It was May 4th 2003 and my girl friend Alison and I were on our way to Manchester from Jon Paul our home in Newark, Nott's, to spend the night before catching a plane to Mexico for our first holiday abroad together. We arrived at the Marriott hotel and parked our car for the 2 weeks we would be gone. We had a great time at the hotel where we swam in the pool, sat in the sauna and steam room and also had a few minutes on the sun beds. We ate dinner, had a few drinks and went to our room for an early night, ready for the flight at 9.15 am.
Alison and I awoke and jumped on our transfer to the airport. We boarded the plane where we were to spend the next 10 hours until the plane touched down in Cancun, Mexico. We were there! 2 weeks of all inclusive Caribbean paradise. Over the first 5 days, we went on water sport days, snorkelling adventures and trips to the markets as well as beach sports and lazy days around the pool and beach. But it was day 6 that I was really looking forward to!
We both awoke nice and early as we had booked for an all day sea fishing trip to try and catch sail fish and barracuda. We arrived at 7ish and were sailing out to sea by 8. It was a brilliant day, apart from Alison being sea sick the whole time. We were there with 2 other couples, both from the U.S and between us we caught many fish including sail fish, tuna and almost barracuda but the time had reached about 4pm and it was time to head back for shore. Alison and I had a sleep that late afternoon and didn't go for dinner until about 8ish. After dinner we went to the shack on the beech where drinks were free all day and night and most people from the complex spent their evenings. We had a couple drinks and then got talking to a nice couple from Kent that we met the night before and another couple that they had met too. Our intentions were to go back for an early night but we all got chatting and decided to stay out. Then I had the bright idea of getting our shorts on and having a dip in the sea, which we did.
The next thing I knew, I was awaking in hospital very heavily sedated with drugs and in a right state, staring at my mum. I was in a neck brace and connected to a number of drips, fighting the doctors and trying to get out, so much that they had to tie my arms to the bed. For the next 2 days I would repeatedly fall asleep and awake having the most horrific nightmares, not knowing whether it was night or day.
I came round after a couple of days and was moved from the intensive care unit to my own little box room with no window, just a bed, chair and mini bathroom. My mum, as well as Alison, my sister Emmeline and Alison's mum Delia were there with me. They had flown out from the U.K as soon as they had been told what had happened. Alison had called my mother and handed the phone to one the main surgeons, Dr Carrillo. He told my mum that I had dived into the sea and hit the bottom, breaking my neck and drowning. He also said that he needed permission to operate as my brain had swelled and I needed to have my chest drained and I had a collapsed lung and that I wouldn't make it to Miami. My mum said do what-ever it takes but just keep him alive. The doctor said he couldn't guarantee anything which put my mother into despair. I also caught pneumonia which I believe to be quite common with an accident of this nature.
Because the hospital never had a spinal table, I was operated on lying on my back. They took a piece of bone from my left hip and placed it in my neck, next to the place it had broken (which I later learned to be C4-C5). All I can remember of the rest of my time in Mexico is not seeing the light of day for a further 7 days and slipping into those horrible dreams again. Although being completely paralysed with just some slight arm movement my spirits were high and it didn't occur to me what was to follow. I just couldn't wait to get home, have a week in hospital and go carp fishing for a week until I had to return to work.....as a steel erector!! (Yeah right).
My hands had really swelled up and although I had hardly any movement, I could feel everywhere on my body when touched. That was the reason why I kept quite calm I believe. 2 years previous my good friend and steel erection partner Jake had been involved in a fall whilst we worked and broke his back, completely paralysing him from the chest down. I remember thinking how I would not be able to cope like he had, but here I was now in a similar situation, spooky.
For the rest of my time in Mexico, I would eat melon, jelly and soup and drink apple juice. It was also a shock having to be cleaned all over by the tiny little Mexican women who worked there. Having been there 4 days, measures were put into place for me to be flown back to the U.K to receive proper treatment from a spinal unit, which was later to be decided on the Northern General (Sheffield). Luckily, we had good insurance which would later pay for the £16,000 surgery and £30,000 for the private plane home.
Although they charged Alison £600 for the C.T scans and refused to operate until it was paid. Later everyone had a whip round for the 3 pints of blood I lost. The day came for me and my girl friend to be flown home and we said our good byes to all the doctors and nurses to who we had become so attached.
A group of 3 American doctors came to escort me to the airport and would stay with me until I reached the Northern General hospital.
The flight home seemed to take forever, stopping at Long Island and St Johns to refuel. I was given as much valium as I wanted but it never really kicked in.
Here I was, the Osborne building of the Northern General hospital. Alison and I were greeted by a whole bunch of nurses which clean me up and moved me to the H.D.U (high dependency unit). It felt really good to be back in the U.K even if I was still 50 miles from home. The others were still in Mexico waiting for the next flight home and my dad was on his way to Sheffield.
Later that day I would be visited by a man named Mr McClelland, a consultant at the hospital. He was to confirm that I had incompletely broken my neck at C4-C5 level and then told me something that I was not expecting, I was likely to spend the next 6-12 months at the hospital and the first 3 of them on "bed rest". My heart sank, I wasn't expecting that.
That was the moment reality kicked in and the thoughts of never walking again started going through my mind, not very nice, I can tell you. But like I said before, I knew I could feel the whole of my body and that was the reason from that point on, there would never be another doubt in my mind. I was going to walk again and no one was going to tell me otherwise.
My first night was really weird, I never slept and I was starting to get to know the tiled ceiling very well, making strange faces out of the dents and the textures of each polystyrene tile.
Morning came and it was to be the first of many hectic starts to the day on Osborne 1. I was to be added to a routine of waking at 7am for medication and suppositories, followed by breakfast at 8. Then between 8.30 and 10.30am would be bed bath time, which if carried out by the female nurses wouldn't be so bad. But it wasn't always the female nurses and that's when I started to feel my dignity go out of the window. A physiotherapist came to see me later that day to start a routine which I was to do 6 days a week for the next 3 months. It consisted of him passively moving my arms and legs, to stop me seizing up for when I eventually got out of bed.
I was later moved from the H.D.U to a bed in one of the bays. Over the next few days, I had to go for C.T and M.R.I scans at another part of the hospital to try to get a picture of the extent of the damage. I used to like those "trips" out in the ambulance, they used to break up the day.
It wasn't long before I met Ravi, another top consultant at the spinal unit. He told me in more detail what the surgeons in Mexico had done and how a metal halo would have been used if I had been in the U.K, but I wasn't about to moan. They saved my life and in a third world country, that was good going. I was told I would stay in bed and they would keep monitoring my bones to make sure they were fusing o.k. So that was that, the start of the waiting game.
Over the next few days, my friends and family started to trickle in, a little surprised as I think I looked some what better than what they had expected. I was very fortunate that the only pain I experienced was the pain in my hands. They hurt bad, so bad that I couldn't bare to touch anything apart from my own skin, so I rested them on my chest for the whole time. Every Monday and Friday would be the days for "ward round" when the consultants and various doctors would test my strength and stick pins all over my body to see how much sensation I had and if it was improving.
About 4 weeks into my time there, a new patient was moved to the bed next to me. His name was Ray, he was about 30 and he had been involved in an R.T.A (road traffic accident). A deer had run out in front of his motor bike and he hit it full on, knocking him from his bike. He might have had a lucky escape if it wasn't for his mate who then ran over him, breaking his back quite high up. Our parents introduced us both and although I couldn't see him we talked and got on well together.
It was also about this far in that I started to move my first muscle. It was my inside left groin and over the next week or so it just got stronger. Then the whole of my left leg slowly returned, not drastically but enough to see it move through the bed sheets and later enough for me to completely raise it from the bed for a split second. My family, Alison and I were over the moon, this gave us all great hope. But my right side was lagging and well behind my left side, only flickering and really weak.
By this time I was worrying about my hands, everything seemed to be coming back slowly apart from my hands, which were still in immense pain. But when I asked the consultants if they would get better, they said the same thing as always, "nobody knows, we'll just have to wait and see". It was the same when I asked if I would ever walk again, "We can't say", but I knew that they knew and just wouldn't like to say.
While on bed rest, I struggled to eat and completely lost my appetite. I would eat hardly any hospital food and the food my family would bring me wouldn't get much of a look either. I went from a healthy 11 and a half stones to 9 and a half. I looked very unhealthy and because of the bed rest, my muscles had started to waste too. I never drank enough either and was repeatedly told that unless I did, I would get a urine infection and they were not nice. About 9-10 weeks had past and it was ward round time again. In came Mr McClelland and his entourage. They pin tested my body and then requested to look at my hands. The consultant gripped my wrist so that I didn't cheat and asked me to grip. My left index finger started to twitch, I was a very happy man. After that my hands would slowly get a little better each time they were tested. But as always there was a spanner to be thrown into the works.
I made a visit to the ground floor one morning for some x-rays and when the images came back, they showed that the bone which had been removed from my hip was not fusing as it should be. The consultants told me that they thought I had an infection in my neck, some sort of fluid which was stopping the bones from fusing together properly. If this was the case, they told me that I may have needed surgery to fix my neck with metal but this posed 2 big problems as well me requiring more bed rest. While opening me back up, I could get an infection from the foreign body that would be used. Also, the surgeon who would of carried the operation out was worried that he was going to need to get so close to the spinal cord, that any movement I had got back could be lost if they nicked the cord.
They decided that I must go for a biopsy. This would involve me being placed under the C.T scanner so that the specialist could see the syringe head on the monitor and inserting it through the front of my neck and taking 2 samples of fluid from around the fusion area. Brilliant, all I needed, but I suppose it had to be done. So the following week, I had the biopsy. It didn't hurt as such but was quite uncomfortable and nerve racking.
When the tests came back, they said they still weren't sure if it was an infection or not, and put me on a course of antibiotics with more x-rays. About 12 weeks had passed and the time I had been waiting for had come, I was about to be "racked up", which meant gradually being raised, a few degrees at a time in my bed. At first I was only racked a few degrees but even that was enough for me to feel slightly dizzy and that I could fall from the bed. Over the following few days I would be racked enough to see a whole new ward. Over 3 months staring at the same ceiling is very boring and at last I could see the window, the walls and even better, the other patients. Still rather dizzy, I asked to face Ray in the bed next to me, the man I had been talking to for months without seeing. He looked different to what I expected but I knew he would. That was quite an experience. After 10-15 minutes I had to lay back flat as I had a chronic pain in my left arm, a pain which I was to have for quite some time. I was told it was a nerve pain and it would slowly go.
I could now also see the nurse's station where the 24 hour noises would come from and the old git in front of me who never slept and did nothing but moan, moan, moan. He used to shout at me in the night and ask if I was awake. "I am now Jim" I used to say. I could also see the bloke who used to grind his teeth so bad, I would have to be moved for fear of going insane.
I awoke one morning to find a wheel chair at the bottom of my bed. It was a massive chrome thing which must have weighed a ton. The time was coming for me to leave my bed. 13 weeks of waiting and now it had come, I wanted to stay in my bed. But the following day, 5 or 6 nurses ripped the curtains apart and brought in a hoist which would carefully lift me from my bed and place me into my wheelchair. After 10 - 15 minutes I was in the chair, and I have never felt so ill in the whole of my life. I was hot and immensely dizzy, feeling very sick, so the ward manager tilted me back onto the bed. That felt so much better. But I had to lie down again so I went back to bed. It wasn't until about another week that I would be able to tolerate staying in the chair for some time. I used to push my self around with my left leg going backwards. It was also time for me to start going down stairs to start my more intense physio and occupational therapy (O.T). On my first visit to physio, I was strapped onto a flat bed which tilted from horizontal to vertical that would prepare me for my first stand. I was then hoisted to a bed and all of the physio's came over. They told me I was going to stand, which I wasn't ready for. They took me under my arms and after the count of 3, they lifted. I was stood, it felt brilliant, and then they asked if I was o.k? Before I could say yes, I started to pass out and they quickly layed me flat to control my blood pressure.
Over the next couple of weeks I was preparing to be moved to Osborne 3, the rehab ward. This would come as a big shock. Leaving the bunch of nurses that I had become so attached and used to would be hard but it had to be done. The porters came in one Sunday and started to clear my bed and I was to follow. It seemed so quiet on this ward and I didn't like it from word go.
My first night had come and I was feeling so so ill. It turned out that I had developed my first urine infection, I was so fed up. That was the first time since the accident that I cried, but I felt better after. The reason I got that urine infection was because I had just had my catheter taken out, and that stung a little too. Having the catheter in for so long made my bladder shrink and would cause it not to function properly and it was going to take some time to train it to work again, that's if it would work again! I drank like crazy and that night had my first proper wee for months, although I was lying down. O. T started around this time too. This was an hour a day concentrating mainly on my hand function and transfers from beds and cars as well as cooking etc. that is also where I started to get into computing which I rate highly and passes so much of my time. The time in physio had come for me to be put between the parallel bars. Most of the therapists were watching as was the other patients which made me a little nervous, but I was helped out of the wheel chair and slowly started to walk off, gripping the rails with every thing I had. That was amazing and felt unreal. After that day, I walked with support from the physio's and eventually got a walking frame and after I'd mastered that, crutches, but I could still only walk a few yards very nervously and shaky.
One day, me and some other patients gat the opportunity to go out for the day and test out some hand bikes. The trip to Rotherham felt so weird, away from the safety and understanding of the hospital and being out in the public seemed so strange too. But over the next couple of months I would make steady progress at every day things like feeding myself, getting dressed in the mornings and brushing my own teeth which was something of a blessing. Also things like using the toilet and getting in and out of bed was something I started to do on my own. I was getting back, a lot of my independence and it felt good. 5 months on and I was about ready for a home visit, so my girlfriend picked me up one Saturday and we made the trip back to Newark. 5 months away from home was a long time and to see my house for the first time was unbelievable. The saying "there's no place like home" is absolutely correct and it felt good to be back, even if it was for the week-end. I very cautiously tackled the stairs that night and my first night in my own bed was wonderful, but before I knew it I was back at the hospital. Being in hospital had only 1 plus, it would make me give up smoking, but the night I went back I tried a cigarette through boredom and it nearly made me sick, so sick I had to sleep it off.
After a few more home visits the consultants said whenever I was ready to go home for good, all I had to do was say. So I did, and 1 Friday I packed my bags, said my good byes and got the hell out of there, only to return for check ups
Exactly 1 year on from leaving hospital and I can walk round a super market or to the local shop and back (a good 700-800 yards). I have a new car (auto) and get out quite a bit, although alcohol really tires me out and stops me from walking. My bladders not far from being normal but I still need my fletchers. I have a splint for my right foot as it drops quite a bit.
And I take every day as it comes and although some days are rubbish! Most days aren't too bad.