Jess’ story: “Now I’m confident I can go anywhere in my wheelchair”

Twenty-seven-year-old Jess lives in London with a housemate. She’s a doctor and teaches clinical medicine alongside spending a few days a month working in a busy A&E department. 

“This is my first job since my accident,” she explains. “I had a year off work, so I’m learning to do clinical medicine again in a wheelchair because I can’t get as close to patients for examinations.” 

“In July 2021, I was at a party and a tree fell on me. I had multiple injuries, including a T8 complete spinal cord injury and two bleeds on the brain. Thankfully, I can’t remember anything until about two weeks later when I was in intensive care.” 

Feeling isolated 

“I was in Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge for about a month, and then I got transferred to Sheffield spinal rehab unit. After being discharged, I stayed with my parents for about six months. To be honest, I felt miserable.” 

“I was quite robust and happy in hospital. As a doctor, I’m used to being in a hospital, so it was familiar, and I was almost comforted. The spinal cord unit is set up perfectly for wheelchair users. Everything’s smooth and purpose-built in hospital.”  

“It was only when I left hospital that it really hit me. Sheffield is really hilly, and I couldn’t leave the house because it was just too steep outside.” 

“It felt quite isolating, living back with my parents and feeling like there was a complete loss of independence. I couldn’t leave the house without somebody else.” 

“It felt like life was really hard and everything was difficult.” 

Taking back control of my situation 

“I was told about Back Up in rehab, but it was only when I got out of hospital, I realised I couldn’t independently get up and down pavements.” 

“I wanted to be independent and feel confident in my wheelchair so I went on the City Skills course in Edinburgh.” 

On our City Skills courses, you’ll have tailored wheelchair skills sessions to gain confidence and experience using public transport and learn how to negotiate different terrains like cobbled streets. 

“On the course, I was mainly back wheel balancing and learning to go down ramps and steps. We also learned techniques on how to come down steep hills, doing it in a ‘zig-zag’ way. I had to use that skill a few weekends back when I went to dinner with my friend, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t gone on the Back Up course!” 

“It was so helpful asking other people questions and drawing on their experience too. We talked about stuff I wouldn’t discuss with other people, like personal care. It was great, it was like: wow, these people get it!” 

“I moved to London in June or July, and I can now go on buses because I can back wheel balance down the bus ramps. And I can get down curbs and steps. If I go to a pub or bar, and there’s a step, I used to have to ask my friends to turn me around and pull me down backwards. But I can now get down that myself. 

“Learning those skills has made me feel much more independent, and I’m definitely more confident going to new places. I’m quite confident I can get anywhere in London now.” 

“I don’t feel like a prisoner. I’m quite adventurous now, in that I’ll now just go somewhere without looking on Google Maps first. It might not be smooth sailing, but there’ll be a way to do it.” 

“And I feel like I’m part of the Back Up community. I wasn’t expecting that social side of it!” 

“If you’re thinking about going on a Back Up course, you should absolutely do it.”

Back Up is here to help everyone affected by spinal cord injury live life to the full. If you are seeking support for yourself or a loved one, check out our range of services here