1 in 10,000 people suffer from Osteomyelitis which is the worst sort of infection you can get because it’s such a bitch to get rid of. The same condition has been a lot worse for some people but I only have my own experience to draw on. I have to admit I am fortunate to have a good support network of people around me and such good parents who are the most reliable people I know. Several people have suggested I should write a story about my leg experiences, so here is a condensed version…
They say these things happen for a reason – yeah-nah! There is absolutely no spiritual reason for me being a nutter on skis and a swarm of staph bacteria deciding to nest inside my leg.
They say you learn a lot about yourself from these experiences – yeah-nah! The only thing I’ve learned is a few more scales on the bass and ein bisschen deutsch.
They say these sorts of things make you stronger! yeah-nah! The only thing that gained strength were my arms because I was on crutches for over 2 years.
They say you manifest these things – yeah-nah! I love myself and know a lot of other people do to. I would never wish this saga on myself or anyone else.
Chapter 1: ARTHUR
In the beginning there was me, on skis peering over a drop, off-piste and alone. I couldn’t be 100% sure of everything below me or how deep the snow was or how stable anything was. I had already gone this far so I thought fuck it and I threw myself off. Apart from the sluff I caused I was fine and that was loads of fun! Having already skied the rest of the run I quickly picked up speed and went over a couple of smaller drops. I then thought to myself I should really kill some speed, this is ridiculous! I put in a couple of turns, I caught an edge and went flying. A few kart wheels later my right ski was wrenched off my foot simultaneously snapping both the bones in my lower right leg. It was quite obvious what had just happened. When I rolled to a halt with just one ski on and half my stuff scattered around. I cursed myself hard and loudly for a good while! I was a long way from the piste or any chair lifts, how fortunate it was I had signal… Yeah, I had to call my own rescue! I waited for about an hour for a helicopter which flew me straight to hospital in sallanches.
The nurses in A&E gave me some oramorph and said the ski boot needed to come off. They said they could always cut the boot off to which I protested: “I’ve just spent €300 on those you can’t cut them off!” It took 4 nurses to stretch the boots out so I could pull my leg out! They immediately tried to position my bones better and put my leg in a temporary cast. Those moments were the most excruciating painful minutes of my life I was literally squirming with agony. The oramorph and gas and air did bugger all!
The operation the following day was stressful; I was rushed into the theatre and told I was only going to get a local so they injected a blocker into my spine whilst the surgeon was prodding my leg. I could feel everything. They gave me more painkillers, they didn’t work! Eventually they put me to sleep probably just to shut me up. 4 days later with a plate holding my leg together I was wheeled onto a plane home with all the other injured skiers.
I went back to my parents to recover, thinking it would be 3 months before I was back in action. I was pissing into a bottle for a couple of weeks as it was too painful to get to the toilet. 3 weeks after the op I had the stitches taken out and was shocked to see how gammy it had become. Swabs were taken and no further plan was made until the results came back. 2 days later I felt really ill and my leg started to bleed. I went to the Drs the next day and my leg had started gushing out bloody gunky puss uncontrollably. I was rushed to hospital and immediately put on a drip and operated on 2 days later. “Sorry mate, THAT is NOT good”, “You’ve been unlucky there”. To hear those words is really disconcerting. I was shitting it, terrified of the consequences. I spent a month in hospital hooked up to drip 4 times a day and had 3 operations to scrub my leg clean and slowly close the wound again. I had a couple of vacuum dressings which were changed on the ward and I had full view of the plate…..and yes, I took these photos myself!
!!!!!Gory pictures below!!!!!!!
Scroll right for more gore!
When I became a bit more with it and in less pain my parents brought my bass in and I passed the time practicing, mixing and reading. A month is a long time to be in one room shitting in a komode by the side of your bed. It was such a great upgrade to be allowed out of bed to the toilet and shower. I lost a lot of weight during that time despite all the food I was eating and I wasn’t able to put it on again for quite a few months.
When I was discharged I was visited everyday for 2 weeks by nurses to hook me up to a drip and check the wound. I was told to keep the leg elevated so my brother took me up in a helicopter to elevate it some more!
I made the most of the next couple of weeks, I was able to play Isle wight festival with Psycho-Acoustic Goat. I just went for the afternoon and I was lucky enough to get a door to door lift from home to our stage. Squawker J Goat you are a legend for visiting me for jam sandwiches and keeping the Psycho-Acoustic Goat herd alive throughout all this saga!
At the beginning of July 2018, just Two weeks after the meds stopped, the infection came back, the wound began oozing that horrible gunky puss again. Just as I thought I was over the worst, it was back to hospital for me. Fortunately it was just a short stay of a week, they took the plate out pretty quickly, gave me another wash out, gave me a special boot to wear and another 6 week course of Antibiotics. The bacteria had made its way from the plate to the bone, the worst infection you can get apparently. Its rare, 1 in 10,000 people might suffer from a bone infection aka Osteomielitis. I was feeling gutted and pretty terrified all over again. Following my discharge I had more visits from the district nurses just like before. The summer was hot, slow and frustrating. The wound did heal this time and it was because the plate was out; you can’t get rid of a bug on a metal plate because the bug hides from the antibiotics in the cracks on the plate.
Two projects that really kept my mind occupied in the summer of 2018 were putting my solo album together “Elevate” and mixing and finishing the Mammoth Toe debut EP “Pink Lady”.
In September 2018 I began putting weight on my leg again, I was still wearing the boot most of the time but it seemed I was well on the mend. I even managed to get to Badger fest and stand up for a gig with Psycho-Acoustic goat. That weekend was so good, I hadn’t had a social life for months and it was so good to catch up with loads of mates who I hadn’t seen since before I went on my galivantation down under. I was also very lucky as schnitzel was visiting for the first time, the amazing German lass I mentioned in my travel blog entry:
I had improved a lot by October, I still couldn’t walk much without crutches but I was Driving, cycling, Swimming, busking and gigging a lot more again and also managing to visit Natty schnitzel in deutschland. I started playing with ‘Bloc off the wall’. This came about when I randomly met the frontman in the sea surfing in Sri Lanka at the end of my travels; he was looking for a bassist and I was looking for more gigs. My start date was postponed by quite a few months but he was considerate enough to keep the spot open for me and I was on my feet for the first gig.
Part 2: Returning
I had a van and I was spending more time in Bristol, looking for a place to live. My good pals Lucy and Jammo put me up for several weeks whilst I had a series of music workshops to deliver and some Mammoth Toe gigs. At the end of October 2018 I was the best I had been since the accident. During one of those music workshops however, a kid fell on my leg and jarred everything and set me back 2 or 3 months. I was so pissed off! that kid has no idea what i’ve had to put up with. I managed to drive back to my hosts with a lot of pain which got worse as the evening went on. Jammo took me to hospital and came and picked me up at 3 in the morning. The fracture hadn’t moved, I was relieved but angry I had to take such backward steps. I stayed with Jammo and Lucy for an extra week; They were amazing and looked after me well. I stayed until Mammoth toes first gig in almost two years. Gigging those tracks again was so much fun Tom and Ben made all of that possible driving and lugging me and my gear everywhere.
Healing was so slow after that kid fell on it. I often woke up with bad aches and pains in my leg and I never got back to where I was. I was booked for several Christmas party gigs with Bloc of the wall. Adam from Bloc off the wall was so helpful with everything, making it possible for me to play those gigs. I went to Germany again at the end of November which was an awesome week in amongst the chaos and dramas I was having. I was slightly embarrassed that I was in a worse condition than the previous time I saw Schnitzel. However, she’s got even more patience than I do and was happy to carry me around … Literally! I finally found a room and moved back to Bristol in December 2018 which I had been trying to do since March. I had started to improve a bit more rapidly again and I was looking forward to going on tour to the alps with Bloc off the Wall. I was definitely not going to be skiing so it was going to be frustrating in that sense, but I would be touring in some beautiful surroundings and it was going to be jollies. My band mates Adam, Joe, George did wonders babysitting me and lugging my gear around for the best part of a month! I had to sit down at every gig and couldn’t carry a thing but at least I was out there!
Something was not right though, 9 months since the break and I was still not walking. I could feel a big lump in the middle of my shin, the bones didn’t seem straight and my leg was still so skinny. We had two residencies in Zermatt Switzerland which was relaxing compared to the rest of the tour as we played in one bar every night and could leave everything set up. We were also put up in a nearby hotel with a room each and fed well everyday at the bar. Schnitzel, who had been upgraded to Natty Schnitzel Shatzi (when I became aware I was totally besotted with her) came out to stay for some jolly japes and “Frische berg luft“. It just so happened that unfortunately the next major major setback happened that same week. I started getting pain around the fracture site, I played the gig that night with my leg up and a load of ice on my shin.
The next day it had flared up even more. Everyone told me to go to the Drs. I didn’t want to because I was scared of what they might say, and I was right to be afraid. The infection had spilled out of the fracture, I still had osteomyelitis. The Dr referred me to the hospital and told me I was going to need more surgery and if I left it too long they’ll chop my leg off! Everyone came with me to the hospital but I was told that they didn’t want to do anything until I had an MRI scan. I was told to go home as soon as possible and go to back to Poole hospital which was beginning to feel like my second home. George and Adam drove me to Geneva at 5am the next day I limped about and stacked it hard at least 3 times in the airport before boarding the plane – a bit of a scene really.
On the other side my parents took me straight to Poole hospital. My leg started oozing the next day and I was operated on the day after that, the 5th wash out! My consultant then said I needed a bone transport. I was fucking distraught! It had been 9 months and now I was told it was going to be another 6 – 12 months in a frame and, this gnarly procedure! “You need this or the infection could spread and you will lose your leg” is what I was told several times! I was transferred to Salisbury after a week for the specialist treatment as I was going to need a large skin graft as well. I was given another washout and given another vacuum dressing. After 2 weeks in salisbury I was allowed home for a couple of weeks…. essentially for a break and a breather.
Part 3: The Frame
There were two ops booked in on consecutive days in March 2019; the first, to attach the frame and chop out the infectected bone and more of the skin around it which took about 5 hrs. The second op which took 9 hrs was to attach the large skin graft called a free flap which includes muscle, fat, and blood vessels which need to be stitched under a microscope.
!!!!Even worse pictures below!!!!!!!
Scroll right for even more gore!
My consultants are incredible! They have such skill and knowledge and are really friendly and approachable. The days following those operations were hell though. I felt so sick and threw up everyday for about a week because of the large doses of anaesthetic, painkillers and antibiotics! I woke up with tubes all over the place: drains, drips, hydration fluids, oxygen and the most unpleasant – a catheter. I couldn’t move either of my legs because of the incisions and drains. Everytime I really needed to pee was agony due to the tube shoved up my japside. I couldn’t eat anything for about 4 days which never ever happens to me, I always have an enormous appetite no matter what. I tried to eat but I would just puke it up straight away and the anti puke drugs were pretty terrible to. I tried about 4 in the end. I forget the names but the first did bugger all, the second made me even more sick, the 3rd made me trip out and hallucinate (not in a fun way). The 4th made me all agitated, restless and made me want to throw things at the wall. I settled for the 4th but sometimes I preferred just to puke up and feel sick rather than have any of those side effects.
I couldn’t shit for 4 days either, lucky really because when I did need to go it was a messy business. Its funny looking back on it now and I quickly abandoned any sort of dignity at the time. I wasn’t allowed out of bed for 9 days so I had to use a bedpan and I can tell you, they are not big enough for my monsters. As I still couldn’t move either of my legs I rolled on to the pan and I said to the nurses “now what?” they said “well do your business and call us when you’re done” I reply “so I just lie here and shit?”. It was horrendous! Very quickly that mr whippy piled up and started fighting any swamp logging on its way out, obviously Mr whippy loses and it all gets spread around and I’m now literally sat in my own shit! I call the bell and a different nurse comes in “everything alright Love” she says. “Not really, I’m sat in a pile of my own shit, can you help me?” So two nurses come in, one rolls me over and lifts my leg up and the other mops my arse and balls clean! It was such an upgrade moving onto a komode and it felt like luxury sitting on a real toilet again.
I was sent home after two weeks for another breather before the 3rd operation which would entail two breaks near the top of the tibia and the completion of the circular frame. I crutched in to the theatre had the op done puked up all night and was released the next day. It may have been too soon but I couldn’t bare to spend yet another night in hospital. I started a 12 week course of antibiotics which is awful considering I’d never had any of this sort of medication until this staphy saga, not even paracetamol! They make me sick but we could combat that with Arsenicum and other cleansing remedies. I had to wait 2 weeks before starting the bone transport which involved turning the bolts on the frame.
The fractures heal as the adjustments are made three times per day which stretches them, essentially causing the bone to regrow. I had to make the adjustments myself for 2 months. I was also required to wash each pin site every day with special soup. I was told it was inevitable I would get a pin site infection (most people do). As you can imagine I was extremely paranoid about further infection tracking down the pins into the bone. I was very very meticulous about cleaning them and very anal about general hygiene which is not one of my usual characteristics to say the least! In addition I took lots of Homeopathic cleansing remedies and to my consultants amazement I didn’t suffer one pin site infection for the whole 13 months in a frame. My ever supportive parents were amazing as always and even drove me all the way to see my darling Natty schnitzel schatzi in her village “buttfat” in Germany.
Here’s an example of a bone transport which is very similar to mine except I was moving two pieces of bone downwards to fill the gap (see 1:18)
When the adjustments finished in May 2019 I was supposed to start putting weight on it and I attended intensive physio for a long long time often for 4hrs 3 days a week. It seems crazy but I was allowed to drive with that thing on which made it possible to get back to some gigs. Adam continued to be really considerate and supportive with keeping me in the picture and getting me on the gigs! I really appreciate all that. The first weekend back on the gigs in June 2019 was a bit hectic, 4 gigs in 3 days and a lot of miles in between. It included one of my favourite PAG gigs on the cirque de le quirk stage at the isle wight festival. Squawker! you continued to be a legend and lug all my stuff around and get down to poole to record and write music.
I did what I could that summer to occupy my mind. One project I worked on a lot that summer was recording for my progressive rock band Freecall Jupiter with my brother Tom and great pal Luke.
Although I had this horrible cage on my leg which made it impossible to sleep properly, I wasn’t as stressed out as I was in 2018. I was able to do more and no longer on any medication. I even started flying out to Germany for longer periods of time and was well looked after by meine engel schnitzel who carted me about everywhere and kept my spirits high.
I had high hopes that I would be a quick healer and I could get rid of that frame within 9 months. I thought it would have come off by November 2019 but that was not to be. This meant the 2 months tour in the alps was a no go. I was gutted and felt as though I had let my band mates down.
You can see in these x-Rays that the new bone was still quite soft…
Part 4: Lemon
I thought I was done with infections, but no! At the end of the summer 2019 I was very unlucky again, I had a spot of epididymitis: an infection in the balls! It turned out to be a urinary infection, no idea why or how but it happened and it was truly horrible! I haven’t got any pictures don’t worry! It came on as a really bad ache and a lot of swelling. I was having trouble walking already with the frame but imagine swinging a lemon ball between your legs at the same time! The pain eased after a week and it seemed as though it was settling. However, a week after my diagnosis I got an increase in pain which was by far the worst I have ever experienced. Imagine someone kicking you in the bollocks and then squeezing them for 6 hours straight, then you’ve got a rough idea. I was delirious with pain and puking up every 5 minutes. An ambulance took me to hospital and I had a bit of an emergency operation. My parents were with me before the op and whilst I was squirming around in pain I actually felt sorry for them to witness me in such a state. I felt bad that I had been such a worry for them for well over a year. I really did have a lemon ball after that op. It was very difficult moving around for quite a few weeks. I had to make some custom stripper style pants so I could get them on over the frame to harness my lemon. My brother was a bit of a hero and drove me many miles to some out of town gigs. This enabled me to elevate my bollocks lying across the backseats.
Chapter 5: born again
I took on the remaining gigs and moved out of my parents and back to the house in bristol where my housemates had kindly sublet the room for me for many many months. I really appreciate that: Jonny, George, Gemma, Mischa! I spent my time mixing the Kong album for Psycho-Acoustic Goat and rehearsing, writing and gigging.
A video shot in November 2019:
It was very difficult clambering up and down these cliffs with the frame on…. notice the custom shin sleeve and classic pajamas, worn for two years!
This track is very much related to my leg saga:
I was still attending lots of physio which I really enjoyed, as the physios got us to make things and play games to improve weight bearing and standing tolerance. Things I made: Fruit bowl, goat lamp, planter, glass piece, coasters, felt mat. (might sound a bit like play school which is maybe why I loved it)
Natty schnitzel schatz had decided she was going to move to bristol in July 2020 and I was beside myself! The light at the end of the tunnel. I also had a date for the frame to come off to: 19th March 2020. That was going to be a joyful day!
I was so lucky to have that operation done just before the first lockdown, in fact my operation happened on the second to last day of normal surgical procedures, any later ….who knows? I might still have it on now!!! That was the best operation I have ever had. I walked myself into the operating theatre, had some hilarious dreams and woke up in hysterics! I can’t describe how comfortable it was to be free of that thing … amazing! I had the first good night sleep for 13 months. I had one last scare with my leg when the frame came off. The lower wound was taking a bit longer to heal and it oozed! My heart jumped! I was immediately terrified! “Have I gone through all of that to still have a fucking infection in there! ” I calmed myself down. It wasn’t red or painful, it just looked weird so I got it swabbed and I was in the clear!
I rested for a month and then…………. I was walking with one stick down the road …. and then…… I dropped the stick ! I was walking un-aided for the first time in over two years! It was euphoric! I have never felt so high!
I was mobile and coming out of hiding just as the whole world went into lockdown! In a way I was mentally trained for this sort of thing. I escaped to Germany for 4 months and worked on getting my strength back and had a lovely jolly summer with schnitzel. I have since enjoyed loads of cycling, swimming, hiking, surfing and wake-boarding and every activity I return to is euphoric and I get a whole new sense of excitement! the only thing left on the list is running and skiing!
I often dreamt of cycling and doing other activities when I had the frame on. Here’s a video reflecting a lot of this story. Written and recorded last summer, filmed as soon as I felt stable enough to cycle and play without falling off!
I can’t put into words how grateful I am for my Hero’s at salisbury hospital: Mr Jacobs, Miss Crick and their teams! I often had nightmares about the worst case scenarios happening. I’m blessed, I know how much worse it could have been! I can’t express my thanks and appreciation for my parents who never once let me down. Huge gratitude to my mates/band mates/housemates and of course Natty Schnitzel Schatzi for sticking with me when i’ve been at my worst. I may never be able to run as far as I used to and I have a lumpy scarred up leg but the leg is still attached! I couldn’t care less, I’m on my feet and mobile. We are now in a third lockdown but in a way it feels like it’s been a three year lockdown for me! Having something to focus on and people you can rely on is so important and I hope everybody can find that spinning on their own axis in these turbulent times.
I’m not sure if there is a moral of the story just look after yourself and don’t be stupid…. Is that a lesson learned?
Related story (the prequel which includes one theory of the origin of the infection: a spider bite)…..