‘Only a toe’ – recovering from injury

 In Tracey Ann Breese

I created a whole life that’s based around hiking and long distance walking…

It has set the foundations of who I am.

It’s my measure of what I am capable of achieving both physically and mentally.

It’s my escape, my safe place.

It’s my sanity, my exercise, my thinking time and my daily mindfulness.

Stu and I met through a love of hiking challenges and Breese Adventures was created because of it.

Then, on 9th August I went out to enjoy doing a few little jobs in our amazing garden we’ve worked so hard on over lockdown. 

And a 20kg slab of slate fell off the top of a 4 foot wall onto my big toe and smashed it to bits.

That was 6 weeks ago today but it feels like much longer. It’s healing well now and I have just, for the first time, been able to put weight on it again. 

I know 6 weeks is nothing. It’s a temporary inconvenience and could have been SO much worse. But I have found it quite tough and I just thought you might find my story useful if you ever find yourself in the same position. 

That day!

I was really looking forward to a day in the garden. The sun was shining and most of the heavy work had been done. The first job I decided to do was move a large plant pot from the top of the wall. I didn’t realise the top stone was lose, so as I lifted the plant pot I felt it fall onto my toe. I initially thought it was the wheelbarrow handle as this had happened a few weeks before while I was moving sand for Stu to lay slabs, and it really hurt! But then I looked down… 

As I hobbled up the drive the pain got worse and when I pulled off my boot and sock I realised I’d done quite a lot of damage as the top of my toe didn’t appear to be attached to the rest of my foot! 

Stu rushed home, told me off (for moving the plant pot), looked at my toe (held back the holy s*** so he didn’t worry me) and immediately felt guilty, dressed it and took me to hospital. 

As he dropped me off, not knowing if he’d be allowed in with me at all (he wasn’t) he said  “Don’t tell them it was a brick!!”. 

“Why not?” I asked, slightly confused. “Because they’ll think it was a house brick and it was about 20 times the size of that” he said. 

So I checked in and told them it was a BIG brick. 

I explained to the triage nurse that the end of my toe was hanging off and she said “Is it really hanging off because lots of people say that and it’s not as bad as that”. “It’s really hanging off” I replied. 

It didn’t take long to be sent off for an X-ray…

It was after the X-ray, when I was back in the cubicle with a nurse and the consultant entered the room and asked her “is this the amputated toe?”, which immediately confirmed my fear that I’d done quite a lot of damage to it.

After looking at my toe he explained that they may not be able to save it… I’d love to have seen the expression on my face when I said “but I don’t want to lose my toe!”, to which he replied “We don’t cut them off because we like doing it you know”!! 

Anyway, I chose to have a local rather than general anaesthetic (to the horror of Stu and my Mum) and the needles into my foot were horrible, but at least numbed some of the pain once they kicked in.

The “brick” had smashed through my toe just below the base of the nail bed and smashed the bone completely, but fortunately not right the way through the fleshy bit underneath which meant there was still blood flow getting to it and they were able to save it! Yay!!

“You still have your toe!”

I never thought hearing the surgeon say “You still have your toe” would be one of those moments I’ll always be grateful for! 

I stayed in hospital that night despite the surgeon saying I could go home and would be able to put weight on my heel, I couldn’t, it was just too painful!! It was definitely worse than childbirth (even twins!) but fractionally more bearable that the tooth abscess I had when my boys were little. 

My toe became quite a celebrity on the ward. 

I’ve been really lucky that in my 52 years I’ve only ever been in hospital to have babies, or my wisdom teeth out. But there is nothing quite like a stay in hospital to remind you of the fragile nature of life. How it can change in the blink of an eye and how we mustn’t take our health and fitness for granted. 


It might sound silly, I mean it’s just a toe… but it really made me recognise my own mortality and the fragility of life. I was terrified to let Stu and the boys out of my sight for a few days. 

But, I was lucky to be home within 30 hours of my accident after getting a boot and crutches off the physio and being shown how to use them properly. It’s not as easy as it looks.

My toe has healed really quickly. Unbelievably quickly really. But it’s still been a long 6 weeks with a few more of slowly getting back to ‘normal’. I’ve had the all clear from the consultant to start putting weight on it, so I’ll soon be walking and driving. I’m a little bit nervous yet but I’m sure that will get better. 

This is what I’ve learned over the last (first) 6 weeks of recovery:


Enjoy having to put your feet up for a while. Let other people look after you for a change and DO NOT give yourself a hard time for it.

Don’t be stubborn. My family would laugh at that, but try and accept help, or even ask for help. No point overdoing it and extending your recovery time


I allowed myself time to feel sorry for myself. 

I gave myself permission to be annoyed at my own stupidity.

I also made sure I spent time giving gratitude that it wasn’t worse than it was. 

I realised that, as well as physical, there was also a mental impact to what had happened and made sure I spent time allowing for the different emotions and talking about them when it felt necessary.


I had to find something else to focus on. There were times when scrolling through through social media just made me feel sad. Not all the time, just when I was feeling sorry for myself!

Most of the people and pages I follow on social media are about walking, hiking, being outdoors and mainly I’ve enjoyed seeing all the photos of my friends on top of mountains, with just a little bit of envy.

But it is a constant reminder of where you’d like to be…

So I signed up for an MBA which I’ve wanted to do for years. A different type of challenge for now. 


I have a few challenges planned for next year. In fact I was supposed to do one of them this month but it will wait. (It was already postponed from April!). There’s also Toubkal next May (again, postponed from this year). But I’m a bit concerned about the impact of that distance, particularly the descent.

I’m thinking long term as I have no idea yet what the after effects might be. I will start slow and build up, I’m thinking of setting myself a 2.5km a week challenge and then doubling it each week, or whenever I feel ready. 

I think not being able to do things in our garden has been just as hard. The first time I’ve had a space to grow vegetables. I’ve had to rely on Stu and the boys to do the jobs that really needed doing and enjoyed planning my planting for next year.


It’s been really hard to try and do any type of exercise. It might just be a big toe but you don’t realise how much you use it! So I’ve tried to do some gentle stretches and dig out the hand weights. 

Getting up and downstairs on my bum at first was great exercise for the triceps too! 


I’m not a patient person. After 3 weeks I thought I could hurry my recovery along a bit. I tried to do to much, but then ended up back in ‘the boot’ for another 2 weeks. If anything slowed me down it’s that contraption!! 

 You can’t rush the healing process. I could have also caused other problems by trying to be clever and I need to look after it.

After all, it might only be a toe but it’s my toe and I’m very glad I still have it!

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