I’m sat here writing after my first week of full time work. Yes, miraculously, a whole week as a full time health visitor. I think it’s because of where I am now I wanted to be really honest and share this with you today.
In this blog below, I have copied and pasted chapter 1 of my book that I wrote a few years ago. I was right in the middle of the brain injury storm here, my brain injury was “at it’s worse” you could say. The chapter details how I tried to return to university the first time round, but failed. It’s quite long as it’s a full chapter: so be warned.
I can see now that I was still deeply traumatised back when I wrote this, I think that’s why I wanted to put it in a blog for you today. I wanted any other brain injury survivors out there to read it, but understand that even when the preverbal poo hits the fan and things look impossibly impossible and against you, it is still possible to push through it and achieve the miraculous.
The grammar isn’t up to par, remember, I could barely write for 10 minutes at a time without nearly fainting at that point. It’s a bit more negative and certainly not how I would write it now but I think it captures the essence of my severe depression/anxiety and brain injury problems “nicely”.
I truly believe anything that you see or can dream can be achieved, and me writing this chapter two years ago thinking that I might not return to university I think might be quite pertinent for other survivors who want to try and get their life back again, so here it is…
Chapter 1 – Student Life. 2013
Hustle Hard I thought, as I shifted my weight on to my right side, leant my head against the grimy wall of the toilet cubicle and tried to focus on settling the feelings I had of butterflies flying around inside my head. I took a few deep breaths to try and steady myself in order to stop feeling so dizzy and fatigued. The anxiety was really kicking in now, which also added to my feelings of dizziness, lethargy, confusion and fatigue tenfold.
I remembered something my Dad had said to me the week before, “Smells do a lot more than people think. They can make you feel confident or happy, they really can. Smells have a big impact!” I think he may have been referring to smells like Davidoff, or one of the many Armani fragrances that he has pugged away in his little stash of “smellies” (although, there is nothing little about my Dad’s collection of fragrances. The man is on the cusp of being able to open his own perfume shop). It was this thought that made me smile, as I simultaneously breathed in the smell that was coming from the cubicle next door. Having worked as a nursing auxiliary for the past four years, I thought about trying to guess the colour and texture of the smell that was slowly wafting its way up my nostrils, as I was very used to identifying one’s faetal excrement, along with analyzing and merrily writing notes about it.
That was a very important part of my job, identifying poo. We even had charts for it. Surely it was only right that I did some extra curricular homework outside of my job? I thought that maybe placing a humorous spin on things in my mind could possibly mitigate the unfortunate situation I now found myself in.
I glanced at my watch, it now read ten to nine which meant that the lecture would begin in ten minutes. I decided to close my eyes and attempt to try and steady my dizziness one last time. The only way I could do this was by trying to “de-stimulate” my brain, and this was only made possible by closing my eyes and being in a darkened, quiet room. So here I was, in the men’s toilets of a building situated on my university campus desperately trying to feel better, before I would have to go and find a seat in the busy lecture hall. Looking for a seat would require a lot of my attention and concentration, as I would probably have to scan the aisles for a spare seat somewhere amongst the busy hubbub of excited and giggling students nurses. I knew that this would make me feel dizzy.
Then, panic kicked in. What if I couldn’t find a seat? What if I looked like a loner sitting on my own? Would I have to ask to get past someone? What if the dizziness made me throw up, as it had done previously? I concluded that these were feelings of anxiety. I never used to suffer with this before the accident. I used to be a very confident and highly ambitious person, who did not fear anything.
I am twenty three years old, and I had owned my own four bedroom detached house, was married to the woman of my dreams and had been accepted on to the Child Nursing course at the prestigious Southampton university by the age of twenty two. This was no mean feat; especially for a male, as I was picked out of hundreds of applicants who had applied for the position. The fact I had left high school with next to nothing made this even more of a tremendous achievement. My burgeoning desire to succeed against all odds really did pay off at an early age for me, and for this voracious hunger for success I had I was always grateful for. Maybe the inception of this determination started from the early adversities I had had to face.
Then I thought about being a married man. The thought of Dani instantly gave me a surge of determination. I had to do this for me but also for her. After all, there had never been any certainty that I would survive in the early days let alone ever be able to get back to university. I had to show her I could do it and that I was getting better. I couldn’t fail.
everyone who knew me was so desperate for me to get back doing what I loved most, nursing sick children. It was the only thing that had ever made me feel happy.
I took a deep breath, and reached the conclusion that this was no time to be playing my newly found faecal smelling guessing game. I plucked up the courage to walk out of the men’s toilets and back onto the winding corridor that led to the main lecture hall of building 37, situated on the Highfield campus. I was getting even more nervous now, as I could hear the distinct noise that only eminated from large and busy crowds of excited people.
Since the accident, crowds of people make me want to faint. Oh deep joy, I remember thinking, I should have persevered at the guessing poo game for a little bit longer.
I walked up to the large, swinging door that would open on to the lecture theatre. This is what I had worked my whole life for, I couldn’t fail now. I had worked so hard to have the privilege of being able to walk into a lecture theatre and have the honor of being able to tell people I was a student nurse. I was so proud. Being introduced to people as a student nurse really was like having a hit of a strong drug for me. It made me feel like a king, like I was special. Like I was doing something worthwhile with my life and helping people at the same time. Is there anything better in life than this? No, I concluded. It was my “England shirt” moment as I like to say: better than walking onto Wembley in an England shirt.
I reached for the big door handle, which was now moving back and fourth at this point due to my dizziness. That would be my fourth cranial nerve playing up. Fourth cranial nerves are one of those anatomical miracles, like ankles, that we don’t really appreciate or pay any mind to, or even notice, until they are faulty or they go wrong.
I reached for the lecture theatre door and pushed it open on to the six hundred child health student nurses that I was about to join for my first lecture in twelve months. I am about to make history, I thought. I must be the first person to go through what I have been through, and still make it back to uni to study child nursing less than a year later. It was a miracle. I had made it. My whole life was a million to one shot and I, was that one in a million (this was one of my favorite quotes that I stole from a Rocky 1 poster I used to have hanging in my room as a boy. Coincidentally enough, my head did feel like it had just gone ten rounds with Ivan Drago. Fair one: I kind of had).
I spotted a seat near the back of the lecture hall which looked perfect. The noise was deafening, and straight away I felt like I was going to faint on the spot. I quickly looked at the floor (I did this when I became cognitively “over stimulated”) and made my way over to the perfect looking seat, without looking up. I was so jubilant when I made it to the seat, I must have looked similar to a man who had just found fresh drinking water after months of being stranded on a desert island. I allowed myself to emit a small yelp of glee in celebration at making it the 20 yards to my new seat in one piece. I felt like a hero. Right, I remember thinking, if I can do this on the first day of uni I can get through two and a half more years of nurse training easily. Come on Mikey! I had worked four years to have this seat. I had worked so hard to get in to this university, despite having left school with no grades – and I wasn’t about to give it up now.
The lights dimmed and the lecture began. Right, here we go. I survived the hell of the accident against all odds because this is what I was put on this earth to do. I made it through the adversity that had faced me in London and that I had to suffered all my life. I can keep surviving soporific lectures (that I can read about in my own time anyway) for the sake of reaching my dream to of becoming a children’s nurse.
I wish I could say that the lecture flew by without me having to pay much attention to it. If only I could also say that I was able to soak up all the information, just like I used to. I would like to remember my first lecture as one that went without a hitch, and I felt fine. I would have felt even happier writing that I hadn’t needed to, at one point, in the middle of the lecturer discussing the principles of Jane Cumming’s 6Cs theory, close my eyes to conserve energy and prevent cognitive overload. I would like to but alas, I can’t. I left to go home as soon as the applaud for the first lecture began. I shot up and darted for the door like a rabbit who had heard a gunshot in the middle of a field.
I made my way back to my car and sat inside for a few minutes, before I would set off on the thirty minute journey home. My dreams are over, I allowed myself to think. Being a student nurse saved me before and now I can’t even sit through a single lecture!
If you treat the disease you win and you lose, but if you treat the patient, you’re guaranteed to win every time.
Patch Adam’s quote surreptitiously rang in my ears, (as it always did) as I thought about the four years I had enjoyed spreading and practicing the words of that message, the true meaning behind it and how much joy that had derived from it. I thought back to the people I had cared for. Those who had been terminally ill, who were on their death beds. There were so many! I thought back to how I would forge a benevolent and irrevocable bond with them and their families, making them all laugh and giving them hope whilst I held their hands, smiled and told them everything would be OK. It didn’t matter that they were going to die, because while I was there I would make them smile and their pain would dissipate, if only for a minute of two.
I reckon that is the problem with society, we are all too busy focusing on paper work, facts and figures, deadlines, the future and policies to ever let a morsel of compassion enter our daily routines. Well I wasn’t, I let it in, and amazing things happened. Besides, us nurses do not have routines, that’s why we can let it in so often and we’re known for it.
I was a rock to my patients, and I often made myself ill just so I could give them all of my time and attention. When patients died, I was often the last person to ever do something for them by preparing their bodies for the family, who sometimes wanted to kiss their heads and say goodbye forever. What a privilege it was to do this for someone.
How Could I care for them now? I can’t even care for myself! I remembered thinking, sat in my car, my eyes closed to try and get rid of the butterflies in my head. I felt worthless.
Certain people that had always told me I would amount to nothing in my life, and it looks like they were right. I remember that I had thought this when I spent the night in a police station five years before, and I was thinking it again now. I had worked to drag myself away from my the poor quality of my previous life of abuse, bullying, violence, drugs, alcohol and even crime before nursing. I thought that was it then and I was going to live happily ever after. Plain sailing here onwards. They were right, I thought, I have ended up being worthless!
Then I thought about the many different hospital emergency rooms I had worked in over years. Even as an unqualified nurse, I really had helped to save so many people’s lives. Working thirteen hour shifts most days of the week meant I saw quite a lot of action, and I would be the first in and the last out in every scenario where someone’s life needed saving (as much as an unqualified nurse legally can, of course). I was as proficient and calm as I was passionate about my work. And when I had nothing to do, or it would seem so, I would scour the hospital wards looking for things to do like a wild animal foraging for food!
Nurses, doctors, surgeons and healthcare professionals alike would often extol my passion and plans for the future of nursing with excited exuberance. I would always say that every nurse in the country would one day know my name (and at one point, I was halfway to achieving that statement).
Regardless of who I treated, whether they be a sick child, an elderly war hero, a criminal, a heroin addict or long term alcoholic, I was compassionate and would give every patient the same amount of time and care, just in different ways. Compassion and empathy are a tangible way of living and working in my opinion, and if you look close enough you can find both in your day to day living.
I smiled to myself as I thought back to Marge, and how fortuitous it had all seemed. I had cared for her with all my heart and I had watched her die, like so many friends that I had met through being my patients. I remember when I had met her as a frail 70 something year old in her hospital bed on the 13th of February one year. Her kindle was resting on her lap and a cup of piping hot hot chocolate on the table. She glanced over her glasses and exclaimed, “Oh! A young man! Well ladies, they say the 13th of the month is unlucky. But we’ve got a lovely young man here to look after us now!” Her friendly Scottish accent and her beaming smile instantly drew me to her. What a beautiful personality, I remember thinking, judging her instantly to be a lovely person (I was right. My years of nursing honed my skills of learning to work people out in an instant. I had become very adept at this)
Marge was sat opposite a young, teenage girl who was a known heroin addict. This reminded me of the need for diversity in the deliverance of compassion in our healthcare system. It reminded me that I could care for the needs of a drug addict but minutes later be able to identify the needs of an elderly Scottish lady who had just spilt hot chocolate over her and needed new bedsheets.
What was so fortuitous about Marge was not her death many years later, but that she was able to “pay me back” as she had put it, as she said would have always liked to have been able to do for all the care I had given her while she was in hospital. She had said I was like a son to her the day before she had died. We all used to call her Nanny Mcphee, and she was proud of that affectionate nickname right until the day she died (the day before she died I had reinvented a commode cardboard toilet bowl, made it into a royal hat that read Queen Marge and affectionately placed it on her head. Apparently she loved it so much, that the hat was buried with her in the coffin at the funeral, by her request!). Marge was one of so many of the patients I had met and connected with over the years.
I was starting to feel sad, sat in my car, reminiscing and remembering my time nursing patients like Marge. So, I switched the CD player of my car on to Maino, to try and give myself some form of a consolatory boost, and slow my down my train of thought. I was starting to daydream about how thing used to be, something none of us should ever do!
Instead of transferring my negative thoughts onto happy things, I thought back to the picture that had been taken of me in Mexico, the day I had been woken up from my coma, just before my dad and I had boarded the leer jet air ambulance to come home. I took out my phone and looked at the picture (I had it stored on there and often looked at it). There were three nurses standing round my hospital bed, and I looked like death. I was still wearing my cool baseball hat, with the phrase that no one understood emblazoned across the front of it: Hustle Hard .
I have so many horrific memories that still haunt me at night. People think that I was unaware of things just because I was in a coma, but that is so far from the truth. I have haunting memories of not being able to breath, of trying not to die. I have memories of having a suction catheter being put down my throat, and removing the secretions that were preventing me from breathing. I remember the beep of the machine keeping me alive, the frenetic movements and foreign voices desperately working to save me, people shouting my name in Spanish accents, the smell of body odour, blood, hospital cleaning detergents, the plastic from the coverings of the ventilator tubes: the list of bad memories is endless. This had not been the only very sticky situation I had had to deal with in my life..
I thought of the many patients I had encountered over the years that I was told were unaware of what was going on around them that were in a similar state. I shuddered to think if this was even true.
I would need to learn how to deal with the sad fact that people will never know the truth of what really happened, and how I really am now. People will never really understand, and I would soon have to learn to live a life that had been very different to my previous one. A life where everything that I ever experienced in Mexico and the lifelong affects of that nightmare was ever going to be tangible to anyone. Ignorance is bliss, if only people really knew what it was like living with this…
Evidently, when I was home and feeling better many months later, my wife had told me that one of the Mexican nurses that was stood around my bed in the picture my dad had taken (the chunkiest and most hygienically challenged of the three, if I remember rightly) had quite openly proclaimed to my mum, dad and new wife that I was her boyfriend and her beautiful baby. Every cloud I suppose.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, in the back row of a busy car park in the Highfield campus, Southampton university: I was thinking. This always led to trouble.
What will become of me now? If I can’t be a nurse, I don’t want to do anything. Nursing is my life, helping people is my life, I was born to be a nurse! I had an unusually voracious desire to want to learn everything I could from a lecture theatre so I could take everything I had learned out with me to do even more good on the wards. This added to my sadness and frustration of how badly the lecture had just gone.
I often thought about Mexico and my job simultaneously in my mind (much to my aggravation). I had to stop experiencing these unpleasant reveries about Mexico and the fact that it was against my favor of getting back in to nursing, suck it up and get back on the road to get home and see Dani. I’ve had a bad morning, that’s all, I tried to reassure myself, we all have them, don’t condemn your future as a nurse based on one bad morning! Besides, I had a four month old daughter waiting for me at home and I knew that seeing her would ease my feelings of disappointment and cheer me up, she always did!
I started to smile as I had reminded myself of all my patients and Marge/Nanny Mcphee and how I had given them my attention for a short period of time that morning, something I always secretly promised them all, Marge and myself I would try my best to do as often as I could. My smile soon faded when I realized that I had just thought about Mexico again after, something I promised myself that I would try not to do too often.
Ah well, I thought to myself as I pulled out of the car park, time to hustle hard again… like I have had to so many times before. the road ahead is going to be hard, really hard.
Little did I know just how hard it really was going to be…
Not quite the light hearted rantings you’re usually used to reading from me. But don’t forget, I was seriously *** up at the time. Not the light hearted rantings you can usually laugh along to sat on the loo, or wherever you are when you read these blogs of mine. Half of my Facebook activity and stalking is done from the loo, I really would be lost without my phone the day after a vindaloo or chicken naga.
Let me know what you thought. A bit full on, not what I would have wanted people to read of me now, but it’s honest and truthful. Seeing as I have Truth tattooed on my arm in Latin, I wanted to be honest about my recovery and thought it might evoke some interesting thoughts from other brain injureds out there. I will write a proper blog post about the week I’ve just had as a student nurse health visiting..! It was full time all week and I did it!!
Let’s end on a slightly positive note. The best part about my next blog will be –
90% of people who suffer the same injury as me never return to full time work again