John’s Story

Four years ago, 2014, life threw me a curveball and turned my life upside down. I was looking forward to a couple of weeks off at the end of July. My first day off was a warm and sunny day and enjoyed a day of doing just nothing and chilling out enjoying the sun. I had a roof terrace, which was garnished with a herb garden. The plants liked to be fed and watered a lot in hot weather so out I went to give them dinner. On approaching the foliage I tripped and off the edge I went.

This was not what I had planned for my time off. I remember thinking to myself “oh dear”, quickly followed by “I’m going to die”. There was a shop roof not far down, which would break my fall, so not too bad I thought. This however didn’t happen. I continued through the roof of the for another 18 feet being greeted by a stack of shelves, the corner of a washing machine and a fridge door on the way to meeting a concrete floor, which did break my fall. The shelves and fridge door contributed to my cuts and bruises, the corner of the washing machine punched me in the head and the floor abruptly stopped me from speeding an shattered my foot.

The roof I passed through acted like a cheese grater, which was incredibly uncomfortable, grazing off my left side. I remained on the floor unconscious, for several hours, slowly swimming in my own blood. Upon waking, I was very confused. I dragged myself across the floor in the pitch blackness and eventually found a phone left off its cradle. I called the police, asking if they could come and break me out of a shop I’d broken into. They were now confused so came quite quickly, in less than two hours. Apparently I didn’t make much sense at the time. 

As you can imagine, having damaged myself quite extensively I needed some time to repair. Many painkillers and physio later I returned to work after several months. Thinking I was back to normal I struggled through 3-4 months of feeling like I was slowly losing my mind but many mental and cognitive symptoms remained. 

After a long appointment with my GP, he was concerned about my non progress and referred me to a neurologist. My GP suggested I write things down, not only to help me make sense of things but also to take to the neurologist. The neurologist listened to my many symptoms and to him it was all very straightforward. His diagnosis was that I’d had a significant traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I felt a sense of relief knowing that I could put a name to things and it made sense to someone. That said, it didn’t make it good news, especially now knowing it would take some years to make more recovery and I was unlikely to fully recover. I didn’t know it was possible to be relieved at bad news.

Plodding along with my ailments and my brain drifting in and out of reality it was another few months when my senses were losing their grip on reality. I paid another visit to the neurologist who now diagnosed me as having epilepsy following the accident. I was in disbelief, as I didn’t have epilepsy. The doctors disagreed with my assessment and just replied with, ‘Now you do’. To my annoyance I now had to eat a mixture of pills a day. Additional hindrances to normal life were the side effects of the medication.

Current day I still battle with a variety of symptoms, side effects and an assortment of migraines. Memory and fatigue are my primary barriers. As with many of the other residual symptoms you just need to allow a creative mind a change to work round things and learn new ways of doing things. Finding coping mechanisms for all that is changed is a frustrating challenge. Living with those newfound limitations, for me, was one of the biggest barriers both to recovery and daily life.

In many ways I’d acquired a new identity and like with any new experience, if gives you a new perspective on things. To me, that can only be a good thing. They say a change of scenery can be as good as a holiday. Clearly the holiday I was on turned out not at all a good one, but I certainly got a change of perception. I look at the whole experience but I don’t think of a negative happening, nor do I think of it as positive. Things always happen in life that you never plan. Mentally and emotionally I experienced extremes of each end of the spectrum that I wouldn’t have thought possible and one of the surprising benefits of having a disability is the ability to realise and value difference. 

Following my accident I have now Co-Chaired the Cabinet Office disability network, Able. This has been a great privilege that has allowed me to contribute more to disability awareness. To be able to do something to dispel the image of what’s considered ‘normal’ and appreciate the significance of individuality has been immensely rewarding.

I have given a couple of presentations about my accident and condition, which I would never have done before. Partly because I’d not had the accident before but mostly because it gave me the courage to do so. A massive win for me was in my first presentation two of my neurologist were there along with the headway charity. 

During the Q&A the end of the session a woman was asking several questions about her son and getting very emotional. She was at breaking point as she was experiencing brick wall after brick wall trying to find out why her son was experiencing so many problems following a head injury. The session seemed to answer all her questions. Headway gave her emotional support and my neurologist suggested she come to his clinic to see her son as soon as possible. Something she had been waiting years for.

If only one of my presentations helps even one person that’s all the reason to continue.


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