A Soldier’s Experience – Robert’s Story
02 March 2018

I was granted ‘membership’ of the KCH Limb Reconstruction Club in 2009. I arrived at King’s as a military patient, having been transferred from Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham. I had been injured whilst serving on operations the year before. Unfortunately, the vehicle that my team and I were in hit an improvised explosive device (IED) which destroyed the vehicle and left three of us badly injured. Having received emergency medical treatment on the ground and been extracted back to one of the main NATO bases, we were all flown to the UK for further treatment. It was the end of our tour.

 

It’s an odd thing, coming round a number of days later, not realising where you are or what’s happened to you, with nurses asking you if you are aware of your own current whereabouts. Those seriously injured were moved to Selly Oak and, although a NHS hospital, certain wards housed injured military personnel. During that period, the number of soldiers treated at the hospital was significant.

 

Those who have been injured in IED incidents typically have complex breaks which aren’t always easy to fix. Many are irreparable, hence the high number of amputees. Time spent at Selly Oak varies, depending on the nature and severity of the injuries. Some soldiers move quickly from Selly Oak to Headly Court (the military’s rehabilitation facility), others are there for longer. Ultimately, almost all end up at Headly Court for a period of rehabilitation. Unfortunately, some soldiers’ injuries are so severe they are medically discharged from the Army. Sadly for some, although they made it home, they succumbed to their injuries in hospital surrounded by heart-broken family.

 

I was under the care of Selly Oak for almost a year and a half, during which time I had numerous operations to try and fix the damage to my legs. Unfortunately, they never quite managed to fix my left leg, and a decision was made to move my treatment to King’s Limb Reconstruction Unit and, specifically, under the care of Mr Graham Groom. It was quickly determined that, in order for my leg to have a chance to heal, the previously inserted metal rod in my leg would need to be removed and a Taylor Spatial Stack Frame applied. Subsequently, after 18 months of treatment, a frame was applied and remained on my left leg for nine months.

 

During the preceding 18 months there had been a few peaks and troughs. The rest of my injuries had healed well, and my body had regained strength. I was also taking less pain medication, which resulted in me feeling better and more normal. However, my left leg was not playing the game due to the complexity of the injury and the fact that it had been left infected for such a long time. Frustrations can set in, compounded often by pain, the effects of the medication one takes and, for many, the physical restrictions injuries and treatments place on your life. These ‘down’ periods can be cyclical in nature or can remain for protracted periods. Either way, it is not just the patient who suffers frustration but also his family. It is at these times when speaking to others, sharing those frustrations and, for some, going to church can make a real difference. For me and my wife, it was our church and faith that provided us needed support.

 

Whether it was due to having an occupation that required a high level of physical fitness, genetics, the amazing skill and dedication of Mr Groom and his team or faith – or a combination of all these factors – my leg healed quickly with the frame on. Soon after the frame was taken off, I began a rehabilitation programme at Headly Court and I was signed off fully medically fit again.

 

The staff at King’s Orthopaedics Department, and particularly those within the Limb Reconstruction Unit, are an amazing group of people, utterly dedicated to their patients, restoring people’s lives and the continuation of the service they are devoted to. I truly feel blessed to have come under their care, not just because I can run again, but because of the care and friendship they extended to my wife and me during that period of our lives.