check if I was doing my rehab exercises properly.
Her attitude sucked and this wasn't good enough to me and nothing was going to hold me back so I went to a new private Physio. Going to this woman was a game-changer! Her attitude was so different. She had the PMA! She motivated me, encouraged me and drove home message that there was so much more I could do told me of previous patients who did awesome things like write books, create art and start businesses despite suffering serious injuries.
She did a great job showing me effective exercises to do daily, told me to start swimming ASAP but most importantly she lifted my spirits and made me believe in myself again! I did all the exercises she gave me every day first thing in the morning, went for my walks every day and started swimming 2-3 times per week. Swimming 1 length at a time was all I could do and just did a total of 2 or 3 over 20-30 mins, the rest of the time just moving my legs holding on to the side.
This started to increase as I pushed myself more and more, swimming 2 lengths in a row, then 3, then 4 and so on. The days were starting to drag less, I was feeling stronger, building my confidence more and before I knew it I was swimming 40 consecutive lengths of the pool 2-3 times per week, got back behind the drum kit to start up my band again with my best friend working on writing new songs and able to go out with for a few beer the local bars.
I still struggled at times mentally but things improved so much and a lot quicker than I originally thought. The difference 6 months made was unreal and I kept improving.
In fact, the doctors were so pleased with how my fracture healed they scheduled me in to get the metal plates etc removed after 1 year to give me more flexibility as they were holding 3 vertebrae together restricting my movement a little.
The bad times weren't over yet though. I went in for the operation to remove the metal and after the surgery I woke up and the pain was just as bad. Just as extreme it was when I had the accident.
I knew there would be a lot of pain but didn't think it would be as bad. Back to that place where having to sneeze was like being shot or someone even tapping their fingers on the bed felt caused pain you wouldn't believe. However, I knew it was for the best and it wouldn't last and I was up and moving a lot quicker and got out of hospital after 1 week. I was still in so much pain but really wanted home and the hospital had a shortage of beds.
My mum kept saying they let me out too early but I thought she was just worrying too much and even though she said the wound looked terrible on my back I assured her that the nurse who was calling out to re-dress it and treat it would've said something if there was something wrong.
I was still in a lot of pain and the wound kept still seeping through my bandage when I went to see the consultant for my first outpatient appointment at the hospital. As soon as he seen the wound he told a nurse immediately to get a bed sorted for me and that I would be staying in as the wound was badly infected.
This meant more surgery, this time to cut me open, clean up the wound and get the infection out of my system. This was a setback to me, but after getting it done I felt so much relief from the pain and after a week and a half they let me home once they were convinced it was healing up properly.
I recovered pretty quick after that and was back swimming and playing some drums a matter of weeks after that.
A few months later, just a year and a half after my accident, I started a new job, was playing drums and writing songs each week and on a mission to put together a band that would be a force to be reckoned with.
I still had pain, but I was pain I could deal with and I was up and moving pretty much back to normal.
It just goes to show, when you change your mindset, you really can change you life.
When you feel sorry for yourself, constantly focus on the negatives and don't believe you can overcome whatever struggle you're going through, things are unlikely to improve as you're unlikely to push yourself to make the effort.
On the other hand, when you change your mindset for the better, appreciate the good things that you do have in your life and take a POSITIVE MENTAL ATTITUDE and believe in yourself you can completely turn things around.
You're more likely to take action and push yourself out of your comfort zone and when you've got something to aim for, in my case getting my independence back and the dream of playing music again. Although my accident was traumatic for me, and fucked me up physically AND mentally, I look back at it as a blessing in disguise (REALLY well disguised!). It forced me to look at life in a new way and realise life can change or be taken away in a second. To appreciate the little things that we all take for granted. To this day, I really appreciate the fact I am able to walk and go for at least 2 walks every day, as well as several workouts per week.
It made me realise that you should go after the things you want and do the things you love to do and not take things for granted and let life pass you by. It made me enjoy nights out with my friends and going to live shows even more and party like there was no tomorrow (though I may have overdone it a lot lol).
It ignited my passion for playing music and gave me a drive I never had before that lead to me giving my all over the next 10+ years to my band.
I may not have “made it” to the big time but I had some great times, met great people, became a better drummer than I ever thought I could be, wrote and recorded 4 releases with 2 bands and played gigs all over Ireland and as far away as the United States.
Whatever your struggles, no matter how hard it gets, NEVER GIVE UP!
I wrote this, not to gave a sob story of how much I suffered and get sympathy, but to give hope to others who are struggling in ANY way and show that you can get through almost anything and that there is always hope.
Don't let ANYONE tell you that nothing can be done to improve your life. There are ALWAYS people out there a lot worse off who have overcome the odds and who lead more incredible lives than most.
Even if you've know idea how to start right now and it seems impossible – there is always a way. You must be willing to be open minded and willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and do whatever it takes but it can be done if you REALLY want it.
You owe it to yourself to do the best you can and refuse give up. Look after number 1. The healthier and happier YOU are the more you can do for those closest to you.
Never underestimate the power of you turning your life around and doing awesome things and how it can inspire those around you, and many more, to improve theirs.
This is what BORN 2 BLEED is all about. Overcoming struggle, being the best you can be, being yourself and of course heavy fucking music!
SURVIVE. THRIVE. INSPIRE
Join the BORN 2 BLEED Facebook Group:
METALHEADS WHO SURVIVE, THRIVE & INSPIRE - Health - Mindset - Motivation SIGN UP to the BORN 2 BLEED Mailing List and get 10% off your next order! You'll receive discount codes, inspirational content, hear about new products first!
For more about me, BORN 2 BLEED, metal-inspired apparel, mindset coaching, inspiring stories from metalheads around the word and some awesome rock, metal and hardcore playlists hit the button below.
And please share this with anyone you know who needs some inspiration!