My friend tripped me on purpose and shattered my leg – but I still forgave him

An immediate and overpowering agony surged through my body. The sensation of shattering bones really defies description, but it’s terrifying.

When I put my hand on my shin, I could feel the huge undulations of disintegrated bone. I was so frightened, and the enormity of the pain hijacked my body.

Last year, my friend James broke my right leg in eight places and left me wondering if I would ever walk properly again. This isn’t something you would ever expect a friend to do, and it’s made me reflect on relationships and what it takes to fix them.

James and I were both students when we met on a university trip to America two years ago; he was a final year undergraduate and I was studying for a Masters. We had an immediate connection and would delight each other with stories, trivia and improvised games.

James has an aversion to small talk and an inability to sit still, which makes him excellent company. I’m similarly impatient and on the lookout for trouble, so we are a good match. I just didn’t realise what kind of trouble we would end up getting into. 

This time last year we had only known each other for 10 months, but the ease with which we got on made the relationship feel quite different and special. Then, one day, we decided to have a race down a quiet residential street near where I live. 

Straight after the accident, James messaged to say how sorry he was, and that he felt hollow

Halfway into the sprint, to make sure he won, James kicked my legs out from underneath me. I fell very hard and very fast onto the tarmac road, and felt my bones explode.

When I first cried out, James thought I was joking. But the strange sounds coming out of me soon told him something was wrong. These weren’t noises that you make on purpose; they just arrive when something extreme has happened to your body.

An onlooker who saw what happened called an ambulance, while James was in shock. I was so delirious with pain that I barely remember anything about the paramedics, who arrived after 10 minutes, except for the sobs tearing at my throat as they moved my leg and strapped me onto a stretcher.

Over the next few weeks, doctors told me that this was one of the worst breaks they had ever seen, that I might never regain functionality of my leg, and that my knee might need to be replaced.

Because the bone had been shattered into so many pieces, I was told that I might need a Ilizarov cage fitted, where steel pins attached to a metal frame would bore through my flesh and bone. But because the hospital’s operating capacity was limited due to coronavirus, I was sent home after three weeks of waiting to recover naturally in a full length cast.

The accident had happened two weeks after my 29th birthday.

Before lockdown, I was Olympic weightlifting and carrying 120kg yokes at my local strongman gym. My partner and I were planning to cycle from Barcelona to Madrid in the summer of 2021. This was not good news.

I also didn’t know how long I would be in hospital because the pandemic meant doctors could only perform a third of the surgeries they normally would have. Nobody could visit me. I was alone in this, except for the caring but extremely busy medical staff.

Straight after the accident, James messaged to say how sorry he was, and that he felt hollow. I told him that accidents happen.

I thought about how he must be feeling. The disbelief and the guilt; such ugly feelings to carry around.

I didn’t feel angry at James – I knew he would never have done this intentionally – but I did feel sad and frightened. I wondered if the accident would taint our friendship going forwards, in a way that made it all less fun, and less possible.

I’m not sure about James, but since then, I’ve never felt like this was the case. In a way, our friendship didn’t skip a beat. Scrolling through our WhatsApp chats from those first few days in the hospital, we were all dry humour and puns and sarcasm.

He told me he was off surfing and to do a bit of yoga, and asked if I wanted to come. It made me laugh. This was a natural bounce back and just the kind of light-heartedness I needed.

James also got me an absurdly huge ‘get well soon’ card and wrote a short story for me, in which I was the main character. After I returned home after three weeks in hospital, he came over and created a beautiful cinema night for us with a projector and popcorn.

I live with my fiancé and my sister, who cared for me every day that I was back home. I was completely immobilised so they had to do everything: help me wash using flannels and a bucket of water in bed, lift me onto a commode in the living room and carry another bucket of whatever I produced up to the bathroom.

Between them, they cooked every meal and brought every glass of water I consumed for three months. They entertained me with crosswords and puppet shows. And they held me when I cried with pain and frustration, and woke up in the night to be with me when I vomited from the pain, or the effects of the morphine I was taking.

Unlike me, I think they were angry at James. Maybe morphine takes the edge off anger.

I did wonder, though, would a female friend kick me over ‘for a laugh’? I don’t think so; that kind of physical horseplay isn’t what women are generally taught to do in social situations. This is a point several of my friends and family have made too.

But it’s been one year since James tripped me up, and we remain close friends.

Trying to make sense of what happened while negotiating feelings of blame towards James, rage towards the situation itself, and guilt for the huge amount of work my family had to put in, day and night, to care for me has been fascinating and painful, and I think has relevance to many friendships.

Not only does being able to forgive someone require them to take responsibility for their actions, but it also requires you to assess their intentions. And there is no way James intended for me to get hurt.

It would be foolish to judge him based on one mistake, when I have the context of every other thing he has said and done around me, which shows that he is kind and thoughtful.

What I will judge James on is his generosity, his openness, and his ability to make people feel invited into conversations. These are the qualities that make a friendship, and that can fix one.

I’m still dealing with the repercussions of this injury and will have arthritis in my knee for the rest of my life. I don’t really feel too much about it, because there is little to be gained from having any feelings about it.

This is the reality, and my life won’t get any better if I blame my bad luck or James for what happened. This accident doesn’t change our friendship.

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