Ten years after the fall
In 2003 we just moved into this house, I slipped and fell down the stairs. The doctor was called and as it looked bad as they thought i had broken my neck or spine, the ambulance service was called. The light was out in my head and things past around me in a far distance. The paramedics were rushing in, to treat a man who’d had made a crash landing from the stairs, when they spotted me lying in the middle of the hall next to the staircase.I was conscious, alive and talking with a double tongue- but my blood pressure and pulse were normal, Only my head and left hand hurt. I can't remember much of that night. The next morning when i was woken up by the nurse. The doctor said that i should consider myself lucky.
It was 11am and I said i wanted to go home: but the medics persuaded her to stay at the hospital.'If you get a second chance in life, you ask yourself what you are going to do with it,'
My head soon hurt so much that I was sent for a CT scan.
The scan showed I was suffering a contusion but there were no hematomas on the scan but there was a lot of activity across the brain.‘I’ll never know what happened. Last thing i remember that i was on top of the stairs.
I was transferred to the head trauma centre at the local hospital in Heerenveen, and by the time my wife arrived from our home 15 minutes later, They gave her a status update that there might be a chance on brain damage and only time could tell.
Thankfully the paramedics did everything to save me, but my life nonetheless changed for ever that night.Before her accident, this fit and fiercely independent young man, who became friends with everyone became a lot more distant even to the ones the closest to me. Emotional there was no such thing as that one guy that I vaguely recognized from the past. The body was me but I was trapped in my own brain. And somehow I am still searching for the old me.
I was now facing an arduous recovery. The injury left me with a blurred vision in the left eye, extreme exhaustion and what I would describe as a ‘constant heaviness’ in the head.
Now, ten years on, I need 8 hours sleep a night any less and I suffer from‘cracking headaches’ that can last for several days. And I am yawning all the way when i am behind the wheel. I also have occasional memory lapses. I am still hopeful things will keep improving, but there are no guarantees.'I could have kept a diary so I can remind myself I am getting better,' but no I didn't and it is hard to remember after all those years.
Every year, 21,000 people are admitted to hospital in the Netherlands with a brain injury.
It’s likely that I've hit the wall with my head when I fell down the stairs or was knocked out by the hard floor. But the causes of brain injuries can range from falling down the stairs, to a stroke or heart attack that interrupts the brain’s oxygen supply.
‘I made a really good recovery they say, but often patients don’t do so well.
'It depends on the kind of injury, as well as the support they get,’ said my Neurologist.
When the brain is injured, it swells like any other body part, he explained.
‘But the skull is fixed — there’s nowhere for the brain to go, so it gets squashed. That’s why rapid diagnosis is needed.
‘The regions of the brain that control the basic functions that support life can get squashed out of the tiny hole at the bottom of the skull where the brain meets the spinal cord. That’s often what kills patients.’ More and more people are surviving brain injury and stroke, but the long-term consequences can be devastating. In my case my character changed.
The area of the brain that controls emotions may be damaged, as a result of which a patient’s personality can change. Rates of depression and anxiety are high, often leading to relationship breakdown. And that is something that still scares me.
Cognitive and memory problems are common, too, which can make your job impossible.
The brain moves when it is injured, which may cause the axons — fibres that send signals between brain cells — to tear, so signals travel more slowly.Tiredness is also a problem, as the brain must work harder in everyday tasks. The area controlling sleep can be damaged, too.
After leaving hospital, I spent at least four months at home, sleeping for much of the day and taking short walks. In the beginning I was falling over and I lied to my wife that nothing happened.
Gradually, the energy began to return. And before long, I hit upon a desire to take a long walk.Secretly, I made plans to get back to the point were i was before the accident. So with a lot of help from good friends. I learned most things back although calculating from the head is still not back, furthermore my character has still not changed back. I am more grumpy and I am missing the soft side of me. It is somewhere out there but I have not found it yet. I am afraid that somethings are not changing back.
‘If you get a second chance in life, you ask yourself what you are going to do with it,’
‘I wanted to get away from everything to think.’ In July, five months after the accident, I set off and got back to my working place again. Language was the main problem as English is the language used among an international crew. My wife had to do the talking as I could not find the words. Very irritating when you know what to say but simply cannot speak the language anymore. I was totally frustrated and went off like a mad man on my wife. Who had done the best way of English she could but there was no appreciation from my side only anger.
The doctors thought it would provide a goal, and a good rehabilitation process.
‘I think I was still slightly not with it. Lots of people have said to my wife, “I can’t believe that you don't let him go” but she said he is 35 and I still love him. I guess that she is longing for the guy she dell in love with. I was so focused on my own recovery that I forgot to work on my soft side. They couldn’t really stop me even if they’d tried. I’ve gone deep but believe me, I never been a quitter.’
It was a journey that would have tested even the most hardened. It has been hell week for more than a year in a row. Most people I met were doing just a section of the epic stretch. They were astounded that this young man was attempting to do the whole thing alone.
I practised from dawn till dusk on languages for six months, with only a few stops. I had to get back in the saddle and feed my family again.
I endured moments of ‘desperate’ loneliness and such a sore head that ‘if someone had offered to cut it off, I’d have said yes’.
Some things, though, have changed for the better.
‘I don't think I’ve become a nicer person. Everyone in my family says they preferred the old me. 'It’s as if I’ve had an edge knocked off, I don’t have the energy to bulldoze through life anymore. ‘I’m less patient, and more openly emotional. I’ve got a calmness that I’ve never had before.’ Before I would fight with everyone and take up the discussion.
I prefer not to dwell on what happened that night it sometimes makes me curious, but I’m not sure I want to open that door again.
The doctors warned me that my brain injury can lead to depression, but I think it’s had the reverse effect on me. ‘From the moment I woke up that morning in hospital, I felt like I was drunk and really happy. ‘I’ve experienced depression, and it’s only when you nearly lose your life that you feel guilty that you ever had those dark thoughts that you wanted to end it.
‘You think: “Woah, hang on a minute! I actually want to stay alive.”
The Old Sailor,