My brother-in-law and I were baling hay during a late harvest. It’s something we regularly did after taking on the farm and livery yard when my dad died.
I jumped out of the tractor. As I walked away the tower of bales collapsed. That’s when two bales, weighing over a tonne, landed on me.
One landed on my back. The other on my left foot. My brother-in-law managed to push the bale from my back with brute strength, but firefighters had to remove the bale from my foot.
I don’t remember what happened next, but my mum says she remembers the screaming.
I woke up on the major trauma ward at Leeds General Infirmary, having had 20 hours of surgery. I couldn’t open my eyes. They had reconstructed my eye socket, nose, jaw and forehead with metal plates as my face had hit the floor.
Five surgeons worked on me, also fixing all the broken bones in my leg, pelvis and lower spine. I was told I could have been paralysed because of where my spine broke. But I was lucky.
I was moved into a private room. Bandaged up with nowhere to go. Because of Covid-19 I was only allowed one visitor for 20 minutes each day. I was lonely. I didn’t know what the long-term damage was. Would I walk again? Would I ride my horse? Would I ever work again? I thought I might look like Hannibal Lecter.
I was offered a call from a Day One Peer Support Volunteer. Because of restrictions this was done over the phone. But that call made all the difference.
They listened. I didn’t think I needed to talk. I’m quite good at blocking stuff out. But when I spoke to Martin it was the first time I spoke about it out loud. I suddenly realised how serious it had been. I still remember that first conversation really well and how important it was for me.
With every call, I felt better sharing my thoughts. I wasn’t being judged. It was a relief. Every time I talked it was good for my mental health. Martin gave me hope. I knew I could get through this.
I was in hospital for three months. When they reconstructed my face, they didn’t know what I looked like before, so the surgeons had to guess. After a couple of weeks they removed the bandages and gave me a mirror. I was underwhelmed. I didn’t look that different. It was a sign that the reconstruction had gone well.
When I later moved to the shared ward, I found it helpful to talk with other patients about our different injuries.
When I was finally well enough to return home, it wasn’t how I’d imagined. I assumed I’d be walking out of hospital, but I wasn’t even close. I spent three months in a wheelchair. I moved in with my mum.
I had to rebuild my strength. Relearning to walk again takes everything out of you. When I first tried standing on my own, it felt so unusual it made me nauseous. I worked my way to walking with a frame, and then crutches. It took around five months to walk unaided, and a further four months before my metal leg frame was removed. Once the frame came off, I let my wounds heal and strengthened my muscles through swimming, physio and the gym.
After a year I would say I was only about 70% recovered. I could do most day-to-day things, but I’m not the kind of person who just does day-to-day things! I couldn’t run or jump, lunge or squat. I couldn’t ride my horse, or snowboard, which were two things I loved. I had to sell my horse.
My employers were really good. I worked on the farm part time and worked in IT. I got full sick pay while I was off work, and they gave me a return-to-work advisor who helped me plan a phased return over three months. It was more tiring than I expected. I couldn’t concentrate or remember how to do simple tasks I’d done a million times. But gradually it all came back.
Now, three years on, I still have regular check-ups. I’m getting stronger all the time. Both physically and mentally. I still can’t remember some things, which makes me nervous. I can no longer do some things, but I have accepted it. Running is not for me anymore. But I have been snowboarding.
I have a new horse called Barney and I’m getting the confidence to ride again and take him out. I feel lucky that I can still ride. I know I will find other new things to do and enjoy my life so much.
In 2021 Grace raised more than £4,000 for Day One by taking part in a fundraising challenge. This year Grace and her horse Barney are taking part in 100k in June. You can support her efforts here.