Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Life Changing Experience

Some people might think things have been a little quiet here lately. That’s partly due to pressure of work – we started operating two new routes in Winchester on 11th June, and the workload involved for a company of our size to get those kind of routes off the ground is immense.

This is particularly true when we are also bringing new acquisitions into the fleet in the form of our four ex-Dawson Rentals DAF DB250 double deckers, all of which are being refurbished internally.

 However, sometimes life has a way of deflecting you from your intended course, and so it proved one Wednesday night in June, when my 66-year old mother fell down a concrete staircase at her home in Bedford, fracturing her skull and two vertebrae in her spine, breaking ribs and puncturing her lungs.

 After a night in Bedford Hospital she was transferred to a neurological ward at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where she spent a few nights clearly very ill, but apparently alert and in fighting spirit. However, a sudden and sharp decline in her condition saw her taken into intensive care in the Neurosciences Critical Care Unit (NCCU) at Addenbrooke’s, where she has been ever since.

Over the first few days in NCCU – and despite a successful operation to repair a vertebra in her thorassic spine – her condition continued to deteriorate, with a serious chest infection taking hold. She was placed under almost constant sedation, kept alive by a series of machines. Eight days after the accident, the senior medical staff there raised the possibility for the first time that they might have to withdraw treatment and let nature take its course.

However, the following day they decided she was well enough to undergo further surgery and performed a life-saving operation to repair the spinal column in the base of her neck – a delicate procedure that required entry through both the front and back of her neck.

 This proved to be the turning point, and since then Mum’s condition has very slowly but surely improved. She is now awake and alert much of the time, no longer breathing or feeding through machines. Use of her limbs is gradually returning, and her mental faculties are returning to the point where she can usually – though not always - recognise visitors and identify our names and what relationship we are to her. She is also sometimes able to construct very simple sentences of a few words, to communicate that she is hot or cold or thirsty or whatever.

 It is hoped that she will be out of NCCU in a day or two and back in a normal ward, where they can begin the process of rehabilitation and teaching her how to carry out very basic functions for herself, such as eating or getting dressed. Nobody knows how much cognitive ability she will regain, or how quickly, and we sense that we are in for a long, slow process.

 For me, ten trips to Addenbrooke’s in the first two weeks meant that everything else in my life was placed on hold. Luckily I have an excellent team at Velvet who have kept things going superbly well, despite all the challenges of the additional routes and vehicles. I am now travelling to Cambridge two or three times per week and gradually getting back into a more normal work routine.

 I have toyed with writing about this episode several times before now, but always shied away from it for fear of appearing self-indulgent. But many friends and contacts have been aware that something was wrong with Mum and haven’t really known what, so this post allows me to put that right, as well as thanking the many people who have very kindly offered their support in all sorts of ways. It is deeply appreciated.

 As someone who has always hated hospitals it seems odd to have one of Europe’s largest hospital campuses as my second home, but without this experience I would never have come to appreciate the work of some of the world’s leading neurological specialists and the fine team that supports them,

 To enter the NCCU is to enter a science fiction film set. In beds all around the room lie motionless bodies, each sprouting a multitude of lines and tubes connecting them to a profusion of machines. Everywhere you look are blinking lights, computer screens, graphs, wires and unfeasibly large syringes, silently and relentlessly pumping their subjects full of the most specialised drugs you will find.

 But rather than paint a picture of my own, I can do no better than highlight this article from the Daily Telegraph in 2010, which emphasises the delicate tightrope they continually tread in making decisions about whether people should live or die. I am in awe of these people.

 But for now the important thing is that Mum appears to be out of immediate danger and slowly on the mend, and my attention can start to return to the usual mixture of rambling travelogues, amusing observations and occasional outbursts on matters of topical importance, for which many people very kindly come to this blog!


  1. Hoping and praying your mum continues her recovery Phil. Your blog and that article you referred to are so incredibly thought provoking. We all take so many things in life for granted, especially our health when everything is going well. This is a reminder of how quickly situations can change at times. Wishing you and your family all the very best.

  2. I wish to echo those comments, all the best Phil (and to your Mum)

    Pete T

  3. I also wish to agree with & reiterate the comments.
    All the best to you & your Mum & family.

  4. Indeed, hope she gets better soon.


  5. Phil - I couldn't have put my sentiments any more clearly than Keith B above. Let's hope and pray that your Mum continues on the road to recovery and that you are spared further anguish. There was nothing self indulgent about sharing your experience, which none of us would wish for.

    All the best,

    Peter M, Liskeard

  6. With my very best wishes Phil- it's sometimes scary just how quickly things can change and it does certainly make you realise that you need to make the most of every opportunity offered.