My life was changed forever in a single moment of violence. After being punched in the head outside a take-away restaurant, I ended up in a situation where my life was out of my hands and instead, it was placed in the hands of the medical professionals of the NHS. The National Health Service in this country is a An Incredible Machine. There are not many places in the world where you could be admitted to hospital with an injury as severe as mine and get given the kind of care that I received.
After I was assaulted in a violent attack on a night out with friends, I was admitted to my local A&E. There, medical professionals kept me alive despite the severity of my head trauma. An incredible feat performed by incredible people. However, due to a lack of facilities, I was then moved to Southampton General Hospital’s Wessex Neurological Centre, the place where I could be treated.
In the ambulance, paramedics managed to keep me alive for the more than fifty-mile journey from Dorset County Hospital up to Southampton Hospital. This was despite a rise in my inter-cranial pressure (ICP), which, if the paramedics had not been able to lower, would probably have been the end of me.
Wessex Neurological Centre
Upon my arrival at Southampton I was assessed and my parents were informed that they needed to come to the Wessex Neurological Centre. With me being an epileptic prior to my ABI, my parents assumed that my admission was due to a particularly severe seizure. It was only when they arrived that they found out the cause and the extent of the injury. They were informed that I was unlikely to survive the night and that the only chance I had was, what was then a controversial surgery, a decompressive craniectomy. The doctor said he needed my parents’ written consent to go ahead with the operation, which they of course gave. The intricate, complex operation, involving the removal of part of my skull to allow my brain to swell, lasted around four hours. I was fortunate enough that one of the top surgeons in that field was available on the weekend at a moment’s notice.
All things considered, the operation was as successful as it could be given the circumstances. The emergency care I received from the NHS on all fronts during my ABI “experience” (for lack of a better word) was absolutely first-class. I could not want for more or expect anymore. The aftercare that I received at Southampton Hospital & Poole Hospital couldn’t have been better. The people who work in hospitals, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and even the porters all have incredible knowledge, bravery, professionalism and are caring, compassionate people, I cannot thank them enough for what they did for me. Without them it is safe to say that I wouldn’t be here today.
Lasting Damage – Working Towards Rehabilitation
The resulting damage from my ABI was huge and the consequences have been far reaching, still affecting me today. As a result I am involved in many health & social care programs and services. Based on my experiences with the NHS, it is the process of aftercare, community care and outpatient services where it lets itself down. This is where I feel as though the NHS falls flat when you compare it to the emergency, frontline services.
From my experience and the experience of my parents who act as my carers, the information you are provided with when the patient is discharged from hospital is very limited. We have always felt as though there should be some kind of direction families affected by ABI should be given in terms of what to do next. What services to go to? What to do and not to do? it feels as though you have entered a whole new world (which I suppose you have) and it is totally alien to you. But any information you are given is very generalized. This is the frustrating thing, having reasonable questions and wanting answers but nobody willing to give you the answers you need or want. Doctors will refer you to other services and other professionals who have just as little to offer in terms of real answers and that doesn’t give you any confidence that you are moving forward in terms of rehabilitation.
Lack Of Communication
The rehabilitation process after an ABI is an incredibly complex one. There is a network of multiple services doing different jobs, covering diverse areas and dealing with people in various social situations. In my opinion, the key to success within a network of services so large, on such an intricate and complex subject, is communication. From my experience of where I am living, I can tell you that communications are down. This may be because I live in a rural area. My medical records are held in 3 different hospitals across two counties under the names of various professionals in different services and specialisations. This means that a doctor cannot access all of my information – for example, my epilepsy specialist doesn’t share information with my ABI consultant, despite the fact that they work in the same building! The network of professional communication and access to information seems to have broken down. Services do not seem to know what the other one is doing, who my doctor is, the type of injury I had and appointments are often disjointed in terms of continuity. Often, one service doesn’t know that I have been referred to another. The amount of times I have been told about a certain service or program by one doctor or social worker when I have already completed the treatment is unbelievable.
But why can’t these services be linked up in someway? There are computer programs now, databases that can be filled with files & data and used by lots of people, in multiple locations, at the same time; a connected network. Even if that is not an option here, why is it that in my area, the people who are in charge of my case files can’t get together for a coffee once every six months and discuss my progress? It seems insane to me but there you go.
I believe that the frontline and emergency services and care within the NHS is second to none. I am so incredibly grateful to the NHS for saving my life and enabling me to be who I am and in the position I am, with the opportunities I have today. From my experience though, a big problem for ABI survivors and their carers lies in the difficulty in accessing the community care, after care and resources available to them following discharge from hospital. What we do have to remember though is that the NHS is a huge machine with so many components that there will inevitably be flaws within it. At the end of the day, they saved my life and put me back together again as best they could. So next time I go to one of my consultations, if I receive an experience I am not especially happy with, perhaps I would do well to remember that fact myself.
About the author
My life was changed for ever on the 30th of August 2009 when an attack on a night out left me with sever brain injuries. I was left in an induced coma after suffering fractures to the skull, bleeds on the brain, as well as severe bruising to the frontal lobes. Since the injury I have found it hard to find and keep work, to maintain relationships, and generally stay positive. I have decided to share all of my journey with you, in the hope we can bring brain injury awareness to the level it should be at. Please, follow my own WordPress blog Life After Brain Injury to keep up to date with my brain injury journey! Follow me on Twitter: @ABIBlogger
Tom Massey, ABI Blogger