Georgina was training to be a doctor when she was paralysed by a spinal cord injury at the age of 26.  She tells us about her experiences and about how speaking with an Aspire Independent Living Advisor helped her. 

I was 26 when I had my accident.  I was driving to work when the car slipped on gravel and I found myself in the wrong lane with incoming traffic.  Instead of braking, I ran the car off the road so I wouldn’t hit anyone else and drove into a tree.

Because I’m a doctor I woke up in the car knowing immediately what had happened.  I couldn’t feel or move my legs.  My first thought was “how could this happen?” but it quickly turned to “it will be what it will be, I have to get on with it.”  I was in hospital for eight months.  The first six weeks were hell because I couldn’t get out of bed or sit up or anything.  Five weeks in I managed to get the nurses to push the bed outside which was the best thing ever!

I’m lucky that I have a great support network, although most were back in England so had to travel a long way.  I did a lot of reading and I think I ended up reading about 40 books.  Whenever I was able to get in a wheelchair I was never on the ward; I was outside all the time no matter what the weather. 

Georgina in her wheelchair

Going back home was the harder part.  I was renting because I was a junior doctor in West Wales.  I had to give up the house so was essentially homeless when they came to discharge me, so I went into emergency accommodation.   Rehab really starts when you get home because you have to find ways to adapt your life without people telling you how to.  I found it really daunting but went back to work just 15 months after my accident and that really helped. 

When I was first injured my family and friends were devastated.  However, they are great people and I really think laughter and a positive attitude is the way forwards.  There was a lot of dark humour and silliness, which was how we got through.

How Aspire’s Independent Living Advisor helped

I first met Aspire’s Independent Living Advisor Matthew when I was in the Spinal Injury Centre at Rookwood Hospital; he’s so bubbly and smiley you can’t miss him!  He was great; he got me whatever information I needed, then when I ended up outside after being in rehab, he was the first one I went into town with for a drink.  He helped me see what was possible and that I could still go out and have a good time and be a normal person. 

Georgina with Aspires Independent Living Advisor Matthew

We talked a lot about housing and modifications to my wheelchair that would make things easier.  Even though my injury was caused by a driving accident I was keen to get back to driving as it’s very important to me, so Matthew talked me through his van and its adaptations.  He just kept me positive and even on the days when I felt pretty down he’d come round and have a smile on his face and just be like “I get it, it’s ok, have your bad day and I’ll be here when it’s done with.” 

It was really important to meet someone who’d gone through it already, especially someone a similar age to me who still had this vibrant social life.  Even though you’re in rehab with loads of people like yourself, you are all going through so much that sometimes you don’t talk about it all as you don’t want to upset them or yourself. 

Having someone to talk to who had been through it already you could see there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Matthew is such a bubbly happy person you can’t help but feel like it’s got to get better because look at him, he’s not down.  

Life after my injury

I went back to work 15 months after my accident and finished my training program so I am now a fully qualified doctor.  I work in A&E and also teach medical students, however since the Covid-19 outbreak I am no longer able to.  I am waiting for an electric chair so I can get back to work safely which is incredibly frustrating.  I need an electric chair because I touch my wheels to change position when I’m with a patient which is an infection control risk because the wheels may be contaminated.  It’s extremely frustrating because this pandemic is exactly what I became a doctor for; I want to be back in the thick of things doing my part.

Georgina in her wheelchair with her cat

18 months after my accident I did the Superhero Triathlon.  I’m not a sporty person and never thought I’d do a triathlon in my life!  I think for me that cemented in my head that anything was possible and that now I could get involved with anything.  

Life during lockdown

I’ve basically been waiting to get the electric wheelchair I need to go back to work.  I’ve been doing a lot of writing; I started blogging a couple of weeks after my accident so I’m getting back into that. I have rearranged the house and gone through every drawer!  It’s been lucky that the weather has meant I’ve been able to sit in the garden.  I’ve also been doing a lot of drawing, mindfulness and meditation. 

All my family and support network are back in England so for me it’s been terribly isolating, as it has for many people with Spinal Cord Injury. 

Matthew is still very helpful.  He pops up every now and then to see how I’m doing.  I had got back to being independent so when all this kicked off to be honest it felt like a massive step backwards as I was suddenly relying on other people, not going out as much, not being able to get to therapy etc.   But I think it’s important to look at how far you’ve come and get on with it within the ‘new normal’. 

Georgina in her wheelchair singing 

Mindfulness is all about gratitude and it’s hard to be grateful when you’ve had something happen to you.  When I was in rehab not able to use my legs it was of course devastating, but there were people in there who couldn’t use their arms either, which makes you check yourself and think “I know it’s crap but it could be a lot worse.”   I’ve been doing that in lockdown, being grateful I have a roof over my head, that I haven’t completely lost my job like a lot of people, that I can still put food on the table.  Holding on to what you do have is really important.  It’s not easy, it’s a super hard thing to do, but if more of us could do it more often we’d probably be a lot better and be nicer to each other!  

Lockdown has affected disabled people a lot more than other people but has shown the whole country that being isolated and excluded from things is not a nice experience and messes with your mental health.  It doesn’t feel nice and that’s something that disabled people experience all the time.  It’s getting slightly better but there are still a lot of things that I’m excluded from because I’m in a wheelchair.  Even my friends back home won’t think about access, they just go where they want to go. 

I would like to think lockdown has opened people’s eyes to the problems of isolation in society and the impact of not being able to access places. 

The government has encouraged us to go for walks and get out in nature, which is great, but I can’t do that without a modification to my wheelchair, as I can’t go into a field with a normal chair, and that costs a lot of money.  I hope that people have reflected a bit and realised that whatever move we make now, whatever the ‘new normal’ becomes, it needs to be inclusive.   We can only live in hope! 

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