Nikki’s story: Getting back on her feet after falling flat

Video transcript for Nikki Chamberlain


Nikki is sitting down inside talking to the interviewer off-screen.


Nikki: "I was walking in Auckland CBD..."


The screen cuts to Auckland city, then a person walking on a footpath. 


Nikki: "...normal day, was wearing new shoes. The ground was really uneven where I was walking."


Shot of Auckland CBD from the sky. Cuts to a blurred shot of people walking in the street. Cuts to Nikki talking with interviewer off-screen.


Nikki: "And I put my right foot down and twisted it. Then tried to catch myself with my left foot and twisted my left ankle as well.


Still shot of Nikki sitting on a step. Words appear on screen. They say: Nikki Chamberlain, Senior lecturer and Associate Dean University of Auckland.


Nikki: "Hi, I'm Nikki Chamberlain. I am a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, Faculty of Law."


Footage Nikki speaking at one of her lectures at the University of Auckland. 


Nikki: "And in November 2019, I tore the ligaments going on the outside of my ankles, severely."


Nikki playing with her dog outside during the day in a park. Her dog then sips water out of a bowl.


Nikki: "If I was in the United States and I did not have health insurance it would have been disastrous."


Nikki patting her dog during the day on a beach.


Nikki: "It would have been so, so expensive. It honestly would bankrupt most people."


Nikki talking in a room to the interviewer


Nikki: "I ended up getting, around 9 months later, really severe foot pain. I went to the physio and said, 'I've got pain in my right foot'. And so the physiotherapist grabbed my foot and she said, 'Yeah, I think you have a grade three sprain.'"

"It basically means that you can't rehab it at physio because you have to reattach the ligament before you can do rehab."


Nikki is sitting down outside on a park beach reading.


Nikki: "My first thoughts were, 'When am I going to have time to have this surgery?'"


Nikki is in the kitchen filling up a kettle, pouring water into a mug, then sitting outside having a drink.


Nikki: "The amazing thing was that ACC very quickly approved the operation and I was able to have the operation in November..."


Nikki is sitting outside with her dog Monty. Cuts to a close up shot of Monty. Then cuts to an office space where Nikki is working on her laptop.


Nikki: "… and I was back on my feet, albeit in a moon boot, in time to teach summer school."


Close up shot of Monty, Nikki’s dog, then back again waking Monty and throwing a ball for Monty at the park.


Nikki: "I missed the most being able to walk my puppy, Monty ... he is very very active" 


Close up shot of Nikki inside talking to the interviewer.


Nikki: "There were a lot of things I couldn’t do. ACC paid for a woman named Angelica. So she changed my sheets. She cleaned my kitchen, my bathroom."


Footage of Nikki working on her Laptop.


Nikki: "… ACC also paid for my cab to go to work, to go to my medical appointments. If I tell my friends in the United States my experience with my ankle surgery and ACC, they're just like, 'When can we move to New Zealand?'" Nikki laughs.


Nikki is reading through books in a library. Then cuts to show her in front of her house, then standing in front of a fence.


Nikki: “Life is good. I am happy. Really really happy. I have my dream job. Being able to get back to work has been wonderful. And I and really, really thankful."


The screen fades to blue. White words appear onscreen:

Prevention. Care. Recovery. Last year we supported 752,141 people with fall-related injuries. And we invested in injury prevention programmes to keep people safe.

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A severely sprained ankle requiring surgery could have cost Nikki thousands if she was still in the US. But in NZ, it’s a much different story.

Ever trip over your own feet and had the footpath jump up to meet you unexpectedly? Embarrassing, right? Dust yourself off, and hope no one else saw what just happened?

For Nikki Chamberlain, it was both mortifying and spectacular.

She was walking along the street, and suddenly found herself sprawled on the footpath.

When she'd stepped forward with her right foot, her ankle rolled severely. When she went to steady herself with her left foot, that rolled as well. A double-whammy.

"I don't do anything half-way, and that was definitely a spectacular fall," she says.

"I had this situation where my ankles both rolled outwards. I ended up staring at the sky, flat on my back. I'm sure it was a very glamorous fall – not," she jokes.

"Very mortifying. One of those falls where you want to stand up and go 'I'm OK, I'm OK', but you're actually kind of not OK, but you're so embarrassed."

Just walk it off

Nikki, 37, danced a lot at high school – ballet, jazz, hip hop. She'd had ankle sprains before. She thought she could 'push through the pain', as she describes it.

And for a year, she did just that. She's a senior law lecturer and associate dean at University of Auckland's Faculty of Law. She regularly spends two hours straight on her feet lecturing, often more than once a day. But when the pain in her right ankle became too severe, crippling her, she finally went to a physiotherapist.

The news was not good. "She grabbed my foot and started rotating it, manipulating it, and sort of looking at me and going 'yep, it's not supposed to go that way, and it's not supposed to move this way'."

Nikki had a grade three sprain, the worst type. It means you need surgery to reattach a ligament. She had been living for a year with it – walking her puppy, working at the university, going about her life with a snapped ligament.

Scans followed. Then an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. Nikki was busy, she was 'super keen' on teaching an upcoming summer school law course, and focused on her legal research, not to mention her puppy, Monty. And she was not happy at the thought of surgery, when told in October 2020.

"My first thought was 'when am I going to have time to have this surgery?'"

From America to Aotearoa

Nikki is from Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States. As a college student, she was hospitalised for extreme food poisoning. After a two-night stay hooked to an IV drip, she was discharged and handed an invoice for US$20,000.

While she had health insurance through her university, it was still a heart-stopping moment for her. She personally had to pay 20% of the bill.

"I can't even imagine what ankle reconstruction surgery would cost in the United States. Healthcare is so expensive there.

"ACC acts like insurance, in effect, because it pays for you not only to have your surgery and the diagnostic aspect of it, but also it pays for your rehab," she explains.

Finding balance on one foot – and in life

"There was a whole bunch of things that were happening on my research agenda, but also in my teaching schedule, and I was really uncertain how I was going to fit [surgery] in.

"But the amazing thing was that ACC very quickly approved the operation, and I was able to have the operation in November and was back on my feet, albeit in a moon boot, in time to teach at summer school."

After surgery, she spent two weeks on crutches, when she couldn't put any weight on her foot, followed by four weeks in a moon boot. Then the physio started.

Busy Nikki really had to slow down though, during her recovery. "There were a lot of things I couldn't do. You rely on your right foot and ankle quite a lot, and when you don't have it, it's like 'how am I going to live?', she laughs, rolling her eyes in mock despair.

Simple tasks like taking a shower or cooking a meal become difficult, even impossible, when you have to balance on one foot.

Part of the support ACC arranged was for a person to visit Nikki's home and help with household chores, such as cleaning, doing laundry, etc.

For Nikki, that person was called Angelica, and she lived up to her name. "Honestly, she was a godsend.

"Having somebody who just comes and helps tidy up the place, it honestly lifts you. It's a really huge blessing. I was really grateful that ACC paid for that."

ACC also pays for things like crutches, a shower seat, and home help during recovery.

To help Nikki get between home and work, as well as attend check-ups with her surgeon, ACC paid for taxis. She couldn't drive while her ankle was recovering from surgery.

She says she's grateful for the support to help get her back to work and on her feet again.

Nikki is back walking now, making great progress in rehab, and able to walk Monty twice a day. Monty is happy. And so is Nikki.

"I'm great, life is great. I'm really, really happy.

"I have my dream job, I live in a beautiful place, I love being in New Zealand. I love my life. Being able to get back to work has been wonderful. And I'm really thankful."

We'd like to sincerely thank Nikki – and Monty – for sharing their story with us.

ACC helps over 2 million New Zealanders a year recover from injury. And we invest in injury prevention programmes to help people stay safe.

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