Veronica and Karen O’Connor jumping into 2nd place in an Advanced division at Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials earlier this year
Following her fall just less than a week ago at Morven Park in the Advanced Championship division, Karen O’Connor was released from the Fairfax Trauma Center on Wednesday evening and allowed to go home, “Everybody got everything ready for me. Max (Corcoran) went shopping for me at Whole Foods before I came home so I’m only eating organic and really healthy food”, and if you were worrying that Karen might be bored or lonely, you’d be sorely mistaken! “I have lots to do; I just wrapped up a meeting with Sue (Clark) and Max going over the plans for the trip to Florida, and I’m talking to each owner and finding out the individual plans for every horse. Where I am right now having just got back from the hospital on Wednesday I have a physical therapy meeting this afternoon, another doctor’s meeting later – it’s pretty filled in with the acute trauma of the injury and getting that all sorted out. I get tired very, very quickly: just sitting up or getting up in my brace, I’m realizing that twenty minutes of activity equals about six hours of resting.” As for pain, ” I’m on a very controlled programme of medication and I know when I get behind the meds, as it’s called, meaning that you’ve gone too long – I’ve done that a couple of times trying to be the tough guy only to realize that you really need to stay on the schedule because it’s there for a reason.”
Karen has already embarked upon her twice weekly schedule of physical therapy, “Although I do have to stay pretty still there are other parts of your body – your ankles and feet, your lower arms for example – that need stretching: moving your neck within the injury, bringing your knees up – things that need moving. You can get very comfortable in the one position and the next thing you know you’ve really lost a lot of muscle tone. Sandy (Cole) just passed me a tension ball that I’m supposed to squeeze with my hands, I have a spirometer to breathe into so that I keep my lungs open and don’t develop pneumonia – right now physical therapy is about those kinds of things. There’ll be a stage when physical therapy is to strengthen the muscles around the injury but we’re a long way from that right now” and when I ask if she’s a good patient she ponders the question and I hear a resounding “No!” and much laughter from her assorted crew, “Am I a good patient, I don’t know, am I? I’m a bit active in the bed, a bit twitchy but having said that I am very conscious of the fact that this is a serious injury and that if I don’t do what I’m told then I’m an idiot – if I don’t take care of myself properly then I’m going to be facing surgery which I don’t want, or I’ll be faced with healing with a hump in my back which I don’t want either. When you get those kinds of alternatives it makes you understand the severity of the situation. Dr Mark Hart has been co-ordinating and organizing the medical side of everything for me – Fairfax did a great job in consultation with John Hopkins and Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, so there’s lots of help and Mark Hart is heading that all up which is a great comfort, he’s amazing.”
Karen may be bedridden for the most part, but she seemed remarkably stoic and positive; she gets dressed every day and seems to have accepted her limitations, ” I can walk around but the doctors want me to minimize that, so I walk to the bathroom or I’ll walk to the couch and sit down for fifteen minutes or so. I walked around the kitchen island today as silly as that sounds, but that’s about it!”, and even this takes enormous planning, and energy, “The brace comes on and off easily; I’m flat on my back on the bed, I roll over and put the bottom half of the brace on, then I roll back over and put the top half of the brace on, stand up and then I can walk, but I can’t take the brace off and get out of bed, I have to put the brace on, get out of bed, get into bed and then take the brace off.”
Luckily Karen has a steady stream of friends and family visiting to keep her on the straight and narrow, “David comes back from Boekelo on Monday and then he’ll be leaving for Fairhill on Tuesday so I’ll see him for a little bit; I know he thinks about it and he’s worried but I have a great, great support crew here – Max has been sleeping on the couch for the last two nights, we’ve got Sue here and Sandy Cole, Marilyn (Little-Meredith) is going to come and visit, Lauren (Kieffer) was here earlier this morning. Hannah(Burnett) came by, my mum lives here with us, my mother-in-law Sally has been here every day both at the hospital and here at home, Brian (O’Connor) has been here to make sure that most of my electronic needs have been taken care of, but even as I say that Sandy has her head behind our tv and dvd player trying to get that to work! It’s a great group; when you have a big farm, or a big operation like this, this is when everybody pulls together, it’s a fascinating time and a really great time for everybody to remember how close you all are. Everyone has stepped right up, it’s been wonderful, I’m very grateful.”
Max agreed that the entire O’Connor Event Team have done a sterling job, spearheaded by Sue, “It’s been around the clock, but Karen does sleep through the night, I have new-found appreciation for mothers of small children, it’s exhausting! You wouldn’t have it any other way though, it’s what you do.”
Sally O’Connor has not only been visiting Karen regularly but also helped her Fairhill students run through their dressage tests on Friday, a ‘fix-a-test’, which they’ll repeat, on video for Karen to also critique, on Monday before they leave for Maryland, and amongst the many visitors in hospital, there was a particularly poignant one, “Sharon White came and visited me for an afternoon at Fairfax, knowing that hospital and that floor very well having spent six weeks there, so she brought me a care package knowing all the things that I would need, all the little things that make a difference in making you feel comfortable, and she was spot on with every item, that was pretty cute of her.”
In between catching up on some popular culture and current affairs, “I’ll certainly be going back and watching all the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, I have seasons of 24 which are great, I’ve seen Downton Abbey which is really very good and I might have to break that out, and of course it’s football season so whenever Jon Holling is staying with us that’s what we watch. Then factor in the presidential debates and the presidential race and all of that, and it’s a good time of the year for tv, that’s for sure!”, Karen has also drafted in help with videoing her students ride, “There’ll be a lot of videoing, we just had a meeting about the importance of videoing to keep me happy!”. Hopefully this will help in some small way to make Karen feel a tiny bit better about not being able to be at the competitions in person, “It will be painfully difficult not to be at Fairhill especially, because we’ve got such exciting entries there this year; besides my horses that were entered, we’ve got Hannah (Burnett) on Harbour Pilot, we’ve got Lauren (Kieffer) on her new mare, and we’ve got Ellie (Macphail) on RF Eloquence so we’ve got a pretty strong group just based here on the property. Marilyn Little-Meredith has three entered, so obviously it’s going to be hard to be away from all those horses, and we’ve got all the outside students – Valerie Vizcarrondo on her really nice grey horse that’s going in the one star, and we’ve got horses going to Chattahoochee so I’m losing all of the chances of watching any of those horses.”
Karen and Mandiba a few weeks ago at Plantation Field Horse Trials CIC***
I asked Karen if she’d entertained the idea of letting anyone else deputize for her on her horses while she was out of action, “No, for a number of different reasons. Each horse has their own individual reason, and I hadn’t even discussed it with the owners, and nor have the owners come to me with their own wishes for that to happen. Joan Goswell was at Morven Park and I saw her on cross country day as I was being put into the ambulance, and she and I didn’t even need to have that conversation because I know her so well. For Mandiba it was always that he was going to finish at Fairhill then start again in the winter and see where we were. He feels like a champion right now; he ran great around Morven and although it’s sad for him and for Joan that they don’t get to go to Fairhill we will pick up where we left off. We bought Mandiba unbroken, no one else has ever competed him except for Phillip when I was busted up last time – he actually rode him for me at Morven and Middleburg and did a great job, but he’s always been absolutely a one-rider horse.”
Veronica is “totally fine and 100% sound”, according to Max, “she was more body sore than anything for a day or two after the fall” but now she’s started her holiday a little earlier than planned, and is enjoying time off in the field along with Mandiba and Sunset Paradise who were also aimed at Fairhill.
Mandiba may be a one-rider horse, but Karen is surrounded by love, supportive friends and family, and of course dogs! She answers with a resounding “Absolutely” when I ask if dogs are allowed on the bed too; and before we say goodbye she teases, “You never know, with all the excellent care I’m getting I might end up at Fairhill after all!” Eventing Nation wishes Karen a speedy, and sensible recovery, and we look forward to seeing her back in action whenever the time is right! Go Karen and Go Eventing!