January 23, 2023

Katie’s story

Just two days away from graduating, Katie was busy living her life of passionate reckless abandon and love.

Just two days away from graduating, Katie had an accident that would change her life forever.

She decided to go for a swim to let off steam after a day spent working as an intern in London. Diving straight in without checking the depth of the water, she ended up with a broken neck.

“Not my smartest moment,” she admits. 

Following the accident, she spent time in an intensive care unit in London before being transferred to the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) in Stoke Mandeville. The change in environment was extreme: she went from being stuck in a hospital where she “couldn’t even see out the window” to having a whole Horatio’s Garden at her disposal. 

“A couple of days into my stay, my physio took me downstairs and showed me the garden. I was just so happy to be outside. I was only allowed out for half an hour, but I didn’t want to come in.” 

Before her accident, Katie loved to spend time outdoors, describing herself as the sort of person who used to “climb trees everyday”. After transferring to the NSIC, she spent most of her time in Horatio’s Garden, reading, drawing, painting or simply watching Netflix with her sister. 

She also valued the garden for the sense of community it encouraged, from the “lovely volunteers” to the chance to spend time with other patients. 

“I was one of the youngest patients at the centre, but I would sit in the garden and chat with Stella, who was 80, and Kay who was also elderly. I felt like I had a lot to learn from the older patients and made some really nice friendships.” 

Katie finished treatment in early 2020 and began to look forward to “getting back into life and getting back to work.” She put plans in place to embark on a Masters course at Edinburgh University, despite the added challenge the hills and cobbles posed to someone in a wheelchair. She also intended to continue playing wheelchair rugby, a sport she was introduced to at Stoke Mandeville.

Unfortunately, due to the Coronavirus crisis, her plans were delayed indefinitely. As Katie explains, “I’ve only got lungs at 30-50% capacity and I can’t cough, so I had to self-isolate and put life on hold for a little bit longer.” However, her experiences enabled her to be philosophical about the situation: “I was in hospital for seven months before this […] so not much has changed!”

Fast-forward to 2023 and Katie has achieved all that she intended to.

“I graduated with Distinction in my Masters course in June 2022 and now live in Edinburgh, where I teach a class of 33 eight-year-olds.”

“I still think with genuine fondness of Horatio’s Garden and the wonderful times I spent there and I know not many people can say that about a time in hospital.”

“In fact, just last week my testimonial prompted a friend to sign up to volunteer at the garden in Glasgow because he knew how much it had meant to me.”

With continued high hopes for the future, Katie will always be grateful to everyone who supports Horatio’s Garden. At an incredibly difficult juncture in her life, she really appreciated the chance to spend some time in nature.

“I don’t know what I would have done without it. Just being able to go outside again was amazing for me and although Horatio’s Garden couldn’t be my wilderness, it could be my home until I was ready to go back and face my own.”

Original article by Hannah Patient
Creative Writing Intern
University of Oxford Micro-Internship Programme

Originally published May 2020
Updated January 2023

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