“Some days you will be bouncing in to do your rehab but others it is a struggle to get out of bed. I don’t think I’ve felt as low or as high in my life.”
A stress fracture discovered in May 2020 was initially meant to keep Megan Bell out for six weeks, but 18 months on, after two surgeries and a titanium rod in her leg, the midfielder finally returned to action for Rangers on Sunday.
“There was a lump on my shin which was sore to touch. There was a dull pain when I was running, but I didn’t think anything of it,” said the 20-year-old Northern Ireland international.
“It kept going on, and my mum and dad said I should get it checked out. I ended up getting x-rays and the nurse said I had a stress fracture in my shin.
“I was thinking, ‘no chance’. I had been playing football for months with this, but the nurse told me stress fractures normally heal themselves and I would be out for around six weeks.”
However, six weeks soon passed and the fracture was not healing. Weeks became months and eventually Bell was faced with a big decision – have surgery or return to action while managing the injury, which carried the risk of a full fracture.
The midfielder, along with family and medical staff, chose the latter and she featured from October through to the end of the year but, even though she could play through it, the dull pain was still there in her leg.
“The doctors were hoping that playing would encourage the fracture to heal, but the physio said, as I could still feel it, that surgery would be the best option.
“I have a pretty high pain threshold but I have never had pain like that in my life,” she recalled.
“It was horrendous. I made the mistake of watching it on YouTube before I went in and it’s the worst mistake I’ve ever made.
“They have gone in at my knee and drilled a hole from the top of my tibia to the bottom, put a titanium rod in as far as they could before hammering it in the rest of the way. That was then held in place with two screws.
“My whole right leg felt like it had been battered. It took me a while to get back on my feet after the surgery as I was in so much pain.”
This was in March, almost a year on from the initial diagnosis. However when she returned to training in July further surgery was required after the lower screw was aggravating her ankle and she was back on the operation table once more.
“The toughest bit for me was I thought I was going to be out for six weeks,” she added.
“If you had told me then that I would only just be playing my first game back I would ask you a million questions because I wouldn’t understand.
“The carrot of football was dangled in front of me. It was tough, but it was the right decision at the time to manage it and the right decision to have surgery when I did.”
Giving up ‘not an option’
After her dream move to Rangers came to a halt with only five competitive games under her belt, the Scottish club offered her a new contract which rewarded her perseverance and undoubted potential.
Bell added that giving up “was never an option” despite “feeling down” at times throughout her recovery.
“This was the first time in my life where I’ve had football taken away from me or been told I can’t play. It was a shock to the system,” she said.
“It can be very lonely and it can bring you down a lot. Some days you can feel on top of the world and others you feel the lowest you have ever felt.
“When I get told I can’t do something it makes me want to even more. It is tough. You have to use it as added motivation.”
Bell finally put her injury demons to rest when she started for Rangers and played the first-half of Sunday’s SWPL1 victory over Partick Thistle.
She posted on Instagram she “had a touch like an elephant”, but added she was just “glad to be back on the pitch to have a touch like that”.
“It was really special. For 17 months I have had to sit and watch, but I have always used that as motivation,” added Bell.
“I’m a footballer and that is all I have ever wanted to do, so when that is taken away from you for so long then you begin to appreciate it a lot more.”
‘Euro 2022 is a goal’
Since making her senior debut at just 16, Bell was a regular for Northern Ireland until the Covid-19 pandemic and her injury, winning 19 caps to date.
Her last outing in a green shirt was at the Pinitar Cup in 2020, which ended days before national lockdowns swept across Europe, and her subsequent injury meant she missed featuring in Northern Ireland’s historic Euro 2022 qualification in April.
She was a spectator at the play-off second-leg win over Ukraine in Belfast, and says watching the squad gave her extra drive in her recovery.
“I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want to be in the squad for the Euros,” said Bell, who added she has been in constant contact with manager Kenny Shiels.
“It is a goal, but the main thing for me now is building myself back up, getting a run of games for Rangers and staying injury-free.
“I think once I do that I can really push on. I am at a bit of a disadvantage to everyone else because I have been injured for 18 months, but I know the hard work is only starting now.”