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Interview 05

Age at interview: 57
Brief Outline: In 2003 his wife was involved in an accident in the home. He stayed at the hospital for two weeks while his wife was in the first ICU.
Background: Part-time driver, married with two adult children. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In December 2003 his wife was involved in an accident in the home. He had been fitting a new radiator and had left a hole in the bedroom floor while he took a rest. His wife accidentally fell through the hole, into the room below. She was finding it difficult to breathe and was taken into hospital. Later she was admitted to an ICU in a hospital some distance from their home. She had a broken back and ribs and collapsed lungs. She was in ICU for almost two weeks and he stayed at the hospital throughout this time. Later, his wife was transferred to the ICU in their local hospital for a further two weeks and he travelled in daily to see her. 

He was happy with the care his wife received while she was in hospital but felt there was a lack of support once she was back home and needed full-time care. He would have valued support with his wife's physical needs, their emotional needs and information about financial support. 

Their daughter gave up her college course to look after her mother full-time and he was allowed to take as much time off work as he needed. He found it difficult to talk about the accident and, at first, blamed himself. It was a challenging time emotionally and he was prescribed anti-depressants by his GP, which he was still taking at the time of interview. 

He and his wife, along with other ex-ICU patients, helped form a local support group for ICU patients and their relatives, and they both found this group a great source of support. They have both changed their lives since the accident and now try to make the most of their lives and look after their health. Some friends and family have found this a difficult change to accept.   
 

Their son felt they'd changed for the worse now that they were living more for the moment.

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My wife has certainly changed since the accident and funnily enough it's sometimes, it can be quite a burden for her. I don't know how to explain it. Yeah we don't, we both don't see, we see life in a different manner now. We look after ourselves. We choose our priorities. 

Sorry my mind's gone blank on it. I don't know what, how to put it. 

You mentioned that friends or family members have noticed that you've changed a lot as well? 

Yeah I think my son more than my daughter. He thinks we've changed for the worse. 

How? 

But I don't think, we don't think we have. We think we've changed for the better because we're seeing life as it should be. You look after your health. 

Well the way we've changed, both the wife and I, we see life in a different perspective now. Material things don't matter any more. Health is most important, looking after each other. And we found it difficult with our children especially our son who finds it hard to accept the way we've changed. I can't answer what he's thinking. But he has, he's gone distant to us now. We don't know why. 

 

When he saw his wife's accident he became hysterical and had to be calmed down by his son.

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Well my experience started back in December, on December the 13th 2003. We had warm air heating in the house and we decided to change it to radiators central heating, so a friend of mine who was Corgi registered and myself decided to change the central heating. Well to get to the radiators, the piping, we had to cut holes in the floor as they're not floorboards but big sheets. We cut the holes, done all the radiators upstairs except the one in our bedroom. I did the hole but I forgot to put it back in and I was so tired that evening. I'd gone for an hour's lay down. My wife came upstairs with a cup of tea to get me up, not knowing that there was a hole in our bedroom. Opened the door because it was in darkness and went straight through the hole, through the ceiling and ended up on the lounge floor. 

The first thing I knew there was a big crash. Dashed out of bed and saw a big gapping hole in the floor. Looked through and saw my wife down on the lounge floor. I dashed downstairs not realising I hadn't got anything on so that gave my daughter another shock. She was here. She saw it all. Just to see what had happened. And my wife was lying on the floor covered in dust and grit and all sorts of bits and pieces. And actually lying on a piece of wood that she'd brought down with her. And saying that she was struggling to breathe. 

I started to panic a bit which I shouldn't have done. My daughter went round to fetch our friend from the next cul-de-sac along. And she turned up. Then my son and my daughter's partner turned up followed closely by the ambulance because my daughter had already rung for an ambulance. By this time I was really getting hysterical and I shouldn't have been because I've, I was trained for that sort of thing. But when it's one of your own it's a totally different kettle of fish. My son took me out into the kitchen to calm me down. Apparently I heard, I found out afterwards that he slapped me across the face twice which I can't remember [laughs]. 

By the time I'd calmed down the ambulance crew had already assessed my wife and getting her on the stretcher to take her out. And I was able to go with her to the hospital. But those first few hours were a nightmare. They really were. A lot of it went by as a complete blur. 

 

He followed the ambulance which took his wife to another hospital, and the journey felt like the...

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The nursing staff there, especially the staff nurse on duty in A&E she was tremendous because they couldn't decide whether she was, my wife was to be admitted onto a surgical or a medical ward at the time. And this staff nurse was getting [laughs] quite agitated about it. In the end she made them choose. So by the early hours of Sunday morning my wife went onto a surgical ward. From there, Sunday right through 'til the early hours of Tuesday morning, her health deteriorated, especially her breathing. It was getting more and more laboured. So the doctors decided they wanted to, they had to intubate her on the Tuesday morning because if they hadn't she was getting very tired and weak. But then she had, we had to find her an ICU bed for her. And there wasn't one in [our town]. And they decided to send her to [place name] which was [ugggg] to us [laughs]. But then one came available in [place name] which is a bit nearer but easier to get at than [place name]. So she was put in an ambulance and sent to [place name]. We followed behind in our cars because I couldn't get in the ambulance because her anaesthetist and the nurse had to travel with her. And that was the longest journey I've ever had in my life. It really was. Seeing her go off in ambulance with blue lights and sirens going. Well, we tried to keep up with the ambulance but we couldn't. We got as far as the outskirts of [our town] and then well we had to let it go. 

 

Seeing his wife hallucinating was very distressing and he wished he'd known more about...

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They were keeping me informed all the way along the line. I didn't have to ask, apart from the night she was taken in. I didn't have to ask any questions at all other than when we found out that she'd broken her back. Because the accident happened on the Saturday. It wasn't until the Wednesday that we found out she'd broken her back. Then I asked questions of what happens and does she have to have an operation or. And they said, oh there's a possibility but they decided not to in the end. 

And you mentioned that your wife had been having hallucinations once she came around?

Yes. Well once she. Yeah once she started to come round she was having these hallucinations. Oh that was a nightmare. She wanted to go home. She said, can you make an appointment to see the doctor in the morning, that's our local GP. And she wanted to get out of bed and she said, 'Can I come to bed with you tonight? Can we go to bed now?' And she was kicking. 

Did you know she was hallucinating? 

I didn't at the time. No I didn't at the time because it frightened me quite a lot. So much so that I broke down in tears that night. I rang my friend back here in [our town] and I cried over the phone to her when I was talking. But it wasn't until the next morning that I spoke to the doctor about it and the doctor said, oh good I've been waiting for that. It's a kind of recovery. She says, you know these people that go in the desert and see hallucinations, it's part of the recovery process of the way, where she's been. I said you could have told me to expect it [laughs] which they didn't. 

Were there any other things that you wish you'd been told sooner? 

Not really, no. Because as I said they were keeping me informed all the way along the line. Because I was there every day, all day, other than going off for my, for my meals. I could see what was going on. They were telling me what was going on if there's anything out of the ordinary happened. 

 

He and his daughter looked after his wife when she was discharged from hospital, and she'd needed...

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My daughter was the main carer. She looked after her. All her physical needs because she had to be washed. She couldn't, to get out of bed she had to have all this brace put on. And my daughter did that. I did as much as I could. 

Was your daughter also doing the cooking and? 

No we were doing it between us basically. I learnt how to cook [laughs]....

She was, she was constantly sick. She was lying down and, and if she wanted to get up to be sick we had to put the brace on first before she could get up. So it all had to be done rather quickly. 

Yeah. And how long was it before your wife could get out of the bed and slowly walk? 

I think it. It was about two months wasn't it? End of April yeah. Thought it was. Yeah it was about two months before she was able to get out and walk around, albeit very slowly. But she did manage a few steps. And of course, as time went on she slowly, she started to get a bit stronger. There was one instance, one night we were all sat here watching the television. She got out of bed [pause] and she was going up the steps. And we said, what are you doing? 'I'm exercising.' [Laughs]. And she shouldn't have been. 

And did you have any stair rails or anything to help? 

No. No. Only that rail that's on the stairs now. 

 

It took him eighteen months to stop blaming himself and accept that his wife's fall had been an...

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It took me 18, myself, over 18 months to get it out of my system because I blamed myself because I left the hole in the floor. I blame myself all this time. But I must admit I actually got myself drunk that night and after that I've been as right as rain. I've accepted it was a pure accident but up until then I blamed myself. 

So that night when you got yourself drunk was it almost the point where you could accept that it was an accident?

Yes. 

What had happened then obviously'?

Yeah, yeah, after that yes, right. I was so fed up this night I just sat down here and polished off half a bottle of Bacardi [laughs]. I know I shouldn't have done but, but after that once I cleared my head I suddenly come to terms with it that it was purely and simply an accident. And it was just one of those things.

 

Talking to other people helped him come to terms with feelings he'd been bottling up for over a...

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We then went, were invited back to follow-up with [the ICU nurse] at the hospital. And from there, that was a fantastic help. She helped us go through it, to see, you know to help us mentally more than anything else. Then we were invited back for a group of us to go to set up this, we've now set up a group called ICU Steps and from then on we've had support from our fellow colleagues in the group. 

Would you have preferred to just change the subject or just not think about it at that time? 

I think it was a case of just not wanting to think about it. And I think that was a lot of my problem. Because when I did start to think about it and talk about it I was fine. It was, I think it was a case of bottling it up and I shouldn't have done. 

Did attending a support group help a lot with that? 

Oh very much so. Oh very much so yeah. And I'm just grateful that it's been set up and we were able to talk to other people that have been in the same boat even. Other relatives we've talked about our experiences and it's been a great help.

 

He felt there was a lack of medical support after ICU and that his wife's recovery depended very...

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The main problems started when we got home. She [wife] went from 24 hours being looked after to nothing, to be looked after by me and my daughter. My daughter was, has been absolutely wonderful, the whole, the last two, two and a half years now I think it would be. 

Does she live here with you? 

No, no, she lives with her partner. I can't fault her at all for what she's done for me and my wife. Well we were so grateful that we treated them all to a cruise on the QEII for a Christmas present to say thank you for them last year. Yeah it was last year. That's right. And that went down well [laughs]. 

But my main concern is the lack of support from the medical side when we came home. Alright she came home, she was given a hospital bed. We had one delivered here so she could sleep downstairs because of her injuries. Her injuries were a broken back. She broke her back in two places. All her ribs on her left hand side and both lungs collapsed. She had to lie flat on her back for the best part of eight weeks. And my wife does not like sleeping on her back because she already had a back problem before all this happened. That's the worst thing that could have done. But apart from having the bed we had no help whatsoever when she came home. 

District nurse came in a couple of times. We asked for physio. She had physiotherapy every day while she was in hospital. When she came home she had nothing. To get physio we've had to go private. And that's the bad thing about it all.

The physio, the local physio came once, saw that she could just about manage to get about. Because when she first came home she had to wear this brace around her so she could stand up. And the physio saw that, saw she could just about get around and we never saw her again. That was, I couldn't believe it.

 

Trying to get benefits for his wife was difficult and degrading and they were given very little...

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Husband' No, no, had no information. Nobody gave us anything. I had to find it out all myself. To get disability living allowance, that was a nightmare for her. It's so degrading the questions they were asking and the forms you have to fill in. It was unbelievable. It's like a thick book you have to fill in. 

Did you have anyone you could ask questions about that or could you ask your GP at all or anyone? 

Husband' Well the GP had to fill a form in for it because I believe the people sent it to the GP for information from him. But as regards filling in the form, no didn't have any help at all. I suppose we could have rung up the DLA people up and asked them.

Wife' Why we applied for the blue badge.

Husband' When I applied for the disabled badge, the blue badge scheme.

For your wife? 

Husband' For the car. They said I couldn't have it because she wasn't getting disability, she wasn't getting disability allowance. 

And it's only with disability allowance'?

Husband' Yeah, yeah. 

Wife' Because I broke my back, their opition was that they think it's going to heal.

Yeah 

Husband' Yes that's right because they think that she's broken her back they would, they think it's going to heal. And that was a real, that was a struggle. We got, it got quite heated when we were filling the forms in. And I was getting cross with her. When the doctor had to come to visit her and when he was asking the questions I was getting quite angry. And the thing is he didn't know. Because when we sent the form in, we filled it all in and told them about her back and everything and when he came here he didn't know about her broken back. 

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