Dr Paul Fourie: From football tournament to wheelchair

Dr Paul Fourie reflects on his captain's role in the British Medical Football Team during the World Medical Football Championships in Brazil

Dr Paul Fourie after rupturing his Achilles tendon (Photo: British Medical Football team)
Dr Paul Fourie after rupturing his Achilles tendon (Photo: British Medical Football team)

After a fantastic performance, against what has to be recognised as a weak Belarus team, 14-0, we topped the group and were able to enjoy the day.

Although it was raining, it was warm, and we had played an early morning fixture so that we would not fall foul of the national shutdown as Brazil faced Germany that afternoon in the World Cup semi final. The result of that game, and emphatic and crushing Brazil defeat at the hands of the Germans was well reported around the world, unlike our 14 goals against Belarus.

Tuesday night was a party night for all the teams as Wednesday a day off allowed people to rest, recover and head out on various trips, city tours to see the giant cashew nut tree, extending over an area bigger than a football pitch, buggy tours into the dunes and beach trips to tropical paradise places all at a reasonable price we were told.

I took off my boot and immediately saw I had ruptured my left achilles

On Thursday the tournament started proper and sadly ended prematurely. We played Venezuela, and 10 minutes into the game, I felt a 'pop' and hot water sensation in my left foot, and initially felt I had broken my ankle. Once I had limped, hopped and been carried to the touchline, none of the normal rolling about and being stretchered off, only to jump up again Lazarus-style on the touchline for me, I took off my boot and immediately saw I had ruptured my left achilles.

My tournament was over,  and shortly after, another midfielder limped off with a twisted ankle.

No sooner had play started again, when our central defender, Fox,  leapt up towards a crossed corner, and collided with our own Kenny Deuchar, both of them crumpling to the ground, Kenny being helped off with numbness in his arms, and Fox with a gashed forehead spilling out plenty of claret.

Sadly, during this period of distraction, a Venezuelan midfielder gave them the lead 1-0 with a 35-yard screamer into top right corner at 25 minutes.  That was about it for them for the game, only getting two other shots on goal. We hit woodwork in the second half and had two good penalty appeals turned down by a ref who didn't give us anything. We dominated the last 30 minutes and got nothing back, so all limped back to the hotel.

At this point, my path and that of the tournament slightly diverged, and I had a very different experience, and certainly one I hadn't wanted or planned.

We went on to overpower the Germans and get four goals in the second half

I went to hospital after being advised by specialists from all over the world about management of achilles, and conservative or surgical management was the primary debate.

I went to a local private hospital and £90 later, I had crutches, and as I wasn’t really in pain,  was hopping around trying to follow the next few days, and trying to plan how I would get home.

The football continued with a game to make the top six against Ukraine, and once again we were unlucky, they went ahead courtesy of  a dentist, their number nine, good goal, again a 30-yard shot into the top corner. We equalised I think before being unlocked again by their number nine who laid on a great pass into the box for number two. Again we dominated the last 20 minutes but couldn't break down a pretty well marshalled defence, but still missed three very good chances to score.

The last game was against Germany for seventh place. We went 1-0 down after a defensive error  on 20 minutes. We equalised after 30. It was pouring down with rain and bizarrely, the pitch sprinklers came on at the start of the second half.  it seemed the staff were unable to stop this, and the German  team started to challenge us to a penalty shoot out. We were not keen. After 10 minutes of sprinkler debacle we went on to overpower them and get four goals in the second half winning comfortably 5-1 and finish on a reasonable high.

My week continued to be 'interesting'

I find it very frustrating to be pushed where I don't want to go

Dealing with a ruptured achilles,  non-weight bearing,  I  was discovering that being a patient isn't easy.

The actual ruptured tendon wasn't too painful,  but the following inflammation and bruising was tender, and worse when not elevated.

Walking with crutches was hard work, and very tiring on the arms, and potentially fatal on the shiny and occasionally wet floors of the hotel, even going to the toilet was tricky.

There was a wheelchair at the hotel, and this allowed some freedom of movement, but another insight into how difficult is for people who have to use them.

Just getting about, rough pavements, disabled access ramps are steep and hard to negotiate, and even the disabled toilet proved a nightmare, trying to penetrate the spring closing door, and then the soap and towels out of reach of someone sitting?

Anyway,  due to flight problems,  my insurance company were unable to get me home on a flight with extra leg room, unless I remained in Brazil for an extra five days. I then decided that I would rather come home as planned, but then had to complete a medical form, and get a doctor’s letter stating I was fit to fly as the insurance company had reported and the airlines blocked my flight.

When I arrived at check-in, on crutches, they checked me in without hesitation, for me to find we were facing a seven-hour delay. At least I could elevate my leg during the night on the airport floor.

Arriving in Lisbon, having missed our connection, we were taken to a hotel for the night.

Next day, a flight to Amsterdam, cancelled and finally to Brussels and then with a frantic connection, being pushed at breakneck speed by my friends, from one end of airport to other,  we got a flight back to Manchester and I was driven home, without luggage. That came some days later having been left in Lisbon.

I have subsequently had a surgical repair as unfortunately the conservative approach was not working, and am now making a slow recovery.

I have got a wheelchair, and find it very frustrating to be pushed where I don't want to go, and left facing a direction I don't want to face.

I am still learning.

* Dr Fourie is a GP in Blackburn.Viewpoint

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