Relationships are the threads that hold us together as we struggle through life. They can ground us, they can drive us crazy; they can make us or break us. But ultimately our lives would be nothing without them and once we’ve found that one relationship that everyone is searching for; our soulmate, our true love; you just want to hold on and never let go.So what would you do if that person was suddenly altered and you had to adapt to a new life with them; a different life; one that you had never planned for. I found myself faced with this question on 15th August 2011 when my boyfriend Jamie was randomly assaulted, in an unprovoked attack with a single punch to the back of the head – leaving him in a medically induced coma for several weeks; the effects of which would be devastating.
I met Jamie in January 2009, on a night out for our friend’s leaving drinks. We instantly hit it off and it didn’t take long for things to get serious as we became pretty much inseparable for the next 2 years. Jamie towered over me, standing 6″2 tall; a passionate BMX rider, caring and loyal , with a wicked sense of humour. We eventually moved in together and were living our life much like any other young couple in their 20s, planning for our future together.
But on that fateful evening in August 2011, my whole world fell apart around me in a matter of seconds.
We had just got back from a summer holiday in France with my family and Jamie was off work recovering from a recent shoulder operation. He had gone out to Bromley with a friend who was staying down from Brighton and was on his way home to the station when he encountered a local guy called Andrew Ellis who attacked him completely unprovoked. I got the call from his friend telling me Jamie had been hit and was unconscious on the road side and my whole world fell apart. I had to call my parents to take me to the hospital, after Jamie was finally stabilized and airlifted to Kings College Hospital, meeting up with Jamie’s parents Jim & Linda on arrival. We clung to each other in the relatives room as we waited for any news from rescus, hardly able to believe this was real. After what seemed like a lifetime, Jamie was moved to intensive care and after the neuro surgeons had managed to relieve some of the pressure that had built up on his brain, we were finally allowed in to see him at around 6am. This was when the doctors first told us about the brain injury, explaining that Jamie had suffered a diffuse injury, with bleeding and swelling across the brain, aswell as multiple facial fractures. Although they said it was too early to give any real prognosis, we were told that there was a 50/50 chance that Jamie would survive the night, so we had to brace ourselves for the worst and hope and pray that he would pull through.
The words brain injury has never meant much to me before this and like many people my understanding of it was limited. I thought people just woke up from a coma and went on their way – maybe they would be a bit groggy or their memory would be affected, but the reality of it is far more horrific than you could ever imagine, especially when it’s happening to someone you love.
Seeing Jamie lying there, so vulnerable and weak; caught somewhere between life and death; kept alive by drugs and drips, breathing tubes and pressure monitors; was so hard to bear. But as days turned to weeks, it became part of my daily routine and became almost normal; get up, go to hospital, sit with Jamie for hours on end, talk to him, play him music, sing to him, rub his feet, cut his nails, go home and sleep with the phone on my pillow incase he takes a turn for the worse during the night. I also turned to my faith to keep me strong and would read bible verses and pray everyday for strength and for Jamie’s recovery.
The endless cycle of days started to blur into one, so I started to keep a diary of each day Jamie was in intensive care, half as a kind of outlet for me and half to give myself hope that one day he would be well enough to read it back.
Saturday 28th August
“Today I got to the hospital and the nurse said you had a really settled night-they also said you scan had gone well and you were now breathing for yourself with just a small amount of help form the ventilator. You really seemed to wake up in the late morning and were moving your arms around and opening your eyes and looking around and squeezing our hands when me and your mum were sitting there chatting to you. Loads of our mates came down today to visit and have a chat which was so nice. I helped the nurse to give you a bed bath and turn your position and she said i should be a nurse because i had ‘the touch’. In the afternoon you were really peaceful but just as I was leaving you opening your eyes a little bit and i felt like you squeezed my hand , so it made me want to stay even more.”
Even reading that now brings back so many memories of Jamie’s time in intensive care, but even then none of us could really comprehend the full extent of the brain injury and how it would change all of our lives.
In the initial stages of Jamie’s injury, his life was undoubtedly saved by the amazing efforts of the team at Kings College hospital, as well as their world renowned neurological team who worked tirelessly through the night to stabilise him. A specialist Headway nurse John Ling, gave us invaluable information in the days & weeks that followed; letting us know what we might expect as Jamie ’emerged’ from his coma, including the rancho coma scale, making us realise for the first time just how long his road to recovery was going to be.
Once Jamie had been completely weened off all of the drugs keeping him in a coma, we hoped against hope that he would wake up on his own, however this was not to happen. He was now medically stable, so was moved from intensive care to a normal ward where he would have to wait until a place became available in a specialist neuro rehab hospital. As the neurologist explained, we had to imagine the brain as a big computer that had shut itself down following the trauma, and now it had to very slowly reboot. Therefore even though Jamie hadn’t woken up 6 weeks following the injury, any improvement was good news for us. I took a very practical approach and researched every single method of coma stimulation that I could find online, including sensory stimulation eg touch, smell, rubbing icecubes onto Jamie’s skin and playing him our favourite songs that might evoke a subconcious feeling in his mind- or playing his BMX DVDs and trying to find any way to communicate with him and find out how much he was aware of. I even brought in a spare pair of handlebars from his BMX and would just put his limp hands around the grips, in the hope that this would trigger something in his subconcious mind.
Jamie watching a BMX DVD in hospital with his mum Linda
Looking back now Jamie has no recollection of this period of time when he was emerging from the coma, which doesn’t surprise me, as he was like a shell of a man with no comprehension of the world or who he was. Even when he started to open his eyes for lengthened periods of time, he wouldn’t register you calling his name or respond to simple instructions.
However after a few weeks on the normal ward, Jamie began to move. First his legs, then his right arm and soon he had his eyes open and was staying ‘awake’ for prolonged periods of time. Still not responding to our voices or seeming to understand, but at least he seemed to be moving into the next stage of his awakening. So we persevered with our efforts; making sure we got the nurses to hoist him out of bed everyday so we could take him for a walk outside in his wheelchair, even able to take him past the skate park where he used to ride as it happened to be behind the hospital.
Jamie with the physios; the first time he had been upright since emerging from the coma.
Even though it was slow, Jamie’s condition did continue to steadily improve, and during this time he was able to eat his first solid food, a banana, in almost 5 months. The daily physio sessions had also made a marked improvement and in the 3 months he spent in the hospital, he went from being as floppy as a rag doll, unable to even sit up or support his head, to being able to stand with a standing hoist and respond to small commands such as picking up bean bags and hitting back a balloon.
Jamie with the physios when he was still very weak and couldn’t yet hold his head up or sit upright on his own.
Me and Jamie on one of our many walks around the park behind the hospital
Then came December 2011 and a place had finally come up at a specialist neuro rehab centre in Putney, where Jamie would now be transferred to continue the next stage of his recovery.