My mum was woken up at around 3am on 15 May 2007 by a loud knocking on her door in Scarborough. My dad was at work in the Middle East and so she was alone in the house and understandably scared. It wasn’t really a relief to see that it was the police as that brought a whole other set of anxieties; something was obviously very wrong.
After the police explained the situation in Manchester and that I was in a critical condition after being hit by a car, mum spoke to the nurse in charge of my care. She told her that I had a very serious brain injury and she needed to get here as soon as possible. Going from being asleep to being told her son had a serious accident and may not survive the night in only a couple of minutes, mum was understandably having difficulty coming to terms with the situation. Stunned by the sudden devastating news and the fact that Manchester was 2.5 hours’ drive away, she asked if I’d still be alive when she got there hoping, she supposed, for some reassurance. When the nurse replied, “I can’t promise anything just get here as quickly as you can!” It only served to confirm how distressing the situation was.
My sister got to the hospital first and mum joined her a while later. They were told about me having a ‘serious brain injury’, something they had never even really heard of or that only ever happened to other people. They had seen people with brain damage before and it looked horrific; they looked at me unconscious, covered in blood, my head the size of a watermelon and breathing on a ventilator. Hope was nowhere to be seen and the most positive thing they could wish for was that I kept breathing long enough for my dad to get home. Things were really quite dire, and mum recalls seeing a man in a wheelchair feeding himself and hoping that I could one day get to that stage. Remember, at the time I was in a coma and there was no certainty of me waking up, and if I did, there was no way of knowing if I’d ever walk or even speak again.
Dad was told the news on his mobile phone and was faced with the prospect of catching a 5-hour flight back to Manchester airport, not knowing if I’d be alive when he got there. Both here and in the Middle East, my family were totally bereft of any positivity.
The first positive thing any of them heard came from the taxi driver in the Middle East. He was Muslim and told dad that at his mosque in Baku, Azerbaijan the prayers that evening would be dedicated to my recovery. Dad, although not religious himself felt comfort in the kindness of this gesture.
The next came from my sister’s then boyfriend Jay, whose relentless positivity was so important in my family making it through such a terrible time. He is a photographer and photoshopped my head onto the head of sickboy in the infamous Trainspotting poster which has the caption ‘Choose Life’ at the bottom. At that particular time, I was in ICU in a coma being kept alive by Jevity, a formula of essential nutrients that I was being fed via a tube to my stomach. Jay changed the poster from ‘Choose Your Future, Choose Life’ to ‘Choose Jevity, Choose Life’ and made posters and T shirts for my family to wear.
A lady from down the street is a Catholic and sent verses from the bible for my family to wear around their necks. Later, a family friend of Jay’s, called Jean, heard of our situation and wanted to help. Jean was a faith healer in her 70’s and used to get two buses to come and see me. She just used to run her healing hands over my head and eyes when I was in a coma, which I’m told prompted me to take in a huge gasp of air. This was a pivotal moment that earned her the nickname: ‘The Jean Machine’.
My point is not to say that Muslim and Christian Prayers or Faith Healing were instrumental in me waking up from a coma. I don’t want to talk about that. What I do want to talk about is how these prayers and thoughts helped my family and friends to have hope and see the positive during a terrible time of uncertainty.
The friends and family of the one with the injury can either have hope or not but having hope can make a big difference. I don’t remember waking from a coma and I don’t think that anybody really does, but it’s certainly a confusing and uncertain time. It is much better to be introduced to such strange circumstances by people that are positive rather than negative and from what I can remember in the early days of my recovery I only remember ever being encouraged. It’s a time for a family to bond and support each other rather than to be negative, disagree and fall out. At this point there is nothing that can be done to influence the outcome so the best thing you can do is to be hopeful and supportive to the person with the injury, to each other and to the medical staff caring for them.
When in recovery from a brain injury or in fact any type of serious injury, I don’t think that negative language or a negative attitude has any place. I’m not saying that being positive will give you a better outcome but it’s a bad time for everyone. There’s no point in making it more difficult. There’s a lot of focus on mental health at the moment and this is the ideal time to be kind.