Colin's story

December 13th 2003 will be etched in my life for ever. It started quite early with my friend, Terry and myself putting in a new central heating system. By five o'clock in the evening I became so tired I decided to go to bed for an hour leaving a hole in our bedroom floor which had been cut to reach the pipes for the radiator. The next thing I remember was an almighty crash. I shot out of bed and to my horror I saw a gaping hole through our floor and the ceiling below with my wife, Andrea, lying sprawled on the lounge floor. The first thing I thought was what have I done and then dashed downstairs to comfort her.

She was lying there all covered in dust and grit saying she was having difficulty in breathing. At this time my daughter had already phoned for an ambulance so I told her to go and fetch our friend Moira. The next thing I remember was Moira, my daughters' boyfriend and my son turning up followed closely by the ambulance crew. By this time I am beginning to panic and losing my cool to which my son took me out of the room to calm me down.

By the time the paramedics had finished assessing my wife and had got her ready to go in the ambulance I had calmed down enough to be able to go with her to hospital.

A&E, a very stressful time, waiting for assessment was unbearable, but to have our children and friends there really did help. It was an eternity before someone decided what to do, then X-rays, more waiting as they couldn't decide if Andrea was medical or surgical, much to the annoyance of the Staff Nurse, and thanks to her a decision was finally made, and in the early hours of Sunday morning she was finally moved to ward 20, surgical ward. All these hours she was becoming very sick, but it was on the ward her breathing deteriorated.

It was on Sunday that I made contact with the Hospital Chaplain (Tim) who we had made friends with previously in October due to the death of our granddaughter. As soon as he heard the news he came to see us on the ward. He was a great comfort to us at this very worrying time.

Monday night a decision was made that if she did not improve they would have to intubate her. The only problem they had was finding an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed.

Tuesday morning arrived and as her breathing was still deteriorating the doctor informed me that they were going to sedate and intubate her to help with her breathing as she was getting very tired and losing the battle. This was very frightening at first but we were assured that it was going to help her. She would have to be kept in the theatre recovery room until an ICU bed was available. At first they found one in Eastbourne but at the last minute one became available in Cheltenham, which, luckily for us was nearer. I informed Tim that we would be going to Cheltenham and he said that he would get in touch with the Chaplain there as he knew him.

The journey to Cheltenham was one of the longest journeys I have ever had to make. I couldn't go in the ambulance as a Doctor and Nurse would have to travel with her. I followed by car with my children. To see her leave in the ambulance with blue lights and sirens and knowing she had to travel to the other side of the country was awful.

By the time we arrived in Cheltenham she was already in ICU and we were told to wait in the relatives' room and a doctor would come and see us shortly. The doctor eventually came to see us and explained that my wife was very poorly and told us that the next 48 hours were very crucial, and that she could die as her lungs were in a poor state. He also said that if we believed in god then we should pray that night. This came as a shock to us all and after the doctor left I just broke down and cried, I think I cried nearly all night, as I blamed myself for this terrible accident.

The next two weeks were to be longest in my life as not only had Andrea had to deal with the breathing problems but we found out on the Wednesday, 5 days after her accident, that she had sustained two unstable crush fractures in her spine. Seeing her lying there in ICU I don't think I could have got through without my children and most of all the chaplain who showed a lot of care and understanding. Christmas day was the worst; my wife sedated in ICU, my children at home and me all alone for the first time since we were married, I felt very lonely. I was very lucky as the ICU staff found me a room within the hospital so that I would not have to travel to and from Milton Keynes every day.

As the days went by the doctors and nurses kept telling me that Andrea was starting to improve but it was going to be a very long process. Not only was she suffering with her injuries but she was to stay flat on her back for at least six weeks. This I knew she wouldn't like as she could never sleep on her back because she already had severe back problems. I can never say how much I appreciate the doctors and nurses who looked after her while she was in ICU (Cheltenham and Milton Keynes) they certainly are dedicated human beings. The nursing staff were very kind and let me stay with her every day from morning to night, talking to her and stroking her forehead. This was a very emotional time to spend a long time in intensive care is another world watching Andrea lying there hoping and praying she would get better. She has always had a strong personality and watching her try to communicate while she was coming out of sedation was difficult. The nursing staff even supplied me with an Etch-a-Sketch for her to try and tell us what she wanted to say. I used to hold writing paper up and let her try and write but she had no strength to form the letters. This was the start of many months of questions, and to our amazement, even though sedated, just how much she sensed and knew. We thought she was unaware of what had been going on around her but how wrong could we be.

Eventually she was able to come out of sedation but on doing so she began to have hallucinations, which to me was very frightening. In the morning I mentioned this to the doctor to which she replied "good I was expecting this". Apparently this was part of the recovery process; I wish somebody had told me. I now wish we had kept a diary and had taken photographs to be able to answer all her questions, like having the feelings of rocking and floating, this was the spinal injury bed which tilted from side to side; this was to aid circulation and to stop blood clots and bed sores. One day she would not stop pushing one foot against the metal side of the bed and was very restless. We now know she thought she was kicking over a metal flower stand. As the time and days went by the nurses started to let me help with the suction from her mouth when she coughed up mucus, give her water on her lips from a sponge and wipe her brow when she was clammy. By the time I left Cheltenham they started to call me Nurse Colin which was nice as I felt I contributed to her recovery. Cheltenham had been a traumatic and lonely time, even though our children drove 2 hours to visit and then 2 hours back every day.

On the 29th December we finally heard that there was a bed available in Milton Keynes, so preparations were made for the journey. Again I couldn't go with her as a nurse and doctor had to travel with her because she had to ventilated for the journey. This time the journey wasn't as bad for us as Andrea was on the road to recovery. Arrival in Milton Keynes was to a side ward initially and our first contact with Mo the Sister in charge, she was very kind and extremely helpful. The next day Andrea was moved onto the ICU ward where she remained for two weeks, then eventually on to ward 20 for the rest of her recovery.

Life on an open ward was still very difficult, I could see signs of improvement but she did not. Some days I would arrive to find her totally frustrated and depressed because of having been in bed, flat on her back for so long and not being able to do anything for herself and the feeling of being so ill. Trying to explain to her that she was so much better and looked so well compared to where she had been was awful. I never knew what to expect, awful depression, her looking to the future, dealing with being catheterised, trying to eat again and her need for a shower. On top of all this there was the medical problems, the feeling of being sick due to the amount of pain relief she was receiving, the length of time she had been ill, and to top it all of she contracted MRSA.

In February she finally came home to a bed downstairs and a whole set of new problems, she still had days of depression. Then the start of her trying to walk again first with the aid of a frame then crutches and finally a walking stick which she still uses to this day. It has been a very long and slow road to recovery with many ups and lots of downs and has changed our lives completely.

Each stage has been difficult in its own way, and I could never have understood what lay ahead. The endless questions Andrea would need to ask to put all the pieces together, like knowing she had felt cold air on her face when she was moved to and from Cheltenham, the strawberries one of the nurses had brought in for Christmas, the new medical problems and the changes these have made to our lives. Having follow up and now ICU Steps and all our new friends has helped enormously, the understanding of where we have all been we now hope to help others.

Again I cannot praise the kindness and dedication of all the nursing staff and doctors who helped Andrea, also the Chaplains of Milton Keynes and Cheltenham without who's help and understanding I could not have got through. I must also stress that without my children and friends around us things could have been so much different.