photography

A room with a view

As Londoners we always get excited when an opportunity rises to visit one of its many monuments, however it is not every day that we get invited to visit the Mayor of London’s office…This was the 2nd time for us; the 1st time was in 2003, just a few months after it opened. This was a collaboration with a customer and we exhibited a large print showing an image of Tower Bridge.

This time it was a bit different. London’s Air Ambulance have invited us to take part in an event hosted by Caroline Pidgeon, member of the London Assembly and Deputy Chair of the Transport Committee and Joanne McCartney, Deputy Mayor. It was held at the London Living Room on the top floor and the 200 guests included donors, charity trustees, business and corporate partners, ex. patients, doctors, paramedics, pilots and consultants from the team.

June 19th was the hottest day of the year which meant the doors to the panoramic viewing balcony were kept open!

In the first image, if you look closely (click on the images to open them in a new window, then click again to zoom in), you can see the Royal London Hospital, to the Left of Tower Bridge. If you move a few cm to the Left again, yo can see the Red helicopter, just between the Hospital and a couple of big cranes. It took off and made a flyby along the river just above City Hall.

Jonathan Jenkins, the Charity’s new CEO, gave a fantastic, inspirational speech that was followed by Dr. Anne Weaver, Clinical Director of Trauma @ Royal London MTC & Barts Health NHS Trust (@AnnielondonAA) talking about the charity’s recent activities durning the terror attacks and the great Grenfel Tower fire, and also about the new initiative: The Institute Of Pre Hospital Care.

We then all watched a short video which was filmed a few weeks ago by the amazing Pro Create team (click on the link below the image to watch the video):

Needless to say that there were a few tears that were shed by more than a few people in the audience. We stayed there for a few hours, chatting to people, telling our story to donors and trustees, and sharing and exchanging experiences with fellow ex. patients and their families: A guy who lost his Left arm in the 2016 Croydon tram derailment, A guy who was involved in a motorbike vs brick wall accident less than a year ago, who suffered a severe head injury and was in a coma for a few days, A lady who had lost her leg in a car accident and young Victoria, who nearly lost her life at the end of 2014 when she was hit and run over by a lorry while riding her bike in London. She met “her” driver in court a year later and forgave him.

It was a very special night that we will remember for a long, long time. Being there with a group of people all joined by the same misfortune on one hand, but that are also fortunate to still be around and to be able to participate, support and enjoy being part of the Charity’s family.

In our continuous efforts to help the charity, we picked up a fun and an educational way to raise some funds. Our children have organised a couple of cake sales at their schools and between those two sales we have managed to collect just under £700. This sort of money covers the jet fuel costs of Two missions of the London’s Air Ambulance helicopter, so in a way we have helped saving two lives in London. Who knows, maybe one of those are the lives of a fellow cyclist?

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One year on

Woke up early last Friday and went to get some groceries. At 07:50 as I was pushing the trolly past the bread aisle I felt a sharp twitch in my right hip…these things have become almost normal in the last 12 months but this one was special.

12 months ago, on Thursday, April 7th at 07:50 that Blue Skoda had hit me.

How do you mark that moment? How do you process everything that had happened since that moment? How do you take all the bad and place it in a drawer, and how do you choose all the good, respect and cherish it?

What about the driver? He said sorry when he stood there next to me, but that was the last we’ve seen of him. The poor guy had 3 points added to his licence and had to spend a whole afternoon doing drivers awareness course. Is that enough? Will that make him more careful when he sits behind the wheel? Was he on the phone? Was he texting? Not enough coffee? Did he do something special on Friday? Does he know what happened to us since the accident?

Do we really care about him? Should we be angry with him? We all make mistakes and we all want to move on. Maybe he’s moved on and had chosen not to deal with the consequences.

What could have happened had I not decided to stop & turn Right at the junction? Maybe he would have caught with me 2 minutes later on Crew’s Hill and hit me from behind?

Would we be going on holiday during spring break as we were planning to? Would I be in Paris and Copenhagen for work on the following week, as I was supposed to? Would we all be having the Passover Seder with our friends like we always do? Would we be flying off to Florence to watch the MotoGP race? Would we be celebrating Alma’s 4th birthday in our garden? Would I be riding the #RideLondon 2016 for the BHF? Would we be going on our summer holiday? What about work? What about the most basic things such as going to the toilet or not having to rely on huge amounts of pain killers just to get through the day?

And how do we thank all the people who have supported us through this journey? Family, friends, colleagues, neighbours…what about the doctors and nurses? Where do we start?

In my dreams I saw myself celebrating that 1st anniversary on my bike, on a nice spring day ride. But as I realised this was not going to happen I came up with a different plan.

My brother-in-law, Doron, came over with two of his boys. Over the last year he has been a tremendous help and was here to support us in the worst moments.

They’ve made some very special t-shirts for all of us, with our names on the back. The weather was fantastic and we set off on a family walk from our home in Finchley the the junction on Theobalds Park Road in Enfield where the accident took place.

16km through the streets, parks and fields of North London.

A couple of ice cream stops, some snacks and sandwiches and we made it to the junction!

But the main event came on the following day. The London Air Ambulance has recently signed a 3- year partnership with the Saracens and to kick it off they’ve chosen #DerbyDay. We were invited to play an active role and to help raise funds and more importantly, awareness. Of course we had our own fan club who had joined us! 4 families who have all been there for us, visiting me at the hospital and helping Yael and the kids in maintaining their daily routines, cooking, babysitting and keeping Yael’s sanity as much as they could.

The charity had put a piece about the event on their Website with a cool short video on it.

For us and for me this is all about payback. I owe my life to them. Without them the kids would remember me only from photos!

This is Dr. Simon Walsh who treated me at the roadside. I’m one of hundreds who were saved by Simon. We want the charity to continue saving lives and keeping families together


These are some of the images that were displayed on the large screens at the stadium during Simon’ interview with me.

This week we had 12 months follow up appointment at the Royal London Hospital and we jumped on the opportunity to go up and visit the helipad one more time:

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Little Alma brought her class’s mascot, Lex, along. There’s a school tradition where every weekend and holiday another child takes Lex home and get his album updated with his adventures and pictures. We think that after this holiday they will have to look for a new challenge as he’s been on live TV and on a helicopter !!!

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As I wrote to the team after the game, we have never met a group of people who are so professional, so dedicated and passionate about what they do and who provide such an amazing support not only when they treat you, but also in the long months following that, when you and your family go through such tough times.

In the coming months, as part of my on-going physical and psychological rehabilitation I will be seeing patients who sustain injuries similar to mine, who are starting their journey to recovery and who can benefit from my advice on what to expect and how to cope with these difficult times.

After the accident, because we did not fully understood the situation and how long it was all going to take, I told the London Air Ambulance that I’ll join their #RideLondon 2017 team. As we now realise I will not be cycling on the road for a while, Michael Marks, my friend, has taken it up and will be riding and fundraising for the London Air Ambulance. It requires £7M each year to run their services, so every penny and every pound count!

Michael’s LAA fundraising page

Part V: Exploring your pain threshold 

On November 1st 2016, the night before I was booked in for the urology operation, I had the honour to join the London Air Ambulance team at a very special event. It was hosted by Mr. Boris Johnson at the Houses of Parliament, with 50 other MPs and more importantly, 25 fellow ex. patients, paramedics, doctors, pilots and the wonderful events team. I got to meet in person and speak to people who, like myself, had their lives change in one unlucky moment but who are still alive thanks to these flying angels and who are willing to share their experience with the public and to raise awareness for the amazing work done by the charity. Some were in wheelchairs, some were using crutches and some have a prosthetic leg or an arm. I had to wear a suit, which in itself was a challenge and I had to travel on my own by public transport…just me and my walking stick…used for support and also as a safety measure, allowing people to notice my temporary disability (and even have a seat on the train with some luck).

A couple of days before that, Yael and I were invited to the LAA office in central London, to do a talk with their office staff; the good folks who take care of sponsorships, finance, marketing, volunteering and events and who rarely get to meet patients in person and to hear their experiences.

We talked about the accident and our individual as well mutual experience on the day and during the months that followed it. This was quite emotional for both of us and at the same time very satisfying…we both felt that this was just one way to show our appreciation and gratitude.

Just a few days ago, on March 22nd, we all witnessed the horror brought on by the cowardly terrorist attack in Westminster and saw how quickly the Air Ambulance team arrived at the scene and helped the wounded.

We went into UCL hospital on Nov’ 2nd 2016, prepared for a relatively simple procedure and a few days stay…sadly, the procedure had turned out to be a little more complicated than planned and after a week in bed with a lot of pain, more bleeding and some other complications, we realised that this was going to be yet another testing experience…for me but even more so for my family.

Walking and sitting were pretty much impossible, and as I once again had two catheters fitted, the dreadful blood clots and blockages came back (those were described in the first chapter of the story)…I can say that that month was actually worse than the previous times in hospital…more pain, blood loss, 3 blood transfusions, drugs, weight loss…and that horrible sense of despair…

We finally left the hospital at the end of November, I left 7kg there that I shed during that month and I also left the two catheters behind!!! Free at last!!!

The hole in my tummy had taken a several days to heal and to close down…imagine having to change dressings every hour or two and waking up at night, lying in a puddle of your own urine…At one point I bought it was never going to close!

They’ve replenished the stock of hardcore pain killers and equipped us with a morphine weaning plan that lasted 2 weeks. I was anxious to gain back my mobility and freedom to walk outside free of tubes and bags. I also wanted to drive again and to see if I can reduce, or maybe even give up all these medications.

For a few weeks I had to carry an inflatable inner tube that I could sit on. Slowly and gradually I extended my short daily walks and tried to make the best out of the holiday season by taking the family out on some of my walks

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on New Years Eve we decided to brave the elements, got in the car and drove down to Brighton on the south coast of England. We stayed the night, the kids got to do some ice skating and we saw the fireworks at midnight. We even had a late night feast at Burger King and invited a homeless guy that was sat outside to enjoy a meal with his little dog.

Brighton

It wasn’t until the beginning of February that I was able to start physiotherapy again, working on regaining muscle strength, flexibility and stability, a painful process yet satisfying as I was getting a little stronger every week.

My cardiologist has recently checked us up and done an Echo scan and all seems OK. in his words “what you have been through over the last few months was the ultimate test for your heart and it has done very well”…

We also had the “pleasure” of meeting my bike and to realise the damage it had sustained. The force and the weight of the car over me while I was on it had managed not only to shatter the carbon frame and squash the saddle but also to bend and break the chainrings and crank arms…that also explained the hole I had in my right ankle!

Fast forward to this day, March 28th 2017; life is starting to look a bit more normal. I’m stronger and I have some of my fitness back. I cannot cycle outside yet though – this will take several more months.

I’m seeing a psychologist once a week, to help me deal and hopefully overcome the bursts of anger, lack of concentration, lack of patience and general moodiness resulted by the post traumatic stress disorder. I still take a neuropathic drug that takes the edge of the random pains and aches and that helps me sleep a little better. I’ve chosen not to use any stronger drugs since I’ve had so much of those and I’ve been teaching myself how to handle pain and how to live with it. I’ll be seeing some pain specialists in the future as I go along.

Last Sunday we ticked another box: we took part in the British Heart Foundation Olympic Park Run and in doing so managed to raise close to £600. It was not easy at all but I was keen to finish the 10k course and crossing the line holding hands with Arielle was something very special. She’s 11 1/2 and this was her first 10k! My fundraising page is still active should you wish to donate. We would also wish to thank everybody who has supported us and who has donated so far!

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Next month brings with it a few special occasions. We’ll be celebrating my birthday and a few days later we’ll meet the orthopaedic surgeons again, to follow up and perhaps to be finally discharged. On April 7th we will be marking the first anniversary of the day of the accident (I have a cunning plan for that day) and on the day after that we will be taking part in a very special event, together with London Air Ambulance and with some of our best friends who have helped us so much during all those months. I will comeback with an update after that so stay tuned!

Part Two: Somewhat unrealistic

Apparently, I woke up in the ITU (Intensive Therapy Unit) several hours after the operation, but I don’t remember anything from there. I do remember waking up in Ward 12D, on my back, with some tubes and lines stuck everywhere and with some intense pain in my lower abdomen. Yael was there and told me about the day’s events: The op took a few hours and they have managed to re-align the two sides of the pelvis, fit in those two big screws (can be seen in the x-ray at the bottom of the previous post, the top one is 18cm long!), fit a fairly large plate at the front of the pelvis that holds together the pelvis bone and the smaller bones next to it. I also had a Supra-pubic catheter – this is a tube that goes into your bladder through the wall of your tummy allowing for free drainage of urine and in my case, also blood. It also became my close friend for the next 8 months…we’ll get to that later. The other catheter was the more common one…

Then there was a line in my left arm for intravenous antibiotics, and in my Right arm I had another line with another, magical IV…I say magical because this was morphine and it came with a plunger-type remote control…basically this means that when you feel the pain you press the button and it just pushes another dose of that opiate drug straight into your blood stream. It takes some of the pain away and if you do it more than 2 or 3 times in a row it sends you to sleep. So you can imagine (can you?) that the next couple of days I was sort of playing with this wake-sleep-wake-sleep thing…

The following 10 days I wish I could forget, but I can’t. One side effect of taking opiates and being static is constipation. They want you to start eating so that your system can start working again and that you can gain some strength back. It is worth mentioning that due to the trauma and the lack of food, I had lost 13 kilogrammes in the first 4-5 days, that’s 29lb or 2 stone in British money…the view most of the time was of the Beige curtain surrounding you. Since you lie flat on your back the whole time, you basically loose any visual perspective…everybody look really tall.


Four badly injured men in one room, each cocooned in a curtained cube, busy dealing with their own suffering and trying not to hear and not to be affected by the others’ crying and screaming…it’s all about pain handling and management, or rather the lack of them. When pain kicks in you first try to analyse it and figure out where it’s coming from: is it the legs? The back? The backside? Constipation? Or is it the bladder that is going into spasm again? If you’ve never heard of bladder spasms I hope you’ll never, ever get any. They can last hours (or days in my case) and make you produce some impressively loud, high pitch groans and whines. Every now and again One or both of the catheters would block up with blood clots and would stop draining…It takes a few minutes to realise that this has actually happened and call the nurses. The way to “unblock” the tubes is quite simple: you (or the nurse) use a 50ml syringe full of saline water, connect it to the catheter and push the water through, then carefully start pulling. If the blockage is only caused by some small clots or “debris” then one pull might be enough but sometimes you can end up spending an hour pushing and puling and sometimes you do it on BOTH catheters, all while trying to battle or to just ignore the pain caused by the spasms…and ending up with these long, stretchy bits of clotted blood filling up the syringe. This is the kind of experience I would not wish even to the worst of my enemies!!!

Doing your “business” involves calling & asking someone to bring you a bedpan. They then help you roll over to one side and rolling back until your somehow positioned over it. When you’re done you call again and have your backside wiped. Later on when I gained a bit of strength it evolved into manoeuvring your body from being flat to somehow bridging over the bedpan. I keep telling people that when you go into hospital as a patient, at least as a trauma patient, you leave you dignity and any sense of privacy at the reception upon checking in. You find yourself lying on the bedpan, huffing and puffing and have your blood sample taken at the same time or even funnier, have a group of nurses and doctors doing their round or doing a handover. They all claim their not sensitive to the smells…I somehow doubt it!

There’s also the human side in all this…nurses, doctors, phlebotomists, pharmacists, cleaners, caterers…and they all have personalities, characters, hierarchy, politics…and you are right there in the middle, trying to figure out how to get the best “service”, how to get all the information you need, how to provide feedback and how to prevent mistakes from happening. And those DO happen because we’re all human and because a hospital is a large organisation and a very complicated one at that.

As a trauma patient you can find yourself in some rather awkward, intimate, embarrassing situations and some of these people can be absolute angels, giving so much support far and beyond what they are trained or paid for and still being humble and polite even when under a lot of pressure. As a patient you can be very sensitive, or abusive, or appreciative and they still have to do their job and take care of you.

However the biggest angel by far has been MY angel, otherwise known as my wife, Yael. She was there every single day,  from morning till night. Looking after me and doing the legwork to ask, beg, find, harass, cry, shout, argue, thank…whatever it took to keep me going. All that while managing a house with three young children, with their needs and she still had room left to care about my neighbouring patient, ask them how they do and call someone when they needed help.

We eventually went home after 4 weeks. I was in a wheelchair, equipped with a bag full of medications, a suprapubic catheter (the one stuck in your tummy), a care plan that meant a carer was coming in every day to help me wash myself, on a chair in the kitchen.

Here’s me being rolled into the house, the journey in the ambulance was knackering as the image tells…

We’ve set up the living room so that I can live downstairs and we had an appointment set for a week later were they were looking to see if I can stand up and start learning how to walk again.

Coming home for me was a happy yet difficult experience for me and perhaps more so for the family. At the hospital you feel “safe”…you have a button for everything and there’s always a team who can rescue you should bad things happen. You are in the centre. At home you are obviously a king but even as a king you have to fit into the house’s routines, you also try to be a part of it again. We soon realised that there are times when the Post Troumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) raises its ugly head and can make you burst into tears, or burst in anger, or just shrink into your own bag of self-pitty and not talk to anybody for hours and days.
The story did not end there, unfortunately.

I’m signing this part off on December 31st, the last day of 2016. I’m at home with my family and we’re looking to spend a quiet couple of days and to kick 2017 off with some good energy and big hopes. I’ll be back soon with the next hospital adventure. Happy new year everybody!

Recovery….

It is now 10 1/2 weeks since my surgery and recovery in general has been going well…there were a lot of ups and downs during the first few weeks (mostly downs) but as time passes I feel stronger with less pain (no more pain killers), Sleep (pr the lack of it) is something I will have to work on, long-term, as is getting used to the loud ticking noise coming from the mechanical aortic valve…

I am a lot more mobile (I can drive long distances!), taking daily exercise and all (or most) of the signs say that I am going to be OK…

And since I am still not allowed to fly and as I have to do regular blood tests etc., we had to settle for short local outings during the holiday season…so you are not going to see any wonderful, warm, sun-spelled photos but here is a small collection from a few trips to the RAF Museum in Hendon, to Trent Park and to the South coast; Milford On Sea and the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu. I was in a “One camera, One lens” mood so all these images were taken with the Mamiya 645DF+, Leaf Credo 50 Digital Back and a Mamiya 35mm/f3.5 D lens, a very versatile and capable combo that lets me shoot handheld at high iso and get some wonderful colours (yes also in B&W) and details. Images processed in Capture One Pro 8. Click on an image to view a larger version…Enjoy!

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                                 All images ©yair shahar and cannot be copied, printed or displayed without the author’s permission