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Interview 03

Age at interview: 49
Brief Outline: In 2004 her 17-year-old son was a passenger in a car that was involved in a serious accident. He spent 17 days in ICU.
Background: Bookkeeper, married with three children. Ethnic background/nationality; White British.

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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...

On the long journey to the hospital she just wanted her son to be alive, but didn't know how...

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We eventually got hold of [the hospital] and they were waiting for him to arrive in the ambulance. At that stage we had no idea of the severity or anything. We didn't know whether to pack a bag and we didn't know whether we should all go and in the end did, we decided that because we didn't know anything about the situation, all of us would go in the car. We then just literally drove, not knowing at all what was going to be at the other end. And I know all the time all I kept thinking was, 'Just be alive, if you're alive when I get there, it's going to be okay.' And it sort of just kept me going and it's' you're all in a real numb state. I mean we all remember the journey very, very clearly. I mean how my husband drove I don't know. But you're just completely all in your own thoughts. We couldn't comfort the children. We didn't know what we were going to find. 

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...

Her mother looked after her two younger children which meant that she, her husband and in-laws...

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We'd also phoned [my husband's] parents and agreed because there was no way we were going to leave him. We couldn't come back to get clothes or anything and leave nobody by his bedside. And so we agreed that they would come up, take over from us and we would then take the children back and my mum would move in with the children. So again you've got a lot of practical things to deal with. We had to go and get some clothes and you don't know how long all this is going to go. And we probably had a two hour, two and half hour journey home so it wasn't the easiest, all the M25, and we also had to tell his [son's] work on the Tuesday morning. So we felt if we went back, the children could get back into a routine and they needed that. You can only sit around for so long wondering and, you know, there's nothing you, he's in the hands of the doctors and nurses. And on the whole, very, very good at keeping us informed. 

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...

She wanted some sort of normality during this difficult time, which had made her realise how...

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I can remember going out for a meal, it's probably the second or third day and we, well there was a really, I think, there was nothing really happening and we all decided the four of us were going to go for a meal together, which was the first time we had. And when we were out I think I ordered a glass of wine and my husband found that very difficult that we were sort of having a meal and drinks and our son was lying in intensive care. And I think that's the more clinical side that I was having. I was having a meal and I was going to enjoy it because it was my timeout. It was in conflict with him and I could see where he was coming from but I wasn't trying to celebrate. I was just trying to enjoy life. It made me almost think life's important, grasp it. And you have to accept where the other person is coming from and I think temper it. And the in-laws were very good, they sort of didn't condemn me for it and in the end I think the men had beers and we both had a glass of wine. And it was acceptable and it was actually really enjoyable because I felt we shouldn't stop living, just because we were in this vacuum. 

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...

A few days into her son's ICU stay, doctors found out that he'd ruptured his spleen and she was...

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At one point, we'd been in to see him in intensive care, and wired up to monitors and everything, and they said to us, what they needed to do was to actually put a bolt in, which is to measure the pressure because his head had sustained a huge injury. They needed to monitor this pressure and adjust all his other body levels accordingly to actually reduce the pressure. And so they were going to take him to do that and they said, 'It's going to be a while, so if you want to go off or go and have something to eat or whatever', and we found ourselves on a Sunday afternoon wandering around Staples, the stationery place. And just in a total daze, but it was a very routine thing to do in one respect, it was very normal' it was normality amongst the total chaos. 

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.

Every day her son improved in some small way and slowly started regaining weight.

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I mean there are times, there is a stage as well where they don't have any inhibitions. And he would be lurching around and there were some chocolates on the desk and he was just helping himself. And it was funny but there was, it was like well, you know, you ask, and all the manners and things had gone in one respect. We fed him, I fed him a meal once and he just would take a mouthful and then literally spit it back at me and I was catching food everywhere. And they said you know that will happen. And that lasted a day. 

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...

Sometimes she worried how she'd cope if her son was left disabled because she would be his main...

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I did feel, at times, very selfish, in that I thought, 'I don't know how I could cope'. Knowing that I was the mum, there were times when I thought, 'If he doesn't get better, how am I going to cope?' My husband actually felt that he could cope with a disabled person, and he found that amazing that all of the sudden, he realised yes he could. I still think the onus would've fallen on me. And I did at times think, 'Oh my goodness, what am I going to do?' And almost to the point where I didn't really know what, I couldn't voice that, that was very hard, because it was the fact that he was alive was important. But then a part of me was thinking, yes but. And luckily we kept moving forward. 

 

When her son was in ICU, she felt she became very strong, practical and positive.

When her son was in ICU, she felt she became very strong, practical and positive.

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We then went and had breakfast. And I can remember, we were almost looking over the motorway where the accident, and the trees were just beginning to change colour. It was the most beautiful setting and it is so surreal. But there was still beauty there. There was still, you still were grateful for everything. It wasn't all doom and gloom. And another thing that happened was that you' don't know how you're going to cope but you really do get an adrenaline surge. It's a big event in your life and your body takes over and does help you cope. I found I became very clinical. I got called the 'ice lady'. I didn't cry very much. It was like this cold thing enveloped me and I could deal with it all. I was very rational, very positive. My husband found it harder, he did. But I think that will happen, one will grow strong and one will find it harder and you need the two really. 

 

Her husband's mother sat at her son's bedside so she could go back home, organise child care and...

Her husband's mother sat at her son's bedside so she could go back home, organise child care and...

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[My husband's] parents came up and they took over from us [by sitting at the bedside]. And we went home and got our stuff together. My mum moved in. And then the next morning, we obviously were phoning the hospital, that was very hard actually being back away from him so far. But we had to really prioritise the other two and make sure they were okay and give them normality back. So the next morning, we saw them both to school and we went in and we spoke with the schools. And they obviously then were very aware of what was happening and were keeping an eye on the situation. 

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...

She felt that visitors were supportive of each other and, because her son was so young, she...

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When we did eventually go up to the visitors room and it's a lovely little room right off intensive care, you just walk through into intensive care. It takes you a while to get your bearings in a hospital. And it could be because accident and emergency is directly off the car park usually, well always, but the rest of the hospital is like a maze. And afterwards you think, 'Oh we went down there' and so initially it's all a blur. But the room is very comfortable, had a couple of sofas, had a telly, had coffee and tea making facilities, and a loo. And then direct access into the intensive care when you needed it. But when we first walked in, there were people who'd been there for a while and so there's a different mood with them. They usually know which way it's going and it's more positive or you know, they're dealing with it. We were still in a state of shock. We didn't know what was happening. He wasn't at that point even stable, I don't think. And it was too noisy. We needed a private room still. And we tended to go out and sit in the corridor. 

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...

Staying in a nearby hotel worked out well for her and her husband because it meant they could...

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We didn't really know what to do on that first night because the other thing was we had no clothes with us. We had nothing. But again I don't think that was a wrong decision at the time, we just needed to go. What we were going to find we had to deal with. So for that night prior to this, because we thought we were going to have to stay local, if we don't stay here overnight, I mean it wasn't, they said we could've stayed in the room, but it's not the most comfortable. And within intensive care, a patient has one to one and they're never ever left. If they are left by your nurse, another one is always supervising, so there is never ever a time. So to be quite honest although in some respects it's good to stay, in another it's not necessary. They're in the best hands. And we needed to keep our strengths up. So if we'd kept the children it would have been, we'd all been irritable and you need to be on top form to actually cope with this. So you do have to get your rest, get your food, and be quite disciplined with it, not think, 'Oh I can go without', you can't. You need to do that. And it also keeps you busy, it keeps you thinking, 'Oh yes, food time'. So we managed to find a local Travel Inn, which was only ten minutes away, we could be there so quickly. 

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 beginning there was very little change in her son's condition and sending updates was...

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Keeping in contact with people, we also, because so many people knew about this that they wanted us then, they were constantly asking other people, 'Oh what's happening?' especially our relatives. So what we tended to do, we got a list on our mobiles of people who were contact names and every day we tried to do like a little message that we then circulated to all of them. We did find at times, that you'd put something on one day and it was early on' [my son] I think they'd tried to take the tubes out and they thought, they weren't sure that it was going to work. Sometimes they've done it too soon. So they tried to do it and he really reacted badly. And he was kicking out and he actually swore at the doctor. And the doctor was thrilled because it was a recognition, he had responded in the right way. So it showed that the brain, there was good function there. So it was a real positive. And we put [our son] spoke today as our text. And everyone assumed he was sitting up, talking, and he wasn't. He was still on all these wires. He was still on life-support. And that one word and we then had to 'err hang on a minute, you know, that's not what we meant. It's still really, really serious here. So it was ' then limiting, very often in intensive care nothing happens. You just sit there, and these machines bleep. And 'Well how is he today?', well actually there's absolutely no change. I mean sometimes that can go on for weeks and weeks. There was a man, his wife was in the bed next to us, he'd been there three weeks and no change. And you know people want to know that something's happening but intensive care is very slow, at times. And nothing happens. Yes so the messaging, the texting is very important, just keeping in contact.

 

At the time her son was ill she didn't know he was being kept alive by machines.

At the time her son was ill she didn't know he was being kept alive by machines.

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I never realised that life support, I didn't realise for the first few days, that he was on life support and that stable still meant it could go either way. I really thought once we'd got there that he was going to be okay. I don't know if that was just a deep belief, a naivety or whatever. But I didn't realise that machines were breathing for him and without them, he would not survive. So again when you hear now, critical but stable, it means something totally different because we've been in there. But the monitoring is incredible. 

 

She kept a diary throughout her son's time in ICU apart from of the first day, which was still...

She kept a diary throughout her son's time in ICU apart from of the first day, which was still...

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I kept a dairy right from the beginning. It was just an instinctive thing I wanted to do. I just wanted to record things. I've never been able to write the first day. I think that's still so vivid that I don't need to write it down. But dates and times and amazingly, especially with an accident, if you're going to have a claim of some sort, those dates and timings are very, very relevant as well. And even when you're seeing specialists, they want to know how long was this state for, how long was that state. And you don't remember those things, you need to write them down. So keeping a diary ' and at night it was quite good, you'd go back and you'd just keep the notes up. And it made you sort of think, 'Ooh we've done that today', and that was very positive. So that was very good. 

 

At first her son would often get angry and aggressive but, gradually, he became more aware and...

At first her son would often get angry and aggressive but, gradually, he became more aware and...

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One night [my son] actually had a Black nurse and he didn't take to her and he was abusive. Another thing with a head injury, often they don't know what they're doing. And we were mortified, you know, we were, 'Oh, goodness.' But that's just something the nursing staff have got to deal with. They, you have got a patient with a head injury, unfortunately, there is, you know, you can't actually, it's not like punishing, you can't sort of tell them off or anything. He was totally unaware still. It was a good three, four weeks before he had any recollection of what he said or did. And so any abuse that's caused or any harm, I mean the physical obviously you can't have, but it's unintentional. They are not aware of what they're doing. And I do think there has to be a little bit of leeway.

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...

When her son first came home he was often difficult to live with because he'd get angry and...

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We were getting near Christmas, we were into December. So it felt right to bring him home. But we had had a few times where because he was probably confused, he was quite angry at times. 

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. 

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