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Beyond Broken Bones: How Injury Offered Inspirational Life Lessons

Injury in a foreign land is often the story of fear and stress but it has led to unexpected outcomes for an Aussie expat.

Bali is usually seen as a paradise and it attracts many expats from across the world for the lifestyle.

When I hurt my knee all I wanted to do was get away from doctors, nurses and physiotherapists and get back to my home and to my warm comfy bed. I was in shock and wanted to feel safe. I was ultimately grateful that I had hurt myself while at home in Australia. Over the coming weeks and months I learned many life lessons that stay with me today.

We’ve all heard the stories of people getting sick or injuring themselves while they’re away on holidays, sometimes in developing countries. What often ensues after that is mayhem. Families work tirelessly to get their loved ones the best healthcare possible and often this involves logistical feats worthy of James Bond and the entire British Secret Service.

Rarely do the stories delve behind closed doors, months later.

For one of the members of our online community, the experience of being injured while away from home (in what ‘should be’ paradise) has had long-lasting effects. But not all were expected. 

Stacey Brown, from Sydney Australia, discovered life lessons that may never had come about otherwise. While she still faces a long recovery ahead from a complicated broken foot, I think she’s a very resilient woman.

Here’s her story…

X-ray image of broken bones in left foot, Stacey in her ‘moon boot’ and at home in Bali

Tell me about your injury and how it happened

I fractured four metatarsals (2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th) in my left foot. It happened when I was riding my bike down a back laneway in Bali on my way to yoga. Riding around a corner, I was blinded by the sun. I lifted my right hand to block the glare but lost control as I veered to miss an old lady sweeping in the lane and my left side/foot hit a brick wall. Needless to say I was wearing rubber flip flops offering zero protection (yep another of those life lessons there)…

When did you realise the seriousness of your accident?

As I tried to stand up and get my bike out of the way of oncoming scooters, my left foot was shaking uncontrollably. I knew then something was really wrong. The old lady picked up all my belongings, which had fallen out of the front basket, and when I tried to put weight on my left foot to walk to her warung (cafe), the pain was so excruciating. I couldn’t walk.

How supported have you felt by the medical and health people you’ve seen?

Unfortunately, I have not felt very supported at all. When we flew back to Australia, the GP (doctor) was very supportive and very concerned that I’d be returning to Bali, as was the physiotherapist I saw to have my Aircast fitted. However the surgeon said I would heal no problem and to just begin using the foot again after two weeks, considering pain levels.

So we left Australia filled with confidence of a quick recovery. In Bali, the doctors I have seen each month have hardly offered any advice or assistance at all. Other than prescribing expensive painkillers that I’ve told them I don’t need…

It’s only been in the last week that a doctor in radiology took notice of the X-Ray results and strongly recommended I see the surgeon. However, instead, I emailed my Australian surgeon who said I needed to begin walking in normal shoes and I definitely don’t need surgery! It has been a frustrating journey!

Injury offers life lessons: Stacey Brown visiting a healer in the hills of Bali.

You had the complication of having to deal with a travel insurance company, what happened and what tips would you give to other Australians overseas?

The frustrations I encountered with our travel insurance company made the first week of my injury beyond stressful!

I called them as soon as I arrived at the hospital after the accident so they could communicate with the hospital about payment and coverage. However, even though they acknowledged that they would cover everything, they told me that I should get no treatment in Bali and to return to Australia as soon as possible.

Within the first few hours I had to call them repeatedly as the hospital would not let me see the orthopaedic doctor or get any painkillers or assistance without the insurer confirming who was going to pay the invoices. But the insurance company weren’t replying to the hospital’s emails!

The insurance company also promised extra assistance at the airport, when we travelled back to Australia. But we did not get it and had the most awful time trying to get a wheelchair and even to be allowed to have my crutches on the plane. They did upgrade my flights (which I already had booked as we were meant to fly out the next day for a planned trip to Sydney) which was unexpected, but then they took it upon themselves to change the dates and times of my other flights I had booked within Australia… So when I landed in Sydney I had to call them to explain again to change them back to the right days.

What frustrated me most, however, was that as soon as I landed in Australia they no longer covered any of the bills I incurred for my injury, and they explained that that was why they make you go ‘home’ as soon as possible.

In addition, they then took 5 days to get back to me about upgrading my flights back to Bali and didn’t return my repeated calls or emails until the night before I was due to fly out. That’s when they finally informed me that I had to lodge a new claim under my new policy and that the upgrade was pending approval because if it was cheaper to cancel my flights back to Bali then this is what they would do. I learned very quickly the tricks they play to avoid paying for things the client is entitled to. A few valuable life lessons when it comes to dealing with insurance companies!

Injury often causes a range of impacts in the areas of physical, psychological and practical. What has been your experience?

The physical impact was intense, I found walking on crutches really exhausting and everything felt like it was a million miles away. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stand for long, couldn’t carry anything. Things I always took for granted were suddenly really confronting like going to the public toilets (the doors are so heavy); washing my hands (couldn’t use crutches with wet hands); and water on the floor (the crutches slipped so many times in public I lost count from the shame of landing awkwardly).

Psychologically this gained momentum and became a feeling of total helplessness. Days on end sitting on the couch really made me feel useless. The constant uncomfortableness and pain was awful.

Practically it was a nightmare, when we returned to Bali we moved villas (previously planned, not due to injury) and we were suddenly really isolated from our friends and usual hangouts. My lack of mobility drove me mad.

Looking back are there any things that have surprised you about this experience?

It’s been 20 weeks now and the biggest surprise has been how much I was able to adjust after a period of time. Also I thought it would be a pretty straightforward recovery but it has been anything but straightforward.

Plus I’m like a freak show here! Everywhere I go in the Aircast people stop point and stare! It makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, but mostly just under the spotlight.

What has been the hardest?

The hardest thing was watching how much my ‘disability’ affected my husband. Seeing him so stressed out had me feeling very stressed in return. I really had to consciously ignore him so I could focus on myself and process my own emotions.

Have you gained any positives or life lessons? Have you changed?

I definitely have changed in ways I never could have foreseen. I’ve come to realise what I really want from my life. I’ve also had to learn to be patient which had enabled me to let go of stress about short term results and really come to terms with my long term goals and be at peace with taking one step at a time.

I now feel more confident than ever that I will achieve what I want to, I also won’t compromise for anything less than doing what is right for me instead of trying to please others.

What are your top tips for people experiencing a tough injury recovery?

1. Focus on what you need to do to get ‘right’ in your mind. You are the most important person to you and you will feel emotions you never expect so take care of them.

2. Ask questions of health professionals (be a pain in the butt!). If you don’t understand what is happening with your injury it can be very scary and stressful. And Dr Google only makes it worse!

3. Expectations will only cause you unnecessary anguish, take each day and each moment as it comes, there is no ‘right’ way an injury will feel or progress because everyone’s body is different. Be with what is now.

4. The people around you may get stressed and overwhelmed by the extra responsibilities; it is because they love and care for you and feel hopeless that they can’t fix your pain. Let them have their emotional process too, but DO NOT take it personally.

Originally published at www.recoverfrominjury.com. Readers can also access a handy guide for dealing with travel insurance companies on the Recover from Injury website.

More about Stacey Brown

Stacey Brown is a freelance writer and Philosophy student at Macquarie University. She left Sydney 18 months ago to pursue the simple life with her husband in Bali. Stacey fills her days with writing training programs, reading existentialism and shopping for vintage treasures.

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