I was 19 years old when, on 24th August 1972 at 11:06, I slipped and fell off a tin roof whilst working. I was 50 feet up. I fell 30 feet, landed on an asbestos roof, stood up and then that roof collapsed and I fell another 20 feet.  I landed on my hip, rolled over and twisted my spine when I tried to get up.  I fell backwards and couldn’t feel anything from chest down. Nothing at all, not my arms, legs… nothing. I lay there for about 20 minutes trying to call for help. Eventually an ambulance arrived and strapped me onto a stretcher from my head to my toes so I couldn’t move at all. They took me to the QE Hospital in Birmingham and I was there for two days.  I just lay there, I couldn’t feel anything.  They said I had broken something but didn’t say what. 

Eventually they decided to take me to Oswestry Orthopaedic Hospital which was an 85 mile journey in an ambulance.  Back then the drivers were just drivers, not paramedics.  They couldn’t go more than 30mph and had to be careful over any bumps.  Halfway there they decided they wanted to stop at a pub for a drink, and even asked me if I wanted one!  They went inside for about half hour, leaving my lying there just looking up at ceiling.  We carried on to Oswestry where I was put into a bed - one of the new turntable beds of the 1970s - and catheterised me, which was a great relief.  A doctor told me I’d broken my T12 L1 but they didn’t know what damage had been done.  I thought that after a couple of weeks I’d be up and out.

I had no control over my bowels and bladder and had no idea what was going on.  They decided to keep turning me in bed. I had one or two visitors but my mum wasn’t able to as it was a 100 mile journey and not everyone had a car in those days.  I remember that as the next person came in who’d broken their back, they’d move me up to the next bed, like a conveyor belt. 

I met people in the hospital. Some had had car accidents, one bloke had fallen down a mountain.  I couldn’t see the person to the left or right as there was a curtain in the way and I couldn’t reach to open them, but you’d just hear their voices and talk to each other through the curtain.  I would try to put a face or an age to the people’s voices. To my right was Julian, whose mum brought in a cake for his 18th birthday.  A woman kept walking past every day and one evening I said “Len, your mum comes everyday doesn’t she?” and he said “excuse me, that’s the wife!”  I didn’t have any clue how old he was just from his voice!

Someone who had broken their back six months earlier had donated a colour tv which was on top of the lockers for other patients to watch.  It was nice being able to watch the Olympics in colour!  

I spent three months on the ward in bed being turned.  When I reached three quarters of the way up the room they said “we have a wheelchair for you”.  It was an old fashioned one, and I was disappointed that it was an old grey one when I’d seen other people with silver ones, but I was excited to be able to get out of bed.  When they sat me up in bed for the first time in three months, the blood drained from my head and I could feel myself fainting.  When the orderlies had got me into the chair, of course being 19 the first thing I tried to do was a wheelie! 

I would go regularly to the Physio Department; they only had one Physiotherapist and two Occupational Therapists for the whole ward.  As the months went on, I started to get some sensation back in my upper body but nothing below my waist.  Eventually I was able to stand up using plaster cast splints, callipers and elbow crutches.  The doctors said not many people walk out of the hospital and they got me to go around with the tea trolley. A lot of patients who were paralysed couldn’t even move their arms so I’d help them smoke a cigarette and it would make their day. 

I was discharged from hospital in February 1973. I still have root pain in my feet, my right foot has been excruciating at times, like having an electric shock. Some days it’s not so bad, when I’m moving around and concentrating on other things, but when I’m sitting still I have to press it on ground to ease it.  It’s still the same today, 50 years later. 

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