Today is my son’s sixth birthday… he is thirty one years old.
I ought, perhaps, to clarify. It is the 4th July. What, to the US, is Independence Day, was long ago renamed in our household as Nick’s re-birthday. And in that simple prefix lies a story of hope.
Many readers are aware of my son’s story; stabbed through the brain and left for dead in a Bournemouth alley on July 4th 2009. The injuries were so severe that a murder investigation was underway before we had reached the hospital. He was not expected to survive. He needed immediate surgery to remove shards of bone from the brain, where they had been driven by the force of the blow. Nick had been in the deepest level of coma since the attack. It would be weeks before he woke, weeks when his vital signs were dangerous and the pressure inside his skull, from swelling and bleeding, was so high we were given no hope.
As his body healed, the risk of death from the immediate injury began to recede, though there were still many complications that could have taken him from us. The fear was in some ways, even worse then. We knew that with luck, he would live… but how? We were warned that his memory, cognitive abilities, logic, and language would all be irrevocably impaired. Everything, in fact, that made my son who he was. Then, in a cruel twist, a scan showed the damage to have been far worse that had at first been believed. And that was without the continuing secondary damage as his brain swelled.
We were warned that the most likely outcome could be a fate worse than death. My biggest fear for my son was that he would retain awareness in a body that could no longer function, unable to communicate, or express the being that dwells within. Unable to be Nick.
That, we were told, was very, very likely. And there was no more they could do.
My son, however, had other ideas.
“You have a miracle on your hands,” said the internationally renowned doctor, grinning like a schoolboy and catching me in a bear hug I will never forget. Nick, even at this early stage, had shown he was still in there and fighting his way back.
I have told elsewhere of those days… today is not about how I felt then, but about what my son has achieved… and what he is going to do with it.
It was a long, long journey. Victories came daily, but they were often so small…infinitesimally small… that only those constantly present would notice, or begin to appreciate their magnitude. And it wasn’t for want of trying.
I have never, ever, seen anyone work so hard. Even before he was discharged from hospital he had added a strenuous set of exercises to his daily regime to supplement the rehab he was getting. Strenuous in the extreme… and all to be able to lift a glass of water or a one kilo weight. It is unimaginable, and impossible to describe, how hard that was, with a body that had woken half paralysed and completely uncoordinated.
Eventually, after six months in various hospitals, he was able to come home. Rest? No. From the moment he woke to the time he went to sleep there were exercises, home-made speech therapy, innovative ideas to target his problems, not the generic ones catered for by manufacturers. There were the ‘reins’ made from pipe lagging and luggage straps. Footholders made from ice-cream tubs. You don’t want to know what we did to the yoga mat… Double sided tape, children’s toys, Dr Seuss books to read aloud, video games… anything at all that could target an area that refused to work. Gadgetry we could adapt or ‘misuse’ to serve Nick’s need… It was constant… up to sixteen hours a day, every day. And all the while learning about the brain, the nervous system and anything else we could think of that might possibly… no matter how farfetched… serve to help recovery.
And why? Given the prognosis… given the obvious damage…? Because we had hope. And we refused to stop believing.
That, of course, was wholly unrealistic.
The medical profession had long since made it clear there was little more they could offer to help things get better. They could only help maintain what he had gained. Since that time there has been steady progress. Slow, tiny… but every day.
Our belief was not based on logic. Our hope had no root in cold, hard facts. We recognised them, knowing that every day could be ’it’… that limit of recovery beyond which it was not possible to pass. We acknowledged the damage, the dubious likelihood of any further recovery.
Optimism need not be blind… it can see quite clearly, but simply chooses belief in a better outcome and works towards it.
Today my son lives in his own home… a rather swish place he named Possum Palace, after the tattoo he indulged in to mark his determination… It says, ‘possum ergo facit’… ‘I can, therefore I do’.
And he does.
Nick is currently working with the Royal Bucks Hospital, close to his home, having decided he needed professional input to get him through the last steps towards his first steps… and the staff at this private facility have been incredible. The hospital has also enlisted my son to help them with a project designed to encourage hope in others with similar challenges to face. This is something Nick is passionate about. To listen to him when he speaks about it is to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the fluency comes from a mind utterly intact, even though the brain itself may still need work.
There is more to recovery than just getting body and brain back online. There does need to be an acceptance that there will be limits… but that doesn’t mean they cannot be pushed or surpassed, nor does it mean that a way cannot be found to achieve a goal in unorthodox fashion. There must also be an acceptance of what is… it is all too easy to look back on what was and what has been lost. Nick seldom looks back… he is too busy appreciating the beauty in the world, a beauty he failed to see as a successful young businessman. He doesn’t even look back at how far he has come, not unless someone or something means he has to… and then I hope, he is just as amazed as the rest of us at what he has achieved.
We talk sometimes about the way this apparent tragedy had brought unexpected gifts… and there are many. How many of us wish there was a ‘reset’ button on life to give us a second chance? July 4th 2009 was a reboot… ‘a beginning,’ he says, ‘not an ending…’ I rather think he is going to make the most of it. So far, he isn’t doing too badly 😉
Happy re-birthday, Nick!
You can read more of Nick’s story on the blog, or better still, read his own words by clicking the links: