I sat in the offices in my university going through the motions of having to formally admit defeat to my head injury by withdrawing from my nursing degree programme. Not five days before this, I had also admitted defeat at a prestigious nursing event where I was due to hand out an award in front of some pretty big names from my profession (like the CEO of NHS England).
I sat opposite a tutor who had also been attending the same awards ceremony up in London. She had been there to witness the soul destroying and humiliating defeat I’d given in to on that day.
‘When I tried to return to university; the pain, dizziness, sickness and vertigo symptoms that were with me at the awards ceremony just don’t seem to be going away. I’ve given it everything I have’ I’d said, looking up meekly at the tutor.
Fast forward a couple of months now. I’m sat in the comfy armchair that my then long-term neuro-psychotherapist would talk to me in.
‘The pain, the depression, the trauma, it’s not leaving me. The nightmares are a living hell. There’s no way to say if this will get better, I have no one and I have nothing to live for. I really don’t know if I will be able to be a nurse now’ I remember saying, as tears filled my eyes.
‘It takes courage to admit that Mikey’, he’d said to try and comfort me.
I’d meant every word of what I’d said to him. I didn’t know if it was possible for me to even have a job let alone work in my dream job as a nurse
I had no one. My marriage was in pieces. I’d suffered a nervous breakdown shortly after being injured myself after the traumatic birth of my daughter, who very nearly didn’t survive.
I was using a concoction of alcohol, diazepam, propranolol, zopiclone, dihdrocodeine and paracetamol (taken with aspirin) to try and escape the realities of my life by spacing me out as much as humanly possible.
I was suffering from PTSD, severe anxiety and depression. The nightmares and flashbacks were only ever waiting just round the corner from me, ready to strike at any time of the day or night. Because of my injury, it was so difficult controlling my emotions and thoughts now. Brain injury deeply effects the most valuable principles we humans need to function: our self-identity.
I didn’t know who I was anymore. Even my wife didn’t like this ‘new’ Mikey.
I was living and hoping to die from a seizure which would strike at any moment. It was at this point where I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I won’t lie, I considered ending the whole thing on more than one occasion and I wasn’t afraid to do it.
The people around me showed no understanding of my condition and PTSD, other than my parents, who lived 120 miles away. People would talk about me, be vindictive and nasty about my new behaviour which was ‘not what the old Mikey would have been like’.
I had lost everything. My life was in pieces and there was not a single person who could understand the ‘new’ Mikey and his problems. I’d gone from being a ‘nursing celeb’ (as the editor of the Nursing Times had dubbed me) to having nothing.
Back to the university offices in May 2013
‘I don’t know what to do. Nursing is my life, it was always my dream to be here. Now I have to walk away’ There were actual tears at this point.
The tutor turned to me and began to speak. What she had said next changed my life forever:
‘This doesn’t have to be the end. I have something to say to you’ she had said.
‘Take another year out to recover. We will hold your place open for you, you won’t have to reapply’.
Even today, I am searching for the words to describe this incredible act of compassion and kindness, but I’m still drawing a blank.
‘But that means I would have been on the course for over 5 years, which is against NMC regulations. Who has arranged this?’ I asked.
And then something magical happened.
‘I did’ she answered, her eyes also starting to fill. She was giving me a way out.
Two weeks ago I completed three years of formal academic nurse training, something I initially set out to do 6/7 years ago. There have been many people in my life who have not been kind to me, and by quitting nursing I’d have been throwing away an incredible act of kindness that was showed to 5 years ago.
There will never be anything I can say or do, even though I’m told my ‘dedication and commitment is enough’.
But the commitment was never only just about the nursing, it was about something far more profound, I fought for something I now believe can save us when we are at our lowest points in life, because compassion is more than just an act, it can change peoples lives for the better.
On behalf of my four year old daughter, who is constantly helping me come up with funnier and sillier ways ‘to make the sick children at daddy’s work better’, thank you from the bottom of my heart.