For My Father

I adore my family. They’re the most amazing people in my life. One day though, we all have to face the realisation that our loved ones are just as human and fragile as everyone else. I had to embrace this fact from quite an early age in some respects - earlier than some, but certainly not as early as others. But while the fragility of life had made itself apparent amongst some of my extended family, my parents had always maintained a somewhat superhuman status. Exactly a year ago today however, my dad was run over by a 4x4 while crossing the road on his way to work.

Before progressing any further, I’m going to spoil the ending immediately and clarify that he’s completely fine now. He survived his ordeal. Everything he went through very much added to that realisation of mortality, but what I have to say isn’t really about the frailty of life. Rather, it’s about a very difficult event that a then 49-year-old man lived through. It’s about my family and I, and what we went through along with him. But mostly it’s about providing some selfish sense of relief; not because I necessarily need any emotional release - as I said, he’s fine now - but because, now that the dust has settled, I feel that the story needs telling in one sitting, both so that I can get a better grasp of it, but more importantly because I feel it deserves to be told.

This is admittedly all from my perspective, and is going to be fairly long! But I still believe it’s worth telling. So here we go:

The Day In Question

On Thursday 5th February 2015, my dad’s morning started quite simply as I understand it: he packed his lunch as normal, and my mum had given him a list of flowers to collect for his father-in-law’s funeral the next day before he left for work. He parked, as always, a short distance from the office, left his lunch in the car (as he liked to return to it at lunch to escape his computer screen for a while) and walked the rest of the way to work. I’ve heard a few variations on the next bit relayed from different sources, so I’ll just say the facts: at about 8:50am, while crossing Girling Street in Sudbury, he was run over by a Land Rover Discovery. He remained trapped between the wet and freezing cold road and the old metal of an aged Land Rover until firefighters could free him roughly half an hour later, before being airlifted to Addenbrookes hospital in Cambridge.

Oblivious to this at the time, I spent the morning packing a small suitcase ready to travel to Sudbury the next day for my grandfather’s funeral, who had recently passed away from brain cancer.

At 11 minutes past 11 - a fairly large time gap - I received a phone call from the police. They had been unable to contact my mum as she was at work and had no mobile signal there. Luckily I was still listed on the electoral register at their address, and they had seen my name among the contacts on my dad’s phone. They asked me to confirm who I was and my relation to my father, before proceeding to tell me that he had been in an accident, but that he was okay - that he was fine, fully conscious, and talking. They said they couldn’t tell me anything more than that until they could get in touch with my mum, so I advised them on where she worked. I asked if they wanted the phone number, but the officer said that they’d go in personally; clearly they wanted to go for the personal touch, but they didn’t seem to be in any rush either.

Naturally, I rang my mum’s work place immediately to speak to her so that she knew they were coming, and passed on the few details I had been given. I hadn’t intended to panic her in any way, but I obviously did, as I was a bit panicked myself. Still, neither of us really knew anything, and we were understandably both quite anxious.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t feel I could leave work - after all, I had been told that he was fine. I didn’t know that he was at hospital at all yet, or if he even needed to be taken to one. Armed with what little details I had, I did what any other person would have done: googled it…

The articles I found only offered little detail as well: they stated that a man in his 20s or 30s had been involved in a traffic collision on Girling Street, that this man had suffered severe pelvic injuries, and that he had been airlifted to hospital; just matter-of-fact pieces, listing nothing more than minor details. The sensible conclusion at this point was that, while driving to work, my dad had hit and hospitalised someone. But the articles still offered nothing concrete - no real information - and therefore, no relief.

Some of the original articles from then have since been updated, but a few of the ones relating to it are still available:

I mentioned quite a bit of detail earlier about how my dad’s morning started. This is important, because it was clearly the morning of a normal, stable man. Nonetheless, when the police finally visited my mum’s workplace (at roughly 11:40 as I understand it), after informing her that it was in fact her husband that had been hit, and providing their attempts at reassurance which had remained unchanged - that he was fine, conscious, and talking - the officer then asked, in the public setting of my mum’s workplace, if her husband was suicidal… asking a woman who was preparing herself for her father’s funeral the next day, if her husband, who had left that morning with his packed lunch and a list of flowers to collect for his father-in-law’s funeral, and had driven to work as normal before being run over on his usual walk to work, might have taken the opportunity to jump out in front of a Land Rover if such an opportunity presented itself - as had seemingly been insinuated by the driver.

So after successfully scaring the utter hell out of my mum, the police left, leaving her to walk home alone, and source a means of transport to the hospital 40 miles away from the village in which she lives and works (as my parents only own one car which my dad used to drive to work that morning). Thankfully, one of my mum’s friends was there while the police presented her with their complete lack of professionalism; so although they left her to walk home alone, she very fortunately wasn’t. Thankfully (again), another family friend (who lived almost 15 miles away) was quickly on hand to drive my mum to the hospital.

In the mess of communication links and unreliable phone signal, I wasn’t privy to any of this information until my mum and I were finally in touch again at 12:27. She told me all of the above, and that she was on her way to the hospital. My brother got in touch with me separately to say that he was also on his way there.

Obviously not thinking quite straight, I still wasn’t sure if all of this was reason enough to leave work and visit my dad. I relayed everything I knew to my boss, who was incredibly understanding, and essentially forced me to leave the office.

The journey back home to collect my things, and subsequent journey to Cambridge, was a continued mess of poor communication links. And my family were experiencing the same poor communication from the hospital… (though not the hospital’s fault…).

After arriving at the hospital via Air Ambulance, my dad had been marked down as a John Doe. Naturally, this made no sense to my mum: the reason for this was apparently that he had no ID on him as the police had kept hold of all of his possessions. This still made no sense. So my mum asked why he hadn’t been able to tell them himself, as we had been told that he was conscious and talking. It was then the hospital staffs’ turn to be shocked, because he wasn’t conscious at all!

Over the next few hours we were drip fed small details of what was happening, and a progressive list of injuries. Even now, a year later, I’m still not sure what the completed list actually was, but these were the main ones:

  • Fractured C2 vertebrae (in the neck)
  • Fractured T6 vertebrae (in the back, roughly between the shoulder blades)
  • Multiple skull fractures (three I think, maybe more)
  • Significant bruising and bleeding around the brain
  • Fractured eye socket
  • Fractured cheek bone
  • Multiple pelvic fractures (three again I believe)
  • 6 cracked ribs (4 on the right, 2 on the left)
  • A potential blood clot in his neck
  • And a deep ankle wound (originally his ankle was thought to be broken, but it turned out to be a very bad wound that went down to the bone)

As it turns out, after being freed from underneath the Land Rover, he had rapidly declined and was placed in a medically induced coma. Although many of his injuries were recognisable quite quickly, the doctors couldn’t tell us how much of an impact they’d had, so they could only really paint a worst case scenario for us. As I’m sure you can imagine based on the list above, that worst case scenario wasn’t a very pretty picture, and included a very high chance of significant brain damage, if he survived at all.

We were finally able to see him some time in the late evening at around 7 or 8pm (unlike with the other more precise times I’ve mentioned above, I don’t have my call history to rely on for this one…). As only two visitors were allowed in at a time, my mum and brother went in first. A few minutes later my brother came out so that I could go and see him.

And so I walked into the room and saw my dad lying there unconscious in a shell of bruised skin. His face appeared somewhat contorted and his skin looked discoloured and stretched. He was connected to various machines and monitors that were cleaning his blood, doing his breathing for him, checking the usual heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels etc. as well as the two sedatives and blood pressure stabiliser he was being given intravenously. The oxygen tube running down his throat was connected to another monitor displaying all the information about the breaths it was taking for him, and he had a chest drain in his back as one of his lungs was still collapsed. We didn’t know if he could hear us, or if he’d ever be able to hear us again.

The crucial thing was that he was alive, but for all the information we now had, we still didn’t know the main thing that mattered - whether he’d stay that way.

My Grandfather’s Funeral

My brother and I stayed at my mum’s that night, both in our old rooms. Oddly, I actually managed to get some sleep - not a lot, but some. My mum on the other hand had been facing an internal battle: whether to go to her father’s funeral or not.

As I mentioned earlier, Friday 6th February was my grandfather’s funeral; my mum had already buried all of her siblings and her mother, and now had to bury her father as well.

Bravely, my mum actually managed to go to it. She knew everyone would ask questions, but at least she knew those questions would be coming from family and friends. My brother and I were there to shoulder the burden if she didn’t feel able to provide answers, or if she just needed us to act as a bit of a barrier!

The funeral was a full Requiem Mass at the Catholic Church in Sudbury - Our Lady & St John the Evangelist. Mass was led by Father Peter Brett: a man whose intentions always seem honourable, but whose words nonetheless manage to be the opposite! He took what positives he could about my grandfather, and warped them into being solely about God. What should have been a service about a kind and caring man, became an implicit religious preach.

In the months before his death, my grandfather had been cared for at St Joseph’s Care Home in Sudbury in the dementia ward. There were two main positives at his funeral for me. Firstly, that there were a lot of people there who were very genuinely supportive towards my mum. And secondly, rather wonderfully, some of the nurses from the care home had come to the funeral as well.

Eugene was then buried in the cemetery in Great Cornard, in the shared plot with his wife Jean (who had died the year before) and his son Kevin (who died aged 52), next to the plot where his other son Philip rests (who passed away in his mid-20s).

We then went to the hospital and my mum spent the afternoon and evening sat by her husband’s side in the hospital. With only two people allowed by the bedside at a time, my brother and I took it in turns to keep her company.

All things considered, my mum did exceptionally well that day, and I am extremely proud of her for how well she managed to hold herself together.

Time at NCCU

The Neurosciences Critical Care Unit where my father was being monitored was a place of emotional dissonance. It felt that, for every person there that began to improve, another one died. In the waiting room, among the endless cups of tea and digestive biscuits, some people would share in conversation, while others would simply sit in polite silence. Everyone was implicitly supportive, keeping the food cupboards stocked as almost everyone was there for the long haul. It was a place where you could have some of the most beautiful and tragic conversations of your life.

I won’t mention any details because I don’t want to accidentally intrude on anyone’s privacy; suffice it to say, it was simultaneously the most depressing and hopeful place I’ve ever encountered.

In my dad’s scenario, it was a matter of being patient. Once a few days had passed, they started testing him by reducing the amount of sedatives he was receiving. This gave him a chance to partially wake up so that the nurses could test how well he responded to commands. They would ask him to squeeze their hands and wiggle his toes, to see that he both understood what they were saying, and could physically do it.

The tests then progressed. They started lowering the oxygen support to see if he could do some of the breathing for himself. A few unexpected collapsed lungs later, he was doing well enough for them to wake him up and move him over to an oxygen mask.

It was a slow process. This was a slightly grumpy and cynical man who had been run over by a 4x4, kept on very strong sedatives, and partially woken from time to time only to be interrogated and given commands. Nonetheless, he adjusted to the oxygen mask well, despite constantly wanting to take it off, and very quickly progressed to not needing it at all.

hospital_dad.jpg

The Visiting Uncle

My uncle Nick played an important incredibly inconsiderate part in this period of our lives. To clarify, Nick is my father’s brother; he lives in Australia and travelled back to the UK to visit my dad while he was in hospital. This sounds like a very considerate thing to do - travelling to see your brother and support your family through an ordeal - but sadly it was very much the opposite.

The day after he arrived, my mother and I had arranged to get a lift to the hospital with my grandmother (on my father’s side) and uncle that morning. At this point, Nick still hadn’t had a chance to see my dad in the hospital. As such, you’d possibly expect him to be quite anxious, and in a hurry to get to visit his brother (who was still being kept in a coma at this point). Instead, Nick decided to disappear first thing in the morning without his phone to visit an old friend for coffee. We had no means of contacting him, and just had to wait until he decided to reappear again…

This man, who had already demonstrated his lack of consideration that morning, then immediately tried to take control of everything. He started telling the nurses in the NCCU that he’d travelled all the way from Australia, seemingly to get on their good side; he would refuse to leave my father’s bedside using this same reason, forcing my mum, who had been married to my dad for 29 years at this point (30 years now) and had just buried her last direct family member on her side, to have to leave her husband’s side so that others could spend some time with him as well.

Because my family only had one car, and neither my mum or I had driven for years, we were dependent on others for transport to see my dad. My dad’s mother had been giving us lifts from time to time, but Nick started to dictate that as well. And halfway through his visit in the UK, this same friend of his that I previously mentioned had travelled to Germany - and during this time that the survival of his brother was still an unknown, he decided to follow her there…

He gave every impression of quite clearly not caring about his brother during this time. And he treated my mum with the utmost disrespect. When he returned to Australia it was quite frankly a massive relief!

My Father’s Progress

As I’ve already alluded to, my father progressed very well, and very quickly. Obviously, to him, it felt like a lifetime. After the NCCU, he was moved to the High Dependency Unit, and then to the Rehabilitation Ward. But even after being in hospital for what felt like ages, he still wasn’t able to walk, or get out of bed by himself.

I’d been given a fair amount of time off work when he was initially hit, but after going back to work, I was only able to visit him in the hospital on the weekends. So from his perspective, he was barely progressing at all, but from mine where I was only able to see him once a week, he was doing great! Ultimately, it was his progress from being confined to a wheelchair to being able to walk that was the most remarkable.

Incredibly, the only surgery he needed was skin grafts on his ankle - the rest of the recovery was all him.

hospital_mum_and_dad.jpg

Towards the end of his stay in hospital, he was moved from Cambridge to Ipswich so that he’d be nearer home. I didn’t even get a chance to see him in Ipswich hospital, because he was in there for such a short time comparatively. I tried to ring my mum as often as possible to ensure I was kept up to date; from my perspective, his time in Ipswich hospital went more or less like this:

  1. “Yes, he’s being moved to Ipswich hospital today”
  2. “They’ve fitted him for new neck and back braces so that the braces don’t have to be connected anymore”
  3. “He’s home now!”

My dad is now 50 (or 49.95 as the picture below might have you believe), and the only real physical reminder he has of what happened is that he has no sense of taste or smell anymore… It annoys the hell out of him, because all food is just bland to him now. He gets textures, and spice, but that’s about it. But to be fair, if you’re going to lose any senses through your brain having to heal itself, taste and smell are the easiest ones to get away with!

Final Note

As a final note: there’s a lot I’ve not mentioned here. There are simply too many specifics to mention. But I do want to say that there are a few people we especially owe a lot to during this time. Some people I simply won’t mention for the sake of their own privacy (such as some of the nurses and other people we met at the hospital). But some I will mention are:

  • My mum’s friend Carol, who was incredibly supportive throughout everything.
  • My cousin Jon-Paul was also fantastic; he was very supportive, actively tried to visit my dad regularly, and was often on hand to give my mum lifts to the hospital despite often working quite long hours.
  • My partner Amy: she and I had only been together for a short time at this point, but she still travelled to Cambridge to show her support for me; she also introduced my mum and I to Berocca during the first week my dad was in hospital, which was much needed because we had barely been eating at all, and those vitamin tablets are probably the only reason we got through those first couple of weeks without some severe nourishment issues (though the fact it turns your urine luminous was a bit of a shock!).
  • Most importantly was our family friend Lynn Stringer: as well as driving my mum to the hospital and supporting her on the day my dad was hit, she continued to regularly give us lifts to the hospital and check up on my mum throughout everything. She also gave us a lift to a meeting with Headway so that we could discuss what to expect when/if my dad recovered as well. She even tried to cancel her prearranged holiday so that she could be on hand to help us, but because my dad wasn’t actually a family member, she wasn’t able to. She was, at least from my perspective, absolutely integral to my mum being able to get through everything that happened.

So I’ll end this there! My dad may never get his smell and taste back, but we still have him, and that’s ultimately what counts.


Posted: February 5th, 2016
Categories: Life