I was a carefree teenager who lived life to the max, always hanging around with my friends, and we loved being out. I liked to have a drink and a laugh and didn’t really have a care in the world at that point.
Career-wise, I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I always had a job. This changed when I was successful in gaining a position at a local college, supporting individuals who had visual impairments. I knew that I had found my vocation in life.
A few months after starting the job, life as I knew it was to change forever.
It was a summer's evening on the 11th August 2008, and I had been out with a group of my friends in our local town to watch a band play. Some of us went back to a friend's house and at about 4.30 am I set off walking back home. A friend walked with me.
I don't know what made me cross the road at the wrong time, what – if anything – distracted me, what my friend and I were talking about at the time, what made me make the split-second decision that would change my life forever, but I crossed the road without looking, without taking due care and attention, and the result of this was that I was hit by a van.
I don't remember anything about the accident, which is probably a good thing. My first memory is waking up in hospital very confused as to what the sounds were around me and wondering what all the tubes and monitors were. My mum's face is the first familiar thing I saw and I do remember that this brought me comfort in the midst of everything going on.
Due to being on a large amount of medication, I don't remember initially being told that I was paralysed. My first recollection of finding out I was paralysed was from my dad. I think he was really worried as to how I would react to the news. I had no choice other than to accept it. I knew there was nothing that I could do to change it. I don’t think my dad knew what support he and my mum could give initially, although they were the people who immediately needed to appear strong
One of the earliest memories I have of being in ICU were friends coming to see me and getting upset. I had to tell my mum that I didn’t want people crying when visiting me; I think that was a coping mechanism for me also not to get upset.
I know that all of my family’s lives changed instantly when I had my accident. My two younger brothers were only 9 and 18 at the time. Conner (then 9) spent the next few years in hospital waiting rooms on weekends, after school or in his school holidays. Spud (then 18) would visit in the Leeds General Infirmary ICU as and when he could, and came to the spinal unit in Sheffield when possible.
I think a lot about the impact my accident had on them all.
From a Father's perspective- Vince Doherty
‘The initial impact of Lauren’s accident left me feeling both guilty that I had taken her to town on my way to work that night and also extremely scared.
When it became clear as to the extent of Lauren’s condition, as a father, you have to control your fears and be strong for everyone around you. As parents, we didn’t just have Lauren to support, but her two brothers as well. We were very fortunate that we had friends who were there for us and helped both Alyson, my wife, and I.
Alyson and I had different coping strategies and approaches as to how we dealt with things. Alyson was the strength behind us all and I was out front dealing with the doctors, police and anyone else who had questions to ask. There were times though I just needed to be on my own to deal with things and try to process what had happened.
Lauren’s time in the various hospitals had its challenges, but every person involved from the doctors, nurses, cleaners and car parking officers made what was a difficult time bearable in their own way.
She was awake for almost all of her time in Intensive Care and became aware of her surroundings. A couple of patients sadly passed away during Lauren’s time in Intensive Care which upset her. People refer to a hospital stay as being ‘in a bubble’ and that is just what it is. You forget about the outside world and all that’s going on in it.
I will always remember one family who made a point of saying hello to Lauren on every visit. I really appreciated their kindness.
As a family member, when you are in that environment, it is strange as you are surplus to requirements and have to leave the professionals to do their job. When the doctors came to explain how bad Lauren’s condition was, they drew a diagram which I still have to this day, explaining how fluid inside the spinal cord was like toothpaste! There was swelling which may have reduced in time and things may improve. At the time, this gave me some hope but in reality, I knew. I appreciated though that everyone involved gave us their honest opinions and plenty of support as we moved forward into a new way of living as a family.
We were with Lauren when she was told of the prognosis. She composed herself and had a steely look on her face. I knew then that she would not let her accident define her.’
Hospital Life and an SCI Centre
Within hours of being in Harrogate Hospital, I was transferred to Leeds General Infirmary for three and a half weeks.
I was then admitted into the Princess Royal Spinal Unit which is part of the Northern General in Sheffield. I was very fortunate to have a Consultant Anaesthetist willing to come in during his annual leave so that I could be able to be admitted; otherwise I would have been at Leeds General Infirmary for another few weeks.
There was a hospital closer to my home with an SCI unit (Pinderfields) but at the time they weren’t able to admit people with a tracheostomy/ventilator so I wasn’t able to go there.
A nurse and doctor from the ICU at Leeds General Infirmary who had been looking after me for a few weeks accompanied me in the ambulance on my way to Sheffield and my parents followed us in their car. When we first arrived on the ward, there were a lot of nurses and the anaesthetist (Dr Beechey) around me which made me very nervous but everyone was so friendly and constantly reassuring me. My first night there was very scary; it was a lot quieter on the ward compared to the ICU where staff did hourly checks. For the first two months, I had to be either flat on my back or my side before I got into a wheelchair.
My typical morning routine would start with my bowel care, breakfast, medication, a shower/wash in bed, doctor’s rounds, then either having physio or seeing my occupational therapist, depending on what day it was.
After lunch I sometimes went down to the therapies department if there was a member of staff there who was vent trained; it was here that I learnt how to use an Integra mouse (a mouth controlled mouse) which I couldn’t live without now! I would normally have visitors on an afternoon or evening (or both if I was lucky). The rest of my time, I spent a lot of time watching TV or talking to the other patients, Ant, Mick and Fran, who became my roommates for the next eight months.
Due to my legs being bandaged up following my compartment syndrome surgery, for the first couple of months, I was unable to have a shower. The dressings on my left leg would take two hours to change due to the special vac-pac dressings. I had had skin grafts from three areas of my right leg to graft onto my left leg which were also bandaged for quite a while.
I was in the SCI centre at Sheffield for eight months which seemed to be the average for people that were there at the same time as me. My parents kindly brought me food to Sheffield each day as everyone knows the hospital food doesn’t always tantalise the taste buds!
Mum and Sad also made sure that we still celebrated Halloween; Mum decorated my bed space and brought hotdogs and toffee apples etc., so it was just like home! I always remember when Conner hid under the nurses' station and jumped out to surprise the Sister on duty that night! Christmas was just the same with my family bringing a Christmas tree and decorations for my bed space, then instead of the usual roast dinner with all of the trimmings, we had a buffet in the patient’s dining room and spent some time together.
There was one point that I was going to be discharged without a wheelchair as I didn’t have my own, but as my wheelchair wasn’t coming until September, it was agreed to source me a temporary one; otherwise, I would have been bed-bound since May.
After my eight months at the SCI unit, I was discharged to a rehabilitation unit called Lascelles in my hometown in May 2009. Lascelles Rehabilitation Unit in Harrogate is a purpose-built unit with 12 beds. I was the youngest in the unit by about 30 years but it was back in Harrogate where all my family and friends were nearby, so it didn’t matter to me. I would always have people around me and actually celebrated my 21st birthday here… enjoying a trip out to the local pub too!
It was in Lascelles that I started to hold interviews for members of staff to join my care team. Successful candidates started their training around my care needs whilst I was in the unit so that they would be able to look after me as soon as I left to return to my parent’s house.
I will be covering the next stage in my journey around care options, adaptations to my parent’s home and my purpose-built bungalow, which enables me to live independently, in my next blog.
How I changed my mindset…
Since my accident, I have had to learn how to look after my body even more so and the older I get, the more aware I am of this. I have always tried to follow the advice that I have been given over the years as I feel that if I take care of my body, I won’t restrict my day to day activities.
The way that I looked at it, I could have either spent my life being miserable and shutting myself away (as some of my friends from the spinal unit had done) or I could try to carry on with my life as best as I could. I have some days where I don’t feel like doing something so might go out for a walk with Poppy (my dog) or having a day in my pyjamas watching a cheesy film.
I needed to find a way to cope with the fact that I now need someone to do everything for me, including my personal care. In the early days after my road traffic collision, I found it really quite hard as I was very conscious about my body. I have a fantastic team around me who are so very sensitive, and with whom I feel comfortable with. I had to find a way of dealing with it and over the years I did… I just started to program my body to sleep through my shower and morning routine! I didn’t have to worry then!
I also experienced many physical changes to my body which led me to be very conscious about myself. One of these changes was that I had to have a tracheostomy fitted. I would always wear scarves (even in summer) to disguise it until one day I went to the shops, and we had forgotten to bring one with us. The worry I had all that time about people looking at me because I had a tracheostomy needn’t had worried me. It was my wheelchair people noticed, not my trachy, so from that day on I never wore a scarf again. It was a small part of my journey in starting to accept my new body and from that day I learnt that if people stared, I just smiled back.
I put a lot of weight on due to not being able to exercise, and my body shape changed dramatically. I have low muscle tone; therefore, my stomach is very prominent. Over the years, I had to change my mindset around different styles of clothes and took my own positive actions as to how I improve my thoughts around my body shape. I often find it really hard to choose clothes that I like, will look right on my body shape as it is now and also hide my leg bag. This means that I spend lots of time either going out shopping or online shopping and there is a positive right there… I love shopping! I care about my appearance and by choosing to wear nice clothes and the fact that I always like my makeup done when I go out is something I can have control over. I will often treat myself to have someone in to do my makeup for special occasions and she does an amazing job! My dad on the other hand maybe doesn’t understand why I need to order 14 evening dresses to choose from at once for a special occasion!
Psychological help – it’s good to talk...
Whilst I was in the hospital, there were psychologists available to speak with, and I remember talking to one once. He was able to link me getting scared when the metal bin in the Vent bay (a room with 4 of us who were at least part reliant on a ventilator) banged shut. I was linking it to me banging against the metal bonnet of the van that hit me. The nurses would kindly put something between the metal bin rim and lid so that it wouldn’t make a noise when it shut.
Aside from my family and friends, the nurses, support staff and respiratory physio on all the wards/units I was awake on were always around if I needed someone to talk too. The team at both hospitals had been there for numerous years and had knowledge and experience from various patients they had cared for over the years, so I learned a lot through them. I also made really good friends with other patients too. We would all chat and support each other.
I still keep in touch with some of the hospital staff and families from my time in the spinal unit all those years ago. I call them my little ‘Hospital Family!’
I knew that in addition to those whom I have mentioned, I had access to both the charities ‘Back Up’ and ‘The Spinal Injuries Association’ for support if needed. There were various posters and volunteers from both charities that would visit the ward often and you could ask to talk to them if you ever needed them.
The best form of therapy for me I have found has been since we started my Road Safety Talks Project. During the questions and answers sessions after my presentations, the children and young adults are free to ask me anything related to my accident or my life before or after my spinal cord injury. I have been asked every question you can think of from ‘how many bones did you break’ to ‘did your mum cry’ and even ‘in your dreams can you walk again.’ These types of questions have really made me think about things that I had put away in the back of my mind, and I then talk about them by sharing them with my audience.
The best advice I can give anyone who has suffered life-changing injuries is to talk. Whether it be questions you may have or some support that you may need. A problem shared is a problem halved.