A-Z

Sam

Age at interview: 29
Brief Outline: Sam was injured in a collision with a lorry whilst cycling through London. His spinal cord was damaged and, as a result, he now uses a wheelchair.
Background: Sam works as a strategist for an advertising company. He is single. His ethnic background is Caucasian.

More about me...

Sam sustained a spinal cord injury when he was run over by a lorry. He can’t remember exactly what happened; the CCTV cameras in the area did not capture the accident and witnesses disagreed on what they saw. The local Rapid Response team resuscitated him at the scene and took him to hospital where he was in a coma for two weeks. Sam felt the doctors who operated to set his back did not do it correctly, so he had to "fight really hard to get them to re-break! it.
 
In his recovery, Sam set himself goals. These included learning to drive and coming off the strong painkillers he was taking in order to successfully return to work. He describes feeling “terrible”, his stomach was “messed up for a while” and he was in a lot of pain. He did succeed and has returned to work full-time. He loves driving and was able to get a modified car through Motability. 
 
Sam said initially he “was a bit reluctant to get involved in the disabled community”, but a friend he met in rehab helped him to come to terms with his changed life. They teased each other about their injuries, which Sam felt was healthy because “you need to be able to confront that stuff...You can’t have taboo things that you don’t want people to talk about”. 
 
Sam’s message to other people who have recently been injured is that “all the things you’re doing which are hard will get easier”. He also stresses the importance of finding out “everything about what’s happened to you and what the options are”. He says, “Just do everything you can to get back in control”.

 

 

Sam used activities in which he could express himself to come to terms with being in hospital. He...

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I mean one thing that springs to mind – a useful way of – I found very useful way of coping with the hospital time – because you know, if you a serious accident there will be a lot of hospital time – was to try and do something expressive. To write something. To draw if you’re better at that. I found a side where I wrote a little bit of poetry. It’s not about try to write something beautiful. It’s about trying to express what you mean when you can’t express it in just straight language, because sometimes you use imagery and metaphor and allusion, and you know, it’s like you can say what you want to say more accurately, without when you don’t try and be literal, you don’t try and be accurate. I found that quite a useful thing. 
 
And you just start that off, just by writing a diary for what you’re thinking about, I found that very helpful. I’ve still got it. I still look at it. And it’s got drawings in there and piles of stuff. And that was, I think that was a helpful thing and I recommend doing that to other people who have been in difficult situations. But apart from that I think we’ve covered most stuff.
 
What’s it like looking back on that diary now?
 
It’s good, you know. I look back and I think, you know, I was really. I was proud of this like this sort of, how I felt. Because you know, when something really bad like that happens to you, it makes you empathetic and reasonable in a way when you’re kind of by yourself. It can make you really impatient when you’re around people, but you really have to think about the nature of like what’s happening to you and how it’s affecting other people and you’re reflecting on stuff a lot. So you know, I look back on it, and I sort of stand by and think that’s there. And you know, that’s kind of, you know, its raw stuff which is important to get out so yes. It’s a good thing to do. How do I feel? I feel good about that when I look back on it.

 

 

Sam is uncertain about the future but confident that he will walk again. This reassures him that...

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 In terms of my accident you know, I follow all the scientific kind of publications of stuff relating to spinal cord injury. You know, I’m very confident it’s going to be, if not cured, then on the way to being cured within sort of five, six, seven years. And hopefully by then I’ll have enough money to not have to work for a while. And perhaps I have enough money now not to work for a while, but not to work for a long time and just enjoy being mobile again. I mean, you know, it’s just a question of working it out really. So that’s a nice thing to think about, but it’s also a kind of, it’s a frustrating thing to think about because you’re not quite sure what is going to happen, it’s kind of uncertain. And people tell you not to think about it. But I’ve always found that it’s really positive for me to think about it, because it encourages me to not think about this time as wasted. You know, every successful life has to involve periods of hard work and this is where it’s going to be for me. So I try and work hard, and you know, and still play hard as well, but you know, that’s the future is like getting my legs back and then continuing to live my life.

 

People may want to move away from London after injury but Sam thinks it’s important to stay and...

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But you know, I’m from London. I love London. It’s like, you know, there’s lot of stuff to do, you know, you’re not in the countryside like where pretty much everything you can do is some kind of physical activity. There’s lots of like cultural stuff you can do here, which is which is great. You know, we’re quite, it’s a world city, so there’s a standard that things need to be done to in terms of accessibility of new things. So that’s good. What else is good about London? And you know, it’s where I’m from. It’s where my friends are from. I wouldn’t be anywhere else. 
 
You know, you talk about when you’re in a panic station, when your injury first happens about moving somewhere else and you know, go somewhere where you can be relaxed. It’s just nonsense. You need to not separate yourself from the support that you have already in place. And so, you know, London, that’s what London was to me.

 

 

Sam’s injury was caused when he was run over by a lorry, but he does not remember how it happened...

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I was run over by a lorry, I think about 28 tonnes. I was cycling over to a girl’s house that I was seeing, and I don’t know what happened, because I was in a coma for two weeks. And because there was two cameras and one was pointing the wrong way and one was out of film, and there were two witnesses who disagreed about what happened. I went into a coma.
 
The lorry ran me over at the chest and sort of crushed a couple of vertebrae and broke my shoulder, shattered my shoulder, and broke pretty much every rib I have into like three or four pieces and I think I was, I had my lungs collapsed. I was kind of like dying. And then the rapid… I was quite close to [hospital name] and the rapid response people got out there. 
 
And they sliced into my chest, and on the road and resuscitated me, and then sped me to hospital. So it was, it was quite a familiar place where it happened actually on [street name] and yeah, and I was, then I was sort of dying, and in a coma and in and out of things. 

 

 

After discharge from rehab, Sam only wanted to go to accessible places. That has changed now. He...

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You know, I initially always said to my friends, “I don’t want to go anywhere where I’ve got to be carried in. I don’t want to go anywhere where’s there’s, you know, no loo.” And you know, you feel, you feel like, and you’re justified in feeling, that people are looking at you, because they are looking at you, and then the less you care, the less people look, and the more you kind of confront the things that you think are going to be a problem.
 
I mean this Friday I was at a party. I had to go up and down stairs. And it was different mates carrying up, like about six times and there were like a thousand people there and you know, you think is going to be a real pain, and you shouldn’t do it...And you should, you know, you’ve got to you’ve got to not let it stop you doing things otherwise you’re going to resent it even more.

 

 

Sam felt a bit of a ‘spectacle’ on his first day back. His health wasn’t great, but he dealt with...

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I felt a bit of a spectacle the first day but everyone’s like, you know, everyone, I’m sure they were all briefed to like, don’t crowd him and shit, and you know, I had an office with one of my mates and, you know, just bit by bit you’re just going to get back into it. Go to the pub. And you know, you just get back to it, and people get used to seeing you kind of whizzing around in a wheelchair. And you know, it was just not really that bad.
 
It was difficult to get used to the, I was so tired to start with, you know, because your body’s just fucked and you have to sleep more than you would have before and I used to sleep about four or five hours a night and go out every night, and go to work and just be tired and be like, yeah, I’m young and invincible kind of thing. And then you kind of need to sleep and you’ve been off work and you’ve been sleeping quite a lot and all of a sudden I was back to sleeping like six or seven hours. And I was just shattered, and I was sleeping at the weekends and working. 
 
I started off going back three or four days a week and then very quickly I just didn’t want to be different to other people, I wanted, and the work was overlapped anyway, so I just went back full time. And yes, I was tired, that was the main thing and my health wasn’t great. And I got bladder infections and stuff like that, but all the things you worry about you end up dealing with.

 

 

Even though his legs don’t work, Sam doesn’t feel disabled. He firmly believes there will be a...

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And do you see yourself as disabled?
 
I don’t really know. I mean it’s a word and you know, you say a word often enough and it loses meaning. Do I see myself as disabled? Yeah. My legs don’t fucking work, you know, it’s, it’s a massive pain in the arse. It’s a pain in the arse every time I wake up, every time I get ill, every time there’s some fucking stairs. Every time, you know, there’s something you can’t do something. So of course you see yourself as that.
 
To be literal about it, I don’t see that there’s anything I can’t do really bar some ridiculously physical things. You know, I don’t know, depends what you mean, if you mean do you see yourself as like something’s happened to you and your body doesn’t work the same way. Absolutely. If you just mean do you see yourself as handicapped across the board, then absolutely not. No. You know, I think I’m lucky that, you know, I think the way I was brought up, I was always confident and I felt like, you know, to the annoyance of lots of people I’m sure, that I was, you know, better than them, at you know, whatever I wanted to do. So that kind of made me feel, like I still had that stuff. You know, there was always like thinking stuff that I could do, and I always felt like I was a physical person, but I was also kind of like somebody who thought a lot as well, and still being able to do that and still being able to feel like you do that well. 
 
I think a lot of people in wheelchairs focus on trying to prove they can do the things that people say they can’t do. So it’s like we hiked up a mountain. We swam something. We do Paralympics. And I think that really works for some people. Fair enough you know, if they’re like that and they were like that before their accident that was what they were all about, then fair enough. 
 
But for me, I would focus on doing, I like, from the beginning I wanted to focus on the things I could still do just as well as before, and that, you know, I could still do better than other people. And that’s really an important part of not seeing yourself as disabled. Focussing all, all your efforts on something that you’re never going to do right while you’re paralysed, because I firmly believe this is like seven to… six to ten years away from getting sorted out to some measure. But to focus on doing stuff that you’re not going to be able to do properly and to, I don’t know… It just never made sense to me, but I don’t pretend to speak for everybody and I know it’s really important and really like has a very positive effect on a lot of people. I just never wanted any bit of that. I do exercise to make myself strong, not sport or stuff like that. I used to play a lot of sports and not be able to do like you did, you know, just frustrates me and makes me annoyed.

 

 

As a wheelchair user, Sam has found it extremely difficult to use the toilets on planes. He...

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Planes are an interesting one. 
 
Why is that?
 
Well because it’s a fuckfest isn’t it? You can’t get down the aisle. It’s like that big. So that they put you on this little aisle chair. It’s like sitting on a dildo. It’s just so, it’s so thin, and you always… Every time you go, just prepare yourself for something going wrong. Because something will always go wrong. 
 
If you’re going to a non-big airport then they have to get an ambilift which is like a thing like that on, so it jacks up to the side of the plane and you get on and then will come down and it will take you off. And oh they’ll be like arm rests which don’t go up and you’re trying to transfer over and there’s hundreds of people and your legs are spasming. Or they don’t let you on the plane first or… all kinds of stuff. I mean yeah, it’s a pain in the arse.
 
And then the biggest pain in the arse is you’re going to need to piss. So there are three options for that. One, is ask them to use the aisle chair to take you to the loo, which you won’t be able to fit into. And piss in not very much privacy in the middle of the plane. Two, is to put in an indwelling catheter and you know, drink away freely if you’ve got an indwelling catheter in there if you’re going on holiday. And if you put it in wrong you could end up with a bad infection. You could hurt yourself and you’re going to be away when that happens. Or just like me, you just have quite an aversion to those things. And then the other option which is the option I tend to do is I just put a blanket over my head and take out a catheter and just piss as I would, and that’s yeah, [slight mobile interference] I mean is better if you know the person in the seat next to you for that one. But that’s what I do. You have to be a bit shameless [interference ends] I think is the word for that. Is there another option? Oh yeah, then a final option which is a terrible option, which I obviously do on short haul flights, which is just dehydrate the fuck out of yourself and then you won’t need to piss, but that’s not being, not very healthy. 
 
So yes, planes are a pain. 

 

 

Sam thinks you have to see life after injury as a challenge and be comfortable with letting other...

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I mean this Friday I was at a party. I had to go up and down stairs. And it was different mates carrying up, like about six times and there were like a thousand people there and you know, you think is going to be a real pain, and you shouldn’t do it...And you should, you know, you’ve got to you’ve got to not let it stop you doing things otherwise you’re going to resent it even more. So, so you know, and like with everything you have to see the challenge in that and enjoy it, and relish the challenge you know. You know, you have to think that what your, that you are fundamentally different to everybody else now and you can see that two ways. You can see it as like, you know, everything’s fucked and I’m, I’m kind of outcast. Or you can see it as like I’ve got my own story now, which you know, I’m going to try and do it as heroically as I can, and take pride in doing it like that, and be strong. And being strong makes you feel stronger and makes you better able to deal with things and you know, that’s, that’s really important. And, you know, it’s also useful to have other people, well you know, other people in your situation you can talk to. 
 
Well if you don’t trust your friends you’ve got nothing. My friends aren’t going to drop me. I’ve only been dropped like once, and we were up like six flights of stairs and we were like drunk and there was like we went through the door, and we ended up on top of each other, you know, I mean you’re not a baby. It’s not like you’re going to crack your skull. You know, you have to come to terms with that. It’s a bit like being the centre of attention. Other people can’t go on the stairs and you know, it’s a bit kind of like you feel like a spectacle, to start with, but you just, you just laugh and you know, that’s all you can do really. You’ve either going to not go to wherever one is, or not be able to go with anyone, or stop other people doing things they want to do, or you can try and, you know, people are making, doing stuff to accommodate you. And you need to sort of try as much as you can to meet them half way as well. 
 
And there will be places that you want to go, that you know, you can’t do without that bit of help, and you, what you’ll do is you’ll find a few of your friends who tend to be with you, and just over time, you’re just training them to do things for you, you’ll want them to do and they’ll know and also it’s a nice thing for them, they’ll take pride in being able to help you, and knowing how to do it. And they’ll build their biceps up as well if they are lifting me up and down everywhere. But yes, I mean that happens all the time for me.

 

 

Sam said the tube has been around for such a long time that you can’t expect it to be made to...

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I think I read somewhere that something like only 2% of the tube stations here in London are step free.
 
But they shouldn’t, that doesn’t matter. You know, you can’t expect everything to be made to suit you. The tube is a great facility. You know, I used it pretty much every day before my accident. You know, it’s a hundred years old, you know, it pre-dates catheters, pre-dates people who are paralysed even living, you can’t expect everything to work for you. What you do expect is the things that can work for you to work for you. And, you know, by and large people are pretty good. 

 

 

Sam was thinking about creating an app to provide parking information for each borough. He is...

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But if you live in London it’s so shit. Every borough has different parking things. 
 
I was thinking about making about making a Blue Badge parking app to help people find it, but and make me some money, but I just couldn’t be bothered, because I don’t, I think this is just sort of prohibitive, the rules, particularly around Central London, Kensington and the City, that I just think that people in wheelchairs just don’t go there that much, because it’s, I mean it’s so prohibitive. It’s really like inconsiderate and unhelpful. And, you know, I get, I get so many tickets. And do you know, you appeal them, you learn – this is a good bit of advice – don’t just say, “You’re a cunt. Why have you given me this ticket?” You know, even if you think they’re totally wrong, you’ve just got to like play past them, like, “I’m sorry. It seems to me that this may have happened...” And yeah, yeah, just be meeker than you really are and you’ll get more of them. If you get angry or the tone becomes kind of aggressive, they just, they just don’t let you off them so… And to be honest, they just don’t let you off any of them really, they just, they’re dicks, they’re trying to make money. And the rules are different in every borough. It’s a nightmare. So that’s a complaint. 
 
Plus the fact that there are so many people with Blue Badges who don’t bloody need them. You know, the symbol is a wheelchair. I’ve had, I was at the Royal Festival Hall, going to see a play. And I parked in the disabled bay. This woman ran up to me, and goes, “Excuse me, are you meant to be parked there?” I said, “What the fuck is wrong with you? This is my wheelchair. What the fuck is wrong with you?” And I don’t know. I’m sure the rules are quite strict, but they don’t seem to be strict enough, or it would be better if there was something. I never really see a guy in a wheelchair getting out of a car ever. I see lots of people parked in Blue Badge bays and they look like the children of old parents, you know, like middle aged people that are like, “Well this is like an easy way of parking.” There’s fuck all Blue Badge space in Central London anyway. Yes, parking’s a pain in London, but driving is a joy. So you know, get a car.

 

 

Dating was an important part of Sam’s identity before his injury. Initially he worried about it,...

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I was always quite forward and assertive with women in the past. And I was like, and I think all my friends were concerned as well, because it was like quite a big part of my identity, that, you know, what’s going to happen and you know, that’s all kind of, that’s not going to happen anymore.
 
But like I think the first time I went out, I was talking to, I’d broken up with a girl I got back together with, some girl came past and just dropped her number written on something, into my lap. I was so happy, because it was just like, the feeling I was getting back what I’d kind of lost. It was just that it wasn’t necessarily all over. And then it just kind of turns out that you know, I think women are nicer than men basically. And I think it’s going to be, I don’t know, I can only speak from my own experience but it’s probably harder for a girl in that situation. But then there are lovely men out there as well. But I don’t know, I still, I find that once you know somebody and once you’re direct, what people find attractive is just assertiveness and confidence and if you, if you’re direct and you’re not like trying to protect yourself, things go for you. I don’t know and I don’t know what it is. I find that most people, once I know them, a lot of them, they all tend to say things like, “I don’t even really think of you in a wheelchair.” 
 
You know, this girl I’m seeing who lives round the corner. She’s, one day I fell out of my wheelchair because I was coming out of an alley and this woman came from behind the corner and I tried to not run her over, and as a result I went over. I was so pissed off. I was just sitting on the ground going, “Fuck. Cunt. Fuck.” And she was like, “I never think of you in a wheelchair.
 
Often like, you know, I see people outside and think is that Sam like walking, walking along?” And so I think if you really engage someone, you know, and they find you, your looks and personality attractive, I don’t think it really needs to hold you back you know. 

 

 

It is important to take control of your life again after injury and not to let other people make...

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I would say get your friends around you, you know, your family is going to be too traumatised to really help you in the way that you want to be helped. Find the thing that you do well and get back to that. And you have to believe that all things you’re doing which are hard, will get easier. And you know, it’s, there’s nothing corny about it, it’s like hard work. But there’s a joy to doing something hard well. And, you know, you have to learn to enjoy and to be strong. And, you have to set your standards for, for how you’re going to behave, because it’s down to you and there’s no one you can really compare it to up to that.
 
And finally just make sure that you find out, you know, everything about what’s happened to you and what the other options are and don’t let other people make decisions for things which are really, really important to how you life’s going to pan out. So, yes, just do everything you can to get back in control.

 

 

Sam says that “there is nothing like an amazing doctor,” and they are the ones that everyone...

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So you know, I know they’re under a lot of pressure and if you’re under a lot of pressure from external sources it’s easier to forget who you’re really accountable to, but you know, the things you do will affect people for the rest of their life. So you know, you should act accordingly.
 
And for the ones that do you know, Christ, I love these guys. You know, there’s nothing like an amazing doctor, who is, you know, really warm and really there for you, and really understands and, and, you know, you can tell they’re making an effort and they care what happens. Those are the guys that everyone should aspire to be like. I say guys and girls, they’re the ones they should aspire to be like. And don’t be so scared to give people hope, you know, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I think people can cope with, you know, occasional disappointment. It’s just bleakness, which is very difficult at the beginning. I think yeah, yeah. I think that’s it.

 

 

Sam always thinks of himself as being in a wheelchair, but other people have told him they often forget he uses one.

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You said there that you don’t really think of yourself as being in a wheelchair.
 
I do. I totally do all the time.
 
Sorry you totally do?
 
I do. I do think of myself as being in a wheelchair.
 
Okay.
 
I think I could not think of that. I think of it all the time. You know, nobody doesn’t. But other people, I know this sounds like wishful thinking me saying what I want people to think, but I’ve just heard it too many times. Obviously when people first see you, strangers, people out and about, new people you meet, it’s the first thing they’re going to notice and they’re going to be intrigued and they’re going to want to know. But after a little bit, once you’ve kind of… Once they know, you know each other and you know, they have a sense of who you are, and you have a sense of who they are, I think you find that most people don’t even think about it. You know, I’ve lost track of the amount of times I go out to places and it’s like, “Oh shit, sorry, I didn’t even think of the fact you’re in a wheelchair. I don’t even think about that”, because you know, it’s always fine. So I think it’s good, but again sometimes you feel like people don’t understand. But I find, I think it’s quite good to feel like people aren’t making special allowances for you. That more than anything would kind of wind me up a little bit, you know. You know, because then you’re sort of taking away from what I’m trying to do which is to put in the effort to do something well.
 
 

His friends treat him as before, making jokes, which Sam likes because it’s nice for him not to feel delicate.

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And sometimes it’s nice not to feel that delicate you know. It’s nice not to be delicate around your friends, you know.
 
Like my other friend I was slagging – I’m quite rude to people. I feel like if you’re rude then people trust what you’re saying because they know you’re being honest. And you know, you don’t be rude to be mean, you know, but it’s just something you see and it’s not necessarily a positive thing and of course I take the piss out of them for it. So I was slagging off my friend’s shoes and he was like, “Well your shoes are crap, they’re like, look how wide they are.” And my other friend was saying, “Oh there’s no point in having a go at anything about Sam, because he’ll just say it’s something to do with being in a wheelchair, and then you’ll be like, oh, sorry about that.”
 
And you know, you need to have that, because remember when I talked about losing your standards? Losing your like context for your behaviour? You need to have that with your friends. If you’re not capable of having that with people they’re not really your friends, you know? So I’ve got a wide and close group of friends. They can say anything to me. They’ve said some stuff that really pissed me off actually. But like that’s any friendship isn’t it? And that’s we’d be like that anywhere. And you’d rather people were being open.
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