Saturday, January 29, 2011


I was admitted to Cavit ABI for residential rehabilitation on the 16th December as it was unsafe for me to return home due to me being in post traumatic amnesia (PTA) and because the severity of my accident required intense rehab.

I arrived by ambulance around lunch time. As I was lifted out of the ambulance I remember being told that I had fallen off a wall and would be staying at Cavit for the next few months to be rehabilitated. I’m not sure if I was told or I made the memory up but I remember being told that I would make a full recovery and be able to return to everyday life. Whether I had made it up or not, there was no doubt in my mind that I would make a full recovery and would soon enough be back to my old self.

During my time in rehab, I never felt sorry for my self or wondered why the accident had happened to me. I stayed positive and focused on how I could improve. I didn’t think about what could have happened or ifs and buts as my situation was the reality and all that mattered. You can’t change the past so why bother letting it get to you? You can control the present and how you want it to turn out, and that’s what I focused on.

The staff was very good. They gave me lots of information to read and were always giving advice and educating me on the injury. I took on board and followed every bit of advice I got. Some may say I that I followed it a little too strictly, but all I cared about was getting back to my old way of life as quickly as possible. I wanted to be better then, I didn't want to wait 6 months.

House 1&2
For the first week I lived in house 1&2. Most patients started in house 1&2 and as they improve, move around the complex before being discharged. Fatigue was a major issue for me and initially I would need to rest at least twice a day for between an hour and an hour and a half. Even with the rests I constantly felt tired and it didn’t take a lot to make me short tempered and grumpy. When I went from sitting or lying to standing I would feel light headed and dizzy. My speech was slurred and I repeated myself as my short term memory was very bad. I knew what was happening but was very confused and mentally slow. My brain took a long time to process things, which left me feeling like I had a constant layer of fog or cloudiness in my mind. Physically I had a right sided weakness and all kind of balance and coordination issues. I was unsteady on my feet and would often bump into things on my right side. My mood was very dependent on how tired I was feeling. When I started to get tired all my negative affects would start to show. I had to learn to look for the warning signs that I was starting to get tired and go and have a rest. It took me a while to learn these but looking back they were very easy to spot. 

Stacey and Hayley were visiting when I had my first physio session booked. Stacey was trying to get me ready and told me to put my shoes on. I just looked at my shoe then looked at her for help. She encouraged me to put them on myself so I looked at Hayley for help. Stacey cut in and said “Come on Matt, you can put them on yourself. Go and get them and put them on” Hayley felt sorry for me and went to help me but Stacey stopped her and said “He has to learn to do things for himself”. I begrudgingly put my shoes on and was more than capable. My first lesson, cheers Stacey.

The gym
I have no memory of the session but the girls tell me that I had to put my hands in a box and without looking, squeeze the shapes to identify them and say whether they were soft or hard. To test my memory after the session Ann, my physio asked me if I could remember my way back to the house. It was only 20 metres from the gym but nothing looked familiar and I ended up walking round the whole complex. Hayley felt sorry for me and tried giving me hints but I still didn’t have a clue so Ann, gave in and showed me the way.  

It wasn’t long before I was going to the gym twice a day. I had been told that some of the neurons that carried messages throughout my body had died because of the impact of the fall. I was told that it is possible for my brain to make new pathways but because they aren’t as direct my brain has to work harder, which is why I get tired. They told me the more that I used these new pathways the stronger they would become and the more control I would have over movements. I had always enjoyed going to the gym before my accident but now with my new found knowledge they couldn’t keep me away.

I spent most of my time in house 1&2 in my room lying on my bed. I wasn’t being anti social but I had no interest in the other patients and preferred my own company. Let’s be honest the conversation wouldn’t have been very good and none of us would have been able to remember what was said after an hour. From reading my report I get the feeling that the staff was concerned about me not interacting with other patients. What seemed to have saved me was that when my friends came to visit I was straight out of my room, alert and full of life. It makes me laugh that they have actually noted I seemed much more alert and happy when I had female visitors.

I had lots of visitors throughout the day and evening and started to earn the reputation of being the most popular patient on campus. My housemates, Jen and Niamh visited me everyday for the first two weeks after my accident. Jen say’s her favourite memory of me was about three or four days after the accident. She says I wasn’t making much sense, was very confused but knew all about my accident. I was telling them a story about sharing a chair lift up the mountain with an American guy, who kept calling American Football, football. I apparently said to them “Why was that idiot calling it football? Football in England is the only sport where only your feet touch the ball and not your hands. I think he is the one with the brain injury.”

Tommy, the good fella, still brought me food when he visited. I told him that I had never had a burger from Burger Fuel so on one visit he brought me one, unfortunately I can’t remember eating it. Damo, had brought me a Nuts magazine. One day I was having a read and needed the toilet. I left the magazine cover down in a tented position so that I didn’t loose the page I was on. It just so happens that the page I was on had a picture of a girl with her tits out and when I came back from the toilet the magazine had been closed and put on my bed side table. I felt like I was 12 again and had been caught looking at a porno by my Mum. I had a little laugh to myself, found the page I was on and continued reading.

So far my recovery was going better than expected and I was moved to House 10. Usually after house 1&2 patients would stay in one or two more houses before being moved on to one of the final housing situations, but my progress had lead the staff to believe I was ready for final step. This was great news and I was very excited.

House 10
The set up is similar to a flatting situation to resemble living at home. We had to cook for ourselves, do the cleaning, food shopping, clothes washing etc. I was one of three patients and shared the house with Paul and Seth. Paul, was a race horse trainer who fell off a horse and was kicked in the back of the head, Seth was in a head on car accident and had to be cut from the wreck. Both of them were in their late 30’s, relaxed and easy to get on with. I was now expected to be self sufficient which meant asking the house keeper for my medication twice a day and to meet all appointments with out being reminded. Obviously the house keeper was there to make sure we didn’t forget but the idea was to prove you were ready to return home.

Just after moving in Jen, told me that I had better cut my hair and have a shave because I was starting to look a mess. I started to shave my head and stubble but left massive patches everywhere. I found it hard to grip the clippers comfortably and wasn’t very thorough. Jen was in disbelief when I looked at her and asked if I looked better. She wasn’t sure if I was serious or having a laugh. When she realised I was serious she had to finish the job for me.

House 10 was really where I started to take control of my recovery. I read that the brain not only needs to be worked physically but also mentally to strengthen the new pathways. I brought puzzle books with crosswords, word searches and Sudoku and I kept a daily diary of what I did and how I felt after to look patterns. I used to work my brain to the max. Some days it would go totally fuzzy and cloudy and feel like it couldn’t process any more information. I didn’t make a habit of working it that hard but I used to like the feeling because I knew I was pushing it. My recovery was all that mattered and I would make sure I worked out both mentally and physically before I let my self relax or watch the T.V.

The Cavit grounds
During my reading about brain injuries, I stumbled across one document that scared the crap out of me. I don’t believe in feeling sorry for yourself or dwelling on things, but this was hard to shake. I read that some people can never fully get rid of the fatigue and it was with them for life. The document went on to say that everyone was different. Some were able to do a full days work and feel fine but struggle after doing extra’s like mowing the lawn. Others could just about do a full days work then would have to return home for a rest and not be able to do much else in the evening. As my fatigue was the biggest issue and I still needed to rest twice a day for 30 – 40 minutes, I feared that it wouldn’t totally clear up. As I used to be so active and was always out and about doing things the thought of not being able to really scared me. My friends used to say “you’ll be okay, it’ll clear, you’ll see”. I knew they were only being positive and trying to reassure me but I used to think how do you know? How can you say it will be okay? I’m the one facing this problem and it may not be okay. I may not be able to ride my bike like I used to, go for a run or do things at the same pace. This really played on my mind but I didn’t let myself think about for longer than a day. To take my mind off it, I stayed positive and focused on my training program. I used to think I could trick my brain into thinking this is the kind of work it would have to do everyday so it had better get used to it.

If my friends hadn’t seen me for a few days, they always commented that I was doing much better. I used to think they were just being polite and didn’t take much notice but when I started noticing the improvements, I felt much happier, more positive and focused. From day one I’ve always had good insight into my injury. I knew what my problems were and as they started to improve I would focus on the next issue. I was a work in progress and nothing was going to stop me from making a full recovery.

My parents used to speak to me everyday on the phone and they could tell how I was feeling by my voice. I had started to ask questions about home, the accident and early days in hospital. I couldn’t remember any thing about hospital and as my parents explained, the gravity of the situation started to sink in. When I was first admitted to Cavit I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I knew I had a brain injury but thought my fall was pretty tame. My memory only really started around 10 days after the accident, when I was able to go to physio and hold conversations. I had no idea how bad I was after waking up from the coma. The more questions I asked the more I understood. After leaving rehab, PC Keith told me he didn’t think I was going to make it through the night and before leaving NZ, Lee, Tommy and Wayne said they didn’t think I would be watching football round their flat having a laugh again. 

Sergio and I
Sergio, one of the physio’s used to run a sports group once a week. The first sports group I went on Sergio, took Seth and I to a track and field stadium. We left Sergio for dead and he wasn’t able to keep up. We ran 5 laps of the 400m track with out stopping, Sergio only managed one. We then ran up and down the stairs from the car park onto the track 3 times followed by one last lap of the track as quick as we could. At the time I had only just started to jog and my muscles couldn’t accelerate into a sprint but my fitness was still there. It took a lot of concentration when placing my feet on the steps and on the way down my speed reduced considerably so that I didn’t trip or stumble. After the session I felt really good. It was by far the most exercise I’d done and was happy with my fitness and full of optimism that I would return to my old lifestyle. I loved the trip so much that I asked Sergio to inform me whenever he had a sports group arranged. I only had two weeks left in Cavit but I managed to fit in two, 1.5k walks round Cascades park in the Waitakere Ranges, a two on two basket ball game and a swimming trip to Westwaves Lap Pools. Seth had requested the basket ball match as I used to play. I found it very hard to judge the speed of the ball and had to wait for the ball to reach me before catching it. Every time I ran after the ball I felt like I was going to fall over and my marking skills were shocking. The guy on Sergio’s team suffered a minor brain injury and was only in Cavit for a week or so. He often stole the ball when I was dribbling and he was able to find acres of space with my slack marking. Seth and I won in the end and our fitness showed as we played on together while Sergio rested and the other chap smoked.

Overall I enjoyed my time at Cavit. Obviously I would have preferred not to have needed the rehabilitation but the staff couldn’t have done anymore and I knew I was in the right place to recover.

People tell me that I am lucky to have recovered so well and with out any lasting damage. I don’t think I am lucky. My injury was what it was. I could have fallen off the wall and ended up with cuts and bruises, I am also fully aware that I could now be paralyzed or be sitting in a wheelchair brain dead. That didn’t happen, I suffered a brain injury and I have recovered. I think the reason why I recovered so well is because I put so much time and effort into my rehab and I looked to the positives of my situation. I believe that I am reaping the benefits for living a healthy lifestyle. Although the accident happened when I was drunk, I don’t drink that often, I’ve been going to the gym regularly for the last 6 years, I take an interest in my diet which, has been very good for the last 3 years and I am very active. I would say that I am fortunate that I didn’t suffer more severe injuries but as I said at the beginning of this blog, "You can’t change the past so why bother letting it get to you? You can control the present and how you want it to turn out".

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Accident

I got up late Saturday morning after a big night out at Hayley’s friends house party. I can honestly say that I haven’t been that drunk since my teens! I had drunk a fair bit of rum and coke at Uenuku (my old hostel) before arriving at the party then I drunk home made punch that had all kinds of spirit in it. In the end I was so pissed that on the walk home I kept falling over, so my housemate, Peter had to phone a taxi to take me home.

When I woke up Saturday morning I was still pissed and was taking it easy watching T.V. For some reason I went outside and Fiona (Jen’s sister) and Eoin dared me to put my Chelsea shorts on so that I was in a full kit. To Fiona’s surprise I whipped off the shorts I was wearing, took my Chelsea shorts off the washing line and started dancing around like an idiot. When I’d finished dancing I decided to get back on the beers with Fiona, Eoin and Niamh and so started another session.

Eventually we all got ready and headed to The Domain for Christmas in the Park. Our taxi driver drove past the bottle shop and refused to turn round so me, Eoin and Niamh had to go back, buy some beer and then walk to The Domain. By the time we arrived it was around 9:30pm and the others were already set up. I needed a pee so went to find a toilet with one of Fiona’s friends. I got impatient waiting in the queue and decided to cross the road, climb a bank and go against a tree. As I was coming down, I forgot about the wall and fell onto the road. The wall was about 1.5 meters high so adding my height I fell about 3 meters onto the concrete. I’ve since spoken to PC Keith, the copper who found me unconscious at the scene and according to eyewitnesses I was running down the bank (which is pretty steep), didn’t see the wall, carried on running and fell off. He tells me that as it was getting dark and with all the lights from the festival the wall and drop onto the road would have been hard to see. I had no marks on my body apart from a cut under my right eye, which needed 10 stitches so I would have landed head first on the road. My scar goes right up to the corner of my eye so I was lucky that I didn’t do any damage to it.

The wall I fell off

To assess my injury the medics performed a Glasgow Coma Scale test. The most severe score you can get is 1 out of 15, I scored a 3 so initially I was in a bad way. When I regained consciousness I was very confused, agitated and uncooperative so they put me into an induced coma to rest my brain and start the healing process. I can vaguely remember them inserting the tube. I had to keep swallowing as they pushed the tube down my throat and into my lungs. I remember it not being very pleasant, my gag reflex was going none stop and I constantly felt like I wanted to be sick. I find that you blank out the bad bits in unpleasant memories so I imagine the experience being far worse. 

As I didn’t have my wallet with me the police didn’t know who I was so PC Keith rang the last few people that had text me. He called my mate Tommy from the hostel and started to explain what had happened. People had been calling Tommy all day from my phone and messing around so he thought was another prank. Whilst still on the phone, he asked Hayley and Stacey what my surname was and walked off. The girls thought this was weird and when Tommy had put the phone down asked him what was going on. He explained that he thought it was another prank and filled the girls in. The girls didn’t think someone would make something like this up and my phone back.

Hayley asked PC Keith what was going on and if I had any friends with me? His reply was ‘No but there are lots of doctors and nurses with him’.  She then asked if she should make her way to the hospital and PC Keith said that would be good idea. The girls didn’t want everyone to come so had a quiet word with Tommy to tell him where they were going and said good bye.

Hayley had visions of me sitting there holding an ice pack on my head, unfortunately she was very wrong! The receptionist quickly took them to a family room, showed them someone’s I.D and asked if it was me. As it wasn’t PC Keith wanted them to identify me and briefly told them what had happened. He emphasized that it was an accident and I wasn’t pushed then He then took them to where I was being treated. They entered the cubical and saw 6 or 7 doctors around me, one of the doctors shouted abruptly ‘Get them out, get them out’.

A doctor approached and advised a nurse that the girls needed a private room. Scared by the thought of what was going on, Stacey asked the ambulance driver how serious my condition was, her reply was ‘it’s pretty serious’. The girls were taken to a private room and PC Keith went over the accident in more detail. He then asked a nurse if the girls cold identify me. She said that only one of them could go and Hayley put herself forward. All the hospital staff was very serious and a nurse asked Hayley if she would be okay seeing me. Although she knew my accident was serious she didn’t think seeing me would affect her the way it did. They pulled back the curtain and I was lying there in only my boxers and was hocked up to a breathing machine keeping me alive. I had lots of tubes attached to me and big patches of dried bloody around my eye and down my face. Hayley was only in the room for a few seconds, confirmed it was me and burst out crying. 

The scene of the accident

Hayley walked to the private room, told Stacey the bad news and they both started crying. PC Keith wanted to know all my details but the girls didn’t know much and couldn’t help him out. Tommy called to see what was happening. Hayley was still in tears and told him it wasn’t good so Tommy said he was on his way. PC Keith told Tommy not to bring anyone else so he came on his own.

The head doctor came into the private room and told everyone that I had suffered a brain injury. He told them that I was in an induced coma and was off to have an MRI scan as they thought they I would need an emergency operation on my skull to ease the swelling. The doctor said he would keep them updated then left to take me the MRI. Armed with his detective instinct PC Keith found mum’s number on my phone and gave her a call to let her know what was happening and find out more information about me. Mum answered the phone all happily and without giving time for an answer, asked what I was up to. The response wasn’t what she wanted to hear. Again PC Keith explained what had happened, told mum that some of my friends were with me and asked if she would like to speak with them. Hayley again put herself forward. Mum asked how bad it was, Hayley’s response was ‘it’s bad’. Mum said ‘tell him I love him’ and burst into tears. Tommy saw that Hayley was about to follow suit and quickly took the phone off her and tried to calm the situation. He told Mum that I was in the best possible place, had the right people looking after me and re-assured everything was going to be okay.

Lee and Damo eventually turned up to the hospital insisting on seeing me and wanting to know what was happening. Stacey responded angrily and told them to sit down and shut up, like an angry Mother telling off naughty boys. The atmosphere in the room was very tense and people weren’t really talking. Stacey was worrying about how the injury would affect the rest of my life and if I would be able to cope on my own. She works with stroke patients and see’s some horrible cases where her client’s can’t do much for them selves and are totally dependant on others. Tommy was feeling guilty about what had happen and kept blaming himself for not arriving at the festival earlier. He thought that if he were there then I wouldn’t have fallen and was blaming himself. PC Keith eventually said goodbye. He explained that this was an accident and was no longer a police matter. He comforted everyone and left. My friends and Mum tell me that PC Keith was excellent through out the whole drama. Hayley told me that he mentioned a few times that he wanted to hang around as he thought I wasn’t going to make it. I now find this a ridiculous thing to say and a fantastic way of dampening my friend’s sprit and causing unnecessary worrying. 

After the scan I was moved into a critical care ward for about an hour. Mum had requested that my friends stayed with me for as long as possible, so the nurses let everyone into the ward. No one knew what to say and found it hard talking to me in a coma. A Nurse explained that the scan had revealed two small blood clots on my brain but the injury wasn’t as severe as initially feared. My brain hadn’t swelled enough to cause further damage so I didn’t need surgery on my skull but my alcohol levels were very high so they would be keeping me in a coma and hydrated with a drip. The nurse said there was nothing anyone could do now and told them to go home and get some rest. She said they could come back tomorrow but not to bring too many of visitors because I wouldn’t be able to cope.

View from the top of the bank

When I came out of the coma the doctors performed another Glasgow Coma Scale test and this time I scored 7 out of 15. My brain injury was still classed as severe but my latest score was a big improvement on test result I was given at the scene of the accident.

On Sunday, Hayley, Karen, Damo, Lee and Tommy visited me. They were told that I was only allowed two visitors at a time for 10 minutes and not to ask me questions, as it would stress my brain and confuse me. I was awake but very dazed and didn’t really know what was going on. I was very frigidity and kept bouncing my leg in and out of the bed and pulling at my tubes going into my nose. I couldn’t stay awake for long and was constantly drifting in and out of sleep. The nurse said it was because to my alcohol levels was still high and I was under the influence. Apparently my blood tests showed that I was 6 times over the NZ drink drive limit, which is a lot higher the UK’s limit. There was no way I’d drunk anything close to 12 pints on Saturday.  My housemate tell me that I only had 5 or 6 bottles so I must have drunk myself into a right mess Friday night and just topped up.

Stacey, Steve and Wayne arrived, while the other were still visiting and were chatting in the waiting room. A nurse came over and told them that I was getting far too many visitors and to try and limit future visits. My friends in the hostel all wanted to visit and Karen and Hayley didn’t want to tell people they couldn’t see me. In the end they had to make a roster of when they could visit so everyone had a turn.
On Monday, Tommy came to visit on his way home from work and the good man brought me two sandwiches and a pack of crisps. He told me that he always got his sandwiches from this particular shop, as they were the best around. I was really pleased he had brought me something to eat because the hospital food was really bad and as I was munching on my sandwich I was telling him about it. All the tubes and drips had been removed and he could see I had already making big improvements from yesterday. I was in post-traumatic amnesia, which meant that my brain couldn’t lay down fresh memories, a bit like Dory from finding Nemo. Because of this I couldn’t remember what had been said and was constantly repeating myself and asking the same questions. Luckily my visitors didn’t seem to mind, they were just pleased to see me getting better. 

It doesn't really show how steep the bank is but gives a better idea

On Tuesday I had moved onto a ward opposite an old Maori woman who Tommy thought was weird and slightly crazy. He tells me that all the nurses were top quality throughout my stay. They were all really nice, very helpful and would do anything for me. He said that every day I was making huge improvements from the previous day. I was obsessed with the time and kept asking how long I had been in hospital for, what the day was and what the time was. I told him on a regular basis that I was bored and couldn’t wait to leave hospital. He told me that I would be out soon and I was in the best possible place. He could see that I knew hospital was the best place for me and that I understood what was happening.

Wednesday was my last full day in Auckland hospital as Thursday I was being moved to Cavit ABI for my rehabilitation. When Tommy arrived I was getting ready for a shower. I told him that I was bored and couldn’t wait to go home. I was still obsessed with the time and constantly repeated myself. As we were talking I kept mentioning my shower. He said it felt like I was trying to get ready of him and I was talking about the shower so passionately that after third time of mentioning it, he gave in, went home and let me have a shower. When I came out Stacey had arrived. I was walking on my own but was very stiff and wobbly. The nurses told me that this was my third shower of the day. Obviously I couldn’t remember the first two. I was asking Stacey if she thought three showers a day was too much? Apparently I told her that two showers a day is okay but three is a bit excessive.

That in a nutshell is what happened. Hopefully with all the insight from my friends it will shed some light on the events and I think it will be good for me to read in a few years. I will finish this blog by saying, I’m only 27 and already in my life I’ve had two accidents that could have finished me off! Hopefully I can remain injury free this time for a lot longer.