I was 80 years old in September 2015, and very fit and active. I had planned to spend two weeks on a walking holiday in Northumbria with my daughter, Helen. We drove up from Lincolnshire, set up our camper van on the camp site, and decided to go for a walk.
We took our three dogs with us. I have a little Jack Russell. My daughter had a Border Collie (Meg) and a German Shepherd cross (Holly). Holly was a timid dog, frightened of cars, and little did we know that Holly was shortly going to save our lives.
We walked down a lane, crossed a busy road, and climbed over a high stile. The field was huge and seemed empty of livestock. In the distance was Hadrian’s Wall, and we thought it would be nice to follow the public footpath towards it.
Some way across the large field, we came upon a herd of black limousin cows and their brown-coloured calves. There were probably about 30 cows. They came towards us, bellowing and mooing loudly, making a terrible racket.
We dropped the leads so the dogs could run off. I can remember them hurtling past us and away from the cows. By this time we were a very long way from the stile, and along the side of the field was a barbed wire fence that I couldn’t climb over.
I caught my foot in a rut on the path and fell over, hitting my head. What happened next is a little vague, but I think the cows must have rolled me over, kicking my legs, because later I discovered my legs were covered in bruises.
I remember calling out to my daughter, Helen. I didn’t realise that one of the cows had tossed Helen and thrown her to the ground. Bravely, she picked herself up and came to help me. I was bleeding from my head. Blood everywhere.
Luckily, nearby, there was a feeder for calves. It was a big structure with bars that were wide enough for calves to get through, but not wide enough for cows. I couldn’t walk on my own. Helen dragged me over to the feeder and we crawled underneath it.
The cows surrounded the feeder, pushing their noses through the bars as if trying to get to us. They continued making a noise. We couldn’t stand up, just stayed crouching and sitting under the feeder, surrounded by cows.
This went on for over an hour. It was terrifying.
We later learnt what happened to the dogs. Meg (the Border Collie) got her lead caught on the stile on the way out of the field. Holly (the timid German Shepherd cross) somehow managed to cross the busy road and return to the campsite, where she raised the alarm by barking. People followed her, rescued Meg, and then realised there was a problem in the field with the cows.
The police arrived and a medic in a car. It took some effort on their part to shoo the cows away. I remember most of the cows eventually wandered off, but there was one cow who seemed to be the matriarch and was particularly aggressive. She was making the most noise. After a while, she gave up trying to attack us and followed the other cows up the field.
The medic had to crawl under the feeder to treat me. I had the cut on my head, but also had pins and needles in my arms. I thought the pins and needles were simply due to shock, but the medic put a collar around my neck.
I couldn’t get out from under the feeder, so people had to physically lift up the structure and move it, a few inches at a time, until I was free. I was placed on a stretcher and a helicopter arrived – an air ambulance. I remember the medics had to cut my clothes off and I was worried about getting cold.
The air ambulance took me to Newcastle Infirmary.
I have only vague memories of the next few days. Apparently they discovered I had a vertebral dislocation in my neck (between C5 and C6) and that was the cause of the pins and needles. By this stage, I couldn’t move my left arm. I was on traction for 4 days to try to remove the pressure on the nerves at the place where my neck was dislocated. The doctors needed to operate and told my children I could possibly become quadriplegic, and I might even die.
Luckily the operation was a success. I survived.
I was in Newcastle Infirmary for over five weeks. Because of the problem with my arms, I couldn’t look after myself and my daughter had to visit every day to look after me while I was in the hospital. She was still staying in the camper van, with three dogs to look after, and had to take time off work to do this.
I discovered there was going to be a long wait for neuro-rehabilitation in Newcastle, so I got myself home, and later was admitted to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield for specialist rehabilitation. I stayed there during the week and went home at weekends. I was there for another 5 weeks.
My household insurance paid for a neuro-physiotherapist to continue treating me at home. This treatment continued for over a year, and I had my last session a few weeks ago.
It’s nearly 2 years since the injury. I still can’t use my left arm or my left hand properly. It feels like I’m wearing a thick rubber glove on my hand. My right hand is much better, but I continue to feel pins and needles. I drop things and am clumsy. Before this happened, I enjoyed sewing, knitting and card making. I also played the clarinet and was planning on learning to play the piano. Now I can’t do any of those things.
As I often say, I now lack “nimblitude”.
I prefer to eat with my fingers (when nobody else is around!) because I have difficulty using cutlery. I cut up meat with a pair of scissors, so that I can eat it one-handed. I have to carry things – like milk bottles – clasped to my chest, because I don’t have the strength to carry them in my hand.
Luckily I can walk and get around. I used to ride a bicycle, but can’t manage to balance because of my weak left arm, so I use a motorised tricycle instead. I must be a nuisance at traffic lights, because I take so long to get going.
Sometime after I returned home, I was contacted by a solicitor from Bristol and we are suing the farmer for damages. The farmer has admitted he did not make any effort to keep his cows with their calves away from the footpath. The case comes to court in September. If I win, I intend to give some money back to the air ambulance service.
Sadly, my daughter’s dog, the timid German Shepherd cross, Holly, is now slowly dying from cancer. We still can’t believe the dog managed to raise the alarm and save our lives. Without her, I truly believe we wouldn’t have survived.