iboutdoor discovers that not everything in life goes quite to plan…
After finishing my contract guiding in Oman, I had planned to go to Israel, to catch up with a good friend that I had met whilst rafting last year in Nepal. I had lots planned for my trip, from climbing to surf kayaking. Getting to Tel-Aviv caused the first issue. With Middle Eastern international relationships being somewhat…complicated, there was no direct flight from Oman to Tel-Aviv. Instead, I had to fly from Oman to Jordan (via Bahrain) and then cross over the border on foot, entering Israel though the southern town of Eilat. All of this with 35kg of sports equipment and a kayak paddle. Excellent.
Whilst travelling through Jordan, it would have been a crime not to visit the ancient ruins of Petra. Built by the Nabataeans over 2000 years ago, the city of Petra is a perfectly preserved settlement, carved into the rock face of the surrounding cliffs. I decided to try and beat the crowds, by getting there early in the morning, in the hope that there would be fewer people around when I took my photos.
I rushed through Petra, dodging round tourists all the way up the steep track to the monastery. My plan was to take photos on the way up and to stop and read more about the place on the way down.
As I left the shade of the canyon and moved up the mountain track towards the monastery, the heat hit me. I took out my shemagh (Arabic head scarf) and wrapped it around my head to keep off the worst of the sun’s rays. There were many souvenir stalls along the path, where local Bedouin offered their wares. I walked past them, stopping only when a family offered for me to sit and drink sweet, Arabic tea with them. As an Englishman, I was powerless to refuse.
As I continued along the path I was overtaken by tourists riding donkeys to the top. The donkey handlers coming back down the trail kept asking if I wanted to pay for a lift up to the Monastery. The more they asked, the more annoying it became.
“I can walk, I don’t need you – thank you.” It sounded arrogant, but I was adamant not to part with my money. If only I had known…
At the top, I took photos of the monastery and stopped for water, before starting to descend back towards the shade. Statistics show that most accidents happen on the way down. Sadly, I was about to find out first hand.
As I stepped down from a ledge, my foot caught in a hole in the rock. My ankle rolled out to the side under my bodyweight and I tripped forwards. As I fell, I felt intense pain as something “popped” in my ankle and knew it was bad before I hit the ground. Immediately, I felt the urge to throw up.
They say that swearing shows a lack of vocabulary. I would argue that anybody who could have seen me in that moment, face down in the sand, screaming would be impressed by my extensive knowledge of profanities.
I took off my shoe to take a better look at the damage and already my ankle was badly swollen.
Being a tourist now, I was carrying very little of use in my rucksack, having packed my first aid kit in with the rest of my luggage. I cursed my decision to take out my SAM splint, which had previously had a permanent home down the back of my pack. I took off my shemagh, using it to improvise a support bandage, with the intention of walking out.
I hauled myself up and tried to put weight on my foot. Straight away I collapsed in a heap on the floor. Things weren’t looking great, it has to be said.
Luckily, one of the donkey herders that I had turned down earlier was making his way back down the track towards me. I asked him to help me on to his Donkey and to take me back down to somewhere that I could get help. Even whilst in pain, the irony wasn’t lost on me. “People get hurt here a lot” he told me. I gained little comfort from that fact.
I felt every single step of the way back down, as the Donkey jolted along. “Shway, Shway” I pleaded, using one of my few Arabic phrases – “slowly, slowly.” When we got back down to flatter ground, the donkey herder went off in search of ice from one of the tourist cafes. I unwrapped the shemagh, chancing another look at my ankle. It had swollen up even more and started to blacken with the bruising. I was pretty confident that I hadn’t broken it, but it still felt like I’d done some serious damage.
I got the donkey herder to phone for a taxi driver to meet us at the edge of Petra, whilst I went about strapping the ice pack to my ankle. As we set off again, I immediately regretted the decision, as the weight of the ice pack pulled on my ankle with every step of the donkey. “Yalla,” i told the man – hurry, get me out of here.
When we reached the road and the awaiting taxi, I thanked the donkey herder profusely. “No problem my friend, I just do what I can to help. Just 40 Dinar please.” £30! That, friends, is the story of the opportunist Samaritan.
Once in hospital, I was seen quickly by a young doctor, who sent me straight in for x-rays.
“You haven’t broken your ankle. But maybe it would be better if you had.” Great.
As he placed my ankle in a plaster cast, he continued with the good news. “You will be in a cast for a week. We won’t know if you have torn the ligament until the cast comes off. Maybe you will need an operation. You will always have to wear an ankle brace now.” I asked about being able to work for the summer season and about kayaking. “Maybe it will fix, maybe you’ll do it again. You should be happy to walk.”
The implications of what he was saying hurt more than the injury itself.
As I lay in bed that night, the pain keeping me awake, I thought about what it meant for my future. It looked like my summer season of raft guiding had been written off. But what if my days of working in the outdoors were over – what would I do? What could I do? Since leaving university I’d been living the dream, making my passion for kayaking my job. But now the bubble had burst.
I crossed the border in to Israel in a wheelchair, with a soldier trailing behind me, carrying my gear. I met my Israeli friend in Eilat, who, ever-resourceful, had already sourced crutches for me. My plans to go trekking and climbing were out and I definitely wasn’t going to be able to sit in a surf kayak. Instead, I resolved to try every Israeli dish that I could and to see all the tourist sights. We ate shakshouka, swam in the Dead Sea and visited Jerusalem.
I had the cast removed in Tel-Aviv and a more positive outlook for my ankle. I was able to walk without crutches straight away and should seek physiotherapy on my return to the UK.
Back in England, I went to see my doctor, to get a physiotherapy referral. I went from optimistic, to another low when he laid out the facts to me.
“I don’t like telling sportsmen that they can’t do what they love.”
“So, when will I be able to paddle again?”
“I can’t give you answers, only the physio can tell you what you need to know. But if you go back to kayaking and fall over on the river bank, you could rip the ligament apart. You’ll need surgery – maybe it won’t be the same again.”
I spent a few days sulking. What would I do for work? Was he suggesting that my paddling days were over? I couldn’t even sleep well, going from an active lifestyle, to one which saw me barely leaving the sofa. Luckily, my saviour came in the form of a physio referral letter. By some miracle, the NHS had arranged an appointment for me, in less than a weeks time.
Luckily, my physio had an optimistic outlook. The ligament was badly stretched and I was lucky not have torn it. However, it would respond to rehab and I had age on my side. As a sportsman himself, he knew my frustration. He told me to rest my ankle as much as possible until it was strong enough to start physiotherapy exercises. “12 weeks repair time for ligaments usually – minimum.”
As a keen kayaker, sitting still is incredibly hard. Seeing friends on Facebook going out paddling and not being able to join them was torture. Kayakers paddle. I couldn’t paddle, so was no longer one of the boys. Having just been invited to join Team Canoe Kayak Trader, the injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. It wasn’t even a very impressive injury!
I managed to keep sane by going to watch at the lake sessions of my local club. Even then, walking around on the uneven ground and helping to carry boats would cause my ankle to swell up by the end of the evening.
At my second session, the physio said that I was healing faster than expected and that I could start balance and strengthening exercises. Therabands and wobble boards are now my friends. More importantly, I am now allowed to paddle again, on easy water.
This weekend marked my first time back in a boat, since getting hurt 8 weeks ago. Running a coaching session for the Leam Boat Centre, I managed half a day of kayaking, albeit with the footrest not touching my feet. I can’t push with my feet when paddling forwards yet, but I’m still happy to see progress.
In a few weeks time I should hopefully get the go ahead to be able to return to full time outdoor work. I’ll have missed the opportunity to work abroad this summer, but hopefully be able to carry on in my line of work for a few more years yet.
My advice? Don’t get injured.