Five Things I’ve Learned From Falling Off A Pier

July 31, 2013 § 7 Comments

Nearly four years ago to the day, I walked along the pier in St Andrews and attempted a jumping-solo-version of this move from the movie Grease and fell seven meters onto hard rocks below. I broke both my ankles and a wrist, shattered my lower legs, and double-fractured my spine.

It took one helicopter rescue crew, two weeks in hospital, three rounds of surgery and four months in bed/a wheelchair for me to be able to walk again.

This week, I’ve been back in St Andrews to have a look at the spot where I fell – a rather strange and unnerving experience. I noted down some of the things the whole experience has taught me –


The pier of doom

You can do more than you think (with time and effort)

During the first few months of recovery, the doctors weren’t sure if I’d regain sensation in my left foot, and I worried I’d never walk properly again. Although I now have restricted ankle movement, with daily stretches, I am able to run again. (Smug face: next month I’m running my first 5K!)

What matters most becomes clear (when shit hits the fan)

When I came round in hospital, I wanted only to see my family and a few very dear loved-ones. Nothing else mattered. Although I am blessed with friends all over the world,  it was healthy to realise that in crisis-time, my heart longed only for those I know most intimately.

Healing means more than bones repairing

Having just listened to this fantastic interview with post-traumatic stress expert Bessel van der Kolk, I’m reminded of what kept me busy during the recovery months. I became slightly obsessed with Strictly Come Dancing. In order to have an outlet for pain and anger, I was given weekly painting lessons where I had to paint the dances that the show featured each week. (You try painting a waltz or paso doble! It was hard.) This, in combination with my community singing group, gave me something to lose myself in – and work towards mental recovery.


Three months into healing. Not sure about the outfit.

The world looks different (when you change your perspective)

Being back in my parental home allowed me to sing standards with my sister, learn all the flags of the world, and think about what I really wanted to do with my working life. Before, excitement in my life meant going to a meeting at Number 10 or a UN briefing. Now, it was taking a shower, or going to choir. Small things became enormous, and the enormous things just disappeared from my radar.

Also, using a wheelchair in a world designed for walking is really frustrating. I could be needlessly defeated by the tiniest ledge or step and receiving a hug from a standing person felt weird. (Tip: get down on your knees when sharing a hug with a wheelchair user. Feels so much better!)

The National Health Service is amazing 

The care was excellent; the nurses kind yet firm, the doctors slightly arrogant but enjoying an intellectual joust now and then, the food totally fine. I will happily pay my taxes until I die, probably without even covering the cost of the helicopter, district nurses, two (left-handed) wheelchairs etc etc.


Four years later at the scene of the accident. With scars and fabulous trousers to prove it.

All this being said, I won’t be attempting any similar feats of aerial bravery near a steep drop anytime soon…

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