Keith Barry: ‘The surgeon said my foot was five minutes from amputation’

Keith Barry, hypnotist, and magician, on the aftermath of a car crash in 2007

Keith Barry: “They told me in Belfast I would walk with a limp for the rest of my life. I just said ‘no’. They said it was as serious as it gets, but I refused to believe I’d walk with a limp.”

Keith Barry: “They told me in Belfast I would walk with a limp for the rest of my life. I just said ‘no’. They said it was as serious as it gets, but I refused to believe I’d walk with a limp.”

 

The Time of My Life is a weekly column about a moment that changed someone’s life – for the better or the worse

My car accident was in 2007, 10 years ago now. I was coming back from Jim Aiken’s funeral. I didn’t know Jim but at the time Aiken were my promoter, and I went up out of respect to the family. I was coming back and I was in a head-on collision. A car came from the other side of the road and slammed head-on into me. I went into a spin and hit a wall. My left leg was completely demolished – it disintegrated. They had to use the “jaws of life” – that thing they use to cut through a car – to get me out.

I was brought to Daisy Hill Hospital. My knee had broken, my tibia and fibula were smashed. My ankle was dislocated. I remember the trauma surgeon – Patrick Hyland-McGuire – trying to put my foot back into its socket. He stopped and said my foot was five minutes from amputation, and unless I relaxed he wouldn’t be able to get it back in. I was screaming in pain. That was the moment for me. I had to use all the techniques I’d learned over the years – hypnosis, self-hypnosis to allow myself to go into another place with the pain and allow the foot to go back into the socket.

Life-changing moment

It was a pretty life-changing moment there and then. I went to that place in my head and let him pop the foot back in.

I was transferred to the Royal Victoria in Belfast in an open cast and I was there for 3½ weeks, a seven-inch plate in my leg and 13 screws in my ankle. I was in a full cast for weeks after. Then I started physio. They told me in Belfast I would walk with a limp for the rest of my life. I just said “no”. They said it was as serious as it gets, but I refused to believe I’d walk with a limp.

I went to Anfield for physio, in the Liverpool soccer grounds. I really wasn’t making much progress until I went there. I came back on one crutch, and three weeks later came back without any crutches, but I could only walk a couple of steps. I rang Brian O’Driscoll [who recommended a physio] and I’m still going 10 years later.

Traumatic experience

The reason it was really life-changing for me was I kind of examined my life, and thought: “What would I have done differently?” The one thing at the time is that we didn’t have any kids. I would have regretted that. I made a decision after that to have kids. My daughter was born in 2008, a little over a year after the accident. When you have a traumatic experience, you look at your mindset. My decision was to be more positive than ever. For me, I could easily have spiralled into a depression for want to a better word, but I decided to be more positive, to enjoy life more than I already had. It just made me sure that I valued every moment. I’d prefer that it didn’t happen. It happened because of someone else’s actions. But there’s nothing I can do about it. I wouldn’t wish the amount of pain I went through on anybody.

Do you want to share a Time of My Life story? Email magazine@irishtimes.com with “Time of My Life” in the subject line

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