Today’s guest blog is written by Louis Bosence, a Dorset sport climber who is most at home on the stunning limestone cliffs of Portland and Swanage. After many, many years ticking sport routes and reaching a peak in his climbing ability, Louis had a horrific accident at work in 2013 that severed tendons and nerves in his right hand and was told after surgery that he’d never climb again. As an 8a climber, Louis couldn’t have heard worse words coming from the Doctor’s mouth…
“I started climbing at the age of 17, in my last year of school. I was lucky enough that my school had a climbing wall. It wasn’t anything spectacular; just four top-rope lines of vertical textured ply at one end of the sports hall, but that was enough to get me hooked and it wasn’t long before I was pushing myself on hard sport and DWS routes outdoors on the local limestone.
My accident happened back in 2013. I was working as a gardener, which is still my job now. Without going into too much gory detail; a momentary lapse of concentration while hedge-cutting resulted in severed flexor tendons and major nerves in my middle and ring-finger on my right hand, as well as a deep gouge to the tip of my index finger. There was a lot of blood and my customer, who coincidentally is a doctor, very kindly drove me straight to A&E!
The specialist plastic surgeons at Salisbury hospital had no trouble in re-attaching the tendons (this involved pulling them up from inside my wrist where they had retracted to!) and stitching my hand back together. Following the surgery, I was seen by a Surgical Registrar who told me point blank that I’d never climb again. I was devastated. I couldn’t comprehend a life without climbing. My hand was a mess of stitches and dressing and I was in a moulded cast so that the tendons in my fingers didn’t stretch. I really struggled to deal with it mentally.
This is where a glimmer of hope emerged. Two weeks after surgery I was referred to the Hand Therapy Unit at the hospital. They had me moving my fingers straight away, although painfully at first. Your tendons run inside a tunnel like structure and if the tendons don’t glide through the tunnel then very quickly tissue starts to form between the two which fixes the tendon so you can’t move it. I had to be careful though – my forearm muscles were of course not damaged; they were as strong as ever, and pulling too hard would tear the stitches in my tendon.
As soon as the Physiotherapists in the Hand Therapy Unit discovered I was a climber they knew that they had their work cut out. They told me that rock climbing was by far the most strenuous thing you can do with your fingers, but they were confident that if I followed their routine of exercises, stretches and muscle tissue massage there was no doubt that I could climb again. This started with gentle finger curls and extensions, on the hour, every hour.
I followed the Physio’s plan to the letter and rehab took about 3 months before I could confidently use my hand again in everyday life. From then I tentatively reintroduced climbing. I was so careful, climbing only on the biggest jugs indoors for probably two months, before I dared load my tendons on anything like an edge. It was slow progress but gradually I began to build strength back in my forearm (which had total muscle wastage through disuse) and the damaged tendons themselves. A year on from the injury, I was climbing outside again. I had a lot of scar tissue which was uncomfortable and took a while to toughen up and the damaged nerves were still not right. Nerves take the longest to recover. They literally have to re-grow and branch thousands of times to form receptors under your skin which give you feeling. At this stage, all I had was a fuzzy sensation in the tips of my middle and ring- fingers and very little feeling at all on the tip of my index, so it was a little tricky to know what I was holding onto some of the time! Even now, 6 years on, the feeling in those two fingers is still a bit peculiar.
I was so happy that I was able to return to climbing. By working with the Hand Therapists, I regained virtually full mobility and strength and have climbed harder post-injury than before (just to prove that Registrar wrong!). Apart from the scar reminder, I have tendonitis in my ring-finger. I don’t know why exactly but it seems to flare up in that one finger. Perhaps because of the residual scar tissue in the first joint, which stops me from fully straightening that finger, it gets loaded more than the others. Oh, and sometimes, because I can’t straighten it fully, it does get stuck in little finger cracks occasionally!
I think if you’re motivated, there’s little that will stand in the way of a person achieving full rehabilitation. That might not mean things are exactly as they were pre-injury, but you soon learn to adapt. We are so lucky that we have such brilliant understanding of physiology, and with the assistance of healthcare professionals your body can recover from some pretty drastic injuries. I was lucky that I only cut my fingers, but I’m fairly sure whatever injury I might endure I’ll always find a way to climb. Just look at the incredible feats of Para-climbers these days!” By Louis Bosence.
Louis was understandably devastated at the time of the injury but like most climbers who tend to have a built-in stubborn streak and ability to get right back up once knocked down, he proved that Doctor wrong. Louis climbed 8a pre-injury and has climbed 8a post-injury (see banner image – Breathing Method 8a)! It just goes to show what following a strict rehab programme, being sensible and keeping the faith can do in the face of adversity. Thank you so much to Louis for his guest blog.
Photo credits: Louis Bosence, Lenka Marcinatova, Paul Houghoughi (banner image).
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