Deb came to Headway Worcestershire not that long ago, August 2015 when she was referred by the Community OT. She suffered a brain aneurysm the year before, and was looking to give back to fellow brain injured people, as she had received during her recovery. I sat Deb down and asked her a few questions about her experience completing the 10k Worcester City Run. I had personally asked her to join me in taking part in this event back in August 2016.
Mum of 3 Deborah Grant was a live wire. I say was, but she’s just as lively, proactive and ambitious as she was before her brain injury. That bit never changed. She had been working for the West Midlands Ambulance Service as an advanced emergency technician part of the Paramedic Crew for the last 15 years. She used to run competitions frequently, marathons including the Great North Run. April 2014 was the moment it all had to be stopped… until this year when she completed the Worcester City Run with a glorious time of 1h:22m of running.
How did you feel completing the run?
“I was pleased that I ran. It was quite difficult to be honest. Since surgery I’ve been extremely fatigued and it’s not an easy one to deal with. Actually getting back into physical activities is really difficult. It’s different than when you just don’t fancy it. It’s worse than a runner’s wall, quite overwhelming. You don’t really know how to do it.”
“I actually wasn’t that nervous about the run itself… I felt nothing. But it was nevertheless a struggle on a completely different level. When I walked away after you had asked me to join I was very enthusiastic. From that moment though, I had it in my head that I was going to walk it. Second time when you asked me if I signed up, couple of weeks after, I was petrified. I had completely forgotten about it and if I am honest, I really did not want to do it anymore. Once again, I did not quite know how to get into it.”
“But I signed up because I didn’t want to let Headway down. My Headway T shirt that pushed me to do it! And it was a weird feeling, never felt that before.”
“Completing the run felt good as I did it all on my own. My friend who was going to walk alongside me had to drop out due to an injury, so that was another obstacle I had to overcome. I liked being part of the 3000 people who were there.”
Did your family support you? Were they pushing you to do it?
“My husband was there, my daughter is down in Exeter… [her boys couldn’t make it that day]. But in fact I never told anybody that I was doing it [besides her husband]. To be honest with you, I never did because, to me – it was a walk… and I was wearing a Headway T Shirt. But they know I come to Headway to volunteer.”
“But my husband – he came and he was very, very good, very supportive. I was very emotional – you know when I said I felt nothing – that’s not true; I cried my eyes out because it reminded me of two years ago when my husband and sons, teenage sons – they did it (a run), after I had my surgery, to raise money for a machine in the QE (Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham); so it brought that back and I burst into tears because I remember how emotional that was then… I was really poorly.”
“So, I don’t know whether you understand brain injury, I’m not being patronising, but… you can’t sit, well I couldn’t sit in a car and see things coming past, it was too much, my brain couldn’t take it in and that was very, very exhausting. And it was the same for… I couldn’t stand for long, I couldn’t see lots of people, lots of lights, it was just too much. And on the day of the race, when I started seeing people coming past in the car, oh I couldn’t cope – I was overwhelmed.”
“I did know why that it was, but it was not pleasant. I remembered how it was two years ago and that brought back a lot of emotions. I cried a lot. And then I sorted myself out, I was walking up – burst into tears again. I was up and down, but as far as nerves for the actual run go, I didn’t…I didn’t feel a thing. And when people cheer at you, as you go past them at the start, I just wanted to burst into tears, I just wanted to stop.”
Deb felt quite emotional and she went quiet. At this point and reached for the box of tissues. We took a short break.
You’ve done something that you weren’t able to do for so long, and you’ve gone through so much that you’ve managed to pull through, and you managed to do this running instead of walking, which you didn’t think you would be able to.
“Yeah, that’s right, blimey, half that day, it’s emotions that kept me going, I cried with a drop of an emotion, it’s terrible. I was never like that before.”
It’s impossible not be thankful for where you are now, thinking back.
“Yeah, being able to run, being able to enjoy it. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy it at that time. It was actually horrible [she laughs].”
Having someone there makes a difference, doesn’t it? Having your husband there and that support, and a Headway T Shirt and that’s what pushed you to do it.
“Yes, I have to say, if I had other people there, had I said to my friends and my family about it, if I had heard my actual family cheer, that would have finished me off, I don’t think I would have managed to walk. I think I would have probably cried more and I would have walked all round. Really, because it was very emotional for me, I don’t think I could have coped with it. My husband is not really a cheerer, a “cheer-on-er” [she sighed relieved about that]. After I was done he’d probably go “good kid”, smack on the bum, so he’s not really a “cheer-on-er” of that makes sense. It was really really nice that he was there.”
Do you consider it quite a milestone? I mean, despite all that’s happened, you’re in a much better place now…
“My OT (occupational therapist) says that you know. I mean, if i saw my life in somebody else I would be like that, I’d probably see what other people see in me. But because I don’t see… I mean when I was critical, I don’t know anything about that. And I don’t really know the ins of what happened with my brain, you know, I could have quite easily died and the milestones that I have reached in my recovery… it’s taken me so long but… Maybe if I see a film, or something like that, similar sort of people or similar circumstances, then maybe i’d be able to understand what other people see, but because I don’t… all I see is that that was hard work going through something like that…From my perspective all I see is “bloody hell, that was horrible”, that’s what I see, not an achievement… I see a lot of memories that hurt, I don’t see it as anything greater.”
Listening to Debbie you realise that even being part of Headway doesn’t always mean that you understand what others are going through. I’ve been to our support groups, I’ve spoken with clients at the day centre… But listening to people 101 opens a whole new set of doors. Even those surviving brain injury do not understand it and how it manifests. What looks like a milestone for us, means nothing but tragedy for people like Deb. Every goal achieved remains just a small step towards what “normal” used to feel like, instead of a victory.
Life is slowly getting better for Deb now. She says she will take on more runs in the future but she will stick with the smaller ones. She is keen on making sure she keeps on top of her recovery as the OT has suggested. She will keep walking her two springers and continues to volunteer at Headway Worcestershire, working with people affected by brain injury who need further support in their rehabilitation.
We’re proud of you Deb! To many more goals to be completed!