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Interview 21

Age at interview: 24
Brief Outline: In 2005 her partner had a car accident and spent over four months in ICU. She visited daily while her mother looked after her new baby.
Background: Finance controller, engaged with one daughter. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In 2005 her partner had a car accident which left him with many internal injuries, including collapsed lungs and problems with his liver. He spent over four months in ICU, three and a half months of which he was sedated, and about three weeks in a general ward. She visited him daily, leaving the hospital briefly to see their three-month-old baby who was being looked after by her mother. Her mother stayed with her daughter throughout this time and also took care of her daughter's home.

She remained positive throughout her partner's time in hospital but sometimes felt isolated because of tensions between her and her partner's family. She sometimes wanted time alone with her partner and discussed this with ICU nurses, who helped facilitate visiting so both she and her partner's family could spend time alone with him. She praised the support she received from ICU nurses, who she felt were her main source of support while her partner was in hospital, and the support she had from her own family. 

She was advised by police to take photographs at the scene of the accident and encouraged by ICU nurses to keep a diary for her partner while he was in ICU. These helped her partner understand and accept what had happened to him when he was recovering. She felt that the diary and his time in hospital also helped them to see who their true friends were, and they now spend less time with his family. While he has been recovering at home, her partner has been able to spend more time with their new baby.         
 

Her partner remembered everything about his accident when he woke up in ICU after emergency...

Her partner remembered everything about his accident when he woke up in ICU after emergency...

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I was at home on maternity leave because I'd just had my baby, and [my partner] was at work. And it was 5 o'clock in the evening and he phoned my mobile. And he normally does to say, 'I'm on my way home' and he just said, 'Oh, I've crashed my car.' And I was, 'Okay. Where are you?' thinking he'd just driven in the back of somebody. So I started driving up to the A5 and there was all traffic stopped and there was police and ambulance and fire engines coming. So I thought, 'That must be for [my partner].' So I just pulled out and followed them up the road. And then I saw his car all on fire and up the grass and the police there. So once I got there they wouldn't let me see him. They were just treating him and they took him off to the hospital. So I thought he was okay because he'd phoned me. So then the police took me up to the hospital and he was in the Accident & Emergency having been X-rayed. And they thought he just had some broken lungs. So they were going to send him home that evening, until he was complaining of some pain. So they did, I think it's a CT scan, the all-body scan. And they found out he'd sort of split his liver and everything. So he had emergency surgery, and that's when he went straight into Intensive Care. 

Straight after the surgery? 

Straight after the surgery. It was like the middle of the night by the time he had surgery, and they took him straight up. And I was allowed to go and visit him, but he just looked like he was asleep because they'd sedated him. And then he was awake the next day and talking. He could remember his accident and everything. And then a couple of days later was when, because his car rolled, they described it like water in a bucket sort of going round and when he stopped everything banged together. So he started having lung injuries and things like that. And that's when sort of he got really, really poorly. So they sedated him. And he was on the sedation for three months. So from a couple of days of being awake he just sort of went to sleep for three months. And during that time all his body organs just stopped working, his lungs collapsed and things. And they just said it was all due to shock and where he'd rolled in his car. So it was all a bit of a shock really, because he was fine for two days. And then he woke up, I think it was about three and a half months. 
 
 

She spent all day in intensive care and would come home briefly to spend some time with her new...

She spent all day in intensive care and would come home briefly to spend some time with her new...

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I was just at the hospital just every day. I used to come home for like an hour, an hour and a half just to see my baby because I wanted to spend time with her. And [my partner], the two days he was awake he just said, 'Make sure you look after our baby.' But then I felt I needed to be with him. So luckily my mum had our baby. So I used to just spend all day. Because I was on maternity leave I was off work luckily. But if I was at work I wouldn't have gone. I couldn't, because all you could think about was him sort of thing. So luckily I was off at the time, because otherwise I wouldn't know. 

You were off work at the time? 

Yes, I was on maternity leave. So I went back, he was still in hospital when I went back, but he was on the ward. So if he was still in Intensive Care I don't think, I would have had to stay off because you can't think about anything else even if you try. It's like everything just revolves around the hospital. It's like they became sort of my family rather than my family really. So that's why we still go and see them, because you sort of miss seeing them in a way. It's really strange because you're there every day. So yes, my life just revolved around the hospital and the nurses. 

And who took care of everything in the house? 

My mum was here all the time. So she did our, looked after [my baby]. 

And if I came home for dinner she was here. Because otherwise, I don't know, you just sort of, you think you're in control of everything, but I realise now that everyone was doing everything for me, even though I thought I was being independent. And I think that's the only thing, the main help for me was everybody did just sort of club together and help. Rather than I don't know if I was on my own how I would have coped. 

 

Her partner only realised how long he'd been in hospital when he saw that his baby daughter had...

Her partner only realised how long he'd been in hospital when he saw that his baby daughter had...

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And after three months, he started coming round? 

Yes. 

They reduced the sedation? 

Yes. 

And how was he when he came round? 

He was well, they warned us that he would be very disorientated and might not remember what happened or might not remember who we are, just because of the drugs. He didn't have any head injuries, so we didn't have to worry about that sort of thing, but the drugs he had. But he did remember who I was and I brought our baby in to see him. And he liked that, even though he couldn't speak, his like face just lit up when he saw her. 

Did he have a tracheostomy? 

At that point he still had like the ventilator tube in his mouth. He eventually had a tracheostomy. But he knew he was in hospital, but he was just really confused. And he still remembered his accident. Which helped, because we could say, 'You've been poorly.' But he didn't know it was three months. And then when he saw our baby she was like six months old. So she was really big and had teeth, and before she was a little baby. And he got upset and that confused him. But I think that's what made him realise how long he'd been in there. We hadn't changed, but she did. But once we'd sort of explaining things to him he did start to seem to understand, but then he'd get confused again just' so it was quite hard to deal with that, I thought. Because I thought he would understand, but he didn't. And I found that a bit difficult, to try and help him. 

 

Although she was very positive throughout her partner's four month stay in ICU, she didn't know...

Although she was very positive throughout her partner's four month stay in ICU, she didn't know...

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The nurses always used to say how cheery and happy I was, considering. But I don't know why, that's just how, they would like say to me, 'How are you so happy?' but I think that's just how I dealt with it. And I don't think you can tell anyone how to deal with it, because you just do what you've got to do, if you get what I mean. So all I thought is, 'I've got to stay strong for my baby' because if I was a wreck... But I don't know, I was quite strong. So I was good, it was good. 

Everybody asks you, 'Oh, how did you deal with this?' and, 'How do you...?' I don't know how. Something just happens to you, that you keep control or you make that decision. And I know the nurses used to say, asked me to speak to other relatives that were there, sort of because I was so positive. But like I said to them, 'I can't tell them what I'm doing, because I don't know how I'm doing it. I just am.' But I don't know, it's just always just do what you feel. I think that was the main thing. Because I could have been like everybody else. And, I don't know, something just happened to me and I just felt that I had to do that. But you just, everybody thinks they'd understand but you, everyone just deals with it differently. There's nothing right or wrong to do. I don't think you can tell people. 
 
 

She felt that her partner's family didn't understand her feelings but received a lot of support...

She felt that her partner's family didn't understand her feelings but received a lot of support...

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It was hard to sort of, we didn't, we all get on and are close, but at that time it was hard to, some people just acted so differently. People think that I didn't understand because I was happy rather than, not crying all the time. And it's hard to sort of try and explain how you feel. Even though everyone's going through the same, it's so, and it's different because I'm like the partner. And the mother - it's different roles. So that was the hardest thing, trying to understand. And it did get a bit tense between people, because you just feel, I don't know, that you feel worse than them or they feel worse than you. That's the hardest thing to deal with as well. 

My family supported me like 100 per cent whereas my partner's family, it was a bit tough because I suppose at the time all the families grouped together and I was a bit outside of all of that. Which in a way I liked because I wanted to be on my own. But then when you wanted somebody to say, 'Are you okay?' it was a bit hard, because they all supported each other. So it was a bit, but the nurses dealt with it quite well and they arranged visiting so you could have your own time because sometimes I just wanted to be on my own with him, but his mother would always want to be there, or something like that. It's hard because you all want to do the same, but, though it does put a lot of pressure on everyone's relationships. That's what I found. 

Yes. And if someone was in the same kind of situation now, is there anything you would advise them or any message you could give them, with hindsight? 

I think the thing that I was worried about was causing arguments. And everybody's so tense and everything. But I think you do just have to express how you feel. Because a lot of the time I used to just say, 'Oh, it's fine. Let them visit'. But deep down I would want to be on my own, so I would just say, just make it, if you tell the nurses, they could arrange it. That's what I found. Because when I first raised it, it did cause an argument. Whereas the nurses were like, 'Well he's tired now, so if you can leave him'. But then they'd let me in and then they'd do the same for him. So I ended up using the nurses to help me and talk to, rather than the family. You just need, maybe you just need some time, somebody that's not involved. Which I found really, really helpful. So definitely, and that's what they're there for, they do say like, 'We'll talk to you and we know how you feel'. And I think they actually do. Even now I find that a great help. Even now I still speak to them now and they ask how the family is, because they go through it and see it all the time. I think it's quite common. Even if you're a close family, it does cause a bit of friction I think. 

And did you become closer at all in terms of the two families? Or after your partner was better it was back to how it was? 

If anything it has, the families were quite close but now they've gone a bit more distant. Because he was so poorly, I think at the time it's either going to bring you closer or, because you really see, like his friends as well, you could see who were like true friends that really cared. And it's quite a horrible time actually, because you get to see what people are really like compared to what you think. So the families have gone a bit distant. Even with my partner, he seems to be a bit more distant now from his family because of things that happened, which is a shame. But it's nice in a way because you really get to see who cares for you and who doesn't. Which is harsh but is true. 

 

Nurses explained to her in more detail what doctors had told her, and always phoned her whenever...

Nurses explained to her in more detail what doctors had told her, and always phoned her whenever...

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Because I'd had my baby I was at home in like at night-time. And I used to leave the hospital at midnight, so I didn't really get to see her anyway. But they [nurses] would constantly phone me if he got worse. I didn't want to know if he got better. I just said, 'If he's worse, ring me'. So they did ring a few times. But they were really good, always explaining. And I was always asking, 'What's this? What's that?' and they would always tell me. So, no, it's nice, they did, I felt they told you everything, even the bad, well they had to tell you the bad things. 

Sometimes when the doctors came to speak to us they would say like, 'Something's wrong' and sort of use a medical term. And during that time you'd want to ask but they were always so busy. I think even if we asked they would have the time, but you felt like you couldn't. So I used to always wait and then ask the nurses, and they would always explain to us. Which they were happy to do. And I think they're quite used to that, the doctors telling people and then they, the nurses tell you on your sort of level. And they were more hands-on with my partner, so they knew, and knew how to explain to me. So I could ask them anything and they would be honest, they would tell me the honest answer if they could. And then if they couldn't, they would just say they don't know the answer to that. So we always used to ask like, 'When's he going to get better?' They're like, 'We can't answer that'. But that's all you want to know. But you just have to take their advice and trust them, because they do only tell you the truth. Sometimes you thought they weren't telling you everything, but they were. But sometimes you did feel like they were hiding something. I don't know why. But then looking back, they just told us everything and made you sort of feel at ease really. 

 

The diary she kept for her partner told him about what happened while he was in ICU, including...

The diary she kept for her partner told him about what happened while he was in ICU, including...

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I kept a day-to-day diary of everything that was happening, who came to visit. And you could really see the picture of what people did for each other and things like that. And he was surprised, some of his old friends that he hadn't seen for a while were there to, even just were taking my baby out or coming to look, they felt they needed to look after me for [my partner] sort of thing. And it's just, you do really see sort of people's true colours I think. 

And had you started the diary from when he first went into Intensive Care? 

I think it was couple of weeks afterwards when they said about it, did we want to do it? And that's when I sort of backdated it because I could remember everything. And I'm glad they did, because it went on for so long. And then when my partner was awake and he was asking things, we didn't, we said we'd got a diary but he didn't want to read it. But when he came home and he read it all, he was really pleased because he feels there's a big gap missing. 

And when I got to the accident scene the police actually told me to take some pictures. So we took the camera back and took some. So he had those. And he was really, really pleased to see them. Because everybody was like, 'Why are you taking pictures of a crashed-up car?' But he was really pleased to see them. He felt it helped him understand. But he did ask if I took pictures when he was in hospital. Which I wasn't allowed to do. But he really wishes I did. And he was like, 'Why didn't you?' I was like, 'We're not allowed'. But then he could understand what he was like because I described it. And I've taken him in and he's seen other people. But I think until you see it, it's a shock but it makes you understand. So he really enjoyed reading it, well he still reads the diary now to understand how we felt and what was going through. And the nurses wrote in there. 

Was this something you did on your own or did the nurses suggest it? 

The hospital actually do give you the diary to do. You don't have to do it, but they explained to me. So I started to do it. And they said, 'If he doesn't want it, you just get rid of it'. But he really, I'm glad they said that because I didn't even think of doing something like that. And now it all seems a bit blurry, but then I've got day to day of his progress. And I think if anything had happened to my partner, if I could have actually read, I think it would have helped me with say grieving or something to see how ill he was and how poorly. And I think both things, with him being better, it helps me understand what he's been through, and if he didn't pull through, understand with the grieving. I think it was a really good idea. He's pleased and I was pleased that we did it too.
 

She was glad to have her partner back home but he had just begun to realise how weak and...

She was glad to have her partner back home but he had just begun to realise how weak and...

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Once he'd come round I just felt more at ease because he was just that bit better. He was classed as stable and we weren't being told, 'Twenty minutes' or, 'He might not survive the night' or something like that. So I felt more relieved then. But that's when he started being more stressed and worried because he could see what was going on. And so I think the roles swapped really. And I was more calm and pleased that he was okay, and he was, 'What's wrong? Am I ill?' So, yes, the roles had swapped, which was harder. Because I tried to explain to him, but you didn't want to scare him because it was in the past. It was quite, but, no, I was just relieved when he was awake.

When he was discharged he had like a walking frame, like a Zimmer frame. So he could take himself to the toilet and things. Which was another main thing he didn't like. He wanted to be, once he was awake, he wanted to be independent and not have people do things for him. But he couldn't. But once he had the frame he was a bit, he could go for a little wander down the ward or something. And then when he came home, he could just wander downstairs. And he actually slept downstairs. We had a bed in the conservatory. And then as he got his strength up he just went up and down the stairs with home physio.

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