Every day the papers find tragic stories to write about, and we read them with shock, never thinking that one day someone will be writing a story that features ourselves. But then one day in December 2014 I became the unwillingly character of my own news story...
I remember nothing from that day, and I imagine that is probably for the best. Whilst I have frustration at not being able to envisage the day that changed my life, it probably would only torment me more if I could.
That morning I was driving to work in the company’s black Smart car. I was travelling on the A414, a dual carriageway, just like I had countless times before. But that day there was about to be a sequence of events that I don’t think anyone could have been prepared for. Apparently the traffic was slowing as queues were forming ahead. There were major traffic problems affecting the M25, thus the surrounding roads were carrying more traffic than usual. Behind me was a small lorry, but he didn’t see me slowing as I approached the queue ahead. A bird of prey, a Buzzard, had swooped down (presumably he had spotted his breakfast) and smashed into the windscreen of the lorry. The driver’s view was completely obscured and the lorry smashed into the back of my tiny Smart car, at considerable speed. The little black car swerved into the outside lane and hit the central crash barrier, but thankfully no other vehicles were caught in the incident.
Police closed the road so the air ambulance could land, and quickly I was airlifted to the Royal London Hospital. A member of the public who saw the emergency crew strap me to the stretcher read the company information printed on the Smart car. He rang the telephone number and told my colleague what he had just seen. This was quick thinking on his part because it meant the message got to my partner James pretty quickly. Bearing in mind I hadn’t even been identified yet, it would have taken a long time otherwise for James to learn what had happened to me.
I had a large cut to my head which required stitches, a bulging disk in my neck and compressed vertebrae in my lower spine. But I didn’t need surgery and had no broken bones, so perhaps I wasn’t too bad? To be honest I don’t think I made much sense whilst I was there, but not much was explained to my partner, so we assumed I had a concussion and this confusion was only to be expected.
As it was getting close to Christmas, and staffing levels would be reduced over the bank holidays, the hospital were keen to send as many patients home as possible. I was just about walking with the aid of a crutch, so their main concern was if I was cognitively capable of going home. The NHS is under pressure every day, and so I completely understand this thought process. However, I do question if they made the right decision in my case.
Every day they asked me to remember the same four words. Then they would move onto another subject for a moment before asking me to recall the four words. These were: red, church, horse and velvet. Not once did I manage to complete this task. NOT ONCE! In order to assess if I was able to go home, I was taken to a kitchen and asked to make three cups of tea. This is considered a task which doesn’t take much thought, because in Britain we make so much tea it’s become second nature to us. Would you be concerned about someone’s brain if they didn’t even notice that they hadn’t turned the kettle on, or identified why it wasn’t boiling? Well, apparently that is not a problem, nor is the fact that I made the lady’s tea with milk, even though she asked for black, no sugar. I argued that “nobody has black tea”, so it was her fault for asking for something so silly. Does that sound reasonable to you that I took no reasonability for the error? Well it seems that the lady assessing me thought it was, and promptly signed me off to go home that day, just 10 days after my car accident.
The only support I got at home was three visits from an occupational therapist to make sure I was building strength, and was capable of simple everyday tasks like walking up and down the stairs on my own. But even this didn’t happen automatically. James had to insist on it, otherwise there would have been no arrangements made at all.
Two months later when I had a follow up appointment as an outpatient, I was told how when I had been admitted to the hospital they had identified a bleed at the base of my brain. But as the bleeding stopped without needing any intervention they hadn’t told us that it had happened. Perhaps this was just an oversight and it was a case of each person assumed another member of the team had already explained it to us. However, no matter what the reason, I feel this is unacceptable as it was clear evidence that I had sustained a brain injury and that we needed further advice and support.
The rest of my journey was full of confusion and anxiety. I started to experience panic attacks for the first time in my life, and questioning my self-worth. But as my Mum had died just three weeks after my car accident, and in early 2015 my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I knew I had to be strong for him. In fact my brain injury came in useful as I was able to relate to what he was going through and get him to open up more about his struggles. Even though we lived almost 200 miles apart, I became his go-to woman (or as he liked to call me, his secretary). I organised his online shopping, brought in carers for daily support and took him to all of his medical appointments.
A full year after my accident I went to a private clinic in Harley Street, London, for an MRI scan in a machine that is capable of seeing greater detail than the models the NHS typically use. This was able to identify that I had suffered a diffuse axonal brain injury. This is where there is widespread damage to the neurons rather than intensive damage to one area. Thus it wasn’t spotted previously. Often this injury is the result of rotational forces, like those seen in a car accident when the car spins. I couldn’t help thinking that there must be lots of people who sustain a brain injury but aren’t diagnosed or given the right support as car accidents happen every day. So I decided to try and raise awareness and understanding by writing about it in a blog.
Jumbledbrain.com became where I would write about my experience, but instead of writing it like a daily diary, I would make each post focus on a particular symptom. That way I felt people would find it easier to find posts that related to them and help them find information and advice. The response I got from other survivors and their families was amazing! People from all over the world were thanking me for writing in such a concise and easy to understand way about the problems that they had struggled to express. They would tell me how they would make their family and friends read my articles so that they could better understand their situation.
I loved that I was making a difference for people. My simple tips were helping others learn to cope with how their lives had changed. But I felt I could do more as it became clear that many found they didn’t have many people they could talk to about their injury. Wanting to be able to bring these people together, I set up a Facebook group called Brain Injury & Mental Health Support, and encouraged them to open up, ask each other questions and talk about their frustrations. It grew rapidly as this was exactly what they had been looking for, and within a year almost 4,000 people had flocked to it. Both survivors and family members are welcome, so if you are interested in joining, head over to Brain Injury Support UK.
Now I develop coaching packages which help brain injury survivors adjust and accept how their life has changed. After having to go through the process myself, and support my Dad through a similar experience, I knew there was much that I had learned that would help others. If you would like to learn more about the services I provide please visit jumbledbrain.com/brain-injury-life-coach for details of how I can help you on a one-to-one basis.
Why I want to work with CFG Law
My own experience showed me how there are still so many gaps in the care that brain injury survivors are offered. The NHS are brilliant at saving lives and pulling out all the stops for patients and they should be celebrated for that. But there is a disconnect with what happens next. Many, like me, get next to nothing once sent home, and are left confused about what to do.
CFG Law are committed to helping that issue become a thing of the past. Not just for clients who hire them for their legal services, but everyone. Rather than working against the NHS by suing them, taking precious funds away from where they are needed, they work with them by sharing their research so better practices can be designed and implemented for all future patients. They build strong relationships with the teams who are delivering the care so that together they can find workable solutions. As I am committed to helping other survivors and their families, this approach is really important to me and I want to support them in their quest.