Why I’ve Been MIA

You may have noticed I haven’t posted anything in a while.

There is a very simple reason for that – I am a self-employed mum of two young children with a husband who has a propensity for throwing himself out of airplanes.

I have spoken before about his love for anything a little bit risky and so, for his 40th birthday last year, I arranged for him to do a parachute jump.

It wasn’t just as simple as booking the session and paying for it, however.

Five years ago, Mr S had a stroke, followed by 12-months of almost daily mini strokes.

These only came to an end when he had surgery to close a hole in his heart and life slowly started to get back to normal.

So, when it came to his milestone birthday, I decided I wanted him to really celebrate and knew how much he had always wanted to skydive.

I went to the GP to get the green light but, given his medical history, they wouldn’t give permission.

So, I tracked down the neurologist and heart surgeon and by some small miracle, they both deemed it safe for Mr S to do a jump.

From his very first experience, he was hooked, but the weather being what it is in Northern Ireland, he only managed to get two jumps in this year – which is when he suggested travelling to Spain to do an intensive course that would allow him to progress to the next level of skydiving.

Off he went in October and everything was amazing until his second last day when a tiny error of judgement resulted in a very hard landing.

He was knocked out, couldn’t feel his hands or feet and it took them an hour to get him up standing, but he opted against getting himself checked out at the hospital.

I think he knew what my reaction would have been if I had received a telephone call from a Spanish doctor.

Anyway, he came home a few days later and, convinced it was a muscular injury he dosed up on painkillers and struggled on until I finally convinced him to go to the hospital to make sure everything was okay.

Actually, the truth is he wanted to go to a wind tunnel that evening to practice his jumping, but I wouldn’t let him go until he had the all clear from the doctor.

Neither of us could have predicted what was going to happen.

I had to leave him in hospital while I picked Grace up from school and got on with some work, and we were just sitting down to some dinner when I got a phonecall…

“I don’t want you to panic but I’ve broken my neck.”

“Very funny.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“Wise up.”

“No, I’m serious, I’m okay, but I’ve broken my neck.”

What do you even do with that piece of information?

The x-ray had revealed Mr S had split one of his vertebrae completely in half, just like a loaf of bread sliced down the middle.

An MRI scan the following morning picked up a hairline fracture in a different vertebrae and so he was transferred to the regional spinal unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

It’s definitely not a place for the faint-hearted but we were given some good news (good under the circumstances) – the surgeon told us he wanted to try and manage the break conservatively.

Mumbreakable Broken Neck

This meant Mr S would have to wear an extremely restrictive brace for three months to hold his neck in place while the bones healed, but it would avoid the need for surgery.

It also meant no working, no driving, no lifting, nothing that could exacerbate the injury, but it seemed like a small price to pay.

Except, just a few days later, back at the hospital for a check up and we were told the vertebrae was starting to slip and Mr S was at risk of being paralysed from the neck down at any minute.

Surgery was an absolute necessity.

For the second time in my life, I found myself sitting in the coffee shop at the Royal Victoria Hospital doing a telephone interview while my husband had an operation that was going to have life-changing consequences for our little family.

Six hours after he went down to theatre, I got a phone call from a nurse in recovery to tell me the operation had been a success, that Mr S could move his arms and legs.

I sat down on the floor of the hospital corridor and cried and cried, and cried some more – mainly from relief but also because I knew we still had a long road ahead.

And I can’t tell you how hard the aftermath of the operation has been.

Dare I say it has been even more difficult than the months after the stroke?

Maybe it’s because I have two children to look after this time instead of one, maybe it’s because I’ve been through it before and know the weight of carrying on while your partner is seriously ill.

It’s scary, it’s exhausting, but most of all, it is so, so lonely.

And then there has been the pain.

There was no pain after the stroke, but this time, the pain has been off the scale, not least because the surgeon had to break the neck again during the surgery.

Keeping the pain under control has been even more complicated because the medication made Mr S violently ill and watching someone you love in so much pain is incredibly difficult.

Through it all, I have tried – and feel like I have mostly failed – to keep some kind of ‘normal’ going for Grace and Ethan.

I’ve been so shattered that I slept through my alarm making Grace late for school, she has missed Rainbows, swimming and gymnastics for weeks on end, there have been days when we only managed to start her homework at the time she should have been going to bed.

As for Christmas? How is it only a few weeks away?

Ethan has thankfully been oblivious to much of the disruption, but Grace has more of an idea of what is going on.

I feel like the only thing I have said to her for the past six weeks is “not right now”, “in a minute”, and “I’m a bit busy right now”.

Thankfully, this time around, there is an end in sight and things are definitely improving already.

At the weekend, I was even able to take Grace out for a few hours, just me and her, and it was just what the doctor ordered.