Intensive Care Unity, Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) with Juliet Dube (sister)
People who have experienced the mercy of God first hand after a near death experience feel obliged to share a message from the other side. Actually I stared death in the eyes, the traumatic brain injury (TBI) would have rendered my life pointless if I had let it.
As a result of the acquired brain injury I sustained in November 2002, I can’t recall the events leading to the ruinous car accident. However I recollect waking up from a coma in an intensive care unit after a several number of weeks. My right arm was constantly clenched and numb, neither could I seat up nor feel my legs, lo I was freaked out. I thought to myself I must be in a South African hospital. Rationally, I knew that I wasn’t in Zimbabwe because the hospital staff were predominantly Caucasian. Many white folk had left Zimbabwe following the seizure of white farms. However even before that there was hardly any white people working in the public sector. I couldn’t ask because I had lost the ability to speak (aphasia), the only way to draw attention was to conjure up cacophonous racket with the lingering breath in my lungs. When I was transferred to a ward with other patients my bed was next to a white bloke who introduced himself to me as a South African (SA) which coincidentally reinforced the notion that I was in SA.
In January 2003 after I learnt how to speak a little coupled with gaining a little bit of strength to at least press a buzzer I was transferred from Leeds General Infirmary to Chapel Allerton Hospital, Leeds for further rehabilitation including speech therapy. My speech therapist was called Tory, a lady from Scotland. She wanted me to pronounce words in a certain way and I remember easily getting frustrated due in part to my brain injury. As a result I gave up “Tory you are Scottish and there is no way I will be able to speak like you, all I need is for my family and doctors to understand me” I recall quitting speech therapy. Quitters never win and winners never quite, I wish I knew that at the time but my mind was deleted, premonitions and vagaries were the order of the day. My thoughts were plagued by misery and despair thusly moods used to rage like a storm. I used to become sad just thinking about my sad life, that was the saddest, darkest and lowest point of my life I had hit ‘rock bottom’.
Slowly I started to feel my legs and I commenced Physio sessions as well as Occupational Therapy. At first I learnt to be up on my feet using a Zimmer frame, boy I loathed it because I had never seen a young person gliding on one before, I was only a teenager but on the eve of adulthood. I wanted to be cool and I couldn’t envisage the young me running an errand in the morning pushing a frame through the alley ways. However, physio gave me a glimmer of hope, henceforth I became courageous and worked hard aiming to walk independently. “To be honest with you, you will never ever be able to walk without a walking aid” Amy my physiotherapist said after I asked her to give me a candid opinion. I guess she was right wasn’t she because I tried and tried again but I was never able to put my foot in front of the other without a walking aid. Crutches are now part of me like my limbs. My Occupation Therapist was called Nicola from New Zealand about the same age as me. Cool I thought she was, disappointedly it wasn’t until Community Rehabilitation that I started having occupational therapy sessions on a regular basis.
Urinary Catheter and Constipation
Admittedly I didn’t know if unconscious folk poop or not, so after I googled I found the following answer on Reddit:
Ex hospital tech here.
I used to work in a lot of ICU’s and was the person in charge of cleaning up sh*t. Literally this encompassed half of my daily job duties in an ICU.
When people are unconscious whether it be medically or chemically induced (some patients are given drugs to induce an unconscious state) they still poop. Most are given a stool softener so it will pass easily. So 90% of the time their poop is the consistency of gravy.
However after the comma I remember suffering from chronic constipation and I had a catheter for a long time which I used to go to Physio sessions with. It was a funny site to see other patients coming from Physio walking with the catheters dangling on they legs. However, one guy in particular was very tall and gangly wore shorts revealing his disgusting thick piss because he hardly drank any liquids unless encouraged by the nurses. On a lighter note I loved it because I didn’t have to visit the bathroom so often particularly when drinking, back in the day beer used to loosen my tongue. I remember when my friends took me to a pub in Chapel Alleton, “how come you are not going to the toilet?” One of them wondered because he couldn’t see the catheter concealed under my baggy attire.
Ward 2 Chapel Alleton
This is a special ward to rehabilitate acquired brain injury sufferers both traumatic and non traumatic such as stroke & meningitis. During the coarse of my stay there I had the opportunity to live with brain injury survivors alike all with different behaviours. I seek to briefly analyse their behaviours by using only their first names so as to keep their identity anonymous. Where I can’t remember the name I will use a manufactured one.
It is said that brain injury survivors may experience a wide range of Neuro-psychological problems such as Behaviour problems; Personality Changes; Memory Problems; Establishing Structure; Lack of Emotion, Emotional Liability; Aggressive Behaviours; Self Centred Attitude; Poor Concentration; Lack of Awareness of Deficits and Inappropriate Sexual Behaviour. The fortunate survivors may make a full recovery simultaneously the unfortunate ones may loose their lives.
When I was transferred to ward 1 my bed was next to a chap called Peter from Bingley. He was a lovely old chap (55+), he used a Zimmer frame to glide. He couldn’t speak properly hence he muffled and waffled most of the times but could vividly utter the phrase ‘cup of tea please’. In one single day he could use the phrase more than 24 times. He would seat up in his bed like Undertaker who has risen from a knock down and gracefully drink his tea.
When Peter got discharged his bed was occupied by a guy called Guy in his late 20s or early 30s. He was smart and very articulate, one day I listened to his conversation talking to student doctors and was inspired. I was curious and I wanted to find out more about him unfortunately he didn’t seem interested in making friends in the ward. He only seemed to be interested by the company of his hot wife and the practitioners in the ward. Im sure he was a nice guy, very serious and goal driven anyhow he didn’t stay long in Hospital, he came in with a walking stick and didn’t need it when he was discharged.
Steve came from Pudsey he was a middle aged man talking like a hard man like Ray Winstone. Actually he was hard save for his left upper and lower limbs. He used an electric chair with a golf ball as a joy stick to enhance his grip. I used to be envious of his chair it gave him freedom to go outdoors and smoke all day. Hence I wanted to try and use one, after pleading my case I was given a few lessons to learn how to control it. I passed my driving test but disappointedly it was taken off me after I suffered a seizure. Lo I was upset and my anger triggered yet another seizure. Steve liked to make people laugh occasionally picking on me, fair play I now realise it was banter. However I used to take it personal. He was organised in what he did and wanted to be the voice of reason in the ward (alpha male) better yet for him he used to get on well with Billy the Charge Nurse. However I saw the relationship as teaming up against me I didn’t want nurses to take sides, unfair I thought. Therefore I was jealous of their relationship and rightfully so. Frans de Waals a Dutch primatologist found out that monkeys don’t like unfair treatment. Similarly people are creatures with intuitive for fairness. Empirical study using monkeys.
Harry was a nice guy and he also used to live in Pudsey as a result he was best buddies with Steve. The head injury affected his left-side regardless he could walk without a stick dangling his left hand which looked overbearing. His speech wasn’t clear but it wasn’t hard to tell what he said. He had a chevron moustache like Freddie Mercury and had a long term lovely girlfriend called Sue. The couple liked me, likewise I enjoyed speaking to them. Later I met him at a Community Rehabilitation Centre and we shared a room. One day out of the blues he tried to kiss me on the lips but told him “nah man I don’t get down like that”. I couldn’t fathom his actions his lovely girlfriend had just left the the room.
Mike was a quiet man because he had lost his capacity to speak thankfully his lovely wife never left his side and used to help him out with conversations. I would say Vicky the wife was in her mid thirties and Mike was in his early forties. They were a solid couple almost everyday Vicky was the first visitor to come in the ward and the last one to leave. Occasionally she used to book the side family room to spend some time with her husband. They made friends with my sister because every-time she came to see me she would have a good chat with Vicky. I liked Mike he used to push himself to the limit to try and get better, he had something to look forward to. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted to get well and be the patriarch of his family.
When I first saw Melvin I thought this guy has a head with no screws, an absolute nutter. Physically he looked normal and active apart from his lazy eye. Actually he was hyperactive, restless and a wanderer throwing swear words left right and centre. My bed was the first one on the left hand side as you enter the ward. Therefore every body who entered the ward used to see me. Every-time Melvin passed me he used to blurt the phrase ‘f*cken monkey’ spitting on the floor in disgust. I detested this dude I thought he was a racist, too often I reported him to the nurses and I was told to ignore his remarks because it was the brain injury which made him that way. To me he knew what he was doing because by and large he offended me in the ward because I was different. At the time I remember arguing that take away the brain injury facade and you will find out that the guy is a racist and now revealing his ugly side which was concealed at the back of his subconscious mind. However extensive research on brain injuries highlights that it can change people’s personalities.
Brian was a family man he never stayed long in hospital. The wife told us that he used to have a top job and unfortunately the brain injury had slowed him down, feeling woozy oftentimes. Looking at him seating on his chair was deceiving at best, he looked healthy and sophisticated. Unlike Melvin he was calm and soft spoken.
Stephen was a young dude same age as me I think, his brain injury was due to drug abuse. As a result his legs were severely affected and used to cry all day.
As for me my speech continued to improve by the day and was feeling comfortable oblivious to the harsh realities of the out side world. Nothing could have been better than beating nurses at chess. Other than that hospital life was monotonous, mundane and the food sucked. I recall one of the Dinner Ladies giving me extra portions thinking she was treating me but it was more bland food I had to endure. The occasional tasty treat from family was like manna from heaven, I remember Tau bringing me box of KFC it was like the best thing I ever had.
“Max we thinking of discharging you in a couple of months” speaking to me and my sister the charge nurse said. My stomach clenched worryingly “but I’m not ready and I have no accessible house to go to”. The nurse reassured me that my sister was getting help from the Local Authority to find an accessible dwelling for me. Finally I got discharged as an inpatient in June 2003 and continued further stints of rehabilitation as an outpatient at the Community Rehabilitation Centre, St Mary’s Leeds. Two weeks every three months I used to go there.
Life after hospital
when I got discharged from hospital reclusive sociability was the order of the day, all the kids went to school and my sister went to university coupled with work commitments. However I had two carers who visited the house twice a day for a total of 1 hour per day. Therefore I spent most of my time playing chess and nothing but chess against the computer. I started playing the middling level & gradually proceeded to play the hardest level and occasionally surprised myself by beating the computer. From this perspective it could be argued that chess played a big part in my rehabilitation particularly mentally.
2004/5 were the years of community rehabilitation and attending a community centre in my local area.
2006/7 I employed my first outdoor support worker, a student at Leeds Metropolitan University. 20 hours of support throughout the week so I joined a gym for working out as well as having swimming lessons. That period is when I started to attend Headway Leeds social events (a charity set up to help brain injury Survivors). I inquired about getting back to studying and I was told to prove myself that I could do it. So I enrolled for AS in Psychology at Joseph Priestly College (night school). Notably 2006 is when I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, happy days.
Started my independent living trial in 2008 and eventually moving to my purpose built home in 2010. In 2008 I also commenced a programme in Human Geography & Planning from 2008- 2011 at Leeds Metropolitan University (now known as Leeds Beckets University). As a result I was crowned Headway UK Archiver of the year, to my elation. Consequently I studied a Masters in Town & Regional Planning and graduated in 2012, worked as an intern at Leeds City Council from 2013-14. In 2015 I started travelling world wide independently to find out the challenges faced by wheelchair users and disabled people alike on a daily basis by having the first hand experience.
Award ceremony at The Dorchester Hotel in London with two Irwin Mitchell solicitors, Jane Horton & Jane McNair (left to right)
Pursuing my dreams
Throughout my journey the magnitude of support from my sister and her kids as well as family friends was great and will forever feel grateful. However when it came to pursuing my dreams in the aftermath of my accident I took the initiative I didn’t wait for someone to tell me what I can and can’t do academically. It was within me to know what I was capable of. In general if you think you can do something ‘Just do it’ like Nike, wether you think you are right or wrong you are right, Henry Ford.
As highlighted earlier that head injuries affect people in different ways. Myself I lost the ability to do many essential physical things like walking. However many tell me that I have accomplished outstanding things despite my brain injury such as obtaining my MA in Town planning.
Therefore I encourage brain injury survivors and people at large to live to reach their full potential by sustaining a positive mental attitude because if people focus on their problems and limitations they become disempowered.
Acknowledgements: first and foremost I want to convey my gratitude to my sister and her kids, relatives and friends. You helped me when I was rock bottom for that I appreciate you more than you know. Trying to walk again I fell several times and Shelton you helped me up on numerous occasions. Throughout the road to recovery I was helped by many professionals pointedly: Dr Paul Chumas thank you for believing that I would make a considerable recovery alongside my sister and to overturn the decision to switch off the life supporting machine. To Amanda thank you for your continuing support work. Tom and Katie thank You for playing chess against me in hospital so too I convey my gratitude to NHS particularly staff for showing a brother some love. Shout out to the retired lecture from Leeds Becketts University, John Seacomb you believed in me and gave me a chance to prove myself. Headway Leeds cheers for giving me a social platform to meet other brain injury survivors alike. I’m also grateful that I became a member of The church of Jesus Christ in 2006, lovely folk. Last but not least I want to give a massive shout out to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for being my financial pillar and for being my voice when I lost it.