100 nights in hospital

When I think back to my 100 nights in Auckland hospital, made up of two stints at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, my mind straight away jumps somewhere else. Anywhere else. I spent enough time there that I don’t really want to spend much time revisiting it.

But equally I also have a nagging thought that I should write something down. Something that I can look back on when I’m older, or maybe just something that other people would find interesting to read.

To keep it positive I’ve decided to focus on some of the things that helped get me through and that kept me in high spirits. Thanks to my family, my friends, my collegues at work and the awesome hospital staff that helped me get better — I was lucky enough to keep a smile on my face for most of the time and leave in pretty good shape.

Wait — how did you end up in hospital?

It’s a bit of a long story and a series of unfortunate events. The first thing to know is that my bones break more easily than other people thanks to a genetic disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. I’ve broken lots of bones growing up — but nothing as serious as this. My first hospital stay as it relates to this post came in September 2015 after I tripped outside Mighty Ape and broke my leg in several places and shattered my pelvis. It took three surgeries, a stint in HDU and 6 weeks flat on back before I was even allowed to get out of bed and learn to walk again. Eventually I was upright and discharged, and thanks to crutches and a leg brace, I was back to work — determined to pick up where I left off. On my third day back at the office — I was hit by a car while crossing the same road. A careless driver who simply didn’t look drove her car into me head on, struck me to the ground breaking my shoulder in several places, my elbow and my ankle. Back to hospital pumped full of morphine I went — where I ended up in the same ward with the same team of doctors and nurses that I had only just waved goodbye to the month before. Two more surgeries and another hardware store worth of titanium plates and screws later — I was back on the road to recovery!

On with the story…

My work gave me purpose.

I was lucky that my work at Mighty Ape was slowed down, but never put on hold by my time in hospital. This goes against the advice of many, who argued that work should be the last thing on my mind and that I should switch off and focus on my physical recovery. But honestly, it was a huge part of what got me through. Thanks to a creative healthcare assistant named Dave, my laptop was fully accessible to me even when I was flat on my back for 6 weeks. I was fully connected by email, Slack and phone. For sure I was not as productive — constantly interrupted by doctors, nurses, visitors — often too tired to work, but I worked for several hours a day, every day, and remained fully plugged into what was going on back in the office.

My friends at work made me this cute card

Mighty Ape’s commitment to remote work and modern collaborative tools was a life saver for me and help pass the time. Had I not had access to these tools, or colleagues committed to a modern way of working, my days would have been longer and more isolated. As it turns out, I seldom felt that way — and when I rejoined office life months down the track — I was immediately able to pick up where I left off.

Technology kept me connected.

Being stuck in hospital even 10 years ago would have been awful. 100 years ago — unthinkable. Not that hospital in 2016 is a super fun place to be — but with Wi-Fi, an iPhone and a laptop — it’s remarkable how much of your everyday existence just automatically comes with you. I was connected at all times to the people I cared about through my phone. I was texting all the same people. I might not have been out in the weekends, but I was receiving the same group SnapChats and viewing the same photos on Instagram. I was missing out — but not as much as I could have been if I was relying on people picking up the phone to call me. My friends often asked if seeing a live stream of photos of what they were up to made me sad — it didn’t.

SnapChat helped me keep connected

Of course there were dark times, where I just wanted to be there too, but overall it made me feel thought of and included. I felt connected, and it made me more motivated to get home and get better. Having my laptop and a bunch of subscription services was awesome too. I watched the same shows on Netflix, the same YouTube channels — I read books on my iPad and I listened to song and albums on Spotify. Thanks to technology and the internet, I’d guess that at least 50% of my life remained exactly the same as it would have been. For that reason, and the fact my injuries would probably have killed me 100 years ago — I am extremely grateful my accidents happened in 2015/2016 and in New Zealand.

Goals to work toward.

Obviously I had two big goals to work toward — getting discharged from hospital, and walking again. Every milestone toward these goals was something to look forward to and cause for celebration. Some of the important ones included being strong enough to:

  • Sit up in bed after spending six weeks flat on my back
  • Stand up without assistance
  • Leave my bed to use the shower, toilet or just sit in a chair
  • Move around under my own steam using a walking frame
  • Use a wheelchair to take myself around the hospital and outside
  • Use crutches safely to navigate stairs and be considered for discharge
Standing for the first time in about 8 weeks was a very good day

There were also goals around my physical limitations and range of motion that I became absolutely obsessed about. The injury to my leg meant that my knee could no longer bend and was effectively locked in a straight position. Every day I would do physio and exercises whilst in bed, to try and improve the range of motion. I measured my progress in degrees absolutely obsessed with getting to 90 degrees so I could sit normally on a chair. I worked my physio hard and made him measure and measure again until we hit 90 — which we did. To this day I haven’t got it all back, but I can peddle full circle on an excercycle which was once only a distant dream.

Learning to walk in my Mario pyjamas

I also created fun goals to look forward to — such as getting out in time for my birthday in December and throwing myself a birthday party that involved a midnight screening of Star Wars: Force Awakens with my friends. I achieved this — and flanked by all my friends I walked on crutches down Queen Street and into Event Cinemas and enjoyed the film with everyone else. Good times.

Unconditional love.

Before my accident I was a relatively fit and healthy 33 year old, enjoying life the same as anyone else my age. Sure, my underlying condition meant I opted-out of certain activities — you wouldn’t see me playing rugby, going skiing or generally anything that risked contact or falling over — but from the outside looking in I was just the same as everyone else. That was how my partner Alex knew me too — but that all changed overnight. One of my greatest fears throughout it all was that I would emerge the other side a different person and somehow unlovable. I was terrified that the person I was would be changed forever and I would be left alone. I was wrong.

It was fun to get out of hospital and spend time with Alex again

There were unquestionably some very challenging times, but I was so lucky, and remain so lucky, to have Alex stand by me throughout the whole experience. Having someone to care for really helped. I definitely missed the simple things — our time at home together, going out for dinner, enjoying video games — and all the other cute things couples do, but we were still able to talk every day and share important and interesting parts of our everyday lives. Realising that I was as loveable and as worthy, despite my injuries — was perhaps the greatest gift.

I feel the same sense of gratitude toward all my friends and family who stood by me too. Both during my hospital stay and afterward. Whilst in hospital I was delivered a home cooked meal or takeaway on an almost daily basis — and believe me, when faced with hospital food day in day out McDonald’s never tasted so good. One of my friends even arranged a flatwhite to be delivered from the local Columbus Cafe at 9am on the dot every weekday morning. I have no idea who he had to bribe or how much he had to pay — but it was these little things that really got me through.

Driving my new car for the first time was fun

My friends also temporarily modified my apartment so it was Dylan-friendly and ran errands for me — whether it was to simply fetch a glass of water from the kitchen, or the ridiculous yet iconic drive all the way from Auckland to Wellington return (wheelchair stowed safely in the boot of a chase car!) to collect a new Dylan-friendly car with a DSG gearbox. My friends did all these things and more.

I surrendered control — sort of.

Growing up I’ve become a bit of a control freak. I’m seldom happy unless I have control over my environment and my choices. I crave independence — learned to drive at 15, lived away from home since age 20, lived alone until my 30s, run my own businesses and generally marched to my own drum. Breaking your leg, pelvis, elbow, shoulder and ankle — all at once — has a way of undoing all that. Overnight I went from doing everything myself, to not being able to shower by myself. I couldn’t even reach over and plug my iPhone into the wall by myself. If I wanted anything at all — even my tooth brush and a cup of water to spit into — I had to ask for it. This was very uncool and very not me.

My new friend Dave made sure I could always reach my laptop

In the early days of hospital I tried to control every part of my environment — I had people put signs on the door when I didn’t want nurses, doctors or anyone to interrupt me, and I had friends and colleagues txt or call before visiting to make sure I was in the mood for visitors. Spontaneous visits — no matter how well intentioned were strictly forbidden.

Eventually I learned what I could control and what I couldn’t, and that often compliance was the quickest route to getting what I wanted — freedom. I did as I was told and I swallowed the pills, I filled out the forms, I jumped through all their stupid little bureaucratic hoops and did what was necessary to have all the correct boxes ticked to achieve a successful discharge. My friends tell me I have rose tinted glasses on this subject and I was a lot more frustrated and stubborn than I remember — but looking at my life today I am much more willing to release control and just go along with things than I was before!

Doctors gave me hope.

I don’t think I’d have come through the experience the way I did without hope that I’d get better and that the fight would be worth it. When I think back at what was said to me in the days immediately following my injuries — it turns out that doctors are really good liars. I was told that I’d be “good as new” that I’d “get it all back” and that it was “too soon to tell” how quickly I’d get there. Truth is, physically speaking, I’ll never get it all back — the injuries I sustained cannot be perfectly reversed and my body put back exactly the way it was before. My surgeon described my pelvis as like a dinner plate that had been dropped from a great height — totally shattered and requiring 12 hours of surgery to put back together. They knew the injuries would mean arthritis, pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion. But they didn’t tell me this and the shielded me from the truth — and I’m thankful they did.

I was pretty excited to be leaving

Turns out they knew something really important — hope drives action and pushes us to undertake things we’d otherwise consider impossible. As its said on the hallmark card — aim for the stars and you’ll reach the moon. I pushed myself hard every day in the quest for a full recovery, and in doing so, I’ve bounced back as much as anyone could hope and the doctors consider my recovery “excellent”.

I made genuine connections.

During my time in hospital I was vulnerable like I had never been vulnerable before in my life. People I’d never met before saw me weak, helpless and I was totally at their mercy. This isn’t how I normally choose to run my life, but strangely, it enabled me to form real connections very quickly. When I was finally discharged — I was devastated and cried openly in front of other people for one of the only times in my adult life. I was so grateful for the care I’d received from my nurses that I was genuinely upset to be saying goodbye. Of course some of them were just doing their job — but so many of them felt like they were doing it because they genuinely cared and just loved helping people. By many, I was treated like a member of the family — like I was their son or brother. This was a humbling experience and a reminder of the lengths some people will go in the service of others. I spent 100 days and nights with these great people — and their friendship, humour and compassion helped me through the darkest times.

Honestly though, you get used to anything.

It’s true that us humans have an uncanny ability to adapt to a new normal. My reality for the first 8 weeks in hospital was a life confined entirely to my hospital bed — but this quickly became normal to me. Despite being unable to move around or physically put myself into a different environment, I was able to divide up my day around my meals, my visitors and my appointments with different medical staff. I quickly developed a routine and my days became filled with things to do.

Ready to face the world

Interestingly, I could tell that friends and family visiting me perceived my experience to be worse than it actually was for me. Would I like to go back and do another 100 nights? Hell no. But when you’re faced with no choice — it’s incredible how quickly you adapt. Humans can put up with just about anything. It’s been the same experience post-hospital as well. I remember being told at one point during my stay that I’d probably have a “bit of a limp” and that might be something I’d have to adjust and get used to. I feel sorry for whoever drew the short straw on delivering that news because it didn’t go down well. Funny thing is though, a year or so later it turns out they were right — and it doesn’t really bother me. You get used to anything. Catch me in the right mood, and I can even laugh about it.

Twice was enough thanks.

Looking back at my time in hospital, I became quite skilled at making the days fly by, staying productive at work and connected to my friends. I opened myself up to vulnerability and found out a few things about myself. But life is definitely better on the outside and I hope not to go back anytime soon. I do however take some comfort in the knowledge that I got through it not once, but twice. I believe when it comes down to it most people would be exactly the same — and with the right attitude and the right support, you can get used to just about anything.

If you’re reading this and you were part of my journey — thank you :)

Airport security is always a fun time
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