January Done!

I am so pleased that January is done with. It just seemed to last forever! Usually we go on holiday in January, as by then I am in need of sunshine, but this year we weren’t able to do so. Maybe that is why it seemed such a long month. I actually don’t like January or February much. It’s cold, dark and generally uninspiring. But, once they are done, there is the hope of spring, warmer weather and longer days just around the corner.

We had some nice times in January though. It was my hubby’s Birthday and we had a lovely family meal out, we also went to a 40th Birthday party and had a lovely evening. Lots of the girls friends, that we have known for many years were there and it was lovely seeing them again, all grown up! We watched several good movies, snuggled on the couch whilst the rain and wind were safety shut behind the curtains and have enjoyed relatively lazy weekends.

We have spent time with family, our granddaughters in particular. The little one Ava-Leigh is growing fast and is very cute! The bigger one Alisha, is getting more and more interactive and is talking really well. They visit every Saturday afternoon and we play. Yesterday we brought Alisha some new cars. Cars are a favourite of hers, and we were promptly allocated a car each which spent the next hour being rescued from under the couch and table! Again, the nicer weather will be a blessing. At 2 years and 3 months old, winter is a little restrictive in terms of activities. The recent wind and rain make outdoor activities impossible. Alisha is too small for the cinema, to small for the soft play on a weekend. The spring will mean the park, the farm, the zoo and more fun!

We also used January to plan our summer holiday. First we had to decide where we wanted to go. Sam, our son had expressed a wish not to go back to Tenerife this year. We have been many times and whilst we love it, we also wanted to explore somewhere new this year. But, no one really knew where they would like to go! So, the search began. Sam’s requirement list consisted of wifi or an internet corner and some evening entertainment. Steve simply wanted air conditioning and somewhere near the beach. For me, it has to be an apartment rather than a hotel room, in the sunshine, well located, 4 star or above and be good for Sam. It is just the three of us now and we know that a 14 year old boy wants more than just two weeks in our company!! It wasn’t a very specific list to work with! Anyhow, we eventually decided that we would go to Protaras in Cyprus. It looks good for us and we are very pleased with our choice. Trip Advisor helped us choose our accommodation, You Tube was useful for videos of the local area and beach. There are some excursions that we want to take while there and it ticked all of the boxes for us all. It was also nice that there were several reviews from families with teenagers who loved the complex that we are staying at. So all in all we are excited about it! It’s nice to have something to look forward to. It makes the sufferance of winter just that bit more bearable!

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Reaching People.

I have been left completely overwhelmed by the response to my last post “Walk and Die.”   I knew it would be a well read post simply because of the content and the fact that it is a very recent event. Also, head injuries have been in the news recently because of Michael Schumacher’s sad accident. Two months ago, I had little knowledge of such injuries and certainly never expected to be in the position of writing about a personal experience. I have to admit, I deliberated over even writing about it at all and especially over using the photographs that we used. I don’t always publish all of the posts that I write. I only decided to publish this one as I felt that it had a message that could really help save lives and raise awareness. When I published it, I genuinely had absolutely no idea just how far it would reach.

Rarely does a post on my blog attract more than 100 views in any one day. The “Walk and Die” post has so far had well over 15,000 hits. It has been shared some 850 times on Facebook and over 70 times on Twitter. People have reached out to me to share their stories, national head injury organisations such as Headway have shared my story on their social media along with smaller organisations. I have been asked if my story can be used as a case study, I have been asked if I would write an article for a website, I have been asked if I will share my story in person at a fundraising event. I have been truly humbled at the response that this post has brought to me. I will reply to each and every one of you who has written to me to share, who has reached out with understanding and those who have reached out in sadness. I am even more aware now of the devastation that a Traumatic Brain Injury can cause. I have had messages from parent’s, grandparents, friends and other family about babies, children and adults affected by such an injury.

I have been asked to write more. Several people have asked about what happened to my middle daughter and whether I am able to share that story. More than several have asked if I will write more about the impact of a sudden traumatic injury on a family, and how we coped with it. One has asked me if there is anything that helps a parent recover from the shock of such an accident. I am no expert, I can only write from my own experiences but I will do my best to cover those topics from my own perspective over the next few weeks.

But, I need to say thank you. Thank you to the many, many people and organisations that have helped me to share this story, I have reached people. More people than I ever could have hoped for. I could never have anticipated just how far my post could travel and I am truly grateful to every single person who clicked on the share or re-tweet button. I am grateful for every message that I have received and the people that this post has enabled me to connect with. And, the post is still travelling – so it’s not finished yet! I hope that someday, somewhere, sharing my story might make a difference simply by raising awareness around the symptoms (or sometimes lack of immediate symptoms) of a serious head injury.

Thank you again – you are all amazing!

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Walk and Die.

This is a fairly long post – and I will warn you in advance that there are a couple of reasonably graphic pictures at the bottom. 

In November 2013, seven weeks ago, my eldest daughter was hurt. We have been here before. Less than three years ago, my middle daughter was hurt in a car accident. Hurt doesn’t really describe it. Both were critically hurt with no immediate way of knowing what the outcome would be. Both required life support and were in medically induced coma’s to give the doctors full control. I have alluded to my middle daughters accident a few times over the course of my blog but have never yet written fully about it. They say that lightening doesn’t strike twice, but it does. There are several amazing Doctors and Surgeons at both St Mary’s Hospital in London and The Royal London Hospital that are the only reason that we still have our girls with us, and in one piece, and we thank these people and these facilities on a daily basis. I have decided to write about my eldest daughters injuries as there is a very serious message and opportunity for other lives to be saved – simply by reading the story.

My eldest daughter Holly, has a two year old daughter. She doesn’t go out very much as obviously, she has her little one to care for. Holly hadn’t planned to go into town on this particular night. My brother was looking after the little one and Holly was spending the evening at a friends. Late in the evening, Holly and her friend decided to go into town. The entered a particular club with no knowledge of the events that were to unfold. Several hours later, at 5.30am in the morning, there was a loud banging on our front door. Now, those of you with teenagers will know that they can have a habit of rocking up at all hours with friends – even after they have moved out!! So, on being woken by the door banging, we assumed it was Holly. It was the police. They had come to inform us that Holly had been assaulted earlier that evening and needed details for her. They explained that she was seriously hurt and was being transferred from our local hospital to St Mary’s hospital in London. As soon as they said where she was being transferred to I knew it must be a head injury. St Mary’s hospital is a major trauma hospital in London, with a speciality in Neurology. The police confirmed that she had suffered a serious head injury and offered to take us straight to the hospital. The police didn’t seem to have many more details than that. They had a duty to ensure that Holly’s daughter was safe and well and asked for the address of where she was staying. As I was finding the address one of the police women were outside on the radio. She came in and advised us that we had to get to the hospital immediately. Her words were ” you need to get dressed right now – we need to get you to the hospital – Holly’s situation is deteriorating.” Needless to say, we were dressed and out within minutes, being blue-lighted to the hospital.

On arrival, we were shown to the family waiting room. We have been here before. The little room with bereavement posters on the wall and tissues on the table. It’s when it becomes real, and you know that the news isn’t going to be good. A nurse came in and gave me Holly’s jewellery, explaining that the Doctor would be in shortly to see us. At that moment, I honestly thought that we were going to lose her. I just didn’t believe that we could get lucky a second time, with a second child. The Doctor came very soon afterwards. He explained that soon after entering the club earlier that evening, Holly had been assaulted by being hit across the head with a bottle. Initially she appeared fine. The strike had caused a small but deep cut on her forehead and she had attended A&E for stitches. She had walked in and given all of her details etc, chatting quite happily with the Doctors and Nurses. He explained that whilst she had had a few drinks, she did not appear particularly drunk and whilst she had been taken to the hospital on advice of the police in an ambulance, was considered a voluntary patient. The Doctor explained that it is routine to keep anyone with a head injury under observation for an hour or two afterwards for observation. So initially all seemed straightforward.

However, after being stitched up, Holly became more unwell. She remembers feeling strange and her head hurting. She remembers going back to the desk to tell them that she felt unwell. She remembers nothing after that point. But the Doctor informed us that whilst under observation, Holly became unwell. She started to get very sleepy, her speech was slurred and she was no longer able to answer the questions that she had been able to answer on admission to the hospital. When asked her date of birth, Holly had been talking about horses. The Doctors had realised that something was very wrong and immediately sought a CT scan of her brain.

The scan showed a life threatening brain injury. Holly had been struck across the head with such force that her skull had been fractured. This in turn had caused a very large bleed into her brain. The pressure from the bleed was compressing her brain and she needed urgent specialist neurological care. Hence, her being transferred to a specialist hospital in London. Holly had already been put into a medically induced coma and onto life support so we could see her only briefly. The Doctor began to explain about the various tubes, staff and machines that would surround Holly until we explained that this was not the first time we had been in this situation with a child and were familiar with the equipment. The police had appointed us a police liaison officer who would blue-light us behind the ambulance into London. We already knew from our previous experience that this is normal practice when the outcome is unknown.

On arrival at St Mary’s the Neurosurgeon saw us briefly. He explained that Holly needed emergency surgery to stem the bleeding and relieve the pressure on her brain. The more compressed her brain became, the more serious the damage. At that point, the Neurosurgeon could give us little idea of the expected outcome and was obviously in a hurry to get the operation started. Unfortunately, there is no give in a skull. Therefore there is no room for a brain to move – any pressure simply compresses the brain. Eventually the pressure becomes so great that the brain has nowhere to go other than out of the base of the skull. If that happens then there is no recovery.

Four hours or so later and we were sat back with the Neurosurgeon, who, was/is a truly great guy. He explained that the surgery had gone well and that the bleeding had been stopped. Having realised how upset we were, and that we had previously been in a similar situation before with our other daughter, albeit with very different injuries, he explained that he had not wanted to give too much details of possible outcomes prior to surgery. He explained that he was concerned when he initially received the referral and scans from our local hospital – knowing that Holly was still an hour from reaching him. Speed is of the essence with these types of injuries. He had been worried during surgery at how much bleeding there had been and at how compressed Holly’s brain had become. We later learnt that practically half of the right side of her brain had been compressed. He explained that Holly would now go to Intensive Care and that we wouldn’t really know the outcome of any damage until they started to wake her up. As well as the staples from surgery she had a pressure monitor fixed into her head to keep a close eye on the pressures within her brain in case of further bleeding. The surgeon explained that best case scenario was that Holly would wake up and within a few days would be responsive and chatting with us. Worst case scenario was that we would have a very disabled daughter. Unthinkable scenario was that she simply wouldn’t wake up. Age was on her side we were told. Bluntly, a 40 year old or older would not survive such an injury. A 30 year old might survive but it would be unlikely that they could escape without brain damage. A 20 year old had better odds. The surgeon then gave us a “cautiously optimistic” verdict.

To cut a long story short, Holly has made an amazing recovery. I struggle with the word lucky in a situation such as this but someone is looking down on us. Within 24 hours Holly was awake and responsive. Making progress every day she came home just five days later. Aside from some problems with vision in her right eye and more frequent headaches she is back to leading a normal, happy life. Grateful is not the word. She had been in the club for just minutes when she was assaulted. I hope that the person who assaulted her has some idea of how seriously he hurt her. I can’t comment further on that as there is an on-going criminal case. The surgeon who operated on Holly and without doubt saved her life, visited every day. Even he was amazed by her recovery. On leaving the hospital she was sat outside with her Dad waiting for a cab. The Neurosurgeon who had treated her ran past on his way to another emergency surgery. He did a double take when he saw Holly and realised that we were taking her home. He asked to have a photo with her – explaining that he simply didn’t see such good outcomes as this very often. He explained that more often than not, they just didn’t happen.

The point of sharing this story is this. The Neurosurgeon explained to us that they (Surgeons and Doctors) call this injury a “Walk and Die” injury. The person is initially well after a bang to the head, fully aware and conversant. Over a course of hours, as the bleeding puts more pressure on the brain they become unwell, and loose consciousness.  A proportion of people who sustain a bang or injury to the head go home and go to bed. They never wake up again. A further proportion, feeling fine initially, stay out and keep drinking. When symptoms of the brain injury such as confusion, slurred speech and sleepiness take effect, others assume that they are simply drunk, and no treatment is sought. These people will also die. A smaller proportion seek or are sought medical help and purely by luck, are in the right place when the symptoms take hold and treatment is given. These have a chance of living and recovering. If Holly had gone home that night, and gone to bed she would never have woken up again. Equally if she had stayed out, she may never have got the timely treatment that she did and would likely not have survived.

Hundreds of lives are lost needlessly each year from head injuries like these. A lot of people do not realise that a head injury may not have immediate symptoms or know what the signs of brain injury are. So, I am hoping that by sharing this story we can help to raise awareness and hopefully more people will survive as a result.

 

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Exhaustion and Insomnia.

Why is it that when you need to sleep the most, because you are that exhausted, you can’t. And because of that you know that the next day will be even harder than the day before and then that makes you so stressed that you know you won’t sleep anyhow? And then the littlest things become the biggest things because everything you are trying so hard to get right and get back on track gets wrong again?

Humans need sleep. It’s that simple. I have recently returned to work full time following my surgery and was doing well. Really well. But, all of a sudden the exhaustion has become overwhelming again and it is frustrating me no end. It makes me feel helpless and useless. To add not sleeping again on top of that is just a vicious circle. There are very few of us that can manage on Margaret Thatchers supposed four hour a night sleep requirements. So what do we do when we are so exhausted but sleep just will not come – even if the exhaustion is not all sleep related? When in turn that exhaustion and lack of sleep impacts on productivity at work and at home? Impacts on our daily energy levels and mood? Can any of you, relate to feeling so exhausted during the day that you could cry – but still sleep will not come that night? Do any of you have any practical sleep tips or advice that you can share with me for me to try? It would be very appreciated because I do know that this exhausted insomniac needs a cure – fast!

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Juggling Five Balls.

My husband and I have worked full time for much of our three children’s upbringings. While things are much easier now that the girls have become adults and our son is 14, we have had to juggle family, work and home over the years.

“How do you juggle everything in your life?” is a question that I have been asked many times. My personal feeling is that in terms of life overall, there is no separation between work and play – it’s all living. For me, the question of home/work life balance is a completely separate issue that contributes to my overall quality of life. At different times, different elements of life will have varying levels of importance or dominance. Each one is an important aspect of life after all. Today I came across this quote by Brian Dyson – former CEO of Coca Cola, which encapsulates how I feel the juggle can and should translate into reality.

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit … and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

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Introducing Baby Ava-Leigh!

On the 24th November 2013, I was blessed with a second Granddaughter. I have been lucky enough to be at the birth of both of my Granddaughters. This Granddaughter came courtesy of my middle daughter Abbie and her partner Mitchell. The birth although painful for Abbie as births usually are, went smoothly and without problem, managed with just gas and air. She weighed in at a healthy 6lb 9oz. The new family are doing well and of course everyone is enjoying having a new baby around. Especially my eldest Granddaughter who dotes on her little cousin in her own clumsy toddler way! So, all that remains is for me to share her with you. So here she is ….. introducing baby Ava-Leigh!

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An Update – 7 Weeks On!

My apologies for taking so long to update. I’ve had several messages from people I know and some that I don’t, asking after me – so thank you for those.

I am doing well now. I stopped writing for several weeks – and for a few of those I stopped pretty much everything, shut myself off from the world and had some time out. You see, this whole post op thing became a bit to much for me. It turned out to be harder than I thought or expected, more tiring, sorer, longer and then, hormones and insomnia kicked in leaving me feeling pretty low.

And in between that, when I had just reached 3 weeks post op, my eldest daughter got hurt. Badly hurt. So while I was supposed to be recovering, I was actually travelling in and out of London daily to where she was in hospital, cars, buses, trains, very slow walking, sitting around on uncomfortable chairs and generally pushing my luck a bit. But, that’s what you do when you have too. At almost four weeks post op, I turned midwife as my second, beautiful granddaughter was born a little ahead of schedule! More to follow on both of those events, but boy – what a week! It literally was one extreme to the other. Everyone, but especially my amazing but long suffering hubby, was exhausted. Fortunately everyone is doing well now! So week three was not a good week for recovery in many ways, and perhaps led to the downfall in weeks 4 and 5.

Weeks four and five were probably the hardest in terms of recovery. I didn’t seem to be making any progress. On top of the pain and discomfort my mood hit a low, I was completely exhausted and finally gave in. Now, it’s hard to know if that would have happened if week three had not been so traumatic or maybe it was a combination of both but, I felt awful. I went to my GP seeking help. He was fairly straight and realistic and essentially sent me back to the start. Back to full rest. With the emphasis on actually doing it properly this time. He urged time, patience with myself, tolerance, kindness and urging me to lose the self imposed frustration. And I did exactly that. I had no choice. To the point where I didn’t speak to hardly anyone, didn’t really see anyone outside of immediate family, ignored the world and gave myself the time I needed mentally and physically.

The reward wasn’t immediate, wasn’t overnight, but is now obvious. At 6 weeks and 3 days post op, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t so exhausted, wasn’t anywhere near as sore, felt much brighter in myself, could do more of the things I wanted to more easily. I took a trip out and didn’t feel overwhelmed, wanted to eat again, wanted to drive and so on. Over the next few days I was careful not to overdo anything, but went for a short drive, went to the supermarket alone just to browse, went for lunch with a friend, started more house work chores – all without problem. I am now at 7.5 weeks and feel mostly like myself again. I can pretty much do anything that doesn’t involve standing for too long, walking too far, lifting anything or pushing a trolley! I take things easy, rest in the afternoons and pace myself. The result – I have some energy back, only minor discomfort most of the time – which soon lets me know if I am pushing too hard (which I take as my bodies warning to stop) and I can manage the tiredness much better. All of that despite the insomnia which does not seem to be improving yet, hence this middle of the night update! All of a sudden everything seems to be coming right. Don’t get me wrong, some days are still better than others, but I just feel in control again which for me is important.

And now I get to reap the rewards – essentially getting everything back on track. I am no longer in pain, no longer suffer my previous symptoms, am feeling stronger and suddenly it all seems worth it again. I’m not rushing it anymore, am no longer frustrated or impatient. I take each day as it comes and respond accordingly. And in return for acceptance of how things are – I feel I am healing like I should be. And, it really does feel like a reward! 🙂

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