Anna's story

I am a confident, go-getter, always working towards reaching my goals and making dreams come true. I suffered trauma to my spine caused by an error in administration of an epidural by anaesthetist during labour. It caused acute subdural haematoma in the lumbar spine. It was a leakage of blood in the spinal cord and swelling which caused displacement of the nerve fibres, which subsequently meant that I lost feeling from my lower back to my toes and was told that I may never walk again. This type of injury happens in 1 in 100,000 people.

This had a significant impact on my life, physically and mentally. It happened at the time when I was already presented with an important life change – I was a new mother. Limited mobility made it difficult for me to do basic tasks such as standing up from the bed or walking into a shower, not to mention looking after new-born baby. Unusual sensations from my lower back to my toes made me feel like it wasn’t my body and this caused panic attacks.

I wanted to walk but my legs felt very heavy, my ankles, knees and hips felt numb which affected my balance and confidence.

Additionally, I was discharged from the hospital with an emergency number for their anaesthetist’s team and they called me every day to make sure my condition is not deteriorating. This made me feel anxious, like every little pain in my body meant I may require a high risk emergency spinal surgery.

Because this type of injury is so rare, I was managed by various teams at the hospital and none of them have established procedure on how to lead the plan for recovery. I was left for two months without any help. I felt neglected and had to deal with my recovery by myself. After two months and no luck of getting any support, I contacted my GP at the time. He did the assessment of my condition and contacted spinal surgeons at the hospital with his concerns regarding potential nerve damage and suggested an urgent requirement of rehabilitation. After his intervention, I was finally assigned to the right physiotherapy department and I was able to get help I needed. With this type of injury, the first 12 months of rehabilitation are crucial and work on the nerves as soon as possible after injury increases potential of better results.

I contacted the Brain & Spine Foundation as one of my first port of calls for help. I was provided with useful links and ideas of things I could do to get a structured rehabilitation plan. The difficulties I had experienced with getting help from hospital made feel like I was in this battle by myself. But after contacting the Helpline, I realised that there are other options, ideas for recovery and also, other people that experienced injuries and who overcome them. I also joined Neuro Social. It was a great source of information and support.

Ultimately, I ended up writing my own recovery plan, as I did not get sufficient help from the NHS.

I have done a lot of research, joined Facebook groups for spinal cord injuries and have made connections with others who suffer from spinal haematoma. It was important for me to learn what therapies helped them and how they are recovering. This helped me to clarify what type of rehabilitation would be most effective. It was very useful and helped me a lot – especially mentally.

Before my injury I was learning how to surf. I am a keen mountain biker and compete in bike races. I love to travel, run, and hike. My injury has meant that I may not be able to do these activities as before. However, the human body is truly incredible and with hard work and determination I have been able to adapt. I have started to work on my balance through hydrotherapy. Exercises in the water enabled me to also start regaining strength in my legs and stimulate nerves. Additionally, physiotherapy helped me with regaining confidence in walking, lifting myself from the floor or going up and down the stairs. I joined the Brain & Spine Foundation’s ‘North vs. South Mile Challenge’. By participating I challenged myself to walk every day a bit further and also open up to my friends and family about what happened. Seeing their amazing support and words of encouragement, gave me a massive boost of energy that I dedicated to my recovery. Recently, I was able to get out for an easy bike ride, which made me very happy. However, surfing or running is still a long way ahead. But I am going to get there.

Family and friends are a great motivation and support to keep on going, learn how to live in the new reality and work on the recovery.

I want my family and friends to know that their support is extremely important and can make wonders! A strong net of support and positive messages from those closest to me were crucial in my recovery and I wouldn’t be in the same place without them. I am inspired by two people: my son, who gives me power and motivation to get better so that we can have all the amazing and fun adventures together; and someone who I met via a Facebook group who had experienced a similar injury. The extent of damage to the nerves he experienced was greater and he ended up on a wheelchair. However, he did not give up and put his heart into recovery, physiotherapy and all possible treatments. He is now able to stand up and make a few steps in the hydrotherapy pool. We exchanged a few Facebook messages and he became a great inspiration for my road to recovery. He advised me on what worked for him and what I could try and also his positivity made me realise that things it will get better and we should never give up.

This experience has made me realise that I’m stronger than I thought and that when I recover I can achieve more than ever. Even though being positive was not possible for me in the beginning, I had worked hard to look at this situation from other angles and change my mind set to positive.

For someone who may be at the beginning of an experience like mine, I want you to know that even though things may seem very difficult, it will start getting easier with time and hard work and strong will can bring miraculous effects.

Finally, I would like to raise awareness of this injury, especially amongst midwifery staff, about the symptoms and to encourage a set procedure on how to plan and lead recovery. As this injury happened to me during delivery of my son, I spent my recovery at the maternity ward. As spinal haematomas caused by epidural happen 1 in 100,000, not many midwives had come across that type of injury. Lack of understanding of my condition (before emergency MRI revealed I have haematoma) caused a lot of unpleasant situations and I was made to feel that I was overdramatising the effects of the epidural. It wasn’t until 35 hours that midwives and doctors reflected that there might have been an injury. Spinal haematomas are considered a neurosurgical emergency that require rapid surgical decompression so quick diagnosis and reaction are crucial in increasing chances of recovery. Luckily in my case, it was absorbed and did not require emergency spinal surgery, however it is important to raise awareness.

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