Given that I haven’t written about my accident and state of my eye for some time, I thought it was high time for an update. I receive emails about lifting weights after a retinal detachment surgery almost weekly, as there’s not a lot of information out there about it.
Firstly, a recap of what went down for those who haven’t been following my blog that long. Three years and four months ago (time flies!), I was hit by a van while cycling in London. I was injured pretty badly, suffering multiple fractures in my face and a retinal detachment in my left eye, as well as tearing tendons in my knee and general bruising to the rest of my body.
As a result of the accident, I had three operations. One involved attaching a scleral buckle to my eye. The doctor initially told me that I would not be able to lift weights again, due to the pressure it would place on my eye. I did not take his diagnosis well. I thought my life was over and for a while even considered allowing myself to go blind so I could keep lifting (I know).
Luckily, I am stubborn and I sought out a second opinion. Thankfully, the second doctor told me I could lift again, so long as I eased my way back into it slowly. Naturally, less than six months later, I found myself competing in my first strongwoman competition. (I didn’t step foot in a gym for six weeks after my accident and then spent one month limited to machine exercises only, before gradually building up strength in the major lifts again.)
The link to competing
Many of the women I’ve met through competing have similar, or worse, stories of various adversities they’ve had to overcome, which led them directly to competing. I think when we are told we can’t do something, we only want to do it more.
I came close to dying (if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I would have) and it made me realise that I shouldn’t hold back on what I wanted, in all aspects of my life. I had been thinking about competing in a strength sport for a long, but constantly had a reason for putting it off.
My accident made me realise that I was already ready. Even if I was the weakest person there, competing was about proving to myself that I am strong. It was going to take a lot more than one accident to keep me down.
I also realised that what I looked like was far less important than what I could actually do with my body, and my aesthetic training goals took a backseat.
I am still dealing with the lawsuit now and, as a result, I’ve been through more than 20 different follow-up tests. It has since been revealed that I suffered mild brain damage and I am also likely to develop arthritis in my left knee in the next three years. I have permanently lost feeling in the left side of my face as well as one-third of the field of vision in my left eye. I can never put any kind of pressure on my left knee which is particularly problematic for dancing.
The aftermath of my retinal detachment is something I deal with every single day, even if it’s not something I blog about often.
As I have had one retinal detachment, there is a high chance that I will suffer another, both in the already-affected eye as well as my other eye.
It is something I think about every single time I attempt the valsava manoeuvre while squatting or bench pressing anywhere above 90 per cent. When I compete, I worry that I might do some serious damage when adrenalin takes over.
Funnily enough, I most often notice my eye when doing high rep, bodybuilder-style exercises, when the pressure has a chance to build up. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to re-detach my retina doing bicep curls, considering that I’ve squatted and deadlifted 120kg and 140kg, respectively, since my accident? I typically see some flashing lights and my eye gets a little droopy by the end of the day. This also happens if I spend too much time on the computer.
Over the past three years, I’ve had three major scares involving my eye. The first happened about four months after my accident, when I deadlifted a near max for the first time and was paranoid that my field of vision was shrinking by the second. The second was during a max attempt zercher squat during my first competition. Both times I was tested and assured that everything was fine.
My final scare was almost exactly one year ago, after I tested all my maxes in London before I set off for my travels. In the weeks following, I was 100 per cent convinced I had re-detached my retina. I went to the hospital in Rome and had to explain my fears in very poor Italian. Again, they tested me and assured me that I was fine.
In hindsight, I was probably just very tired. At the time, I wasn’t sleeping very much – maybe 5 hours a night. I can now recognise the direct link between how much sleep I get and how my eye feels.
My eye will always be on my mind, and I will always be limited in certain activities. I can never play contact sports or do things involving large drops in air pressure, such as sky diving or even going on steep rollercoasters.
Lifting-wise, I can’t do anything in a prone position such as push ups and I really have to be cognisant of my breathing when lifting anything remotely heavy. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to squat without problems.
I do pole dancing and generally sit out any time we have to do inversions or headstands. Even something as gentle as downward dog in yoga scares me!
I am so glad that I didn’t take the first doctor’s word as gospel. I am able to continue lifting, which is something I love deeply – although I may be wiser now knowing that it’s not a hobby worth going blind over (obviously, my brain damage was in full force back then).
I will have to deal with the effects of my accident until the day I die. My accident had serious physical consequences as well as deep-reaching emotional ones. It played a huge role in the breakdown of my marriage, it allowed me to take the plunge and work as a full-time freelancer, and it inspired me to start travelling. While I would never willingly go through it again, it’s helpful to appreciate the positives it inspired.
I will compete again some day. And I will try to have confidence that my eye will be just fine.
Have you ever recovered from a serious injury? Have you ever been inspired to make major life changes after a catastrophic event?