The last thing I remember from before my accident was being at a Placebo gig at Brixton Academy the night before and advising my friend to buy a concert t-shirt because he'd never have the chance again. That was the last memory I had.
The following day, so I understand I went to work, put in a full day at the office and left immediately afterwards to go mountain biking with Mike, a guy I worked with and biked with regularly. We went to the woods near Bow Brickhill, just outside Milton Keynes, as we regularly did. Aside from the excellent singletrack we were both going to be off to the French Alps in a couple of months time for a week's riding holiday with some other friends and were in training to make sure we were in peak condition and ready to tackle the Freeraid Classic; a forty mile Alpine bike ride we'd signed up for.
We reached the point on the ride where there was a fast downhill with a jump on it which I'd done numerous times before, each time taking it a little faster and being airborne for a little further. I'm told that kids had been digging around the jump, changing the angle of takeoff, but I have no memory of that, or anything else after the night before. I took the jump anyway and even Mike can't quite place what happened and events rather took over. Something went wrong and soon after I'd left the ground, the bike and I parted company. I landed at speed on my head. Had I not been wearing my helmet as I always did, I'd almost certainly have been killed as I landed. The expanded polystyrene helmet did its job and shattered taking the brunt of the impact. Even with this, I was left with a brain haemorrhage, a broken rib that had punctured my left lung, a fractured vertebra in my neck and two broken vertebrae in my back. I was struggling to breathe, unable to move but still conscious, so I'm told.
Mike couldn't get a signal on his mobile phone so he rode quickly to the edge of the woods where he'd stand a better chance of summoning help. As luck would have it he happened across a resident of the village, Keith, who also happened to be a first-aider. They put the call in to the emergency services and returned to where I was. Keith kept me still and warm and they waited for help. It was at this time I lost consciousness. Dan, another mountain biker, happened on the scene and he too stayed to help. Due to the remote location of where the accident had happened, the ambulance couldn't find me. Even if they'd known where I was, there was no vehicular access and it would have been a good 7 or 8 minute walk along the bridleway. Thankfully, the local air ambulance was called in, and despite them having been in the process of putting the helicopter away for the night at its home near Maidenhead, their paramedics were at my side in less than 15 minutes.
The paramedics gave me a chest drain on the spot, fitted me to the spinal board stretcher and then all those present helped carry me down to the field where the helicopter had managed to land, manoeuvred me over the fence and loaded me into the air ambulance. Moments later they touched down at Milton Keynes General and I was taken to A&E.
Thanks to the diary my wife Mandy kept, I have a reasonable idea of how she found out, arriving home from her job late in the evening to find Mike and another colleague waiting outside the house. How she felt, I can't possibly imagine. From the accounts and stories I've heard from my family I feel I have an idea as to the things that happened during my stay in intensive care but I don't actually remember them. I remember the controls for raising and lowering the bed, that I had to remember one of the nurses was called Arnell, not Anselmo as I wanted to call him. I remember trying to scratch a letter to a band I was due to see in concert with a pen that didn't work, not that I had the fine motor control to write at that time. Aside from a couple of specific vivid dreams that I had, the first real memory that I had that things weren't right was the large pad of wadding over my throat where I'd had a tracheostomy. I'd been raised from sedation many days before this, had conversations with staff and family but I only know these things from other people telling me about them. I have no recollection of it myself. To my perception, I went to bed one night and when I woke up nearly three weeks were missing and my life had been turned on its head.
Between the medication and the head injury my memory is patchy for several months after this though I remember some moments and feelings quite clearly. I don't remember the mood swings and depressions I'd sink into that I've been told about but I do remember the need to be able to see a clock from wherever I was. I wasn't convinced by the stories that were told to me, about my treatment, my injuries, how I'd ended up where I was. I've since likened the experience to being born but as an adult. I tried to make sense of everything around me and the slightest inconsistency drew my attention, convincing me that this reality that I now found myself in was no more real than any other dream. Even something as small as a word could provide a clue as to this false reality around me. People were talking about a 'tracheostomy' but I 'knew' that to be wrong. In all the television programmes I'd ever seen it was tracheotomy, no 's'. Everyone seemed to accept this word without question but I was the only one who spotted that it was wrong.
I had no real perception of how seriously injured I'd been or how serious my ongoing condition was. I still fully expected to be going on my mountain biking holiday in a few months time. It was only two weeks after my accident it was found that I had unstable compression fractures of two of my vertebrae – a broken back – and there would most likely be spinal cord damage. I'd even been gotten out of bed and had begun physiotherapy. When my consultant one day dismissively told me that I'd have permanent spinal damage but only a droop-foot like the actor John Thaw, I was devastated. The idea that any serious damage, let alone permanent, had been done was like a thunderbolt. From being mobilised and getting better, I was now confined to my bed, not allowed to sit up, have my legs bent or even cross my ankles. I was supposed to lie flat on my back, completely still for three weeks.
As time went on I became increasingly convinced that there was a conspiracy to keep me in that place. The rollercoaster of the way my injuries were discovered to be worse and their treatment seemed to take a downturn after having gone well added weight to this belief. One of the things which I 'knew' was that broken bones take 6 weeks to heal and the spine would be no different. When six weeks were up, I would be out, so I thought.
I understood that physio would be a necessary precursor to release but I wouldn't be able to begin physio until I had my spinal brace. I remember when I was measured up for it that the technician said it would be ready in 'a few days'. To my mind, that meant three days, no longer. When three days elapsed and there was still no spinal brace, it reinforced by belief that they were trying to keep me there. This belief was deepened as reason after reason emerged as to why I needed to stay there longer. When my wife came in one Monday morning to try and find out from the registrar what was next in my treatment and was fobbed off with no answer, I was not surprised. I expected it as their reasons for keeping me were becoming more and more flimsy. I told my wife I wanted out and that I was leaving the hospital. I blackmailed her emotionally, telling her that if she did not help me, I would try to escape when she wasn't around and that I'd probably end up dead in a ditch somewhere. It took all my powers of persuasion to force her to help me, but eventually I convinced her. I regret having made her do that, inflicting the guilt that would follow but to this day I'm grateful that she did and I always will be.
Some sort of cloth corset with metal rods in it had appeared at the foot of my bed a day or two previously. I took this to be the spinal brace I was waiting for but that they'd 'forgotten' to tell me it was there. In hindsight, I don't know what it was or how it had got there, but it wasn't the spinal brace. Getting up for the first time in over three weeks we strapped on the corset and grasping the zimmer frame that had been constantly by my bedside the previous three weeks I summoned reserves of strength I didn't know I had and began my escape. One condition Mandy had made me agree to was that I would tell them I was leaving. Naturally I agreed as this was an obstacle to my escaping. As we reached the nurse at the desk by the exit I told, her as I'd agreed to do, that I was discharging myself. I recall her seeming flustered, which made sense to me as I was not behaving as there plan would have me. She asked me to wait and speak to a doctor and I calmly agreed but with absolutely no intention of doing so. I'd not let them thwart my escape, not so close to getting out of their clutches. As soon as she went to get the doctor, I was off.
I'm not proud of what I did, especially not of what I forced my wife to do and I regret that the management of my injuries and state of mind made this, to my mind, a 'necessary' course of action. The idea of a man escaping hospital in his pyjamas with a zimmer frame may seem almost comical as it is bewildering and pathetic, but in the state of mind that I was in, with what I'd been through, it was the only conceivable course of action. I've since had it explained to me by a brain injury specialist that it was actually quite understandable in the circumstances that I took the only steps I could see to take control of my life again, however ill advised those steps may have been.