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In October 2004 her 17-year-old son was a passenger in a car that was involved in a serious accident. He was admitted to an ICU close to the scene of the accident but a long drive from their home. He had serious head injuries and a ruptured spleen and spent 17 days in ICU. She and her husband stayed in a nearby hotel so that they could be close to their son and visit daily, until he was well enough to be transferred to a local hospital. During this time, she also had to arrange care for her two younger children who were still at school, and time off work for herself and her son.
During the critical time in ICU, she felt that her adrenaline kept her going and able to cope. She described this time as 'surreal' and tried as much as possible to establish a sense of normality for her two younger children. She concentrated on the family, with the help of her mother and in-laws, and preferred not to have visitors outside the family until later.
She felt her son made good progress in hospital and at home, though his head injuries sometimes made him angry and aggressive. She found this difficult at times but valued the support of an occupational therapist who visited her son while he was recovering at home. She kept herself upbeat by focussing on the positive aspects of the experience, including the care and conversations with nurses, her son's progress and moments of humour.
On the long journey to the hospital she just wanted her son to be alive, but didn't know how...
We were getting nearer to the area of [hospital name] when my other son spotted the car on the other side of the road and at first glance I thought, 'Oh it's okay, it's not too bad.' Luckily we hadn't seen my son's side, because if we had I think that would've been absolutely dreadful.
We got to [the hospital] and it was very much like a scene from Casualty where you go in and you give your name and they say, 'Oh right, yes', and they take you into a side room. And again we still don't know if he's alive and it's, you then wait to see someone walk in and you look to see their expression. And luckily one of the first things they said was he is still alive. We straightaway we were given, I don't think she was a nurse, I think she's more of a' weren't they used to be called orderlies but it's in-between' so she was part of the nursing staff but I don't think she was a nurse. And she was more of our liaison with the nursing staff, which was really helpful because the worst thing is being in this room and you don't know what's happening. But you know that they're obviously doing something and they probably can't tell you, but you' it's the waiting. It seemed to go on forever.
But eventually they came and they said to us we could go and see him. He was still in accident and emergency. So my husband and I went in and there was a lot of blood on his hands. But the reassuring thing was that' A) he was alive and B) he looked like him.
Her mother looked after her two younger children which meant that she, her husband and in-laws...
Then we got back to the hospital and [my husband's] parents had stayed in a bed and breakfast the night before. They couldn't get into that hotel because we'd kept up our room and they couldn't get into hotel, so they found this bed and breakfast. But while we'd been away they had made the decision as well that they were going stay there. Although, initially, it was planned that they would come back, they felt that they couldn't leave him, once they'd got there. I think possibly my mum found it very difficult because although she was doing a very good job being the base for the other two [children]. I think she found it very hard not to be a part because he was the eldest grandson on both sides. So very, very difficult for her to keep away. But we needed her here, so it was, she was wanted in two places.
And actually having them there was fantastic because they, we took it all in turns. So during, certainly from sort of about nine in the morning until eleven at night, there was always a relative with him or in the waiting room. And I very strongly believe that that was part of his good recovery, the fact that there was constantly things familiar around him. Not only when he was out of it but as he began to recover, especially being so far away, not that he would've known many of the nurses in our local hospital. But it was very, very relevant that there was always people, voices, sounds he recognised because I think senses come back quite quickly.
She wanted some sort of normality during this difficult time, which had made her realise how...
We were very lucky there that everything, we were out on top of the high street, so it very, very easy to get food. There's a Marks and Spencer, you could go and get food and drink because in the hospital, times when you wanted to eat, they weren't always open. And I know the nurses find that terribly difficult. And at times you had to remember and go and get a roll when they were open and put it one side. There was a little fridge in the room and you had to remember to go and get it otherwise you didn't eat. And you'd sometimes want a hot drink and again if there hadn't been that little room there, and very often the restaurant wasn't open and the food wasn't always that brilliant either. So being on top of the high street was a definite advantage and we didn't have to worry about parking then.
A few days into her son's ICU stay, doctors found out that he'd ruptured his spleen and she was...
And then my husband got a phone call and they said, 'We think you'd better come back, we're going to have to operate on him.' And they'd actually, the paleness that I'd mentioned earlier, turned out to be that he'd had a ruptured spleen and he was losing a heck of a lot of blood. So before they could possibly do this bolting, they had to operate and remove the spleen and part of his liver. So we were back into a real life or death situation again, not that I think we particularly left it but that made it even worse. And we had to go back in and sign forms and sort of well just generally be informed.
Every day her son improved in some small way and slowly started regaining weight.
There was another day where a consultant came in and was speaking to him and [my son] has always hated reading and anything like that, and his use of language isn't particularly good. He sort of doesn't use very large words very often. And he started talking in a way that was, I felt well what's he done. It was so eloquent. And he was saying words I'd never heard him use before. And he sort of answered this consultant and I thought, my goodness. And it was as if part of his brain that clicked in, that we'd never ever seen before and we haven't seen since. It's sort of gone again but it was there for that time and that was amazing. So that lasted a day.
The middle son got great pleasure getting him a Macdonald's because they said he needed, he'd lost so much weight. I mean he was absolutely stick thin. This six-foot lad with no, well he must have dropped to between five or six stone. It was frightening. And so he needed to get some solids into him and so MacDonald's was the order of the day, and he loved it. He thoroughly enjoyed that and it pleased the other one completely.
And there was a lot of banter. And one day they sat and one was rolling tissues up and throwing it and the other one was catching And the younger one became the elder brother for a while and he was very, very caring. And I think it made them realise how important they are all to each other. And that they are a whole, the three of them, and if you take one part away, it's huge void.
He was also, while he was in this room, he was allowed to choose what to eat and the food you know, there was lots of choice. And they really wanted him to just enjoy what he was having, so we were able to do that. He would get up and walk and he would lurch everywhere. But there were always people helping him. And he would walk around and everyone was chatting to him and he was very' he's very friendly, very sociable anyway. And that was the other thing, we could see his character coming back. He didn't lose, nothing of that was damaged.
Sometimes she worried how she'd cope if her son was left disabled because she would be his main...
When her son was in ICU, she felt she became very strong, practical and positive.
Her husband's mother sat at her son's bedside so she could go back home, organise child care and...
The middle son, he felt that he couldn't cope with school to any great degree. But the school, it was a catholic school and very, very good mentoring, where they said, 'Look, just come in, chat, do what you want.' Both boys had gone to that school, so they knew both of them.
So they'd said prayers for him in school and it was all very, very emotional from that point of view.
She felt that visitors were supportive of each other and, because her son was so young, she...
While you're in intensive care as well, though you are also very supportive of other families. While we were there obviously, we became the old hands, especially seventeen days. And you'd see the next come in and we found that if someone came in and it was their first day, we would actually vacate the visitors' room to give them space, knowing that we'd needed it. And we would go walk about so that they had the comfort of the room. And you tended also to make coffees and teas for everyone and you would always, you were as interested in other people as well. And great support, fantastic how they were all just so lovely. I had another case where a man came out and I was the only one in the visitors' room, at that time, and he just sat with his father while he died. And I was so pleased that I was there because otherwise he'd have come out to this empty room. And he needed to talk and he was saying how peaceful it had been and that that was great.
And, you know, there were people dying in there and you did cope and you hopefully helped their relatives as well. You know it was very much a knock on affect. So you were a part of this club, this very, very unique, very special, and an incredible bond. And because my son was young, we got overwhelming support because everyone was so grateful that it wasn't them really. It was, I think they felt a youngster is the hardest thing.
Staying in a nearby hotel worked out well for her and her husband because it meant they could...
And people were so helpful. I mean it was very difficult to find accommodation but they actually did bend over backwards to get us this. And it'
At the hospital?
No. Well the hospital have got, very often there's an information desk. So obviously we didn't know [the area or hospital] at all. The information desk were great. They said to us, 'Try this, this and this.' And because we were a family of four, there was a Holiday Inn locally but we needed two rooms. Well you have to think, you have to be a bit practical and think we cannot afford '100 a night. So the Travel Inn up the road was great. We could all fit in there, a lovely place for breakfast the next day and it was so convenient. We knew we could be there instantly. They had our mobile number so it was really good. We didn't leave until very late. But that was the right decision. You can look back and you can say, 'No that was definitely the right decision.' And then I found that, because they said the first twenty-four hours were crucial, so seven fifteen the next morning, which is exactly twenty-four hours after the accident, I rang. They give you an emergency' a number to contact where you go directly into intensive care, and there's obviously always someone there, and they're more than happy to answer the questions you have. And they said that he was stable through the night so that was a positive. We'd got through the first twenty-four hours.
At the beginning there was very little change in her son's condition and sending updates was...
At the time her son was ill she didn't know he was being kept alive by machines.
She kept a diary throughout her son's time in ICU apart from of the first day, which was still...
At first her son would often get angry and aggressive but, gradually, he became more aware and...
And so we ended up having to spend another night up there because he'd called us in. And that's the other thing, because he's wandering, didn't like to be restricted at all, he would get quite angry. And therefore we sort of would have to go in and look after him. I tried to get there every morning. So although we were back in [place name] every day I would try and go in for breakfast. And in fact one morning they actually put him on the phone to me and he said, 'Where are you?' [laughs] And to hear his voice on the phone was incredible.
And the nurses as well, they, going back to [the first hospital], there was one day when we'd come, we'd buzzed to say can we come in and see him and they called us through and they actually had him walking towards us, and it was the first time he had. And my in-laws remember the first time when they, when he actually said, 'Hello, nanny and granddad'. And up until then he hadn't actually addressed them.
Then there was when we were at [the local hospital] there was one day when he was looking in the mirror and I suddenly realised he was actually looking at himself, he was doing his hair. Because for a long time there was a very glassy stare and apparently they're looking at the horizon just to get their balance. But they're not seeing anything else. It is literally just looking ahead and so it's this horrible stare where they're not looking at anything and that's quite unnerving.
When her son first came home he was often difficult to live with because he'd get angry and...
I was worried that I was going to be quite vulnerable at home and I talked about that with the occupational therapist and he really took the concerns on board. And I said, 'Very often you don't see it.' It would be when we were back in the room I'd say something and he would turn on me and be quite nasty to the point where I actually felt very, very vulnerable.
And the same with the occupational therapist. Although he [son] started to resent her, like there was one day where he was up in bed and I said, 'She's here.' 'I'm not coming down.' And I used that session for me to vent how I felt. I was having real trouble. He was becoming horrible, really. Really hard to live with. I mean there are times where, I hate to say it but you almost think, 'If only'' [laughs]. And that is terrible, but there were times. You know, I thought, 'My life would have been a darn sight easier if it had gone the other way.' Which is the most awful thought. But I could talk to her and I also felt I had to, I had to let someone outside the family know that there were problems. You know, there we were, all, 'Oh, it's lovely to see him getting on and so well. Oh, isn't he doing well?' And part of you felt like crying sometimes, saying, 'Well actually he's a nightmare.'
You know, really hard to live with. And there were times when the other two [children] were frightened of him. You know, he was very, can be quite big physically and so, but that having that outside, and at times he said, 'I don't want to see her anymore.' And I thought, 'I can't lose that link. I have got to have someone from outside coming in who almost can protect me.